The perennial question for the home cook: What to make for dinner?

The perennial question for the cookbook reviewer: What makes a good cookbook?

For dinner, you’re on your own. As for evaluating cookbooks…

Gorgeous photos: check. “Home Made Christmas” has those in spades, both food photos and seasonally evocative photos of the author’s native Amsterdam. (Also, a cute dog, Marie, who makes repeat appearances in these pages and seems to belong to author Yvette van Boven.) The photos, by the way, are shot by van Boven’s husband, Oof Verschuren. This latest cookbook is part of a very successful series that includes “Home Made,” “Home Made Winter,” “Home Made Summer” and several more.

Great design: check. I have the cookbook in front of me as I type these words, and I am annoyed that I am sitting in front of a keyboard tapping this out instead of standing in front of the stove putting together the Mackerel Tartlet, say. “Home Made Christmas” is an eyeful, and simply looking at it makes me want to cook (or maybe fly to the Netherlands for Christmas). Then there are the cheery endpapers, festooned with perky, doodled snowmen. This is Christmas as you wish it were – gorgeous, cozy, relaxed, stylish, wintry. No family fights or stress or presents you don’t want or the slog of holiday travel in evidence, just one delicious meal after another.

Inventive ideas. Oh, boy, yes. Like these, for instance: Terrine of Tender Leek with Smoked Salmon & Mascarpone; Oven-Roasted Beets Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Dates and Celery; Celeriac Roast with Citrus Sauce (there are a lot of festive vegetables-as-centerpiece food here for the feasting vegetarian); homemade Pine Syrup to be used in drinks like Pine & Ginger Drink, which very prettily is served with pine ice cubes (you’ve got to hope they don’t melt too fast, though).


Much of the food is quite rich. But, hey, it’s Christmas.

Unfortunately, “Home Made Christmas” didn’t pass the kitchen test with flying colors. I’ll start with the dud: Minutes after I added the 2 tablespoons peeled and finely grated ginger to the warming milk in order to make Ginger Hot Chocolate with Roasted Marshmallows, the milk curdled. What?? I Googled it. This, apparently, is a problem people often run into when making chai. Perhaps if the milk were infused with coins of ginger, it might have worked? In any case, the curdled milk was nasty and undrinkable.

Also problematic, the Mustard Gratin with Potatoes & Parsnips. The recipe didn’t tell me whether or not to peel the potatoes or parsnips. It instructed me to use a “baking dish” without giving me any clues as to size. It didn’t tell readers that if you prep this in advance and refrigerate the gratin, it’ll need longer in the oven. And, most seriously, it called for a bechamel sauce made from 5 tablespoons butter and 10 tablespoons flour, which made a sauce that was too thick. If you are skilled enough cook to work around these problems (peel both vegetables, use a 9-by-13-inch casserole, cut the flour in half), you will have a tasty gratin.

As for those oven-stuffed beets I mentioned? I couldn’t cram all the stuffing back into the hollowed-out beets. That was no big deal – I used some of the extra to make a sandwich filling and mixed more of it in with pasta, both tasty. Still, I wish I’d been forewarned.

My sweetheart and I quite liked the Wentelteefjes, a Dutch savory French toast, even though I didn’t cut out the bread with cookie cutters in the shape of Christmas trees, like the photo showed. Next time.

Which brings me to Celery Almond Salad. And brings me back to my original question. What makes a good cookbook? If one fantastic recipe does, then “Home Made Christmas” is a home run.


Celery Almond Salad

Recipe from “Home Made Christmas,” by Yvette van Boven. I LOVED this salad, which had a fabulous combination of flavors and textures. I very happily ate it for four nights straight.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


1 (15-ounce) can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

8 large ribs celery, peeled and very thinly shaved

3 tablespoons raisins, ideally golden raisins

1/2 cup halved almonds, briefly toasted in a dry skillet

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 1/4 ounces arugula


1 handful chopped fresh garden herbs, such as parsley, dill, basil and chives


Whisk the oil, lemon juice and cheese in a bowl, and stir in the cannellini beans. Scoop in the celery, raisins and nearly all the almonds, keeping some almonds aside for garnish. Season if you wish with salt and pepper.

Let stand for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to be absorbed.


Before serving, toss the arugula and the herbs through the salad, and serve immediately.

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