I love talking about my cooking club…. and if you get me started, I sometimes don’t know when to stop. It was at a party recently where I was talking to a friend about starting up a club, and she very politely responded that she didn’t think that “she could ever get as fancy as we do”, but that she would really like to get some friends together who like to cook, but wasn’t sure where to start.
There are groups out there doing anything and everything under the sun, and if you are looking for a fun and vibrant group for some inspiration, than keep reading because these ladies are having a ball in the kitchen, and so can you!
Beyond Black-Eyed Peas
What started out as a way to be involved in their community, has lead to one of the Florida Panhandle’s most vibrant cooking clubs. Located in Panama City Beach, Florida; this group of 10 eclectic women are all members of an organization called, The Bay Point Women’s Club, and it was through their involvement through that particular organization, that they came together and formed a club within a club.
They call themselves, “Beyond Black-Eyed Peas” and have been coming together since the fall of 2005. “We wanted a name that personified a typical Southern food like the black-eyed pea, but would let everyone know that we were about so much more than fried foods and okra. Hence the word beyond” said cooking club member Courtney Hanahan.
The makeup of this group is certainly “beyond” the ordinary. “What a diverse group we are”, says fellow cooking club member Carol Proctor. Members range from a retired bank executive from Missouri, a retired School administrator from California, via Alabama; a mother of nine children, a partner with her husband in a scrap metal business, the wife of a retired Navy Captain, the wife of a retired Army Colonel, the wife of a grocery store chain owner, a former school teacher; turned decorator and wedding planner, “and then there is the young sexy one that doesn’t like to cook”, says Proctor.
They meet the 3rd Tuesday of every month without fail, and for this group it is about the experience as a whole, as well as the attention to detail. “In the beginning, the group started out where every member picked a theme and everyone else brought an assigned side dish,” said Proctor, “But then we decided that we cooked so much through our involvement through The Bay Point Women’s Club, that it would be a treat to have each member cook and entertain us. So now the hostess provides everything.” “You have much more control in how each dish is presented, when one person does everything, “says Hanahan.
Every member has an agreed upon list as to who hosts a particular month, and it is up to the hostess to choose the theme for the evening. The host is responsible for the appetizer, the main dish, the side dishes, as well as alcohol and dessert. “What makes us different is our attention to detail”, saidHanahan. “The theme and the food are well thought out. No dinner reservations are allowed”.
When asked how best to describe the group, Hanahan say’s with a laugh, “We’re all just so cute and fun”. While this group may be cute and fun, they can certainly add innovative to their list of attributes as well.
“We’ve had some really creative cooking club events over the years”, said Hanahan, who is particularly proud of a theme that she hosted that she called “Illusions”. “Nothing was as it seemed on the surface”, she said. The guests were first greeted with a champagne flute mixed with white cranberry juice and vodka. The bottom of the glass had “nerd” candies at the bottom for rocks, and was garnished with a gummy fish for an “aquarium” effect. The appetizer was called “Green Eggs and Ham” and was actually an “egg” made out of shaped honeydew and cantaloupe, and the ham was actually sliced prosciutto. The main course was a whole salmon steamed in the dishwasher. “You should have seen the look on everyone’s faces when I took that fish out of the dishwasher instead of the oven”, said Hanahan. The dessert was “french fries” that were actually toasted pound cake strips placed in McDonald’s french fry boxes. “I garnished them with ketchup bottles that were filled with raspberry sauce”, said Hanahan.
When asked what type of cuisine is the groups favorite to make, Hanahan says, “Each member is unique and has its own specialties. Ruth Bond is fabulous at Asian, Wilma Hall is a caterer and can do absolutely anything, and Bonnie Hale and I profess we don’t cook at all except one time a year for this group, so our specialty is creativeness”.
Other cooking club events have included an event where they made their own sushi, a “guess the ingredient” theme, and a spectacular picnic basket luncheon. “We have even done a farewell to Martha Stewart event”, says Proctor. “We wrote to her in jail when she was convicted, except we like to refer to her time away as camp, not jail”.
For this group, having fun is second nature. “I would say our biggest budget is alcohol”, Hanahan says with a laugh. “We definitely don’t skimp on the drinks”. While these women know how to have fun together, they do charity work together as well. Within their involvement through The Bay Point Women’s Club, they donate their time to Habitat for Humanity as well as local church organizations throughout Bay County. They have also donated a progressive dinner party for 8 that was auctioned off at the Bay Point Women’s Club. “It feels good to give back”, says Hanahan.
When asked if she had any funny stories to share about the group, Hanahan jokingly states,
“Let me talk to the girls and get back to you on whether we want you to know any of our deep dark secrets”, she says.
Any deep dark secrets that may or may not have been divulged are safe with us, but you can bet that we would love to be a fly on the wall at this group’s next gathering. Wouldn’t you?
Courtney Hanahan was nice enough to share some photos of their May cooking club event with all of us……and even a recipe! Thank you Courtney! May your wonderful group inspire many new people….. Their theme was: Strawberry Fields Forever, and here is the menu:
Chef Shelley’s Brown Butter Viniagrette and Lettuce Salad
Asparagus and Mushroom Tarts
3/4 c fresh orange juice
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c. orange liquer (divided)
1 lb. fresh strawberries, rinsed, huled and quartered
1 T. grated orange zest
1/4 fresh vanilla bean, split
1/2 c heavy cream
1 c. vanilla ice cream (softened)
Stir orange juice, sugar, and 1/4 c orange liquer into strawberries; macerate 30 minutes to three hours. Strain orange juice mixture into saucepan; reserve strawberries. Add zest, vanilla pod o.j. mixture; boil over high heat until syrupy and reduced by half (about 10 minutes). Set syrup aside to cool. Remove vanilla pod and toss cooled syrup with berries.
Whip cream with remaining orange liqueur until stiff peaks.
Using a mixing spoon, in a chilled bowl smash ice cream until it is soft and pliable. Gently fold in whipped cream. Divide berries with syrup into dessert cups. Mound ice cream mixture on top of berries.