Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: Cooking Club by Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey

Cooking Club: Great Ideas & Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers by Dina Guillen (Author) and Michelle Lowrey (Author)
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Sasquatch Books (May 5, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1570615608
Rating (1 to 5*): *****


As my good friend, the brilliant chef Brian Quinn, says, "The fundamental ingredient in any recipe is love." In every way, that is the truest thing I know about cooking. And eating. It is reflected in the care and consideration put into cooking, obsession with only the best quality ingredients and with the interaction that we have with our friends and loved ones over the dining table. The breaking of bread is a fundamental concept of Christianity, but, conceptually, it predates Christianity and may well go back to the earliest times.

These ideas are entirely lost in this go-go fast food era. There is no love in a Big Mac.

These ideas are not, however, lost on Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey. In their book, Cooking Club, they offer not merely a collection of recipes. Recipes are certainly here: excellent recipes in a broad range of difficulty and complexity from the very simple to the seriously advanced. But that is not what Cooking Club is about. This book tells the story of the founding of their cooking club, a group of friends who meet regularly and cook and dine. They gather about the table at one of their homes or at a destination, and they eat and drink together, sharing the joy and laughter, wonderful food and friendship. This is what the art of cuisine is all about.

I was lucky enough to do a brief interview with Dina and Michele about a year ago for Style Magazine in Folsom, California. The joy that these two ladies share is evident. To borrow an image from The Unsinkable Molly Brown, life is their buffet, and they eat in big bites! This is the kind of book that excites the reader, in this case, to entertain. After reading through, I wanted nothing more than to have all my friends over for a feast.

Buy this book. It is an absolute treasure. If you are very lucky, it will help you to found your own cooking club, and set you on your way to a life of joyful dining.

From Cooking Club, p. 92
Grilled Artichokes with Herb Vinaigrette
Makes 8 servings


8 large artichokes
1 lemon, cut in half
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup palsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


To prepare the artichokes, cut the stem flush with the base, and cut off the tight top leaves to remove the prickly tips. With a pair of scissors, trim each side leaf to remove the prickles. Rub the cut parts of the artichokes with the lemon as you work to prevent discoloration.
Put the artichokes in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Add the 1/4 cup of salt to the water, then weigh the artichokes down with a heavy dish or bowl. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a paring knife easily pierces the heart of an artichoke. Drain the artichokes upside down and allow them to cool. Cut the cooled artichokes into quarters and scoop out the choke with a spoon. Set the artichokes aside.
To make the herb vinaigrette, combine the oil, vinegar, basil, parsley, garlic, pepper and the remaining teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Add the artichole quarters and toss to coat. Let the artichokes marinate for 1 hour.
Prepare and heat the grill to medium-high heat. Remove the artichokes from the bowl, reserving the vinaigrette. Grill the artichokes until they are lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Arrange them on a platter, and pour the reserved herb vinaigrette over the artichokes.
UPDATE: Dina and Michelle will be signing copies of Cooking Club and their first book, The Plank Grilling Cookbook on  Saturday, August 21, 2010 at Borders Books in Folsom, California. If you are in the neighborhood, please come by and visit!

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