I was invited to join the Ladies' Cookbook Club which is exactly what it sounds like. A cookbook club for women. It's quite a group. The founder, which sounds so formal and stuffy, which she isn't, is a food editor. Attendees included my friend @sarahm, one of the founders of a recently defunct freshly prepped meal delivery company, a woman who works once a week for one of the farmers at her local Green Market (genius, I was thinking it would be a smart gig and per her, it is!), a well-networked techie. The women are, for the most part, from an intersection of food and technology. (Oh, and there were plenty of fantastic necklaces to be had!)
The rules: pick a cookbook, pick a recipe. Each person selects one recipe to prepare, enough for 8-10 people. With 20 attendees, that's a lot of food!
The inaugural book was Plenty from U.K. chef-owner Yotam Ottolenghi. He is also the author of the new vegetarian column in the Guardian, despite his not being vegetarian.
Ottolenghi's recipes are ingredient-rich. Laundry lists of herbs, some possibly unfamiliar ingredients such as harissa or preserved lemons. I selected mushrooms with herbed polenta which called for four different fresh herbs and two tablespoons of truffle oil. Despite the lengthy chopping queue, it was easy to assemble and tasted fantastic. My two changes to the recipe would be minimal: more mushrooms (it calls for four cups, I used five and would advocate for six) and less oil (2T per batch of mushrooms was too much; 2T of truffle oil seemed overkill though it smelled delicious and made my cab ride delightful). He's not big on salt which is not a problem in this house, but several people wanted more salt.
If you can get over your worries about the ingredient roster, you'll be fine. I sipped tea and listened to craftlit's Dracula** while prepping. I did, in fact, prepare everything — mise en place! — and found it incredibly helpful.
My second dish, the Ultimate Winter Couscous, was less successful with the smalls. It came out too spicy; the rcipe calls for two tablespoons of harissa stirred in at the end. I might use only one or omit it altogether. The vegetables weren't soft enough; my own fault, in the rush to dinner I didn't check carefully enough.
On the other hand, it was the best couscous I've had and I don't like couscous. But, I used the vegetable broth I'd make on Sunday per Mark Bittman's directions in How to Cook Everythign Vegetarian. I browned my vegetables, included mushrooms, and tossed in soy sauce at the end. Vegetable stock is about as intersting as white bread to me, but this was rich and wonderful and showed well in both the polenta and the couscous. I'll do my stock this way always.
Despite the imperfections in execution, I'd make this again because it is easy, forgiving, and flexible as many of the recipes in the book seem to be.
Others on our list (Bama helped me choose):
- Green couscous
- mushroom ragout with poached duck egg
- green pancakes with lime butter
- saffron cauliflower
- lentils with broiled eggplant
- tomato party
- swiss chard, chickpea, and tamarind stew
- green lentils, asparagus, and watercress
- black bean paste and quesadillas
- soba noodles with eggplant and mango
- caramelized fennel with goat cheese
- Tamara's ratatouille
I'll stop there, but you get the picture. The recipes are not perfect. There have been several criticisms of portions in the ingredient list (the spicy Moroccan carrot salad calls for 2.5 cups of cilantro leaves which seemed overkill to the woman who made it. I thought it would be okay if they were chopped a bit more, but I'm a cilantro nut as it seems Ottolenghi is, as well); not enough salt; odd combinations. But with the nearly 20 dishes on the table representing about a third of the book (okay, I didn't count so maybe 1/4?) there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy. Even the fried limas.
**craftlit is a fabulous podcast. a chapter a week of a book, with readers for the characters. part play, part audiobook, all swell.