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The Club You Need To Start — Now!

Sorry, snooty book club: You’ve officially been replaced.

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illustration of women drinking wine around a cook book
Irene Rinaldi
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Remember when you were newly married and one of your favorite things to do was to go out to dinner with other couples? Then it became trendy to host your friends for dinner at your home, and neighborhood supper parties were born. Then babies came, and nobody had the energy to declutter the dining room of ride-on toys, nor the desire to actually have other couples inside our disheveled homes. We solved that problem with the invention of mom’s night out and appetizer-heavy book club, but eventually we grew older — and overpriced, watered-down margaritas and stale chips and salsa didn’t quite have the allure they once had. Book club turned into none of us actually wanting to read another boorish novel of contemporary fiction, but still the desire to eat great food with our best friends lingered heavily in the air like the smell of curry chicken. We needed to find a way to make that happen.

Enter the “Cookbook Club."

Besides the fact this will soon become your favorite night of the month because of FABULOUS FRIENDS AND FABULOUS FOOD, the best thing about starting a cookbook club is there are no rules, standards or right ways to do it. All you need are a few friends who have kitchens, generous palates and a desire to pick up a new cooking skill or two. (Homemade pasta anyone?)

The cookbook choices, themes and meeting methods are all extremely flexible, and you can always change things up as you go. Best part? You’ll never again be stuck reading a bad book for three straight months, and then having to talk about it over bad spinach dip.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Choose a cookbook together

You can choose a new cookbook every month, or every couple of months — it’s totally up to the group. Everyone can buy it or check it out at a library, or that month’s host or another member can buy one copy and make copies of and assign dishes to group members. (Some may have a desire to start or expand their cookbook collections, and some may not. Also, you’ll begin to notice that some cookbooks have a pricier selection of dishes than others, so be conscious of budgets. Not everyone can cook from “30 Ways to Make Lobster.”)

So you have chosen a book; now what?

Now it’s time to decide who will be cooking what. It may be helpful when starting out to determine who is going to be the “I’ll try anything” member of the group, who is the most “skilled in the kitchen already” member of the group, and who is the “I can’t make toast” member of the group. Once that is figured out, you can begin mutually deciding who is going to be cooking what out of the chosen book.

Try to cook seasonally

This makes perfect sense for many reasons. First, you’ll have the best chance to cook with farm-to-table, in-season ingredients. And secondly, nobody really wants to be making turkey and stuffing in July.

Cook with theme months

In January, go with a cookbook of light-and-healthy fare. In February, pick an all- dessert option and chocolate-indulge the evening away. In March, maybe you try to tackle traditional Irish cooking. You get the idea.

Think internationally and out of the box

Speaking of Irish cooking, a cookbook club can be the best way to get out of your American-comfort-food zone. When everyone is tasked with making an exotic dish or experimenting with international fare they’ve never even attempted to cook, great things happen. New favorite foods will be discovered, and you’ll all become pretty damned impressed with your budding culinary abilities and broad palates.

Expect epic fails

And I do mean EPIC ones. Things aren’t going to look anything like the pictures, all ingredients won’t be available, and some dishes just are not going to taste good, period. And all of that is fine, because alongside the failures are going to be some epic wins. Someone is going to whip up something truly orgasmic, and everyone will be the lucky recipient of both being able to eat it and learning from that member exactly how she made it. Now I call that an orGASTRIC WIN-WIN! Sorry, snooty book club: You’ve officially been replaced.