Ever wondered what is involved with a cookbook club? I've got all the info you need to know and lots of helpful tips on planning and hosting a cookbook club meal!
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Last month, I started a cookbook club. Although we are only into month 2 of 2020, I can already tell you that by the end of this year, the cookbook club will definitely be a highlight for me. The Sweet Cayenne Cookbook Club is a little different from other cookbook clubs in that we focus on a new book every three months instead of picking a new one each month. Three months seemed like a good amount of time to let people really cook through a book and get to know it - whether it is learning the techniques the book seeks to teach or making a favorite recipe a few times so that it becomes your own.
For each of the 3 months, there is a different challenge to participate in. In month 2, the challenge is to plan and/or host your own cookbook club event. That's what I'm writing about today! The goal of this challenge is to have a group of people make recipes from the same book and gather together to enjoy and discuss the results. There's no pressure here because most everyone will be trying the recipe for the first time. And there's the opportunity to discuss what you like about a recipe as well as what you'd change. I'm proud to say that I just hosted my first cookbook club dinner this past Friday, and I'm so excited to share all the details here, as well as give you some tips for planning your own. Let's get into it!
Cookbook Club: Tips for Planning a Meal
Below are some tips for planning and hosting a cookbook club meal. You are welcome to choose your own cookbook and group, or join in the book that the Sweet Cayenne Cookbook Club is currently exploring!
Step 1: Decide who's going to be at your cookbook club meal. It can be the same people each time, or a different group! It's all up to you. There are pros and cons to both. If your cookbook club group is the same, you can rotate who hosts each time depending on who all is willing to host. If the group is different every time and you host, you get really good at entertaining and you get to know more people. Make sure everyone knows at least one other person who will be present. That way people will feel comfortable yet have the chance to make new friends!
Step 2: Choose a date and time. A simple way to do this is to send out a survey through a Google account to everyone you'd like to invite. Ask their preference for a date, time, and any dietary restrictions they may have. Here's an example of one I created with Google forms. Or you can just start a group chat for your club!
Step 3: Pick a theme for your meal and decide who is making what. An easy way to do this is to take a picture of the table of contents and send it out to everyone. Typically, the host makes the main dish and provides plates, utensils, and beverages. Everyone who comes makes the appetizer, sides, any special drink recipe, and dessert. For my cookbook club dinner, we chose a Mexican theme from the Magnolia Table cookbook. As the host, I made the Blackened Fish Tacos with Mango Slaw. Everyone else brought the sides (Guacamole, Fresh Salsa, chips, Mexican Rice) and dessert (Dulce de Leche Apple Pie with ice cream).
For a potluck-style dinner (this is the route I chose) you can have as many people as you like to come. I'd say 12 at the max to keep things manageable. But if you literally want to cook the meal together, I'd recommend inviting 6 people at the most. 4 people would be my preference. Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to chaos, especially if your kitchen is small.
When choosing the dishes to be made, be sure to consider dietary restrictions and how the dishes will transport. Offer to send a picture of the recipe if someone in your group doesn't have the cookbook but still wants to participate in the meal.
Step 4: Prepare your dish. If you're nervous about making a dish to share, consider doing a practice trial of the recipe. But don't feel like you have to! Part of the fun of a cookbook club dinner is the adventure of trying something new. Everyone is in the same boat as you are - making new recipes and learning new techniques. Don't put pressure on yourself! The goal is to enjoy the process of cooking, learning, and building community with others.
If you are bringing your dish to someone's home and it requires a last-minute step, like topping with cheese and melting under the broiler or garnishing with fresh whipped cream, be sure to tell your host ahead of time so they can set aside space for you.
Step 5: Eat and enjoy! What's more fun than enjoying several delicious recipes with your friends when you only had to make one of them? I think it's awesome!
Cookbook Club: Tips for Hosting
- Have everyone bring their own serving dish and utensils. They can take them home with any leftovers to wash them, making cleanup more simple for you.
- Keep things simple and fun. Don't worry if you need to ask friends to bring folding chairs (I've done this - my table only seats 6!) or sit on a pillow at the coffee table to eat. People just want to have a good time and chat! Don't worry about elaborate displays, plating techniques or garnishes. If this is going to be a sustainable gathering every now and then for your group, the last things you want to do is make it stressful for yourself!
- Have a few talking points to bring up if the conversation lulls:
- What's the first dish you ever learned to cook?
- What's your favorite cookbook and why?
- What did you love about the dish you made for the group?
- Where there any challenges with making your dish, finding ingredients, etc?
- Is there anything you'd change about the recipe to make it suit your preferences better?
- If you have the cookbook, what are some takeaways after reading through it? Was there a certain type of dish or cooking technique you were excited to learn?
I've made a handy-dandy printable of Cookbook Club talking points that you can download and print (or save to your phone)!
If you are interested in planning and/or hosting a cookbook club meal or have already done so, I'd love to hear about it, so please leave a comment below! If you are part of the Sweet Cayenne Cookbook Club, please tag #sweetcayennecookbookclub with pictures of you, your friends, and your dishes!