Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Cookbook Club

Actually it's Jerusalem Cookbook Club but it can be done anywhere of course. It all started with this article about why cookbook clubs should be the new way we entertain. One friend sent it to another and within a month Jeruselem Cookbook Club had it's inaugural dinner party at the home of Aviva, who conveniently lives next door to me.

Some of the gang before everyone had arrived.
Our cookbook of choice was Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. A fitting choice as Ottolenghi is a local lad after all. We soon expanded the cookbook choice to include Plenty More and even then there was a flurry of sharing recipes online and popping over to Aviva's house to peruse the actual book. We decided next time to choose a chef or cookery author rather than limit ourselves to one cookbook.

As I looked through the recipes I was torn between the easy option of a dish with ingredients I have in the house or could easily get, and something more exotic and complicated. In the end I took the middle ground - uncomplicated ingredients but an unusual dish. I chose to make the Aubergine Cheesecake. It's more of a flan than a cake and definitely savoury.

Most of the ingredients were in my local supermarket but not the 10 fresh oregano leaves to tear over the roasted aubergine slices and tomato base. I waivered between buying fresh basil leaves instead or dried oregano flakes. In the end I opted for half and half and bought both. There were also no baby plum tomatoes but as they were to be chopped up anyway I sneakily used the left over ordinary tomatoes at the bottom of my fridge. (Btw, I peeled them even though the recipe doesn't say to do that as I hate the plasticky bits of peel you get when you cook tomatoes with the peel on.) There was feta cheese in the supermarket but at a cost I decided I wasn't willing to go to for one dish so I substituted goat cheese lebane instead, seeing as the feta was to be creamed anyway.

The slippery slope of altering the recipe had began before I'd even paid for the ingredients but that's me. I can't change my cooking style of over 40 years and that's why I don't bake.

On my way home from work on the bus on the evening of the dinner, I suddenly panicked that the recipe would tell me to salt the aubergine and leave it to stand for several hours. If so I was screwed as I only had two hours to collect my daughter from school, cook, supervise homework, shower and change, make a few phonecalls, put on a wash... Did I remember to say cook?

The Aubergine Cheesecake was surprisingly easy to make. The aubergine slices didn't need prepping hours in advance and I cut out the step where you roast them on a baking tray and then tranfer them to the oven dish. I roasted straight in the oven dish. At the end you are supposed to brush it with more olive oil and sprinkle with za'atar. I decided that roasting the aubergine had taken in quite enough olive oil thank you and we didn't need any more. I sprinkled with za'atar and called it a day. The ladies thanked me for this later.

Aubergine Cake
Basically the Aubergine Cake is roast aubergine slices and tomatoes covered in a cream, feta, and cream cheese custard (3 eggs added) and baked in the oven. I thought it looked a bit anemic when it came out the oven but maybe if you do brush with more olive oil it won't.

We had a rule that we made the recipe from the book with no doubling or trebling the amounts. This turned out to be a good rule as the recipe says it feeds 4, or 6 for a starter. Mine fed 12 and I brought half of it home with me. Even with generous portions, and I admit that we were taking small portions of each dish as we had over 12 different dishes to sample, this was for way more than 4 - 6 people. Also it's very rich so you wouldn't want to eat big portions.

And so we convened in Jerusalem on a mild November evening to celebrate Jerusalem Cookbook Club and Yotam Ottolenghi. The table looked amazing. Positively groaning with fabulous dishes.

More dishes arrived after this photo!
It was a great success with each diner introducing her dish as it was passed around. There was wine to keep it all flowing and conversation during which we got to know each other better and discover mutual friends, shared histories, and a common love of good food and fine dining (although some of us don't get to do the last one so often :~P ).

My personal favourite was the cauliflower cake and I will definitely be trying this one at home. We also had roast fennel salad, rice with red currants, a noodle and soy bean dish, majadara, shakshuka, sweet potato salad, and, and, and.... it seemed to go on forever. It took us over two hours to even get to the delicious desserts which were a cherry in cream syllabub (although Ottolenghi doesn't call it syllabub as that would be very 1970s) and tiramisu (also very 1970s strangely enough).

We enjoyed it all so much we're doing it again in January when we will cook Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I'd not heard of her before so it'll be a culninary adventure for me. Jerusalem/Israel people (we already have one member from Carmiel) you can find us on facebook here.


  1. From Margie in Toronto - this looks so good - would love to do something along this line. Ina Garten is just lovely - I have at least 4 of her cookbooks. She has a TV show called "The Barefoot Contessa" - you might be able to find a few episodes on YouTube.

    1. I will watch some Ina Garten to get a feel of how she cooks - thanks. You should try this, it's so easy to organize.

    2. From Margie in Toronto - I actually did something like this a few years ago with some friends - we did Chinese food one time and Indian another - must try and get that group together again plus add a few new folks and choose a cookbook.

    3. That is a great idea to choose a national cuisine and do that, without a prticular chef. I will definitely suggest that we do that some time in the future.

  2. That's a brilliant idea. Particularly if you're not a good cook (like me) and are looking for new family food ideas (also like me!) Never heard of it before but really like it....

    1. It was a great platform for new ideas. Even if I don't follow the recipes I'll definitely try some of the flavours and ideas at home.

  3. I think I need all these recipes - they sounds exactly like the food that I enjoy - and an evening of eating gorgeous food sounds heavenly! x