If you've ever been a part of a book club, you know that in addition to discussion of the book, there's often good food, good drink and a lot of catching-up chatter. Imagine a book club where the food takes center stage and the required reading is a lot more manageable. Sounds delicious, doesn't it?
Instead of diving into the latest bestselling novel, cookbook club members dive into a cookbook. These clubs have been increasing in popularity over the past few years, and I understand why. (Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with curling up with 200+ pages and reading something great. Cookbook clubs are just another flavor to try.)
How a cookbook club works
Ideally, a cookbook club is comprised of members who enjoy cooking and want to try new recipes. Usually, each member brings a dish they made at home from a recipe in the designated cookbook. The meal becomes a themed potluck, and everyone gets to sample a variety of recipes from the same cookbook.
I think the best part of being in a cookbook club is getting the chance to try recipes that I would have never thought to make. I was a part of one of these clubs for a while when I worked alongside other food writers at a Philadelphia co-working space. The first book we chose was Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table."
I chose to make Quiche Maraichere, a quiche made with fresh, seasonal market vegetables. It's a recipe I would gravitate toward naturally because it's a little familiar and it has lots of good cheese. I wouldn't have picked out something like Chestnut-Pear Soup, but one of the club members made it and I loved how the two flavors melded together. The soup was amazing.
Starting a cookbook club
Getting started isn't difficult. You need to invite people who want to cook and are committed to doing so for every meeting. Once you have members, you'll decide how frequently you'll meet and where. Will you rotate homes or always meet at one person's house? Will the host provide all the plates, napkins and glassware, or will everyone share that responsibility, too?
The biggest decision will be choosing cookbooks. Consider the skill level of all your members and choose cookbooks that are challenging but not overwhelming. If your group doesn't have a lot of cooking experience, you probably don't want to start out with Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
Once a book is chosen, everyone picks a recipe and shares what they've chosen so there are no duplicates. Then at the chosen time, everyone shows up with their food, and the feast begins.
Cookbook options to get you started
There are thousands of cookbooks to chose from — and "Around my French Table" is a great one to use — but I went to my cookbook shelves and decided to see what jumped out and said "I'm a good cookbook for a cookbook club." Here are the ones that spoke to me:
- "Back to Basics" by Ina Garten is good for clubs with members who aren't really confident in the kitchen (and make sure someone chooses the lemon pound cake recipe!)
- "In Pursuit of Flavor" by Edna Lewis is good if you want to be regional. This is a Southern cookbook with a focus on seasonal, real foods.
- "Herbivoracious" by Michael Natkin is good if you want to go meatless. There are 150 vegetarian recipes to choose from, with lots of flavor and nutrition.
- "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends" by Lynne Rosette Kasper and Sally Swift is good if you have extra time to put into a recipe.
- "The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen" by Amelia Salesman is good if you want to try cooking from a different cultural perspective; and if you are Jewish, this may already be part of your repertoire.
I'd also recommend going outside the boundaries of one cookbook. For one of your club meetings, instead of cooking from one cookbook, why not choose recipes from one cookbook author? Pick one of the forerunners of the food movement like James Beard, Julia Child or Richard Olney. Or go the celebrity chef route and cook a recipe from any cookbook by Giada De Laurentiis, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Alice Waters or Jamie Oliver. Pick any cookbook author you want and have fun with it.
Do you have any recommendations?