Last Saturday night, I gathered with Mardi and Jenn for the third cookbook book club dinner meeting. Can you think of a better way to spend a wintry Saturday evening at the beginning of February than cozied up with good food and even better friends in the comfort of a charming downtown condo? It’s just what my writerly mind needed after sitting in front of the computer for most of December and January, and if you’re looking for your own cure for the late-winter blues, I encourage you to take our lead and get together with your a group of cooking friends.
Our book this month was Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, a collection of 140 recipes inspired by the diverse culinary traditions of the Mediterranean. I was excited to finally taste a full meal prepared straight from the pages of this book, originally published in 2008 in the UK. The title made its North American debut last year, and is a thorough collection of recipes designed for the adventurous home cook.
Our night started off with Jenn’s homemade mango, cardamom and sage spritzer; a non-alcoholic soda that warmed me up from within in spite of the crisp temperature outside. She shared her recipe earlier this week, and while I don’t want to tell you what to do, I think it would be a shame if you didn’t click over to her site and print off the instructions so you can try it for yourself. I must admit, I’m looking forward to testing it with prosecco in place of soda water later this week when I treat myself to a weekend cocktail.
Mardi was in charge of the first course, and she baked up a warm fennel and cherry tomato crumble gratin, a feast for the eyes thanks to the punchy burst of colour provided by the vibrant tomatoes and sprigs of thyme. We unanimously agreed the sweet crumble topping paired perfectly with the fennel, and while Mardi thought there should be more cheese, I enjoyed it as is and look forward to experimenting with other variations of vegetables in the future.
As the host, Jenn was in charge of the main course and she knocked it out of the park with roast chicken with saffron, honey, and hazelnuts, which she cleverly paired with couscous with butternut squash and dried apricots. The chicken was sweet and crunchy and well cooked, and the couscous is hearty enough to serve on its own as a salad, if one desired. I devoured the meal.
I was in charge of dessert, and desperately wanted to make the apple and walnut cake found at the beginning of the dessert chapter. I’ve made it before and felt sure that the spiced sweet would pair nicely with whatever Mardi and Jenn prepared. Sadly, I failed to remember that the cake takes 90 minutes to bake; not great for a day already jam packed with plans. Instead, I turned to the toffee brownies, which seemed like an unlikely option to find tucked in the pages of a Mediterranean-inspired cookbook, but they were quick-cooking (to a fault - I had to add an extra five minutes to the baking time and still questioned whether they were cooked enough) and could easily be made in the short amount of available time I had that day. Made from 1 cup of sugar, 300g of dark chocolate, toffee and jam, you’d be right in assuming that these were a little on the sweet side. In fact, the recipe is supposed to yield eight servings, I chose to cut nine, and yet we still felt that it could easily be divided into sixteen portions due to the intense, cloying flavour of the brownie. It was a tasty finish to the meal, but a little too sweet for me.
Now that you know how much fun we had cooking and eating our way through this brilliant book, you’ll also be happy to know that each of us has a copy of the book to giveaway to our readers, thanks to the kind folks at Random House Canada.
To enter, leave a comment below telling me which cookbook you’d want to cook from if you were in a Cookbook Book Club. Then head on over to Mardi and Jenn's blogs and leave a comment there as well for an extra chance to win. Sorry international friends, but this giveaway is only open to Canadians. Good luck, friends!
All photos taken with an iPhone 4S
Disclosure: Random House Canada was nice enough to provide me with a review copy of the Ottolenghi cookbook. I was not required to write about this event, nor am I being compensated for doing so. As always, all opinions are my own.