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.
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.
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.)
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 theviewfromgreatisland.com 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)
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:
Finally, a few more photos from Cookbook Night: