Monday, June 6, 2022

Books for Cooks-A Cookbook Discussion Group - Potluck Monday

Cookies and recipes shared at Books for Cooks 
Today's post is an interview with Sally Chadbourn, organizer and discussion leader of three book clubs, including one focused on mysteries and another on cookbooks. Her interests obviously overlap with ours at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, so I thought you’d enjoy hearing how her Books for Cooks group works. Before Covid, the group met in person, to discuss cookbooks and share the food made from recipes in the cookbooks they reviewed. But since 2020, the group has met via Zoom.

Unlike most book clubs, the members don't discuss the same book. Instead, each meeting centers on a particular topic. Sally's reading of cookbook reviews leads her to recommend titles on a topic that are available at nearby libraries.

MAYA: How do you choose topics for each meeting and can you give examples of recent topics?

SALLY: Topics come from . . . 

*Club member requests for a topic like a particular cuisine (Vietnamese)
* Ideas that popped up in previous discussions and members seem enthusiastic about exploring it (what can be done in baking to reduce use of refined sugar)
* Food trends (plant-based recipes or flexitarian meals where plant-based main dishes are featured alternately with meat, poultry, or seafood during the week)

MAYA: Guests also occasionally speak at Books for Cooks meetings. I was a guest for meeting in which cookbooks focusing on spices were discussed, and I talked about the history of ginger. The photo below from pre-Covid days shows a club member explaining what it was like to be a recipe tester for the Washington Post food section. Sally is sitting next to her, taking notes.

Sally prepares a list of topics and related cookbooks for the year. For each meeting, she sends a reminder four days before the meeting and a request for an RSVP. Zoom invitations go out to those likely to attend. What’s the procedure for virtual meetings of Books for Cooks?

SALLY: When members arrive in Gallery View, they are asked to list in the Chat Box the recipes they tried by page number and cookbook title with comments: what they liked or disliked about the recipe, is it a keeper, is it one to avoid, what substitutions were required, was the specified temperature and length of preparation and cooking accurate.Then members discuss the cookbooks, sharing through conversation what they’ve listed in the Chat Box plus other information. Some members attend and simply listen in or perhaps explain why they didn’t try the various cookbooks. After the meeting, Chat Box entries go out an attachment to email with a summary of the evening’s meeting. 

MAYA: Please share the names of a few cookbooks your group particularly liked.

SALLY: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt – The Food Lab:  Better Home Cooking Through Science
Ina Garten – any of her cookbooks
David Leite – Website:  Leite’s Culinaria (our guest speaker in May, 2021)
America’s Test Kitchen – we’ve discussed The Perfect Cookie; Spiced, Unlock the Power of Spices to Transform Your Cooking; Naturally Sweet:  Bake All Your Favorites with 30% to 50% Less Sugar.  And at future meetings, we will be discussing Vegan for EverybodyMediterranean Instant Pot, and The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook.

Books for Cooks in-person meeting at the library

MAYA: Has being part of Books for Cooks changed how you and the other members cook and eat?

SALLY: All of us have learned, learned, learned from each other and value our community of learning. We’ve attempted recipes, honored cuisines, and tried products that we might not ordinarily have valued. By sharing comments with each other, we’ve stretched ourselves as readers of cookbooks, preparers of food, and enjoyers of food.

Books for Cooks members share baked goods at a meeting

I'd like to thank Sally for telling us about a unique book club! 

So, readers, what are your thoughts about a book club that discusses cookbooks, recipes, and food? Any questions about Books for Cooks?



  1. What a fun post! Thanks to Sally for visiting to tell us about this club.

  2. I meant to ask Sally if there's any overlap between the members of Books for Cooks and the members of her mystery book club. Maybe she'll stop by to answer that question.

    1. It's me Sally, not my husband Charlie, responding and yes there are two members of the Martha Washington Public Library Mystery Book Club who are also members of MWL's Books for Cooks.

  3. What a wonderful group! I hope the overlapping members feel free to hit up any of us at Mystery Lovers Kitchen - or several on a panel - for virtual appearances.

  4. What a delightful conversation -- thank you, Sally and Maya! I Zoomed with a cookbook club in Phoenix a few years ago and loved the passion for cooking and for sharing the love -- the only downside was I didn't get to taste the dishes the members had brought!

  5. Yes, Leslie, the Books for Cooks miss their pre pandemic dinner parties where members brought samples to share of what they'd made from the featured cookbooks circulated through the local public library system. (There is a focus, but since we want to boost cookbook circulation through the public libraries' collections, up to 4 or so titles per month's focus are recommended as common references for all of us to read and refer to. Online supplementary sites are favored by some when they can't get the cookbooks at their local library.) We've been able to widen our geographic audience through Zoom and members now say they favor the convenience of Zoom. Some have formed small subgroups and do lunches at local restaurants together where they bring samples of foods they've prepared from the featured cookbook to take home as "party favors" and consume after eating lunch together.

  6. What a fabulous group--definitely my kind of book club! Here's hoping you can get back to meeting (and eating!) in person soon! And thanks so much to you, Sally, for visiting the Kitchen today! (And thanks to Maya, for hosting you!)

  7. Sally, what fun! And I love that you focused on spice last month. I write a series set in a spice shop, so that's a topic I think about a lot!

    1. Leslie -- if we revisit the topic of cooking with herbs and spices, will hope you could consider coming to our zoom meeting as a guest speaker, then!

  8. Sounds like a wonderful idea to me. It's a club I wish we had in our areas.
    2clown at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay -- Books for Cooks, thanks to meeting via zoom, includes members from across Fairfax County, VA and not just in the area near the Martha Washington Library where we first began our book club in person meetings pre-pandemic. In addition, we're joined by friends and relatives of book club members from Washington state, Ohio, New York, the District of Columbia, and Maryland. You would be welcome at any time so just inquire through my email address.

    2. Sally, so kind of you to invite Kay -- she is a gem and a favorite here at MLK!