Hands-on With Food52's Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide

It's time to face the truth: The holidays are coming. But don't freak out; there are tons of apps out there to make prepping for the season much easier. When we heard about Food52's Holiday Recipes and Party Planning Guide ($3.99 for iPad and iPhone), we thought this app from New York Times writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs would make the holidays less stressful so we decided to check it out.

Although the app isn't brand new, its latest 3.0 version beefs up the app with 52 new recipes, 81 vegetarian and vegan and 60 gluten-free recipes and recipes and ideas for all the holidays, so you can use it year-round. And it boasts HD videos, step-by-step slideshows and party planning hints to further simplify the planning process. We went hands-on to see if this app will really take some of the stress off this holiday season.

After downloading the app (which works in portrait and landscape views), we were prompted to sign in via Facebook, register for Inkling or sign up later. We chose the last option. We like that Inkling immediately provides a visual guide of how to use the app, outlining to scrub up and down the spine to jump between cards in a chapter, read and comment on notes tied to a card and tap and hold any text to add a note or highlight.

We were then taken to the Table of Contents, which contained sections for the  Introduction, Recipes, Techniques 101 and Entertaining Tips, as well as a Bonus Chapter and an Appendix. We tapped on Welcome To Food52 within the Introduction, which outlined the app's purpose: to make the holidays easier. The accompanying intro video detailed more of what was in the app, and although Hesser and Stubbs didn't have the best stage presence, they got the point across.

After reading the intro's hype of the app, we were ready to dig into the recipes (and we were kind of hungry). The recipes were separated by categories such as Drinks, Snacks and Starters, Main Courses and Holidays and Special Diets; most of the categories contained more than 10 recipes, with Main Courses boasting 26 items. Our mouth was practically watering just thinking about dishes such as roasted prime rib with sauteed mushrooms and creamy horseradish sauce as well as Martha Stewart's macaroni and cheese and risotto rosso.

Each recipe starts with a brief description, then goes into ingredients and step-by-step instructions. For more difficult recipes or recipes with techniques that are more difficult to master, there are included step-by-step slideshows. We found this extremely helpful, especially just to see what your concoction should look like in different stages of production. If you have any questions or problems with the recipe, there's a Food52 hotline you can easily access by tapping on the button near the bottom of the page.

After looking around in the Recipes section, we had to get out before our stomach started rumbling and move onto the next chapter, Techniques 101. This section is split up into Cooking, Baking and Drinks and within each category are a bunch of subcategories. For example, within cooking, we found sub-categories such as peeling and grating fresh ginger and trussing a bird. Each sub-category has helpful tools, such as videos detailing a specific process photos and charts. Although we typically back away from some recipes because we're not familiar with certain techniques, we could see ourselves getting a lot more creative with our cooking if we had this app.

In Entertaining Tips, we could choose from Menu Suggestions or Party Planning. Within Menu Suggestions, there are several speciality menus for dinner, such as Thanksgiving, Cocktail Party and Off The Beaten Track. We checked out this last menu, curious as to what it would entail, and found recipes for blood orange salad with olives, kale with pancetta, cream and toasted rosemary walnuts and gingered pears with honey vanilla custard. Yum. There were also several menus for specialty brunches, open houses, picnics and summer barbeques.

Party Planning was the true goldmine, though. In addition to pre-planning tips such as optimizing your holiday shopping time and things to save for the last minute, event checklists (which would really come in handy when you have a bunch of things to remember) and social dos and don'ts, such as ice breakers and seating arrangements. We really appreciated the event checklists, and whether you're a Type A person who needs to have a list always at your fingertips or whether you're a bit absentminded and could use a list to make sure you don't forget something, these would definitely be helpful.

The Bonus Chapter contains a fun tutorial on how to make a gingerbread house, a fun holiday activity that's harder to execute than it sounds. In addition to step-by-step instructions, there are videos galore of each step, so you really can't go wrong.

Finally, in the Appendix, we found an Equipment Essentials Buying Guide, which was separated into books, baking utensils, cookware, ingredients and tabletop settings. This guide has literally everything you could need in prepping for holiday cooking and baking, and by tapping on what you need, the app will take you to the best site to buy it.

All in all, we were impressed with the abundance of material in this app, from the delicious-sounding recipes to the technique tips. We're the first to admit we're no chef, and easily scared off from cooking projects, but we would definitely feel comfortable taking on some holiday cooking with Food52's Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide.