Cookbook Night

My good friend Tiffiny Federico is a great cook. She’s a better cook than I, frankly. Tiffiny is also a schoolteacher. When in school, she has very little time. About 5 or 6 years ago, bemoaning our inability to spend quality time together, we came up with an idea: have a cooking day where we could hang out in the kitchen, cook some food, drink some wine and catch up. 

We decided if we were going to cook all day, we might as well try all new recipes. Tiff and I give each other cookbooks at Christmas. One of the cookbooks we exchanged that year was The Gift Of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Neither of us had cooked from it, so we decided to cook solely from that cookbook. Because we were going to end up with a lot of food, we invited some friends over that night for a casual dinner. Everyone could try out the dishes we’d made for the first time.

“Cookbook Night” was born.

View from the backyard into the kitchen.

It was such a hit, we did it again. And again. We now do it once or twice a year and have cooked our way through some wonderful books such as Sunday Suppers with Lucques, The Mozza Cookbook, At Home in Provence, etc. Once we land on a cookbook, Tiff and I get together a week early (and make dinner, natch) to pick our recipes from the book we want to explore. Usually we pick 4-6 recipes each, choosing a good variety from appetizers, entrees, sides and dessert. We do some prep before the actual event, then the day of Tiffiny comes over in the morning, we cook all day and have people over that night to sample. There is no fear of anything going wrong, every dish is new and no one cares how it all turns out. We’ve had some incredible dinners, however.


I highly recommend this, it’s a fun way to try a bunch of dishes, adding new winners to your repertoire. And you can have a great time with good friends. We now open the kitchen to everyone late afternoon in case anyone wants to sous chef or hang out with us as we cook.  The rest show up around 6 and we dive in. The entire day and night is a blast.

It also creates one hell of a mess. But that’s fun, too.

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This summer we actually had two cookbook nights. We started in June with Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.


Though I’d made a couple of things from it already, we used this book because another friend, Josh, was interested in the book and wanted to join in. The recipes also looked so intriguing. Given Josh, Tiff and I each cooked 4-6 recipes from Jerusalem, I’ve now tasted quite a few recipes from this book.  This is easily one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. A few of the recipes might sound a little strange going through it initially but trust me, it is incredible: the taste combinations, the bursts of amazing, fresh flavors that are in every single dish make the food exciting and wonderful. This book received a lot of press, because the two cooks grew up on opposite sides of Jerusalem and part of the point of the book is to show two sides can come together. I’ve tried a few highly touted cookbooks over the last few years that disappointed terribly. Not so with this winner. I’ve yet to cook anything from this book that did not taste as if it came from the kitchen of a great restaurant. Get this book. (Recipes below.)

In August, to celebrate summer and summer produce, we chose recipes from two books authored by a cook/writer who has become a hero of mine, Nigel Slater. All of Slater’s books are wonderful. He has an engaging, warm writing style and his recipes are simple and divine. Two of his best books are Tender, which focuses on vegetables, and Ripe, which focuses on fruits. (Don’t worry meat lovers, there are many carnivorous options in both.)

Tender Ripe

Each book is divided encyclopedia style into chapters according to the fruit or vegetable. So if you have asparagus, or plums, or whatever, you can turn to that chapter and find everything you need. Each chapter opens with advice on how to plant, garden, harvest and store that fruit or vegetable. Then you get general kitchen advice about the fruit or vegetable. Then you get a host of recipes. The books are an amazing bounty of information, humor and incredible food. (Recipes below.)

Below are five recipes from the books I know you will love. I’m also including more photos from cookbook nights to entice you to give this a try. You can’t go wrong with any of these three books. You can’t go wrong having your own cookbook night.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, or even big. Have some friends over, make it casual, serve off paper plates if you like (we do this often, certainly for the salad and dessert course), and experiment to your heart’s delight.  “Cookbook Night” is a keeper.

RECIPES from Jerusalem:

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak (click name for the recipe)


If you make only one dish from Jerusalem, (but only one would be a big mistake), make it this one. It’s incredibly easy and tastes like it came from a 5 star restaurant. While it’s a good idea to prep the chicken the night before so it marinates a while, I’ve prepped it right before I stuck it in the oven and it was still terrific. (Thanks for the use of your blog!)


– It’s worth buying a bottle of Pernod for this. You will use the entire bottle as you will make this over and over.

– Clementines are just mandarin oranges.

– Even if you don’t like fennel, don’t worry about it. You will love it.

Conchiglie with yogurt, peas and chile (click name for the recipe)


This is easily my favorite from the book, which is saying a lot, given the chicken above and the best meatballs I’ve ever eaten in my life, a dish Tiffiny made on cookbook night. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but damn is it amazing. And garlicky. And pretty healthy, given you are using greek yogurt not cream. (Thanks Domestic Daddy for use of your page.)

Saffron and Orange Chicken Salad (click name for the recipe)


By far the most raved about dish of the night, along with Tiff’s meatballs (you have to buy the book to get that recipe), this is a perfect example of the taste and wonder of the recipes in Jerusalem. Incredibly fresh, with so many herbs, it is a joy to eat. (Thanks YummySupper for the use of your blog!)

RECIPES from Tender and Ripe :

Baked Peppers for A Summer Lunch (click name for the recipe)


This is a favorite and quintessential Slater. Fresh ingredients, simply prepared for maximum flavor and enjoyment. My tweak to this is drizzling homemade pesto over the finished product.

Eggplant Gratin (click name for the recipe)

EggPlant Gratin

This has become a huge favorite of mine. Why? Same as most of my favorites: easy, quick to throw together after a little prep, and terribly good. This is the eggplant dish for even the most avowed eggplant hater, such as my close friend Adam, who remarked as he scarfed down two servings, ‘I hate eggplant but if I have to eat it, this is how I want to eat it.”  While it is a great side, you can serve it as a vegetarian entree, with a crisp garlicky salad, as pictured. In addition to the recipe, my own interpretation of Slater’s, you can layer in a really good marinara and you have a lighter version of Eggplant Parmesan, without the trouble of frying the eggplant. Crumbled Italian sausage, quickly sautéed and layered with the marinara, would make this a hearty entree.

Oh and here are more amazing recipes from Slater: 

Nigel Slater’s Most Popular Recipes

Finally, a few more photos from Cookbook Night:

We eat inside during the winter.
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night table 2
I am soon adding lights to the outside table 🙂

27 thoughts on “Cookbook Night

  1. Yum. I see I am going to have to find you another cookbook that you have never heard of before… just to up the ante.

    Awesome cookery!!

  2. Several years ago I was in a similar “cooking club” (like a book club but about food). There were six of us. The host chose the theme (Italian classics, Holiday dishes, fresh veggies, blue, etc.) and cooked the entree. Each person brought a dish that matched the theme to fill out the meal (appetizer, soup & salad, side dish, dessert). One person was backup (in case someone couldn’t make it) and/or entertainment (which meant whatever they wanted it to mean). Everyone had to bring a bottle of wine (the host kept whatever we didn’t drink…). The catch was, you had to cook something you’d never done before (except for the time we the theme was “cook your favorite recipe”). We all had so much fun, learned about all kinds of new recipes & techniques, and ate wonderful food. Unfortunately between moves, kids, and life, our group drifted apart….and I really miss them.

    1. Marla, that is a great idea and, frankly, less intimidating than what I wrote about. (more people cooking less # of dishes.) And you can do it more often. That sounds terrific, I bet you do miss it!

  3. Cookbook Night is a wonderful idea! Also, many of Ottolenghi’s recipes have been published in The Guardian, in case any of your readers need to make some of them right now.

  4. Yes, Nan, I avoid the being in front of the camera as I’m usually the one snapping photos. Just want to encourage everyone to start their own version of a Cookbook Night. It’s such a great way to entertain, keep up with friends, and make memories. You don’t have to be as crazy as Tom or me… start with a few dishes and a few cooks. I think that in our last cooking marathon, we each made about 8 different dishes!

    It’s fun to cook with someone who is as passionate about cooking as you are (and someone who can mix a fantastic Manhattan!). Love you Tom 🙂

  5. I love this entire post so very much! I was blessed to be part of a cooking club in Memphis that was quite special. (F.O.O.D. club: Friends Obsessed with Overeating and Drinking) For over 25 years, this crew had gathered monthly to cook and eat together in one another’s homes. The only rules were: whoever hosts picks the theme and makes the entree, AND you may not cook anything you’ve ever made before. This removes all of the pressure because the whole idea is to try something new and challenging! It produces some delicious, fun, and hilarious nights – and some great cooks, to boot! One theme was food on a stick – and yes, there was a soup course, featuring brie crouton kebabs placed over a bowl of heavenly shitake mushroom soup. You’ve inspired me to start a version of this here in b’ham. I miss my foodie friends from Memphis so much! Thanks, Tom… xoxo, eb

  6. and one more thing… I bought eggplant at the farmer’s market this a.m. and will be making the gratin tomorrow evening! can’t wait – I loooove eggplant. am going to serve with roasted okra, greek chicken, and some sauteed shitakes.

      1. I just slice it in half lengthwise, toss it in olive oil with course salt and pepper, and roast it at fairly high heat (400) on a baking sheet. It’s ready after about 12 minutes. About halfway thru, I toss it with a spatula. I let some edges get a little bit of char on them… then I know it’s ready. It’s like candy. I seriously have to slap hands away from the sheet or there won’t be enough left for the actual meal.

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