Last week my friend Sheri and I were walking at lunchtime and she was telling me about the fun gourmet-cooking weekend she’d just had. One of her friends is an event planner at a spa and event center in the Napa Valley area and the event center hosts well-known chefs to teach cooking classes. Her friend has learned a lot from the classes and spent the weekend showing Sheri all kinds cooking tricks and introducing her to new seasonings and oils. Sheri was really excited about everything she learned and we discussed how much fun it would be fun to start a gourmet-cooking club to learn new cooking methods and to share our recipes and knowledge.
Then, on Thursday night my cousin Wendy, my aunt Patsy, and I went to a cooking club dinner where we had been invited to talk about the Holm Family Cookbook. This cooking club started out over 10 years ago with one neighbor inviting the neighbors over for soup. The neighbors enjoyed the evening so much, they decided to get together once a month for dinner. Currently there are eight members of the cooking club and they take turns hosting it at one another’s homes. The host decides what the theme will be. Each member brings a dish to share and eight copies of the recipe that they made. Thursday night’s theme was “favorite family recipes.” Needless to say, most of the dishes fell into the comfort food category. After everyone had eaten dinner and before dessert, each member took a turn telling the others about their recipe, e.g., where the recipe came from, special memories about the recipe or the person that they got recipe from, ingredients, etc.
We had a wonderful time that night and I was really envious of the great time these women have when they get together to share their food, stories, and companionship. It really reinforced my desire to start a cooking club.
A Wide Variety of Tasty Comfort Food Was Served at the Cooking Club Dinner
Settling in to eat Sue’s Polish American Christmas Eve Mushroom Soup
Anna’s Coffee Cake, foreground. Rhubarb Torte, back.
All of the food served at the cooking club dinner was great. Below is the recipe for one dish that we thought was really great because finding the very tasty spinach hidden under the potatoes was like finding a prize in a box of cereal. Below the potato gratin recipe is a recipe for a refreshing (and fully loaded) punch that was served by the hostess.
Spinach, Bacon, and Potato Gratin
- 6 russet potatoes (about 3 lbs.) peeled and cut into quarters
- 6 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 lb baby spinach, rinsed and well dried
- Salt and pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 12-inch (1 1/2 quart) oval gratin dish.
In a large pot over high heat, cook the potatoes in a lightly salted boiling water until tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add bacon and cook until golden and the fat has been rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add spinach and cook, turning with tongs until just beginning to wilt. Immediately remove the pan from the heat; season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few gratings of nutmeg. Transfer the spinach mixture to a fine-mesh sieve and let drain.
Slice the potatoes and arrange half of the slices in the prepared gratin dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the spinach mixture evenly over the top of the potatoes. Top with the remaining potato slices, taking care to arrange them in an attractive pattern.
Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the top. Place the gratin on a sturdy baking sheet and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Tips from Lisa: be careful with the salt because bacon can be quite salty and adding additional salt may make the dish over salted. Additionally, if a shallow gratin pan is unavailable or doubling recipe for a crowd, make double layers, one potato followed by spinach, then another potato and another spinach and top with potatoes. I’ve also broken up the cheese so there is a layer of cheese on top of second layer of potatoes and on the very top of gratin.
A Pitcher of Down Home Punch
Down Home Punch
- 1 small bottle (300 ml) of Ancient Age Bourbon
- 1 cup Triple Sec
- 1 cup Peach Schnapps
- 1 bottle Sweet and Sour
- 1 cup orange juice (if you want sweeter add more OJ)
Put the ingredients in a pitcher with ice. Chill and serve in a pretty glass. To make it extra special you can garnish with an orange slice and cherry!!
Hey, anyone want to join a cooking club?
If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.