Prior to joining cookbook club, you’d never sunk your teeth into a fluffy popover with melted Brie and blackberry jam or washed it down with vanilla peach sweet tea. For the first time, you tried smoked gouda and pesto grilled cheese sandwiches and kale, sweet potato and goat cheese hand pies. You quickly decided that either would make a heavenly partner to the fresh green salad with creamy mustard vinaigrette you tried last meeting.
You’d never thought to add mango to curry chicken salad, much less serve it in lettuce cups. You can’t believe how glorious the sweet fruit mingles with the crisp celery and salty cashews that top each one — not to mention how effortlessly beautiful the dish is, with the bright green lettuce cradling the sweet and savory chicken salad. You’ve added the velvety “3 ingredient mousse” from Crissy Tiegen’s “Cravings” cookbook and the tart yet refreshing “Frozen Key Lime pie” from Ina Garten’s “Family Style” cookbook into your “fancy dessert” repertoire and hope to have an excuse to make either (or both) sooner than later.
The sound of a wine bottle being corked signals the beginning of the cookbook club meeting. The host excitedly pours everyone glasses of the wine she has carefully selected to go with the evening’s menu.
Who we are:
A group of ten of women. Some of us were friends before. Some only knew one person when they joined. A few are pregnant or have nursing newborns. Others have kids in high school. Some work full time; some are stay at home moms.
But we all have one thing in common: We love cooking.
What we do:
Every six weeks, we meet and bring dishes from one cookbook. We go around and talk about what dishes we brought, what we think of the recipes and what our experience was like cooking them. The group gives feedback on each dish, making suggestions on new combinations to try or how we might tweak them.
Meanwhile, the host sets out three cookbooks that they have selected. The group peruses them throughout the evening, then we vote on which book will be next. After voting, we pass the chosen cookbook around. Each person decides what dish they’ll bring to the next meeting, often snapping a photo of the recipe with our phones. The host makes sure we have 2-3 appetizers, 2-3 entrees and 2-3 desserts.
Where it is:
We take turns hosting. Because there are ten of us, each person only hosts once a year.
The host goes all out when it’s her turn. She doesn’t cook at all. Instead, she provides the location, drinks and cooking-themed favors. Things like rosemary garlic butter, vanilla salt, homemade “quickly pickles” (from “The Picnic” by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson) in mason jars and homemade banana chocolate muffins with pecan streusel (from the time we cooked through “Once Upon a Chef” by Jennifer Segal).
Typically, the host has placed the menu in a pretty frame or artfully written it on a chalkboard. There are often candles, elegant table settings and fresh flowers. Sometimes, the host chooses to decorate the table in accordance with that particular cookbook. For example, I hosted on Ina Garten’s “Family Style” cookbook. I decorated the table with candles, seashells, rope and other nautical elements for an East Hampton vibe.
Why it’s so life-giving:
Cooking is Fun
Even for those of us who have a natural interest in cooking, the nightly task of coming up with something to make for our families can get monotonous. Depending of what stage of life you’re in, you may also have cranky toddlers at this time of night, a tight budget to work with and picky eaters to think of.
Cookbook club reminds us that cooking is fun.
I resist the urge to choose something I could simply double and use to feed my family for dinner as well as bring to cookbook club. This is my chance to shake things up and try my hand at Mini Savory Cheddar Dijon Scones or Deviled Eggs with Candied Bacon and Chives (both from “Once Upon a Chef”, by Jennifer Segal). It also gives us inspiration to then go back to our families and perhaps try out some of these dishes on them.
One Assigned Dish
You may not visit an upscale restaurant very often, but when you’re in cookbook club, you’ll feel as though you have.
Because each person only had to make one thing, special care and attention can be taken when making that one dish. We choose the recipes we are willing to commit to, and for once, attempt to make minimal (if any) substitutions and go easy on the shortcuts. We learn cooking techniques we probably wouldn’t try on a typical Tuesday night, such as candying walnuts or baking peppery parmesan crips to top homemade creamy tomato soup (as Chrissy Teigen instructs in “Cravings”). Each person pours their heart and soul into their assigned dish, and the difference is one you can taste.
Cookbook Club Nerds
I find both cooking and food to be such enjoyable topics to discuss, but I spare many of my friends who don’t share this same enthusiasm from excessive talk on the subject.
In cookbook club, you are free to be as nerdy as you like, discussing techniques for homemade salad dressing and what type of flour works best for golden raisin orange rolls with maple butter (found in “Let’s Stay In”, by Ashley Rodriguez).
Why Try It?
Before you dismiss the idea and decide you just don’t have time… ask yourself when was the last time you felt that “spark” in the kitchen. Cookbook Club has reminded us all of the joy, laughter and warmth that comes from taking a little time to follow the steps and make something delicious.
So gather up a few friends, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the scrumptious meal you’ve worked together to create. There’s always more room at the table.