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Everything You Need to Start or Join a Cookbook Club

Cookbook Club

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On Tuesday nights, a group gathers at Read It & Eat, a culinary bookstore in Chicago. Each person brings a dish she has made from a special cookbook, forming a complete dinner party during which everyone feasts and discusses the food. “These dinners bring people together and encourage them to try recipes they might never have attempted,” says Esther Dairiam, the shop’s owner.

Now, you may not live in Chicago, but you can be inspired to start your own cookbook club. Round up friends and acquaintances, figure out logistics (will you rotate hosts?), and pick your first book. These tips will make your club extra dynamic.

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Start a New Group

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Make sure your group has chemistry. Six to 12 people is ideal, Dairiam says. Any fewer, and you’ll lack variety; any more, and it will be dificult to have a cohesive discussion. Invite people with similar food preferences. This is one place where vegans and Paleos won’t mesh.

Consider your cookbook list. Pick a theme—say, diving deep into Indian or Thai food—or visit a new cuisine at each meeting. In any case, go for books that are slightly out of your comfort zone but not too complicated. Read on for cookbook ideas and recipes from some of our favorites. 

Bring the meal to life. Create a shared sign-up sheet in Google Docs for dish contributions. The right mix will evolve when people see what others are making. (If you'll be supplying drinks, consider these surprisingly affordable wines.)

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Books to Cook From

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Your club will love these five new guides. Scroll down for a sample of recipes you might see inside.

  • Smitten Kitchen Every Day, by popular blogger Deb Perelman, is filled with easy yet inspired twists on your favorites.
  • Istanbul & Beyond, by writer Robyn Eckhardt and photographer David Hagerman, serves up Turkey’s varied regional cuisines.
  • Eating From the Ground Up, by writer and culinary instructor Alana Chernila, offers delicious veggie-forward ideas for whatever new treasures you find at the farmers market.
  • Gather & Graze is filled with all the home-cooking tricks and recipes from acclaimed chef Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat in Chicago. 
  • What’s Gaby Cooking, by food blogger Gaby Dalkin, gives a taste of the West Coast with fresh dishes that make the most of amazing ingredients like strawberries, limes, and great-quality dark chocolate.

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Scarlet Turnip Galettes

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These gorgeous galettes—from Eating From the Ground Up by Alana Chernila—will steal the Instagram show. Make a little extra to keep a few at home, because the combo of turnips, goat cheese, and thyme will guarantee that your dish is the first to go.

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Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Grilled Salmon with Blueberry Szechuan Chile Sauce

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Cooking for a cookbook club is no time to play it safe. Impress your fellow foodies by taking the time to master a blueberry Szechuan chile sauce—from Gather & Graze by Stephanie Izard with Rachel Holtzman—then liberally pouring it over salmon. (Here are five more ways to cook salmon that don't take all night.)

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Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Mango-Apple "Ceviche" with Sunflower Seeds

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Unless you have a small group and access to an oven, you'll want to bring something that's fine to be served at room temp like this mango-apple "ceviche" from Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman. It's more sophisticated than the average fruit salad, and you can throw it together in the 20 minutes before your club meeting.

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Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

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