Last week I hosted a long-overdue meeting of my London Cookbook Club, a potluck gathering where members pick a cookbook and try their hand at making recipes from that cookbook. Back in the spring, after we made a delicious Indian feast, our club selected Orange Blossom and Honey: Magical Moroccan Recipes from the Souks to the Sahara by John Gregory-Smith. We thought traveling to the medinas of Morocco through a delicious dinner would be just the thing for a chilly fall evening.
Cookbook Club Recap
Selfishly, the most amazing thing about London Cookbook Club is that I love having the chance to make a big feast. Usually I make about 3-4 recipes, and I can’t resist a bread recipe. As our Cookbook Club as journeyed from the Peruvian delicacies of the Andes Mountains to an elegant patisserie in San Francisco, every culture combines some form of yeast, flour, water and time to make beautiful bread as a base for their meal.
For the other members of the London Cookbook Club, they’ve told me that they like trying new recipes from cookbooks they might otherwise never pick up and tasting dishes that they may not otherwise make themselves. Our Moroccan feast had a silky beef and prune tagine, two tender chicken dishes (one called Aicha’s chicken, which was a fall-off-the-bone tender chicken and the other a chermoula-marinated whole roasted one), pulled lamb, harissa carrots, seafood bastillas (pastries) … the list was seemingly endless.
We loved the warm spices, the subtle textures and the very straightforward recipes presented among gorgeous photographs in Orange Blossom and Honey. The hubby lived for several years there and proclaimed that many of the dishes tasted very authentic. Since some of our cookbook club members have never been to Morocco or tasted Moroccan food, we thought the dishes showed that the recipes in Orange Blossom and Honey are representative of Moroccan cuisine and easy to make, to boot.
How to Start Your Own Cookbook Club
We’ve now had eight meetings of our Cookbook Club, and I’m proud to say that we’ve kept this little project of mine alive despite everyone’s busy schedules. Here are some tips on how to start your own cookbook club wherever you’re living:
- Pick a cookbook: Start slow and easy! Our first cookbook club choice was a compilation of British food writers, chefs and notable food personalities. Pick something that’s representative of your region (like Matt and Ted Lee’s excellent Southern cookbook, if you’re from the Deep South, or this beautiful one about Los Angeles’ cafeteria culture, if you’re West Coast-based).
- Gather interest: Invite just a few friends to start. Scope out other foodie-oriented acquaintances. Like the brownies that kid’s mom made for the school tailgate? Ask her to join!
- Set a date: I use Doodle to take a poll of when everyone’s available and pick a date based on everyone’s responses. Then, I send out an e-mail with the date and a Google spreadsheet asking for names, e-mail addresses, and selected recipes. A week before the big day, I send out another reminder to give everyone time to shop and prepare. As the host/hostess, it’s a good idea to wait until everyone else has picked their recipes, then pick your own based on any “gaps” that need to be filled to make a full meal (e.g., another meat dish, more salads, or a dessert).
- Set the table: Cookbook Club is about the food, not the tablescape. I always use paper plates and disposable utensils, since members will often try (and re-try) dishes over the course of an afternoon or evening. Everyone makes their dishes beforehand and brings them to Cookbook Club, so we always excuse dishes for temperature (i.e., things that would otherwise be eaten piping hot are just fine at room temp).
- Talk about it: Usually at some point during the meal we talk about our experiences cooking our dishes. How easy was the recipe to follow? Did anyone have difficulty finding the ingredients? What would you do differently if you had to make the recipe again? Would you make this recipe again? All of these insights are great for helping each other become better cooks.
- Next time: Before you break up for the evening, pick the cookbook for your next Cookbook Club meeting. That way, you get everyone’s input!
Interested in more Cookbook Club? Check out these other posts:
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 1: The Really Quite Good British Cookbook
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 2: Persiana
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 3: Ceviche
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 4: Tartine
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 5: Tasting Georgia
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 6: Chicken and Rice
- London Cookbook Club Ch. 7: Made in India
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