Thursday, February 9, 2012

Food on Thursdays: Cookbook club

Photos or not, I need to tell you about our cookbook club. Update: I now have photos for you, thanks to the very talented Amanda Schnarr. Thank you for sharing, Amanda!

I've never been part of a book club, but when I read over at Tea and Cookies last year about starting a cookbook club, I was instantly hooked on the idea. I needed to make it happen. And since I had just returned full-time to Canada, I figured that I could at the very least guilt some of my friends (though when you mentioned food and eating, you really don't need guilt) into making room in their chaotic schedules to come hang out with me.

My scheming worked.

The first meeting took place in November, but since getting a group of people together is notoriously difficult, especially when some of them live out of town and most of them have young children, only three of us made it for the inaugural meeting. No matter the numbers, it was an excellent beginning. We chose The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and made an incredible dinner. There was champagne, crab cakes, roasted brussel sprouts and chicken, and brownies made with an impressive amount of butter.

With the momentum of our first meal, we got to business arranging the second meeting. We skipped December in honour of the bizillion commitments people have over the holidays, and chose to meet instead at the beginning of February. I hosted this time around because our house was empty while my mum and stepfather are off gallivanting on some Mexican beach (not that I'm jealous). After choosing a date we needed a book. I headed to the library and brought home an solid collection of cookbooks and began browsing (I was considering Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights and Tender), but felt stuck on not wanting everyone to feel like they needed to buy a new book just for this one meal. Not everyone had the time to search out libraries for a copy and I didn't want to discourage anyone from joining us. And since we're not really working (for actual money) in this house, it wasn't in the budget to buy a new book. So what to do?

The internet, my friends.

I realized one day that some of my favourite cookbooks aren't actually cookbooks--they're food blogs. Since the internet is nothing if not accessible, I thought it was the perfect way to easily include everyone. We could choose a blog, browse the archives, and in no time we'd be eating (and this is all about eating, obviously). For those of you who've visited this blog, you'll be familiar with my stalking of Smitten Kitchen, so it was an easy first choice. I chose a few recipes just to get things going, sent them out to the group to consider, and invited them to search Deb's blog to come up with their own ideas.

Our meal was a huge success, if you don't mind me bragging a bit. I can't think of too many other ways I'd want to spend an afternoon: great friends, too much food, and the chance to celebrate the beauty of a shared meal. There was a little chaos, a lot of laughing, and our party wasn't even crashed until the very end, upon the arrival of The Children. I hope that everyone else enjoyed themselves as much as I did. Thank you so much for indulging my obsessions.

For those of you who want to try this out for yourselves, head over to Tea and Cookies, my original source of inspiration. But for what it's worth, here are a few suggestions:

  • Once the cookbook/blog is chosen, decide on the structure of the meal. I figured that we'd need an appetizer or two, a few side dishes, an entree (we chose a meat dish), and, of course, at least two desserts. This way everyone could see what others had chosen and make their own choice according to what had already been scratched off the list.
  • At both meetings the person hosting the dinner made the main dish because the meat had more demanding cooking schedules (it just seemed easier to cook the meat in the kitchen where dinner would be served). Of course this isn't necessary, and neither is having a meat dish at all. But it worked for us. 
  • As host of Sunday's dinner, I was in charge of putting things together. I'm not sure if we'll take turns organizing (maybe the person hosting will take on this role each time), but I was happy to do it. In order to keep things in order, I created a spreadsheet to keep everything straight: food restrictions, who was in charge of making what. I am a proud cookbook club nerd. 
  • I wish that I had taken some time to write down the names of all the dishes so that everything could have been labeled on the counter. I think that it would have shown off the food better, prevented me from mixing up the details, and it just would have looked nice.
  • On a practical level, I think next time I'll use paper plates and cutlery. I just didn't have enough in my kitchen to cover all of our needs, and I found myself washing forks halfway through the meal. I don't like using paper, but I think it would be worth it. 

Here is what we made:

Artichoke-olive crositini
Pesto potato salad with green beans
Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint
Warm mushroom salad with hazelnuts
The best baked spinach
Buttermilk roast chicken
Roast chicken with dijon sauce
Whole lemon tart
Pear cranberry and gingersnap crumble
Crisp salted oatmeal white chocolate chip cookies

Are you drooling yet?

P.S. Sorry for not having any photos of the food, or of my gorgeous friends eating that food, but I was too busy having fun to take any photos. Update: Thanks again for the beautiful photos, Amanda!
P.P.S. The baker of the incredible lemon tart wasn't able to stay for dinner, but she drove an hour to deliver the tart. An hour. I have good friends.


  1. It was the ultimate in enjoyment on every level! I would do it again and again for the food, the company and the laughs :) You are the hostess with the mostest friend :) xox

  2. I am so flattered to have been part of your cookbook club, and happy you enjoyed these recipes (you picked several of my own favorites). Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Deb! Looking forward to your book coming out soon!