If you've partaken before, you'll know that a traditional book club involves drinking copious amounts of wine (usually), eating a variety of mismatched and underwhelming potluck style dishes, discussing the most recent episode of The Bachelorette, and sharing feelings of guilt over the book you were supposed to read.
OK, there’s a little more to it than that, but why not provide a little more incentive to actually read a book, step up your potluck game, add focus or theme to the food, try recipes out of your comfort zone, and possibly become a better overall cook? Seems to me like it's time to try out a cookbook club with your friends.
The objective of a cookbook club is pretty straightforward: get a group of book-loving, like-minded food aficionados together, choose a cookbook, divide up the recipes in said book among the group, then get together again to share the delicious results. Oh, and still drink wine; there should always be plenty of wine too.
Here’s how a cookbook club works
Like with a book club, members meet to discuss a specific book, in this case, a cookbook. All of the prepared food comes from the cookbook being discussed. Each member should bring one dish. The bonus? You don’t even have to read a whole book - just your own recipe, which, at most, might be one to three pages. You can skim through the other recipes if you’re feeling ambitious.
A huge advantage of this compared to the traditional format is that the host is off the hook from providing the bulk of the food and drink, and therefore, all the backbreaking work (and stress); but be sure to alternate hosting duty. Although everyone is contributing by bringing a dish, the host is on pre-cleaning and post-cleaning duty. No one should be in charge of that every time.
Obviously, choose a frequency that works best for everyone. Once a month sounds like a no-brainer, but when you’re drowning in life, those four weeks and change sneak up on you pretty quickly. Once every two months gives you plenty of time to trial the recipe if desired, buy hard-to-get ingredients, and stay on top of life, or at least, stay afloat.
My favourite aspect is the minimal effort for huge reward. You spend an hour or two making one dish and get to taste a plethora of interesting plates that you might never have tried.
Hopefully, in a large group with varying levels of cooking skill and passion, you can find someone willing to take on the more technical, complicated recipes if you’re not inclined to volunteer yourself.
Draw new cookbooks out of a hat to avoid the natural human reaction to make excuses as to why you don’t want a particular book. Stick to the first one picked and challenge yourself.
Ultimately, the cookbook club gives you the opportunity to go in a culinary direction you might never have gone, work with unfamiliar ingredients, and visit unique ethnic grocery stores you may have never considered frequenting in the past. Oh, and you’ll have heaps of fun doing it. By being somewhat “forced” into a recipe, you might have previously skipped over, you never know what gems will become your new go-tos.
Here are some great Canadian suggestions to add to the hat:
Vij's Indian: Our Stories, Spices and Cherished Recipes
Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij bring together a new collection of popular Indian dishes cooked at their well-known restaurants that can easily be replicated at home.
The mastermind behind DNA and Maison Publique restaurants in Montreal, Derek Dammann provides a captivating look at modern Canadian cuisine from coast to coast and the evolution it took to get to where our food culture is today.
Flapper Pie & A Blue Prairie Sky – Karlynn Johnston
If you want to try out a dessert themed night, take a walk down memory lane with this nostalgic cookbook that adds a new modern spin to classic desserts.
A Spicy Touch: Family Favourites from Noorbanu Nimji’s Kitchen
Known as a master of spices, Nimji published her fourth and “best of” volume featuring everything from Indian classics to Indo East African fusion to recipes of Canada’s global modern influences.
All The Sweet Things
Perhaps one of the best books that can bridge the gap between a regular book club and the cookbook variety, All The Sweet Things by Saskatoon's Renee Kohlman provides both personal essays and mouth-watering recipes. If you've got a sweet tooth and like to feel like you're standing right beside Kohlman, getting candid in her kitchen, then this book is for you.
Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food
Delve deep into the world of East Caost cuisine with this new cookbook by Halifax-based writer, Simon Thibault. The author pulls from his own personal family history, as well as recipes passed down through generations. This fascinating and inspiring look into one of the oldest settlement of Canada will definitely get you and your friends cooking.