We’ve all been there, ammiright? Your friend suggests a book club and everyone gets all excited and then, a month later, at best, half of you have read the book and the club gradually, if not rapidly, degenerates into either monthly drinking parties or total nonexistence.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of monthly drinking parties, but, at a certain point, the only honest thing you can do is stop calling it a book club. And ‘Drinking Club’ just doesn’t have that impressive, ‘I totally read New Yorker articles all the way through’ feel, does it?
But what can you do? These days, it’s so tough for most of us to be able to say with any certainty a month in advance that we’ll be able to prioritize reading the hot new summer novel over, say, running your business or feeding your kids or catching up on Game of Thrones?
Enter the Cookbook Club—a book club of a different color, where participants are merely required to pick out a single recipe from a cookbook, make it, meet up in a months time for a kind of curated pot luck, complete with merriment and social camaraderie. It’s like a book club where you don’t have to read as much but you still get to hang out and drink. Add a wide variety of awesome food you and your friends made and you’ve got a cookbook club.
I certainly can’t claim to have originated this wonderful idea, though we did hit upon it before the ever-in-the-know Gweneth Paltrow, it’d seem. Our cookbook club actually owes its existence to another, much more intense and strictly run predecessor that our friend, Ali, is a part of still. That cookbook club, started a while back some LA foodies unknown to us, involves rigorous membership rules—no couples, balanced genders among the group, one-time guests allowed as invited by the hosts. That last rule lent directly to our club’s creation. Our other friends, Maureen + Ilene, were guests of Alie’s when she hosted and immediately fell in love with the idea of a cookbook club. But when the time came around to plan the next cookbook and hosting date, Maureen + Ilene had a kind of ‘No Homers Allowed’ moment when they realized, as they checked their date books, that they weren’t invited. Guests are only allowed to attend when invited by hosts in order to control the size of the club and monthly get-togethers. And with that realization, poor Maureen + Ilene saw their cornucopic dreams of cookbook clubs to come dissolve before their very eyes.
So they did what any enterprising young Americans would do—they started their own damn cookbook club, one with much looser attendance policies and a more casual atmosphere overall. As we’ve been told, that original cookbook club trended towards the extremely culinarily ambitious, choosing cookbooks that had participants doing things like fermenting cheeses, using only implements that were available to pre-settlement Native Americans, and roasted animals whole. Our cookbook club is nigh so aspiring (or gross—whole animals‽). Don’t get me wrong—we go all out, but we’re also dealing with a humorously era-appropriate range of dietary restrictions, from vegan (woo!), to vegetarian, to paleo, to gluten-free.
But the results are great—we highly recommend starting a cookbook club to any and all. And it seems to be sweeping the nation…or LA, at least. Just the other day, we were touring the studios of local, beloved public radio station, KCRW and the producer of their Good Food segment told me they had their own cookbook club at the station.
All you need to do is find a willing group of participants—our group’s pretty small right now, around 10 people at its base—pick out a cookbook to cook from, and set a date + host. It’s on the host of the coming cookbook club to pick out a range of recipes, but it’s a good idea to pick more than you need, so everyone’s got plenty to choose from, and then do your best to think out the end menu, making sure there’s a good variety of appetizers + entrées and balancing the savory + sweet, greens/starch/protein/grain, et cetera. It’s also nice, as host, to hold off on choosing until most everyone has. That way, you give your guests first dibs and it opens you up to be able to chose something to balance out the menu, whether you initially shared the recipe or not.
Then the hosts just need to scan or copy the recipes and upload them to a common space. We use Google’s Drive to create + share spreadsheets that lists the chosen recipes so that members can then claim a dish (so you’re not doubling up on anything). Then you can link next to the recipe a scan and/or write-up of the recipe. We use the app TinyScan—which creates Zerox-esque scans with your phone’s camera, adjusting for page curve—and then photograph any enticing photographs of the dish that the recipes might be paired with in the cookbook (thanks for the recommendation, Ilene). Just be sure to take a quick look at the recipe to make sure there aren’t any ‘See page so-and-so’ recipes within recipes before sharing.
Then eat, drink, and be merry! We like to go through at the beginning to explain exactly what can be eaten by whom and most of tend to try to make dishes as vegan-/paleo-/GF-friendly as possible, putting cheese topping on the side, for instance. Then we go around the table and talk about making each dish—the perils of the recipe; how it could have been better, maybe; what we’d do next go ’round; what we think of the cookbook in general; how we felt when we were making the food…. But, if that’s not your bag, you can just dig in and high-five in silence.
Katie + I hosted the most recent cookbook club, choosing to cook from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s most recent book, Isa Does It, which went over great. Isa graciously gave me permission to reprint the recipe I chose. Well, I mean, kind of graciously. She sent the text + picture to the right. To be fair, that’s pretty gracious for her.
Korean BBQ Portobello Burgers
For the marinade:
1 cup water
1/4 cup light molasses (not blackstrap)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 cloves garlic, smashed
4 average-size portobello mushroom caps, stems removed
Olive oil, for spraying or brushing the grill
4 large white hamburger buns
1 cup kimchi
Prepare the Marinade:
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a large shallow bowl or pan with enough room to hold the mushroom caps in a single layer. Mix well.
Marinate the mushrooms gill side up for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Make sure that each mushroom is slathered in marinade.
Stovetop Grilling Instriations:
Preheat a grill pan over high heat. Spray or brush with oil. Place each mushroom gill side up in the pan and partially cover with a large lid. Cook for about 5 minutes; spoon a little more marinade on about halfway through. Flip each mushroom and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the center where the center was seems tender and juicy and the mushroom is nicely charred.
Preheat the broiler to high. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with oil and arrange on the oven rack about 6 inches from the heat. Place each mushroom gill side up on the baking sheet and broil for about 5 minutes per side. Spoon some marinade over the mushrooms while they are cooking.
Spread each bun with a little mayo. Place burger on bun and top with kimchi. I like to cut my burger with a steak knife and dig in!
Don’t remove the gills from the portobellos, even if you’ve seen them do that on cooking shows. They are loaded with flavor and texture, not to mention that the gills soak up marinade beautifully. Gently wash your caps before marinating them and you are A-OK.
Portobellos vary in size pretty drastically. They can be anywhere from the size of a hockey puck to the size of a small Frisbee. For burgers, I like mushrooms that are somewhere in between about 5 inches in circumference. Try to grab nice firm ones that are uniform in size and not limp or wrinkled. If you’re going to keep them stored in the fridge for a few days, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel instead of plastic. They need a little air to stay fresh.
Since I was making these for a larger crowd, I subbed in a cut up loaf of farmers market bread for the burger buns, multiplied the size of the recipe by 1.5, and cut the sandwiches into smaller sizes.
Pictured below, friends enjoying food + company at our last cookbook club; the excellent and highly recommended Isa Does It; vegan Chai Spice Snickerdoodles from Isa Does It, made by Martha; and the spread from the previous cookbook club, when we all cooked from Hugh Acheson‘s A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen. If you’re interested, you can read our write-up on the bread + butter pickles we made from that cookbook too. They’re awesome.