This review was prepared by Kelsey Banfield of TheNaptimeChef.
Reading Florence Fabricant’s Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations: Entertaining at Home with New York’s Savviest Hostesses is my idea of the perfect guilty pleasure. I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, two miles from Park Avenue. Though this places me relatively close to the rarified atmosphere depicted here, my reality hardly resembles anything on these pages. With each chapter I am treated to a peak at the lavish lifestyles taking place just down the street, but in an entirely different universe then my own.
The magic of this book is in the pairing of well-appointed seasonal menus with polished portraits of exquisite entertaining. Images of flawless homes where gourmet food is served on hand-painted china may seem worlds away from reality, but that is exactly the point. Gleaming silver tea services and feathered Christmas trees lure you into an enchanted fantasy making you believe that you too can, at least partially, enjoy a slice of it yourself.
In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I used to work for The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and was involved in the production of the prequel, Park Avenue Potluck: Recipes from New York’s Savviest Hostesses. The production of the second book began long after I had departed, electing to be a stay-at-home mom instead. However, during the time I worked there I had a prime glimpse of the Park Avenue life and can vouch that it is as fabulous, and delicious, as this book depicts.
When it gets down to brass tacks, engraving silver goblets for dinner guests may be a bit out of reach for most of us, but cooking from this book is a joy. Florence Fabricant’s experienced eye compiles fine-tuned menus for one occasion after another, balancing fanciful images with realistic home cooking. Having been in the possession of the book since it’s publication last fall, I have worked my way through several of the recipes – about a third of the ones I tagged during my initial read through. The Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake was a decadent treat for our Valentine’s Day celebration. We have also greatly enjoyed the Penne Alla Vodka with Scallops – a great twist on a classic recipe – the Beef Stroganoff and Bobby’s Crispy Chicken Cutlets (my toddler’s favorite). Eggs in a Nest is my husband’s number one most-requested breakfast dish on the weekends.
During my cooking I found the recipes to be skillfully written by Fabricant, who provides clear, straightforward instruction without any extra fluff. It was with this book I gathered the confidence to attempt my first ever Salmon Mousse (not as easy as it sounds!) and had a smashing success. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the authors for finally providing a recipe for children’s party punch that does not require me to ruin my Bundt pan making berry-studded ice rings.
In recommending this book to others I would advise beginner cooks to take note and practice their knife and braising skills before attempting a handful of these recipes. Some of them assume the reader is a somewhat knowledgeable in these areas and skips over some basic how-to instructions. However, for the most part, a solid background in beginning cooking will carry you through the vast majority of the menus.
When reading through pages do not ignore the smart recipe tips scattered throughout. The useful snippets include tips on how to buy lettuce seasonally, Bouillabaisse substitutions and the use of raw eggs in eggnog. I especially appreciated the word of caution against attempting the Snowy Divinity Candy without a stand mixer on hand. Fabricant is right about that. I can prove it.
In the end, we learn that Park Avenue Hostesses have it all but are still home cooks like the rest of us. They entertain with live opera singers, have professional decorators at their service, but are still capable of operating a broiler and whipping up a might tasty muffin.