Make-ahead recipes

Web subhead Four new cookbooks to free up the party host

Make the most of summer’s final bashes, prep for back-to-school lunches and maybe even get a jump start on holiday party-planning with four of the best new cookbooks, featuring make-ahead recipes that will heat up the party—not the kitchen.

Project Smoke, Steven Raichlen

Cooking for a summer party can add heat to an already sweltering house, so take the cooking outside with a smoker. Featuring close to 100 recipes, this how-to guide from the PBS host and James Beard award–winner is a comprehensive look at selecting and using a smoker and understanding the smoking process.

Though Raichlen includes his take on fan favorites, such as Slam-Dunk Brisket and pulled pork shoulder, the book’s real wealth is in the dissection of smoking tools and terminology as well as more unique smoking applications and recipes—eggs, cheese, vegetables, and desserts such as smoked chocolate bread pudding. However, nothing tops the ingenious recipe for smoked ice cubes. Your backyard Bloody Mary and front porch Manhattan will never be the same.

No-Bake Treats, Julianne Bayer

Keep guests cool with a chill treat from Bayer’s first book, subtitled “Incredible Unbaked Cheesecakes, Icebox Cakes, Pies and More.” The author and blogger ( primarily relies on fillings rooted in a combination of cream cheese, heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar, but the results are sweetly simplistic in prep and taste. Strawberries-and-cream parfaits make the perfect weeknight treat, while the Candy Lover’s Ice Cream Pie is a crowd-pleaser with customizable crushed candy options (though the malt powder in the ice cream doesn’t come through as strongly as one would hope).

Bayer runs the goody gamut, from sophisticated (Champagne cranberry cheesecake) to silly (Funfetti S’more Mousse Bombs) with straightforward instructions and sinfully shot photography that’ll leave a partygoer’s sweet tooth aching over enticing options.

Rice Craft, Sonoko Sakai

As back-to-school lunches return and culinary interests shift to healthy and tasty meals with minimal prep, consider onigiri—rice balls with various fillings wrapped in seaweed. This second book by the co-founder of the Japanese food/culture project Common Grains offers a great start for beginners. The included tips, tricks and terminology are especially helpful for cooking and shaping rice. Sakai’s recipes range from traditional—carrots, shiitakes, pickled radishes—to modern—tuna melt onigiri, bacon and scrambled egg onigiri.

Unfortunately, many recipes include redundant rice cooking and shaping directions; space that could have held more photos, additional recipes, or perhaps a look at onigiri art. However, other parts are invaluable, such as the suggested use of haiga rice—a “semi-milled” brown rice that maintains much of the vitamins and nutrients while cooking like white rice. With a slightly nutty, not-too-chewy texture, haiga rice is a real grain game-changer.

Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share, Kristin Donnelly

Finally, prepare for upcoming holiday potlucks with the former editor of Food & Wine. In over 100 recipes, Donnelly reveals what it means to be a potluck in modern times—catering to myriad dietary restrictions without compromising the homemade, farm-to-fork style. This culinary tightrope may sound like a nightmare to many cooks, but Donnelly’s recipes make navigation a dream.

Almost every recipe is either vegetarian (Caramelized Kimchi Corn Bread), vegan (Anna’s Summer Vegetable Tian), gluten-free (polenta stuffed with sausage and broccoli rabe), or a combination—such as the Smoky Squash Mac & Cheese that balances smoked gouda with sweet butternut squash.

A section on room-temperature main dishes is a relief for anyone who’s ever queued in line for the host’s oven or office microwave. Modern Potluck may not become a weeknight kitchen staple but when someone begins to say, “I can’t eat …” you’ll be prepared to feed them like royalty.