Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cookbook Club

Inspired by an article by Seattle food writer Tara Austen Weaver, I've started a cookbook club with a group of friends. If you're looking for excuses to feast with friends, Weaver makes it sound pleasant on stress-free. So far, so good!

We're a small group for now, at least until we get a feel for it. Eight of us expressed interest, and six attended the first gathering. The idea is that we'll get together every 6-8 weeks, and each of us will bring a dish from the book we selected at the previous meeting. Since this was our first meeting, I brought along a dozen or so  cookbooks for us to peruse. Everyone brought a dish, loosely organized via email so we would have variety.

 Plenty and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi generated a lot of oohs and ahs. Rene and I have both owned Plenty since its release in 2011, so we are familiar with its vibrant vegetarian flavors and colors. Rene contributed a beautiful and delicious tart from Plenty More, which looked just like its picture in the book. The cauliflower inside was magically firm yet tender, easily cut with a fork but holding its shape.
Judy, our hostess, made a rustic and tasty beef daube, using a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.  Served in a cast iron dutch oven, it was the definition of warmth on a cold, drizzly fall night.
Colleen and I are both addicted to The Great British Baking Show, and we were both inspired to try our hands at pâte à choux. Colleen opted for gougères with cheese and herbs (using a recipe from an old index card - the best kind!), and the results were lighter than air and quickly devoured. They made a perfect compliment to Jessica's cream of broccoli soup (which I failed to photograph. Sorry. Picture a lovely bright green soup, bursting with broccoli flavor).

I chose the sweet route for my pate a choux, mostly following the éclair recipe in Tom Douglas's Dahlia Bakery Cookbook (a personal favorite). I wanted to try something different, so I filled half of the pastries with chai-infused pastry cream and dipped them in a lemon-honey glaze. The other half I filled with the traditional vanilla pastry cream and covered with chocolate glaze. I'm cheating a bit with the picture - I'd made bite-sized versions, seen below, the night before for a different dinner party. Then I re-crisped and filled the remaining baseball-sized shells the next day. I tried to reheat the leftover chocolate glaze, and it was a broken disaster. Then I thought I'd melt some chocolate with cream for a quick glaze, but I seized the chocolate. Disaster #2, but eventually edible. They weren't pretty, but they were delicious!
Colleen also brought a salad, and she managed to put all of my favorite things in it: dried cherries, arugula, toasted pine nuts, and apples. I don't know what she put in the vinaigrette, but it was just right.

Last but certainly not least, Nicole brought a stunning baked ratatouille.  Layers of paper-thin sliced eggplant and zucchini nestled in a light tomato sauce with red bell peppers, served warm with a dollop of goat cheese and a rustic loaf of bread.  When I saw the "before" picture of her dish on Facebook before our gathering, I knew this cookbook club was an excellent idea.
The evening was deemed a success, with plenty of wine and conversation flowing, and we selected a book for our January meeting: Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes.  There was some debate, but we decided to save Tacos: Recipes and Provocations for a summer evening when tomatoes, chiles, and margaritas are in season. Soups and noodles just seemed more seasonally appropriate. I can hardly wait! Oh, right. We forgot to set a date...

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