A little over a year ago my friend Anne, who shares my love of cookbooks, sent me a message and asked what I would think about getting together a group of like-minded friends to create a cookbook book group. What did I think? I loved the idea!
So we reached out to everyone we could think of who might enjoy the idea of gathering once a month or so to dive deep into a particular cookbook or a cookbook author’s collection. The first month we chose Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. A few copies of the book were shared among the group, and each participant chose a recipe they wanted to make. Via email, we kept track of what each was making and in this way created a menu that was a pretty balanced meal. On the appointed evening we all gathered at Anne’s house bearing our contributions and a bottle or two of wine.
As you can probably imagine, a great evening followed with lots of lively conversation and delicious food – and mostly the conversation was about the food!
Now we decide on our next book or author at each gathering and busily plan what we’ll make the following month. A little more than a year has passed, with many great meals (literally) under our belts. We’ve explored Yotam Ottolenghi, Deborah Madison, Ina Garten, David Tanis, Suzanne Goin, Patricia Wells and more.
A few weeks ago we celebrated summer and the return of the beloved picnic by diving into The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket by Portland food writers (and friends) Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker & Jen Stevenson. I’ve been enjoying this delightful book all summer. It’s sweet sketches and handy tips like “A Deviled Egg Primer” and “What’s In Your Basket? The Definitive Packing List” are useful additions and really make me want to picnic as often as possible. But even if it’s just for dinner at home, I’ve already made quite a few of these recipes.
On the evening of our book group gathering (some affectionately call it “Cooking the Books”) a couple of weeks ago we were graced with perfect weather for alfresco dining. All the women gathered in my backyard, toting their dishes. It seemed like each dish was prettier than the last.
We started with the cocktails in a jar that Andrea made – Elderflower Pimm’s Cup. Each drink was charmingly served in a pint-sized mason jar. The fruit and cucumber marinated in the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and the St. Germain liquor overnight, with the jar lids screwed on tight. When it was time to serve, we simply removed the lid, added ice, club soda and a sprig of mint – and voilà! It was the perfect apéritif.
The buffet was laden, but we sipped our cocktails alongside Courtney’s Deviled Eggs (the Gremolata variation), Anne’s Chicken Liver Mousse with Lillet Gelée, and Gretchen’s Cobb Salad on a Stick. Oh wait – we also had Susan’s Savory Rosemary Pecan Sandies with Marmalade (with their orange, rosemary and pecan flavors – those made me think of Christmas).
N.B. I’m attributing each of these dishes to an individual in the group – but really the recipes come straight from the book. We don’t have many rules, but we do try to stick as close to the author’s recipe as possible when we do these, so that our fellow attendees know what the printed recipe actually tastes like. There is plenty of room for improvisation in the future.
After we’d devoured just about every single deviled egg, and moved from cocktails to wine, we decided it was time to fill our plates and sit.
I mentioned the buffet was laden – there was so much food it barely all fit on the table.
Linda brought the Kale Panzenella with Burnt Lemon Caeser Dressing, Lynne brought the Ooh-La-La Nicoise and Sarah contributed the Farro Tricolore with Balsamic Fig dressing (which I made again just last weekend).
Patty won best story of the night when she told us about her Horseradish-Rubbed Flank Steak with Blistered Tomatoes (Earlier in the day she stopped at the market in Portland to pick up the meat. “Zupan’s” for those of you who are local. When she got home to McMinnville – an hour away – she realized the checker hadn’t put the steak in her bag. She called the store and after being put on hold a few times they said “someone is coming your way, they’ll deliver it”. Fabulous thought Patty, but the recipe calls for a minimum of a 2 hour marinade. When she mentioned that to the store manager on the other end of the phone he said “read me the recipe”. And that’s how it happened that Patty’s flank steak got put into a marinade in Portland and driven out to McMinnville by a great customer service rep). And I made the Postcard Pissaladière which was so good and had a wonderful crust.
Each one of the dishes was delicious. Perhaps I’m biased, but I really loved the Pissaladière! Though the truth is I’d happily recommend any of these dishes to you. Also, we were all delighted to report that none of the dishes we’d chosen had been too much effort for the reward (we’ve definitely had books in the past where that was the case).
In fact, even those who hadn’t yet bought the Picnic book, were saying they’d have to find room for their own copy on their shelves. By the way, it’s such a pretty book that it also makes a great gift, perhaps complete with a basket?
And so it was a beautiful evening. Next month we’re diving into Deb Perlman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Now what shall I make….?
Debbie Poulin says
Such inviting words and images Maria. Have you sent this to the author/publisher of the book? You should, because this article makes me want to go out and buy it. I also think the right publisher would find your “cooking the books” book club quite attractive too.
Maria Stuart says
Yes, the authors of the book are friends of mine. They all three live in Porltand and are food writers. I love this book, it’s so delightful!
WOW, what a fabulous idea for a book club! Right up my alley….you have inspired me!
Maria Stuart says
Hi Jen, As I mentioned to John, we’re at capacity in our group.But you should start your own!
Just to give credit, where credit is due, the wonderful customer service came from Zupan’s in Lake Oswego. I love to shop at Zupan’s; they clearly care about food and the cooking experience.
Maria Stuart says
Aha! Thanks for the clarification Patty!