Last year, on my birthday, I received a great gift -- an email from an old friend inviting me to join in a great new experiment she was starting: a Cookbook Club!

Our club began with 6 members, all of us amateur home cooks with differing palates and cooking interests, but all with a desire to try new techniques and expand our repertoires. I’m fairly new to cooking. I’ve always enjoyed baking -- cakes, cookies, muffins, yum! -- but over the past few years I’ve developed more of an interest in cooking.

Genius Recipes Cookbook on Dinner table with food

Here’s how it works: every month to six weeks one of our members takes their turn to host the club for a Sunday afternoon lunch feast. The host chooses a cookbook ahead of time and each member gets a copy from the library, or shares purchased copies with each other. Each member then chooses a recipe or two from that book to make at home and bring to the meeting. We tell each other what we’ve chosen so that no one is bringing the same dish and we can ensure a balanced meal with starters, mains and dessert (even though a 6-cake meal does sound pretty good to me…)

When we sit down to eat, we tell each other about the cooking process of the recipe we chose, our experiences with the book, how easily we were able to follow the instructions, what we thought of the author’s voice. Sometimes, some of us will have tried other recipes through the weeks before the meeting and will talk about those as well. Every time, without fail, the food is delicious and more than we can eat in one sitting! We’ve learned to bring our own leftover containers with us to take home samples of each of the dishes for the next day’s lunch as well.

When I choose my dish each time, my first instinct is to make something I think sounds delicious, so I flag the yummiest sounding recipes in the book with post-its. Then I think about which of those dishes might allow me to try something new and stretch my cooking abilities. Since joining the cookbook club I’ve tried making: pakoras, shrimp grits, stuffed mushrooms, and even a -- admittedly unsuccessful -- roulade (a cake with jelly and ganache rolled up in it)!

Dinner table full of foodAs a former extremely picky eater, It’s been fascinating to try all kinds of new tastes in the kitchen and I’ve discovered so many dishes and cuisines I never would have thought I would enjoy making (or eating!). I’ve found that the control I have when I cook my own food from scratch allows me to try foods I might have turned up my nose at 10 years ago. I know all the ingredients and I’ve seen how they work together.

Cookbook Club has been such a cool experience. I’ve made new friends, found some new favourite cookbooks, and eaten A LOT of delicious meals. I take out new and recommended cookbooks from the library all the time to try and select my next host’s pick. Everytime I tell someone new about the club (which is often, I talk about it a lot) they ask, “are you looking for any more members?” But why not start your own?

If you’re interested in starting your own cookbook club, here are some tips!

  • Check the library catalogue before picking your book -- make sure there are a few copies available for other members to check out
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew -- I usually end up cooking my dish on Sunday morning before leaving for the meeting. Plan ahead so you’re not looking at the recipe realizing you need to let it sit for 6 hours between steps!
  • BYOT -- bring your own tupperware! The leftovers might be the best part of Cookbook Club! I also hold onto old takeout containers I won’t need back, so that if you’re hosting and someone needs to pack up more than they thought, you’ve got it covered.
  • If you’re hosting, put aside some serving dishes and utensils for people to use when they arrive. If you know you don’t have enough, just remind everyone to bring their own beforehand!
  • We’ve been lucky that no one in our group has any dietary restrictions. If your club has members with allergies, vegetarians or vegans, make sure everyone is aware and considerate of accommodating the other members’ needs.
  • Try something new, but not every time. I’ve had a great time making some meals I’d never tried before. However, sometimes I have a lot of other things going on the week of my Cookbook Club meeting and when that happens, remember: it’s okay to simplify! Between those time-consuming roulades and pakoras have been salads, punches, and other simple dishes that still round out the meal for everyone.
  • Six has been a great number of members of the club -- you all end up with leftovers, but you still get a chance to try everyone’s dish -- but you’ll figure out what works best for you and your friends!

shrimp cooking in a pan

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