Review: Entertaining at home

Delicious Recipes for Memorable Gatherings

by John Clem and Michael Northern

Chronicle Books for Nordstrom, 276 pp., 2005, $23.95

Given the upscale lifestyle that Nordstrom appeals to in its lavish department stores, you might be a bit surprised that their idea of dining in the home includes such mundane favorites as fettuccine alfredo, margaritas and the now ubiquitous baked artichoke dip. Does the home chef really have to pay almost $24 for such recipes as this?

Knowing that the recipes in the cookbook have been supplied by Nordstrom employees from around the country, this makes the book a much homier and sensible tome, filled with the time-tested recipes of dozens of well-appointed foodies and entertaining specialists nationwide.

That artichoke dip recipe does recommend real parmigaino-reggiano cheese and diced green chiles. The cookbook also throws in a few creative curveballs like Portobello Brie Soup with Sage and a gorgeous Mixed Berry and Chicken Salad.

Accordingly, sections on "Potluck" and "Side Dishes" offer the beginning cook some really easy-to-follow recipes that will help out in a pinch but will soon become family favorites. E.J. Armstrong's photographs also make the dishes seem quite approachable, though nothing short of elegant.

This isn't exactly the gift that you'd give to a seasoned gastronome, but as a wedding gift or a holiday offering to a newlywed or someone starting out on his or her own, this would make a great present. Of course, you could also pick up some china or crystal items to go along with the cookbook. But isn't the beginning to a life of good eating enough?

More reservation options for NYE

The possibilities for a festive - and delicious - New Year's Eve are many and growing by the day. So think about branching out from the chips and dip and the Times Square ball drop on TV with the following fun dinner options. Just don't wait until the last minute to make your reservation.

D'Vine Wine Bar: tapas dinner with hors d'oeuvres, dessert and champagne, $75/couple, $10 cover at 11:30 for free food and bubbly, 466-1117

The Mansion at Oak Hill: hors d'oeuvres, prime-rib buffet, dessert, $75, 843-9850

Montage at Allison Pointe: live music by Five Easy Pieces, five-course meal, 577-3663

Holiday supplies at Cork & Cracker

Need a place to get your wine and cheeses for your holiday spreads? Stop in at the Cork & Cracker at 2126 E. 62nd St. In addition to over 200 wines under $15, they also have artisan cheeses, pat├ęs and specialty crackers, easy to make soups, breads and dips, and desserts, including their legendary Sticky Toffee Pudding. For last-minute gift-giving options, they offer pre-made gift baskets at a variety of prices and are happy to create a custom gift basket just for you. Smaller items for stocking stuffers include their Snow Cone Hot Chocolate for two, Hagensborg Truffle Pigs and various flavors of chocolate bark from Graffiti Zoo. Stop in on Saturdays to enjoy food sampling. For more information, call 317-722-WINE.

Bloomington meat cutter advances

Prospero Sotelo of Bloomington, Ind., has advanced to the finals of the Texas Roadhouse National Meat Cutting Challenge. Sotelo was one of 11 Texas Roadhouse meat cutters, or Meat Heroes, who competed in the semifinals on Nov. 10 in Atlanta. The six finalists will vie for the title of Meat Hero Champion and the chance to win $6,000. The event will be held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in April at the Annual Managing Partner Conference, which recognizes the best of the best in the company. Sotelo has held several positions since he started working at Texas Roadhouse in June 2000. He has been a Texas Roadhouse meat cutter for two years. This is the second time Sotelo has competed in the meat cutting challenge. At each level of the competition, meat cutters have the opportunity to showcase their skills during a timed "cut-off." Each competitor receives 20 pounds of beef consisting of two top-butts, two tenderloins and one rib loin.

Check Out Saraga International Market

If you haven't already felt the buzz about Indy's newest and largest international market, take the time over the next week or two to stop in at Saraga, south of 38th Street at Lafayette Road in the old Super K-mart plaza. Just celebrating its grand opening this past weekend, the 62,000-square-food store offers some of the freshest and most obscure produce around the city, including Asian greens, Latin American root vegetables and peppers, fresh (some even live) fish and meats, rows upon rows of sauces and canned items and hot food from Mexico, Korea, Japan and China. With International Bazaar to the north and Lee Supermarket and Saigon Market to the south, this makes Lafayette Road ground zero for ethnic markets in Indianapolis. Now there's no excuse for compromising with a vague Asian marinade at your local grocery store. Find the recipe, warm up the car and get out for a culinary odyssey right here in your own backyard.

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