I wrote to Neysa who runs the ever so pretty Instagram account @goodslice a couple of weeks ago, to ask her how she goes about organizing potlucks at @neighbourhood.in. My email was awfully long and it was utterly sweet of her to reply with what she thought might help the Cookbook Club work better, addressing several of the issues I'd written about in my post about the last cookbook dinner we'd had.
This time, we started out with the usual procedure of asking people on the Whatsapp group we have what they'd like to cook from and what date we'd like to meet on. But no one seemed to care enough to reply. So one Saturday morning, I deleted the group altogether. And followed up individually with folk I thought should attend. Yes, I can be a snob like that. But turns out, we had a great lunch. So I'm not sure whether I'm right about how it's okay to be condescending (in your head) when picking people for something like this.
We picked Anthony Bourdain's Appetites - A Cookbook. Mostly because Sahil suggested we should do so and nobody really opined otherwise.
The Sunday before the Cookbook Club lunch, I made some mayonnaise and some grilled sandwiches with caramelized onions and cheese from the book. It was my first time making mayo and I was mighty thrilled with the results. The caramelized onion and cheese sandwiches, well, they weren't something I'd make again (as much as I'm a sucker for caramelized onions).
Only four of us were going to attend the lunch on July 2nd - Sahil and I as usual, Kala from the Asian cooking dinner and a new face, Priyanka. Sahil picked the spaghetti with parsley and anchovies, Kala a saffron risotto, Priyanka the chicken pot pie and me, a shrimp bisque.
I prepped the shellfish stock for the shrimp bisque the night before and putting the other stuff together took about an hour, the following morning.
Lunch started an hour late but turned out to be great fun. Priyanka's pot pie was a hit, the lovely golden crust and mushy mild chicken and veggies inside. Kala's risotto was pretty great too! I strained the bisque through a sieve for some textural contrast with the tempura shrimp I wanted to serve it with and I have a feeling the straining ended up imparting a bitter aftertaste to the bisque. So, while I thought it tasted creamy and quite nice at noon... I was a little upset when I had it for lunch at 2 pm. Sahil's spaghetti was pretty basic, though I think he shelled out a bunch of money for the anchovies!
To make up for my bisque booboo, I fed the kids (oh well!) some New York style cheesecake I'd baked the previous night. I can say I redeemed myself. So much so, that I baked another one the following day.
We had a bunch of fairly similar thoughts about the book and the recipes and also how we'd like to take this forward in the months to come, so that's what follows.
The book is great. The pictures are brilliant. And everyone always was an Anthony Bourdain fanboy. So what's not to like then? All of us unanimously felt that the dishes were a little bland. We've all travelled a fair bit and eaten a variety of food, so it's not like we're very used to the idea of Indian food alone and are unwilling to step out of the desi mould. We ended up adding a little extra pepper here or some more parmesan there. The end result (for most of us) worked for everyone, so I guess we deserve pats on our backs.
Another something I've noticed about most European/USA recipes is that when they ask for a medium sized onion or 3 cloves of garlic, they probably mean a large Indian onion and 6-8 regular Indian-sized cloves of garlic. As someone who has been grocery shopping and cooked in several countries, I think I've developed a fair idea of what the recipe calls for, in that sense. I wonder if that's something that can be normalized/standardized across countries/cuisines. But then, it'd be odd to read a recipe that calls for a tablespoon of crushed garlic, right? Or not so much?
The book has sections for soups, salads and pastas, meat, seafood and birds. It also has a Party 101 section, which I loved mostly because one of the first recipes there is for devilled eggs. And I LOVE serving those, in different ways, when I have guests over. To know that Mr. Bourdain suggests those too was one of those WHOA moments for me. The content across the different sections is organized very well and it's unlikely you won't find a nice feel-good home recipe in there, for when you're really craving comfort food. There's also a section for sides and one for stocks and sauces.
The one that takes the cake (pun intended, duh) is the dessert section.
And I swear to God that there being cheesecake (if not cheese) was purely coincidental.
A special mention for the pages in the book. Gorgeous gorgeous pictures. And the odd wine stain print and pages interspersed with (prints of) splotches of sauce(s). It just makes you feel at home.
Recipes we'd like to work with in the future
Given our "complaint" about the food being bland, we wondered if we should do regional cuisines in our lunches/dinners that follow. In contention for our next cookbook potluck were:
The Pondicherry Kitchen
The Suriani Kitchen (again)
The East Indian Kitchen (which I'd ordered just the previous week on a whim and hadn't been delivered at the time of the conversation)
Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking
The girls got excited about Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking by S.H. Fernando because it DOES deviate from our aforementioned desire to cook regional Indian cuisines. But it's still close enough to home for us to get our spice/masala/cook-by-instinct fix.
My husband, Suraj, and I travelled around Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks back in 2016 and when we got back, he asked me to cook Sri Lankan. I've made Sri Lankan food several times since, though never from the book. So this will be exciting for me too.
Lunch versus Dinner
Lunch just seemed like a more fun thing to do. Better light. So better pictures. More time at hand. We started a little after noon and everyone left for home only around 5. So next time's potluck will be a lunch too. I'm hoping I can get another couple of people to attend. This was the first time I felt that the Cookbook Club could be something much bigger than what it is now.
Good light. Better Pictures.