It’s 6:30 pm on a Thursday. Our typical Thursday is scrounging for leftovers after our 7-month-old paints himself with green vegetable puree, but tonight there’s jazz softly playing. A dear friend is bouncing Larson on her knee; another is pouring wine into stemless glasses. I’m putting the finishing touches on quinoa risotto with roasted brocolli. There’s muffled laughter, the clink of glasses. The table is full: kale salad with apples, smashed baked potatoes with vegan aioli, and macaroon truffles. How is this possible, and on a weeknight nonetheless? Welcome to the magic of the cookbook club.
A cookbook club is like a dinner club or a potluck. Instead of everyone marching to their own beat like the typical potluck, all the recipes at the table are from the same cookbook. What makes this experience unique is that instead of a mismatched patchwork of dishes, all the recipes come from the same author, making them into a cohesive meal. Each person who attends the dinner brings one dish from the cookbook. So in the time it takes to make only one dish, you get a beautiful meal that would take one dinner party host countless hours to prepare.
All photos below by the talented Lauren McDuffie of Harvest and Honey.
Planning a cookbook club
Cookbook clubs are quite simple to pull off. Here are a few of our tips for planning and running a cookbook club.
Choose the club members. Our ideal number of guests at a dinner party is 6 to 8. This fits everyone around the table comfortably, allowing each attendee to converse and feel part of the group. Once a group gets larger, conversations are more segmented and eating together becomes more complicated. We prefer an intimate dinner party group over a massive one since we’re able to get more quality time with each guest.
Select your venue. Determine whether to host the cookbook club at the same house each time, or rotate locations. It’s nice to rotate locations so that each person or couple gets a chance to show off their space and be in charge of the setup and cleanup.
Choose your cookbook. Rotate the choice of the cookbook for each club member; a simple way is to have the host choose the book. The book for our inaugural cookbook club was The First Mess by Laura Wright (she’s also featured on our podcast, Episode 40).
Pick a date on the calendar. It can be difficult to find a date for dinner even between two people! Using a Doodle poll can be helpful to narrow down a date. Don’t forget weeknights, since sometimes weekends can be the first to fill up. We like Thursday or Friday nights, since they’re a nice way to wind down into the weekend.
Make a recipe signup. Make a shared signup sheet for the recipes in the book. Here’s how we do ours: I created a shared Google document and added any dietary restrictions at the top. Then, I added each participant’s name with a place for them to write down the recipe they selected. Below, I added a photograph of the Table of Contents of the cookbook to provide the list of recipes to choose from. To obtain the book, the cookbook club members can purchase the cookbook or check it out from the library. Or, I offered to send a photograph of a recipe if the guest wasn’t ready to commit to buying the book. As cookbook authors ourselves, Alex and I highly recommend buying cookbooks to support your favorite authors and have a physical memento of the night. Pro Tip: Have the location host sign up for making the main dish. This way, the guests who are traveling can bring appetizers, sides, and desserts, which tend to be easier to transport.
Find a recurrence. This might be the most important: decide on a recurrence of the cookbook club. One resource I saw recommended every 6 weeks, since monthly can be hard to commit to with busy schedules. Our cookbook club agreed 6 weeks was a comfortable rotation for us. In talking to people whose dinner clubs have fizzled out, choosing a frequency that everyone can commit to is a key predictor of the sustainability of the group.
Plan the logistics. Since our cookbook club is just 6 people, the logistics are simple. Everyone brings over their dish and we eat. However, larger cookbook clubs may have more challenges like having enough plates, silverware and glasses to go around. To solve this problem, some hosts of larger parties ask their guests to bring their own plates, bowls, and silverware.
Just have fun. Once everyone is assembled and the food is ready, it’s time to let loose! Clear your mind of distractions, grab a glass of wine, and dig in to some good food and conversation. If the members don’t know each other, consider some guided questions to get things going. Our first cookbook club was a mix of old and new friends, and the conversation was equal parts goofy and profound.
A selection of cookbooks
If you’re looking to start a cookbook club and don’t know where to start, here are a few cookbooks to get you started. We have hundreds of cookbooks, but here are a few of our recent favorites: