Cooking the Books – The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The grande dame of home cooking Julia Child said, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” No surprise, they’re also the best people to start a cookbook club with.

I posted about the first cookbook club in November (Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table). After this month’s meeting–a 15-dish extravaganza from the pages of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook–I think this is the best thing I’ve done in the nearly four years I’ve been writing this blog.

We're an entertaining group

It’s all of what I love about dinner parties (great food, entertaining at home, not trying to split a check six ways or feeling rushed by a waiter trying to turn a table) and potlucks (trying lots of different dishes) without the not-so-great parts of each (paying for and cooking all the food yourself, that one person who always only brings a bag of Lay’s and a sleeve of Solo cups). Plus it’s a great reason to use the dozens of cookbooks I have overflowing my bookshelf.

The best part, though, is how quickly a group of strangers can become friends over a shared, homemade meal.

Dinner is served

Here’s how it works so far:

  • At each meeting, we pick a cookbook, date, and host for the next meeting. Many people in the group are willing to host to spread out the effort.
  • Everyone who’s coming adds themselves to a Google doc along with:
    • the name of the recipe(s) they’re planning to make
    • if oven or stove space is needed for reheating/keeping a dish warm
    • food allergies or other restrictions
  • We set a maximum of 15 for most meetings for the sake of space, conversation, and food (even with everyone only making a single recipe, we all go home with something for lunch the next day).
  • As much as possible, we stick to the recipe as written.
  • We meet, we eat, we drink (BYO, and the host usually has libations to share, too). We talk about the recipes we made, what worked and what didn’t, what other recipes we want to try (or have tried).

We picked the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for January’s meeting. I’ve had this book since Deb did her booksigning in Chicago, but have only made a handful of recipes (though the red wine velvet cake and the carmelized onion and squash galette are two all-time favorites). To stay true to the spirit of the club, we decided recipes from her blog were off-limits; cookbook only!

February’s cookbook is the incomparable Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Want to play along at home? Pick a recipe, make it on February 20, and share what you made on Facebook! In Chicago and interested in joining the club? Send me an email!

A veritable Smitten Kitchen feast

When January’s meeting came around, these were the recipes at the table:

  • Rosemary gruyere sea salt crisps – Entirely addictive. Added to my recipe list for parties.
  • Pumpernickel grissini with horseradish-creme fraiche dip – Beautiful and delicious, though Chris, who made them, said the recipe didn’t make quite as many as it suggested.
  • Sugar snap pea salad – Everyone raved about this salad and it’s going to be in my regular rotation when snap peas are in season again.
  • Honey and harissa farro salad – The combination of spices, roasted vegetables, and goat cheese was another standout. I’m planning to try this with some leftover cooked barley.

Shortcakes with tomatoes and whipped goat cheese
Pot pie assembly
Mini pot pie

  • Tomato scallion shortcakes with whipped goat cheese – Even with winter tomatoes, these were delicious, though I could have happily just eaten the whipped goat cheese with a spoon. Keeping this one for tomato season next year.
  • Sweet peas and shells alfredo – This dish didn’t make it to the group dinner due to bad weather, but it looked beautiful and I heard it was delicious!
  • Sesame spiced turkey meatballs and smashed chickpea salad – We couldn’t stop raving about this. The meatballs disappeared faster than anything else at the table, were apparently very easy to make, and I loved the idea of serving meatballs over a salad like this. Sumac is also my latest spice obsession, so that’s a bonus.
  • Corn risotto-stuffed poblanos – I would never have thought to combine Italian risotto with Mexican poblanos, so thank god Deb Perelman did. I adored these with a bit of heat from the peppers to complement the creamy, corn-y, just-cheesy-enough risotto, but we decided sweet bell peppers would be great if you don’t like spicy food.
  • Gnocchi in tomato broth – This gave several of us the confidence to try making gnocchi at home and is on my list for a cozy weekend dinner.
  • Panchetta, white bean, and swiss chard pot pies (meat and vegetarian versions) – My contribution was easy (especially as a make-ahead dish), delicious, and one I will absolutely make again. I served it in little mason jars, which were a fun for a party, but next time I’d bake the crust on its own so it doesn’t get soggy in the middle (likely not an issue if you make this in dinner-sized servings). The recipe calls for 2 cups dry beans, cooked, or 1 1/3 cans of cooked beans, which are very different amounts–I just used 2 cans.

Chocolate silk pie
Strawberry fools
Chocolate chip brioche pretzels

  • Buttered popcorn cookies – They sound (and look) kind of crazy, but taste like a cookie version of sweet-salty kettle corn. Yes please. My new popcorn maker will be put to good use.
  • Chocolate chip brioche pretzels – As rich and delicious as they were, these came with a warning from Mike, who made them–the dough is rough on stand mixers, so make at your own risk.
  • Strawberry cheesecake fools – These were another group favorite with juicy strawberries, crunchy cookie crumbs, and a slight tang from the cream cheese. Gena made one version using frozen summer strawberries and another with regular supermarket strawberries; both were delicious.
  • Chocolate silk pie – It took some effort to detach the crust from the pie pan, but the taste was 100% worth it–the richest chocolate mousse you’ve ever had (it lives up to the “silk” in its name) with a chocolate-y, buttery crunch from the crust.
  • Spritzy ginger lemonade – The sleeper hit of the evening. The ginger and cayenne made for the perfect bit of warmth on a blustery, snowy Chicago evening (especially in a glass of sparkling wine), but we all agreed it would be a refreshing sip in summer, too.

Anxiously waiting for the dessert course

Most of us were already devoted followers of Smitten Kitchen, and pretty much agreed that we preferred Deb’s interaction with commenters and her ability to tweak recipes or offer clarifications on her blog. But we all plan to make nearly every one of the recipes again and are all excited to try some of the recipes we didn’t get to (we might need to revisit the book for our brunch meeting). When Deb’s next cookbook comes out, it will definitely be on our list!

4 thoughts on “Cooking the Books – The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

  1. I can’t even handle what a beautiful round-up this is, and how honored I am that you chose The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to come together and cook from. If only I could have beamed myself there! Thank you for making my day, and if you’ve run into any questions with the book recipes (crossing my fingers there weren’t too many!) I’m happy to help as much as I can.


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