A few months ago I received an email which began "My name is Renee and I am Baltimore foodie. About a year ago I started a cook book club with some friends of mine. We are currently looking for a few new people to join our group."
My first inclination was to decline the invitation. I am in a whole different age bracket from Renee and beyond cooking I might have nothing in common with the group. I pictured awkward social interaction.
But I'd read about cooking clubs and always thought they sounded fun, and had thought vaguely about starting one but the logistics of finding a group stopped me. What would I do, advertise on Craig's List?But this was an already functioning group.
And we'd be cooking from cookbooks!
I'm a cookbook aficionado. I'm fascinated and intrigued by them and read them on many levels -- to learn, for inspiration, as a window into another time or place. I'm always hungry for the next one and tend to acquire them so fast that I don't take the time to immerse myself in one before the next one is in my hands. I have plently of cookbooks from which I'd never cooked a single thing. One of the reasons I began blogging was to encourage myself to use the cookbooks I had more frequently.
I put aside my hesitation and emailed back to say I'd love to join.
I'm glad I decided to do it. The get-togethers are fun, boisterous, we make fabulous food, and when you have five people cooking from a book, you really get a feel for the book.
Last night, the third meeting I've been to, Renee, Joanne, Elizabeth, Coralie, and I cooked from James Beard's books. We had a wonderful meal of clams casino, garlic soup, beef stroganoff, stuffed peppers, and chocolate souffle.
Whoever hosts the dinner chooses the book and assigns a course to each person. We then choose what we'll make. When I checked the soups in the James Beard book that I had, garlic soup was my immediate choice, inspired by the fact that I love garlic, and that James Beard said of this soup, "It is simple but superb." He was right.
I made this using lard. I would have preferred goose fat but I was unable to locate it in Baltimore. I later learned that Joanne has a freezer full of it. You have to love a woman with a goose fat stash. If you don't have access to goose or other fats, olive oil would also work for poaching the garlic.
Adapted from Beard on Food, serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons chicken, goose, or pork fat
30 peeled garlic cloves (or more or fewer)
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper
4 or 5 egg yolks
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
slices of bread, toasted until crisp
1. Melt the fat over low heat, then add the garlic. Cook, without browning, until the garlic has become very soft. This will take half an hour or more.
2. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Blend the soup either with a stick blender or by allowing the soup to cool slightly and pouring it into a blender. Blend so the soup is completely smooth.
4. Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl then stir in the olive oil. Begin tempering the eggs by adding hot but not boiling soup to the eggs a small amount of the time while beating the eggs. When you've added a half cup of broth or so to the eggs, pour the egg mixture into the broth beating while you do. Heat the mixture being careful not to let the soup come to a boil. You want to make sure you don't curdle the eggs.
5. Place a bread slice in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over top. Serve.