Are You in the Club? (Oh, and a new giveaway, too!)


Those of you reading this are probably foodies at heart. Let me guess – you chide yourself for not whipping up a gourmet meal as often as you like? Your day dreams are often filled with visions of the season’s bounty? (Asparagus and strawberries, anyone?) And, you secretly hope for a starring role in an episode of “Iron Chef”?

Go ahead, fess up – you’re in good company around here! In fact, there’s a new cookbook available beginning today, Cooking Club: Great Ideas & Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers, that may just inspire you to turn that foodie dream into reality. The fact that it’s written by two talented foodies living in our very own backyard is, well, like icing on the cake.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Folsom-based cookbook authors Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey to discuss their second cookbook.  We met on a breezy, sunny day downtown at Il Fornaio and, over iced teas and cappuccinos, talked about Cooking Club, and what it means to be a passionate foodie in this town.


Q: How did the idea for this cookbook come about?

A:  The idea for our second cookbook was actually our publisher’s idea. We were in the process of writing our first cookbook (The Plank Grilling Cookbook), and they offered us a second book deal. They were looking for something that had a more suburban feel.

Q:  When reading through the menus in Cooking Club, I felt transported around the world. What was the inspiration for your menus?

A: We pulled from the menu themes that our cooking club has done. We didn’t set out to create an international feel, but the international yearning was there – in our travels and in our cooking. This cookbook fulfilled our need to discuss food; it is really our cooking club experience in a book – and then we created the recipes to go along with them.

Q: You offer a lot of guidance in the book for those who might want to set up their own cooking club. But if you had to boil it down to three – what are your top 3 “musts”?

A: 1. Assemble a group of like-minded individuals who have similar interests. 2. Make sure that every member of the group can commit to being an active member of a “gourmet cooking” club. 3. Create written guidelines and expectations. We interviewed eleven cooking clubs around the country and all but one had written rules.

Q: Would you share a funny cooking club story or a cooking disaster?

A: There are a few! (This one is from Dina.) For one of our cooking clubs, I was hosting and making filet mignon from one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. The recipe called for roasting the filets in a 500 degree oven.  Little did I know that at that temperature, I should have cleaned the oven first! Thick black smoke filled the house – to the point where we could not even see in front of us. Needless to say, we opened all doors and windows and ate outside!

Q:  We all have our share of cooking stories! Are you up for a quick word association game?

A:  Yes!

• Must have kitchen gadget:  Micro grater (Dina), Cuisinart (Michelle)
• Must-have spice: Allspice (Dina), Cinnamon (Michelle)
• Pantry staple:  Worsteshire sauce (Dina), Sugar (Michelle)
• Favorite dessert:  Anything with caramel (Dina), Anything with pastry cream (Michelle)
• Favorite menu in the new cookbook? Greek (Dina), Comfort foods (Michelle)
• Favorite food show or chef?  Anthony Bourdain! (Or, “Tony” as they both called him.)
• Favorite Sacramento-area restaurant?  Mulvaney’s (Dina), The Waterboy (Michelle)

Cooking Club is not only filled with twelve inspired theme menus from places like New Orleans, Latin America and Thailand, but it includes a “how to” guide for starting your own cooking club, wonderful sidebars on everything from how to make your own yogurt to how to clean squid, plus interviews with cooking clubs across the nation.  If you’ve often considered starting your own cooking club or supper club, this cookbook is a must-have.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this celebration of food that was so obviously written out of a true passion for and love of food. I cannot wait to make the following recipe for Creamy Chocolate-Kahlua Pudding that Dina and Michelle allowed us to share with you from their new cookbook!


Creamy Chocolate-Kahlua Pudding (makes 8 servings)

½ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons Kahlua
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, such as Valrhona or Scharffen Berger, chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whipped cream (optional)
Chocolate-covered coffee beans (optional)

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined.

Whisking constantly over medium heat, gradually add the half-and-half, and heat until the mixture thickens and begins to boil, about 10 minutes. Continue whisking while adding the Kahlua, and allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and the vanilla. Let stand for 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted. Stir gently until smooth.

Divide the pudding between 8 small serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap, placing it directly onto the surface of the pudding so a skin does not form. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Garnish with whipped cream and a chocolate-covered coffee bean if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Cooking Club: Great Ideas & Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers, Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey, 2009.

Tell us about a dinner party you’ve given and were proud of – or one you attended and were impressed with – and you could win a copy of Cooking Club! Simply leave a comment below – but hurry – our giveaway ends at noon on Monday, May 4, 2009.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Belle | May 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

    My husband and I had a dinner party for all of my husband’s blackbelts a couple of years ago (my husband is a martial arts instructor) – we did a traditional Japanese menu with lots and lots of dishes. It took us two days of prep work but it was so worth it!

  • Adam | May 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I think the best dinner parties are unplanned. We had many last minute dinner parties last summer. Kabobs are easy and can be thrown together with spare items in the fridge. Open a couple of bottles of wine, invite some friends over and you’re set!

  • catherine | May 2, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Our dinner group rotates homes every six weeks. Each year we try to outdo the previous. This year we selected ingredients we must include in our courses. I’ve got spam and tamarind – fun, right? LOL For my last one I did a kumquat chicken and for dessert a semolina pudding with a strawberry pepper sauce.

  • JT Long | May 2, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Does a book club disguised as a cooking club count? Thank you for bringing this great book to our attention. And for the mouth-watering posts.

  • Sadye yezbak | May 3, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I recently attended an informal family barbeque. These are the dinner parties that I enjoy the most. We had my favorite grilled hot dogs with all the trimmings. Twenty four hot dogs were consumed and there was a demand for more! The family also enjoyed some side dishes such as brocolli salad and potato salad that were prepared by a local deli. What a relief not to have to spend the day in the kitchen. Cleanup was easy because we used paper products. We spent the afternoon enjoying the company of family and friends.

  • lionelvaldellon | May 4, 2009 at 7:56 am

    I cooked chicken biryani once for my in-laws and extended family and enjoyed the conversation centering around why I like cooking Indian foods when I’m Filipino… I also enjoyed seeing them drink glass upon glass of water to quench the spiciness. But honestly, I wasn’t out to torture them. Just showcase something different from what they were used to.

  • Erin | May 4, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I once attended a dinner party where the host made an authentic thai meal and we all sat on pillows on the floor to eat! It was her first attempt at thai food and it was excellent. I was so impressed with all the chopping and the number of ingredients!

    I also love informal dinner parties where everyone brings something to put on the grill or you get take-out. It’s fun to get a group together and see old friends or introduce friends who have never met each other.

    ps. – I love your site 🙂

  • Mark Bean | May 4, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Does this mean I have a 1 in 8 chance?
    FYI Breakfast for dinner is not as good a theme as you might think.

  • Electric Kettle | Jun 28, 2010 at 1:40 am

    I also have bought two cookbooks to learn. I think to cook a delicious dinner for my family is a very pleasure thing.

  • Hid Xenon Kit | Jun 28, 2010 at 1:42 am

    I nerver cook west food. Maybe I can buy this cookbook to have a try.