03/13/2015 02:14 EDT | Updated 05/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Authors preach stress-free, outside-the-box hosting in cookbook 'Gatherings'

TORONTO - Nothing brings people together like food, but the authors of a new book say hosting delicious meals doesn't have to be stressful.

"I think Martha Stewart took it in one direction and people for a long time were intimidated, not only by the idea of cooking for other people just because it can be scary, but because Martha has set the bar so high," says Julie Van Rosendaal, co-author of "Gatherings: Bringing People Together With Food" (Whitecap Books).

"The fact that comfort food has made a comeback is really working to our advantage when it comes to home entertaining. Doing a big pot of mac and cheese or a big lasagna or whatever is totally the way to go.

"Or these interactive (meals) — make-your-own tacos or pizza — more casual, getting the guests involved and having that be sort of an ice-breaker too, is something that you didn't really see in the past."

Rosendaal, a Calgary-based writer behind the blog "Dinner With Julie," collaborated with fellow blogger Jan Scott of Toronto for the book.

Scott, creator of the blog "Family Bites," predicted home cooks would be seeking advice on a more casual approach to entertaining after Pippa Middleton's book on the topic, "Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends" in 2012.

And though plenty of Canadians troll the Internet for advice on estimating how much cheese and wine to buy for a party, or how to stuff a turkey for Thanksgiving, the writers couldn't find a printed guide on this side of the pond.

So they made their own, "Gatherings."

Along with suggestions for showers and large family dinners, the writers give advice on hosting other types of gatherings, such as a weekend brunch, kid's birthday party, sleepover, backyard barbecue, casual weeknight get-together, and game night.

Van Rosendaal says potlucks are a great way to take pressure off a host. She's held three where pie was the theme.

"It seems to be an item that clicks. It can be sweet or savoury. It can be chocolate or fruity, gluten-free. It's sort of nostalgic," she says.

"And showing up on the doorstep with a pie is like the best thing ever. You open the door and someone is standing there with a pie. It's awesome."

One weekend Van Rosendaal decided at the last minute to make doughnuts and sent an email to neighbours to pop by.

"It turned into this awesome kitchen party. People stopped in and we had the coffee maker going, I was cranking out doughnuts and all the kids were playing," she recalls.

"It doesn't always have to be planned and sometimes it can be totally spontaneous and sometimes that works best."

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