Ok, cookbook hoarders—listen up. I know how you sneak those cookbooks into the house without your spouse knowing. I know all the tricks you play at the grocery store to add cash to your pockets to go and buy that new release, hoping you don’t get busted when you tiptoe into the house with it.
Oh, how I know.
Ok, maybe I project a little. But I think you can relate.
How do you take your passion for cookbooks and find a way to explore your latest hardbound obsession in a way that brings people together while simultaneously justifying your purchase? COOKBOOK CLUB!
Cookbook clubs are a blast. You get a group of like-minded friends, an (ideally) inspiring book, an urge to try something new, and the ability to follow a recipe. You add some cocktails, a space that can support multiple people cooking at once, and some ravenous appetites and you have the formula for a very fun afternoon. Sometimes you have a book that is a total bust – but who cares? It’s still a learning experience. (Fortunately we’ve only had two in the different Cookbook Club iterations where I’ve participated. The first was Fat, by Jennifer McLagan. It was a train wreck. We tried at least 20 recipes from the book…all were duds. Consensus was that these books were going to be PERFECT fire starters after the zombie apocalypse. The second was Cooking With Coolio, but we chose that book tongue-in-cheek so the heinous results were funny. His approach is to pretty much add balsamic vinegar to ALL. THE. RECIPES. All of them).
Cookbook clubs aren’t always as easy as they may seem—You just need to know your participants and set up a structure everyone can enjoy. The first time I was invited to join a cookbook club, I was inspired by the idea of it. Unfortunately it felt less about cooking and more about the organizer wanting to pontificate about the chefs she’d met and the impact she felt she had made on their lives.
Food never tastes as good when it’s liberally sprinkled with narcissism.
Later, when I decided to start my own group we invited a bunch of friends from our local food community. We had many successful gatherings, made and maintained great new friendships, and cooked from some amazing books. Unfortunately, it got large and unwieldy, became hard to schedule, people couldn't always play nicely in the sandbox together, etc. It went from fun to being work so it fizzled out and died a natural death. I really missed the interaction and camaraderie of it, and loved the excuse to cook through the new books that magically show up on my doorstep (Thanks to the gods of Amazon), so recently we decided to give it another go. This time, we kept it small. It’s a group of 5 or 6 couples, all of whom love food, cookbooks and cooking. They also all get along well and are willing to take turns hosting, so it’s pretty effortless. We debuted this time with a book I’ve been obsessed with, Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some by John Currence.
THIS BOOK IS SPECTACULAR!!! We cooked the hell out of this book. The recipes we shared included:
Homemade polish sausage with homemade spicy mustard.
Lemon-pickled honeycrisp apples
Spicy Hill Country Meat Pies, Pickled Watermelon rind
Pickled Peaches (not pictured)
Pickled Peach Relish (not pictured)
Chicken Fried Duck with Caramelized Onion Gravy
Pimento Cheese Fritters (I know, RIGHT?)
Grillade and Grits Casserole
Steen’s Syrup-Braised Pork Belly
Bourbon Milk Punch, from our lovely bar wench Sonja
Banana-Walnut Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Szechuan Pepper-Blueberry Cobbler with Five Spice Crema
Bourbon Ice Cream with Pralines
My contribution was an off-book cocktail called a Bermuda 100 (Think Negroni meets Mai Tai), the Pimento Cheese Fritters and the Chicken Fried Duck.
I've shared the duck recipe below with the Chef’s permission. Speaking of the chef, how cool is this….not only does he put out a book with kick ass recipes and suggested music to go with each dish, but he is also very responsive in email and was kind enough to provide me with recommendations for restaurants and bars for our upcoming road trip through part of the South. Obviously, we are making a trip to Oxford, MS just to have dinner at his restaurant, City Grocery. I can’t wait to try these dishes from the master himself!
With regard to the recipe below, my only change was to chop the cracklings and scatter them over the top of the finished dish for serving. This recipe is pure perfection. Also, props to David. He baked and he knocked it out of the park! WHO KNEW?!?!?
David and Shannon, serving up dessert deliciousness.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think once you give this a test drive. AND BUY THIS BOOK!
Chicken-Fried Duck with Caramelized Onion Gravy
From Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey by John Currence
Recommended Musical Accompaniment: “If You Want Me to Stay” – Sly and the Family Stone
4 whole duck breasts, skin removed and reserved (about 5 oz each)
1 medium yellow onion, very thinly sliced from root to tip
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups seasoned flour (recipe below)
6 cups egg wash (recipe below)
4 cups panko bread crumbs
6 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons lard
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ cup dark chicken stock (recipe below)
¾ cup whole milk
- Slice the reserved duck skin into thin strips and pat dry with a paper towel. In a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat, cook the strips of duck skin until golden brown and crispy, stirring constantly. Remove the duck cracklings from the pan and drain on paper towels. Pour off the duck fat into a glass measuring cup; return 3 tablespoons of the fat to the sauté pan.
- Add the onion, sugar, salt and thyme to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the onion turns transparent and wilts, 5 to 7 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onion has caramelized and turned a light brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Cut an incision horizontally into the thickest part of each duck breast, so that when opened up like a book, it will lay flat on the table and have a uniform thickness. Place the breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and, using a meat-tenderizing hammer, gently pound the breasts to ¼ inch thick. Peel the plastic back and lightly season both sides of each pounded breast with salt and pepper.
- Dredge the duck breasts in the seasoned flour, knocking off any excess. Dip them in the egg wash and then roll in the bread crumbs. Place the prepared duck breasts on a plate.
- In the cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon ore of the reserved duck fat, 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil, and 1 tablespoon of the lard over medium heat until you see very light wisps of smoke begin to rise from the pan. Put two of the prepared breasts into the hot oil and brown for about 1 ½ minutes. Flip and brown on the second side for 1 minute or until golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add another 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon lard to the skillet and heat. Cook the remaining two breasts and transfer to the plate to drain. Hold the cooked breasts warm in a very low oven.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil and 2 more tablespoons of the reserved duck fat ot the skillet. Whisk in the all-purpose flour until smooth. Continue to whisk for 2 more minutes, just until the flour begins to take on a “nutty” aroma and a very light brown color. Whisk in the stock and milk and bring to a simmer. Stir in ½ cup of the caramelized onions and season the gravy with salt and black pepper to taste. Spoon the gravy over the fried duck, or serve on the side from a gravy boat, if you prefer.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoons cayenne
Makes 3 cups
- Toss the flour, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic and onion powders, and cayenne in a stainless-steel bowl and combine well. Store in an airtight container until needed.
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 dashes of Tabasco hot sauce
Makes 3 cups
- Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper and Tabasco together well. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Dark Chicken Stock
4 pounds chicken bones
2 ½ cups roughly chopped yellow onions
2 cups peeled and roughly chopped carrots
2 cups roughly chopped celery
1 ½ cups roughly chopped fennel stalks (optional)
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups dry white wine
5 fresh bay laurel leaves (or 3 dried)
10 sprigs fresh thyme
12 to 15 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Makes about 6 quarts
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange the bones, onions, carrots, celery, fennel, and garlic in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops begin to brown. Stir well to expose the unbrowned parts, continue to roast and stir until the bones and vegetables have lightly browned all over.
- Remove the pan from the oven and place the contents in a stockpot. Place the roasting pan over low heat and add the white wine. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping and loosening all of the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour this liquid into the stockpot and place the pot on the stovetop over high heat. Add cold water to cover the bones and bring to a boil.
- In the meantime, wrap the bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns in cheesecloth (or a coffee filter), tie with a length of butcher’s string, and add the sachet to the stockpot.
- As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, lower the heat so the liquid just barely simmers. Cook for about 3 hours. Remove the pot form the heat and strain the liquid into a smaller pot. Discard the solids. Return the stock to the stove and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat, and slide the pot just off center of the heat source; the simmer will push the fat floating on the top ore to one side of the pot. Using a ladle or large spoon, skim off as much of the fat and scum as you can and discard. Cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until any residual fat congeals on top of the stock. Remove this hardened fat with a spoon and discard. Use the stock within 4 days or freeze for up to 6 months.