Cookbook review: Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson


For celebrity chef Anna Olson, the spirit of the holiday season can be found around the dining table, and “the authentic joy that arises when everyone is enjoying each other’s company over good food and good conversation.”

To help you find that “sparkle” at your own table, she recently released her latest cookbook, Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson (Penguin Random House Canada), packed with every recipe you’ll need to take you from Thanksgiving through to the new year.

The first part of the cookbook, which focuses more on the savoury side, is organized by theme, a format that may not appeal to everyone. A variety of menus are suggested for entertaining -- everything from brunch, to turkey with all the trimmings, to a sophisticated dinner party perfect to ring in the new year. You’ll even find recipes to help you use up all the leftovers. Olson suggests following the menus as is, or mixing and matching to suit your tastes.

And, true to form for a professionally trained pastry chef, there is an ample second section devoted to baking and holiday treats.

The dishes range from elegant (Bacon and Parmesan Gougeres / Lobster Mac and Cheese Squares) to cozy and comforting (hot chocolate with a snowflake-shaped marshmallow garnish, and even Olson’s own version of Chex mix). There’s a nod to the traditional (English trifle and plum pudding), but you’ll also find plenty of modern twists to please every palate. As usual, the book is studded with gorgeous photography so you’ll often know exactly what the finished product should look like.

While there are some basic recipes (smoothies and crudités with dips, for example) with short ingredient lists, others may challenge even experienced home cooks, such as the Breton pastry Kouign Amann. However, the instructions are clear and detailed, and most recipes are also accompanied by tips that will help to clarify and demystify. Measurements are given in the standard volumes (cups, etc.) but also by weight, which bakers will appreciate.

While the book makes it look easy, we all know that holiday entertaining can be daunting. To help you get a head start, any dishes that can be made ahead and reheated are clearly marked, helping to alleviate some of the stress. And, as Olson says, “If mistakes happen, just move on, knowing that your friends and family will forgive you.”