Posted by: dinaguillen | July 20, 2009

Cooking Club Weekend

I love my cooking club.  Please excuse the gushing, but I just got back from a weekend of cooking and drinking and laughing and giddy friendship with my cooking club.  We’ve never spent the weekend together before – this was our first time doing something like this, and I’m not sure what took us so long. 

I should start at the beginning.  Two of my cooking club members, Lisa and Lele, teamed up to do a weekend cooking club, and our friend Bonnie offered her cabin in Donner for the festivities.  The plans were for eating out on Friday night and Sunday morning, but Saturday was dedicated to cooking up a storm.

We all arrive at the cabin late Friday afternoon, unpack our groceries….


…sit out on the patio and immediately begin talking about what recipes we were assigned and the menu for the following day.  We haven’t even had dinner that evening, and we were already talking about the next day’s meals. 

This is exactly why I love being in a cooking club.  Before joining this group, I thought I was some sort of freak for thinking about what I was going to cook next, whilst cooking and consuming (with joy) my current meal.  Now, I’m surrounded by a group of gals who think like me, planning future meals while enjoying current ones, and it feels good to know I’m not alone. Our cooking club was recently featured in the Sacramento Bee, and the reporter interviewed a professor at UC Davis to get a better understanding of why cooking clubs have been around successfully for centuries.  The professor explained that it is about “being included.”  I think she got it half right.  I have no desire of being “included” in a kite-flying club.  It is about being included in a group of like-minded people, who validate your passions by having the same ones. 

Okay, focus Dina – back to my weekend.  So we go out to dinner Friday night….


…followed by drinking and dancing at a local bar…


…and we wake up with a bit of a hangover the next day.  But we are on a mission, and nothing can get in the way of our day of cooking together.  Lisa makes a Starbucks run (no surprise – there’s a Starbucks in the middle of the woods) and we’re all feeling a little better.  Bonnie’s cabin sits close to beautiful Donner Lake, so we decide to go for a 5 mile hike along the lake, and come back rejuvenated – and famished.


Michelle and I get to team up and prepare an arugula, fresh corn, and tomato salad for lunch.  Basil is torn and mixed in with the arugula, and everything is tossed with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.  This salad was so crisp and fresh and perfect after a long, hot walk. 


Lele prepared a melon and heirloom green tomato salad with chopped cilantro and tossed with a light vinaigrette.  I loved this salad with sweet and savory flavors blending so perfectly together. 


But we were starving, and these two salads were definitely not enough to quell our hunger.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and we had not eaten anything since the night before – Cindy and Nicole teamed up to prepare the perfect antidote: a roasted shrimp and orzo salad.   This recipe came out of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook, and is definitely going in my repertoire of recipes I will make over and over.  Dill, feta, cucumbers and scallions are tossed with the orzo and shrimp and a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing bring the whole dish together beautifully.  Loved it!


But lunch wasn’t over yet.  Out comes Lisa with a tray of watermelon pudding topped with anise flavored whipped cream, and chopped pistachios.  This dish was one of my favorites all weekend.  Lisa actually froze the pudding since it hadn’t thickened properly, so it became more of a granita.  The crystalline texture of the frozen watermelon pudding mixed with the anise infused cream, and crunchy chopped nuts was simply sublime.   This dish did not turn out the way it was intended, but I can’t imagine it any other way. 


As we are licking the dessert bowls clean, Nicole, Cindy and Bonnie jump up and announce they are ready to start prepping their recipes for dinner.  We all get excited to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again (do you think that there is a type of therapy for people like us?).  I’ve been assigned the cornmeal crepe with crème fraiche and caviar, and crepes need to sit for at least an hour before cooking them – so that’s my excuse to get back in the kitchen.  We all get in the kitchen, turn on some music, open a couple more bottles of wine, and start cooking again.  Everyone is so happy – we’ve all got smiles on our slightly flush from the alcohol faces and we’re chopping and mixing and just loving being around each other while we’re cooking!


We’re ready for dinner – Michelle is up first, and she has prepared the Parmigiano-reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse.  I need to stop for a second and explain that my last meal on earth, if I were to choose it, would be cheese.  Perhaps accompanied by some crusty bread, some nice wine, some olives, but the most important ingredient in that last meal is the cheese.  Any and all kinds of cheese.  Michelle is basically preparing cheese on cheese as our appetizer that evening – for the love of God, does life get any better than this?  This dish is divine, with the crispy and salty parmesan crisps shaped into taco shells and stuffed with a creamy goat cheese mousse and sprinkled with fresh parsley.  I knew that I still had four more courses to this dinner, but I couldn’t stop eating these gems. 


I’m up next, and I prepare the crepes.  Everyone forms an assembly line, so as I finish cooking each crepe, someone dollops the crème fraiche, someone else dollops the caviar, some chives, and finished with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.  Wow – these were divine, although quite honestly, it could have been a hamburger bun with crème fraiche and caviar and it would have been delicious.  I mean seriously, we’re talking about crème fraiche and caviar here.


Next up, the beet salad.  Nicole prepared this dish, and she outdid herself.  This was no ordinary beet salad.  It was prepared with both red and golden beets, roasted to perfection, served on top of a bed of baby arugula, and topped with crumbled feta cheese, toasted pistachios, and the most delicious citrus, shallot and tarragon dressing.  Cindy helped Nicole prepare the dressing, and asked us to guess the secret ingredient in the dressing.  Lele, who has an incredible palate, guessed it right away – fennel seeds.  Such a simple ingredient, but it gave such depth and complexity to the salad. 


Next up were Lele and Lisa with their Fire Roasted Angus Beef Filet Mignon served with Sweet White Corn and Chanterelles Mushrooms, Blue Cheese Fritters, and Heirloom Tomatoes.  There were so many components to this dish that it was such a good thing they teamed up on it.  The timing had to be spot on in order for this dish to work, and they made it work brilliantly.  They grilled the most amazing filet mignon, 2 inches thick, and so tender I barely needed a knife.  The blue cheese fritters, chunks of Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese coated with a batter and fried, were so mouthwateringly delicious that we asked them to fry up some more.  Crunchy on the outside, creamy and gooey on the inside, they were addicting.  The corn and mushrooms were so good, and the heirloom tomatoes the perfect side dish, but what really made this dish was the Roasted Tomato Beef Jus.  This sauce was liquid gold – there is no other way to describe it.  I think it took 3 days for Lele to make it, and it tasted like it.  Made with roasted tomatoes and a beef stock that starts off with preparing a light chicken stock, then a dark chicken stock, then a beef stock – it just tasted like love.  Pure love went into that sauce.


Speaking of pure love, dessert was next.  Cindy and Bonnie teamed up on this dish, another rather intricate dish that was pulled off flawlessly.  They prepared chocolate cherry shortcakes that were so  flakey and delicious, topped with cherries jubilee and vanilla ice cream.  The smell of the cherries jubilee, with the brandy and kirsch and cherries cooking on the stove, was enough to reawaken our appetites.  I’m not much of a dessert person, especially after a huge meal like the one we had just enjoyed, but this dessert was really incredible.  I especially loved the texture of the dried cherries in the soft biscuits – delicious!



 It took a couple days to recover from this debauchery of a weekend…


… but it was one of the best weekends of my life.  Note to cooking clubs around the country – if you are able to do something like this, I highly recommend it.  Getting away from everyday life, the phones, the emails, the kids, the job – and just spend a couple days with your friends, cooking and drinking and laughing.  Life does not get much better than this.





  1. Just had to read it again and PINCH myself
    that I am now a part of such a WONDERFUL
    Group of
    CRAZY FOODIES like myself!

    Great times for the future Ladies

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