Holiday cheer or holiday hell– that is the question. November has arrived, and with it, the season of holiday entertaining. It’s time to start thinking about your Thanksgiving dinner menu and buying supplies for Christmas cookie baking. Doe the very idea of preparing your first Thanksgiving dinner terrify you? Or maybe you’ve been having the same people over for the same Christmas menu every year and you need to shake things up a bit?
Food52 is here to help. The founders, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, have combined their own recipes and kitchen wisdom with that of their online community of home cooks to make the Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide, by Food52. A treasure trove of 127 recipes, 25 video tutorials and 800 step-by-step food photos and demonstration slide shows, this app aims to help you plan a party from start to finish.
Is the Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide, by Food52 the ultimate guide to holiday entertaining? Keep reading to find out.
The app was built by Open Air Publishing using their Betterbook model — something I’ve become very familiar with. In the past, I’ve knocked Betterbook for being too closely modeled after the print medium and failing to create an immersive mobile experience. Food52 is a future focused new media company, so I was interested to see what kind of app would be born from this partnership.
Amanda and Merrill introduce the app with a short video, and their easygoing, genuine manner makes it feel like you’re in the kitchen with a good friend—a nice personal touch. The concept: entertaining during the holidays is stressful and this app is a “holiday blankie” to get you through. It seems like they thought of everything. The app features holiday recipes (including vegan and gluten free), essential technique videos (like carving a turkey), party menus, schedules, clever tips and disaster recovery.
The Betterbook model is just like a print book (but better), arranged by chapters. All the recipes in the app are grouped in chapters by course, with a few extras like Cookies and Candy, Breakfast and Brunch, Holidays and Special Diets. I liked tapping on the chapter and getting a bird’s-eye-view of each recipe.
All the recipes are sourced from the Food52 community of home cooks, and dish names read like a cross between grandma’s church cookbook and a trendy restaurant menu (Cowboy Rubbed Rib Eye with Chocolate Pan Sauce). I bought the app thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes, but the recipes chapters are more geared towards general entertaining. Holidays and Special Diets, the final recipe chapter, is where I found recipes categorized according to holiday, from Thanksgiving to Easter and everything else.
I was a bit disappointed to only find one turkey recipe in the app, and realized the selection of dishes isn’t really an ultimate holiday cooking guide, but rather a selection of inspiring dishes to liven up the holiday table. The recipe selections feature a lot of side dishes and desserts, and while there are plenty of mains, most are generic (like tacos, ribs and fried chicken), with just a few traditional dishes like ham, duck and prime rib.
The recipes display beautifully on the small iPhone screen, and I appreciated the thoughtful design and simple, professional food photography. Each recipe is accompanied by a note from Amanda and Merrill highlighting its merits, plus an intro from the home cook who created it. Though the recipes are pulled from the Food52 community, they are tested and vetted by Amanda and Merrill’s team, which is good to know.
The app does not offer shopping list or timer functionality, but it does offer a ton of detailed information on technique and the ability to purchase supplies through Amazon. This is where the Betterbook concept comes in to play: I can tap the highlighted words “carve the meat into thick slices” to see a short video demo of Amanda and Merrill carving the roast. This app is more than just recipes and helpful tips; it holds your hand through every step, from cooking to serving the meal.
Menus and Party Planning
After the Recipes and encyclopedic Techniques 101 chapters I discovered Entertaining Tips, which features Menu Suggestions and Party Planning. The app includes about 16 menus, with several variations on themes like Dinner Feast (Traditional, Thanksgiving, Vegetarian) and Holiday Brunch, Open House and Summer Barbecue. It would be nice to see the app updated with more menus and recipes for holidays like Easter.
Each menu reads like a vision board, with mouth-watering photo collages and a course-by-course breakdown of dishes. The Strategy tips are like having my mom at my side, helping me to see how to plan everything out and execute the menu perfectly. Just like the techniques videos, Food52 has really gone above and beyond, giving me everything I need to plan the party.
The Party Planning chapter is a gold mine of wisdom from Amanda, Merrill and the Food52 community of home cooks, featuring everything from pre-planning to the event checklist to social do’s and don’ts. My only complaint is that it’s all pages and pages of straight text, which I find a bit tedious on a mobile device. Scattered amongst the more lighthearted topics like Centerpiece Ideas and Arranging the Bar to Look Festive and Elegant, I found some real gems, like General Rules for Reheating and How To Save an Overcooked Turkey. A bit of design attention to this area of the app would make for a better user experience.
Food52 and Betterbook is a good partnership. The Betterbook format provides search and bookmarking functionality so you can easily refer back to recipes and tips, making the massive amount of content more manageable and Food52 incorporates their helpful Hotline into the app, so cooks can ask questions and get answers from the Food52 community.
Food52 and Open Air Publishing have created an epic manual for entertaining with the Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide. The app truly reflects the voices of its Food52 community in a way that’s very genuine and supportive of the home cook. I have barely scratched the surface of everything this app offers here, and would say this app is essential for entertaining any time of the year.