I am not a joiner. I’ve played on tennis teams and captained more than a few; I’ve taken classes with friends; I’ve served on boards. But most groups that require ongoing participation are too high maintenance for me and wear me out, which is why I’ve routinely declined invitations for wine and book clubs despite how much I like both wine and books.
One afternoon several years ago, while some neighbors and I were watching our children ride bikes up and down the street, one asked if I’d be interested in joining her book club. “I hardly have time to read a cookbook these days, but thank you for the thought,” I replied.
So what about all those cookbooks, collected over the years and sitting unread in my kitchen? Wonder how many of my foodie friends also had piles of unread cookbooks, abandoned for lack of time?
“What would you think about a cookbook club?” I asked a pal the next day. “Not every month, and just for a small group. Maybe we could actually test out some of the books we already own but don’t use.”
So I started a cookbook club: seven of my cooking friends, most of whom weren’t joiners either, and my own self. Every other month (ish), one of us picked a cookbook from our own shelves and assigned recipes from the book to the seven other cooks. The one who selected the book also hosted the dinner but didn’t have to prepare any food. With me so far?
Our first meal was from Lynne Rossetto Kasper‘s Splendid Table, which almost all of us owned and which almost none of us had ever used. We divvied up the recipes, brought them to our hostess’ home (and what a splendid table she had set!), and dissected each course as we ate. We gave the book thumbs-up for quality but all agreed that it was too complicated for every day cooking.
Over the 18 months that the cookbook club continued (yes, it proved too high maintenance for all of us and wore us out), we sampled, among others, the Neiman Marcus cookbook, some Tex Mex cookbook (too awful for me to remember the name), and, our favorite, Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris (from which every one of the recipes this week comes). For the one Christmas gathering we pulled off (we even invited spouses), we prepared a meal from the Norwegian Christmas cookbook, which I could not make up but you’ll have to take my word since I can’t find the book online. (Note: if you find this book and decide to prepare a dinner, do not, under any circumstances, make and serve a second batch of glogg. Just don’t.)
My cookbook collection is all the better for the short experience of the cookbook club, and we really did have some fun evenings sharing food the way meals are meant to be shared. Thanks to the club, I acquired all of Ina Garten’s books (highly recommend) and donated all of Rachel Ray’s to Goodwill.
A couple of weeks ago I made another pass through the shelves and discarded a few more, making room to try some new. The Kinfolk Table (so very beautiful) and Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food are now part of the permanent collection, although I haven’t managed to make it even a quarter of the way through either. Who knows, maybe I’ll host a cookbook club reunion to break them in.
Week of November 18| 2013
NOTE: all recipes this week are from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2004). Most recipes are available on the Food Network site, but a few aren’t. Just buy the book; I promise you won’t be disappointed.
|Herbed Baked Eggs | French Green BeansBreakfast for dinner is always popular in our house. This recipe (p. 64) is in the lunch section of Barefoot in Paris, but it’s rich enough for dinner, especially paired with delicious French green beans (p. 160).|
|Croque Monsieur | Matchstick PotatoesAnother recipe intended for lunch but hearty enough for dinner is the Croque Monsieur (p. 48 – yes, baked ham and cheese sandwich). Serve with matchstick potatoes (p. 153) or potato chips (p. 40 – sorry, this one’s not on the Food Network site. All the more reason to buy the book!). And if you haven’t made potato chips at home because you think it’s not worth the time and effort, you are mistaken. I promise.|
|Boeuf Bourguignon | BaguetteIna’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon has been featured here before because it’s easy, less expensive than the traditional recipe made with beef medallions, and 100% reliable. AND all of my people like it, which is a super bonus. I have made it using a slow cooker instead of the 1 ½ hours in the oven, and it works just fine. And, as the chef herself writes in the recipe, this dish is even better the second day.|
|Chicken w/40 Cloves of Garlic | Roasted Beets | Fennel SaladThe first time I made chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (from the Silver Palate Cookbook), I was nervous about the outcome. That’s a LOT of garlic, right? But it really does mellow in cooking, so if you’ve never been brave enough to try this recipe (p. 113) then today’s your day. Both the roasted beets (p. 150) and the fennel salad (p. 99) were favorites the night our cookbook club made them – and none of us thought we’d like either. Note: –online fennel salad is different from the book. Buy the book!|
|Goat Cheese Tart | Green Salad with VinaigretteThis is a simple dinner (tart p. 60, salad vinaigrette p. 102), and all the more tasty because of its un-fanciness. Use good goat cheese (I like Montrachet, as the recipe recommends), and fresh lettuce.|