Cookbook Clubs

If you’re stuck in a rut, when it comes to cooking for your family (and really, who isn’t?), a cookbook club might be just the ticket to jazz up your repertoire.

These days most people don’t want to play the formal hostess like Betty Draper on Mad Men, with her “Trip Around the World” dinner party, staged to impress her husband’s business associates. Potlucks are the thing now; they’re easier and leave the host with more time to chat with the guests. However, like Betty’s menu of “gazpacho from Spain, rumaki from Japan, Hudson Valley lamb with mint jelly and German egg noodles,” you’re liable to be making a plate from an unpredictable assortment of culinary specialties with disparate origins and flavor profiles. Or you might end up with three baking dishes of mac and cheese and nothing for dessert.

Enter a different entertaining model: the cookbook club.

Like a book club, the members choose a book, but instead of a novel it’s a cookbook from which each person chooses a recipe. At the “meeting” (heck, why not call it what it is – a party), everyone brings the dish they made to share. Since they’re all sourced from one cookbook in advance, the dishes are more likely to work together and there will be a nice balance of entrees, sides, and desserts.

Aside from saving one person from having to do all the planning and work to produce a dinner party, there are other perks to being in a cookbook club. It’s a perfect excuse to socialize with your friends or make new ones who share a love of cooking. And just as one of the great things about being in a book club is reading books you might not have chosen, being in a cookbook club will encourage you to try recipes you may never have considered attempting on your own. It may not always work out, but there are those occasions when you are rewarded with a totally unexpected and maybe even revelatory pleasure. In a recent Serious Eats article online, cookbook writer Tara Austen Weaver explained that her cookbook club “encourages us all to go beyond our comfort zone, because support and problem solving are built into the structure of the group. An email thread often develops a week or two ahead of our meeting: Does anyone know where to get sorghum syrup? Who has a bottle of rosewater and wouldn’t mind sharing? Where can I find fresh curry leaves? Having company makes the unfamiliar feel more accessible.” If you’re stuck in a rut, when it comes to cooking for your family (and really, who isn’t?), a cookbook club might be just the ticket to jazz up your repertoire.

I’ve started a group called “Cooking the Books” and will be sharing reviews here as we meet bimonthly. We’re still working out the details, but for our first selection I’m suggesting drawing from local chef Laura Pensiero’s, Hudson Valley Mediterranean (William Morrow Cookbooks).

Here’s a great winter warm-up dish that’s easy to transport:

Tomato-Maple Glazed Meat Loaf

Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean by Laura Pensiero


½ cup tomato sauce

1 T maple syrup

1 T tomato paste

Meat Loaf:

¾ cup bread crumbs

1 onion, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

¼ cup milk

2 T ketchup

2 T tomato paste

2 T chopped fresh parsley

1 T Dijon mustard

1 T Worcestershire sauce

3 large eggs

¼ tsp smoked paprika

1-¼ lbs ground beef

1-¼ lbs ground pork

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325º F.

Prepare glaze: Mix ingredients for glaze in a small bow and set aside.

For the loaf, combine all ingredients except for meats in a large bowl and mix well. Add meat and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until blended, being careful not to over mix. Transfer mixture to a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan and press into a loaf shape.

Roast in preheated oven and remove after 40 minutes to add glaze to the top of loaf. Return to oven and roast for another 15 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 155º F. Let it stand in the pan for about ten minutes before removing. Slice and serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.