Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Menu for Book Club

I love cooking.  I also love planning.  So, the natural marriage of these two is menu planning. I love planning menus.
A little thought into a menu can go a long way towards making your night as a host(ess) and your guest's night in your home so much more comfortable and relaxed.
This week, I am hosting book club.  We have been together for three years.  There are seven of us.  Things to keep in mind as I plan the evening.  Our standard is that the hostess makes appetizers and a dessert, while the rest of the group brings wine.  Usually the appetizers are on the substantial side, we're not talking a bowl of Cheetos for these ladies.  Sometimes, if the book merits, there is a full blown dinner in the works.  My Life in France, Hindi Bindi Club, and Heat resulted in fabulous and elaborate dinners. 
This month we read Comfort Food, by Kate Jacobs.  We'd read another of Jacob's books before, Friday Night Knitting Club.  That one had recipes included.  This one, the book about food, does not.  We do not have a "Book Club Rule" that states the food has to match the book.  In most cases it does not.  In most cases it would be too difficult. 
Tonight, however, I want comfort food.  Perhaps it's our sub-zero weather.  Perhaps it's that cozy feeling that comes with curling up to read a good chick lit book.  To plan the menu, I started thinking of my favorite comfort foods.  Warm soup, hot dips, gooey fruity desserts.

I recently received two Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks.  I absolutely love them.  And since the main character of Comfort Food, Gus, reminds me of Ina Garten, I turned to these books to search for recipes for my menu.  In her cookbooks, Garten offers sage advice for planning and hosting.  Choose items you can make ahead of time.  Make things that will appeal to all your guests.  Keep it simple and good.  She is a wise woman.
For a soup, I chose Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup.  It's a thick, rich looking soup, without a drop of cream, so it's on the lighter side, right?  To balance the sweetness that will be in the soup, I chose a crisp salad with sharp flavors, Endive with Stilton and Walnuts.  Rounding out the meal, I am making Rosemary Polenta Triangles.  I want to start and finish the meal with something warm.  Let's start with the tried and true Hot Artichoke Dip (add some chopped spinach to make it different). And for a finale, this Caramel Pear Cake looks divine.

The Menu:
Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip
2 kinds of cheese
Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup with Homemade Brioche Croutons
Winter Greens Salad with Stilton and Walnuts
Rosemary Polenta Triangles
Caramel Pear Cake with Homemade Spiced Whipped Cream

What I learned in my reading and planning:
  • keep it simple. (I am showing HUGE restraint in only making one appetizer - I tend to follow the "more is better" motto.)
  • make as much as you can ahead of time.
  • use flavors that appeal to a lot of people.
  • cook with what's in season.
  • choose flavors that complement the others. 
  • also incorporate a culinary variety - salty, sweet, creamy, smooth, crunchy, acidic, spicy.
  • repeat flavors to create harmony in the menu.  But don't go overboard.  (I added some rosemary to the croutons to echo the rosemary in the polenta, but I am not also making rosemary artichoke dip, rosemary squash soup and rosemary pear cake.)
I am breaking one big rule:  don't try out new recipes on a special event.  I have four new recipes on board for tonight.  But, who better to try out something new, than your girlfriends?  I will let you know how it goes.


  1. It sounds GREAT Rachel! I can't wait to hear how it all turned out.


  2. I always make new recipes for special events - kinda daring sometimes, but usually all goes well! (PS - so glad you enjoyed the Caramel Pear Cake - my family is wild for it too!!!)