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By Cindy Bradley

May 20, 2009 – When my husband, Craig, and I moved to Bloomington 30 years ago, one of the first things we did was join the Indiana University Newcomers’ Club; specifically, its cooking club.

Once a month, we’d get together with three other couples for dinner. One couple would host, choose the menu and assign cooking duties. It was a great way to meet new people and explore different types of food.

The popularity of cooking clubs has, if anything, only grown in the years since. There are gourmet cooking clubs, budget cooking clubs, ethnic cooking clubs and cooking clubs tied to nationally distributed magazines, such as Cooking Light.

A budget cooking club would be a super way for friends to gather on a regular basis without the expense of a single couple having to host an entire meal, and seems particularly suited to our current troubled economic realities.

If the idea of such a club appeals to you, you are in luck. Cooking Club by Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey has just been published by Sasquatch Books and is an excellent guide to the ins and outs of organizing your own group.

In addition to supplying 12 menus with recipes and profiles of 12 successful cooking clubs (including one right here in Bloomington), the authors provide tips that will help ensure the success of your own club. Turns out that cooking is the easy part: The host e-mails you a recipe; you make it and take it. The tricky part that will make or break any group like this is the organization.

A successful club needs at least one committed individual with excellent organization and communication skills. Absent such a person, a group is unlikely to last for long. Someone must be willing to give considerable thought to the composition of the group, food goals and basic ground rules.

The organizing force of Bloomington’s own Town and Gown Gourmet Group, Candy Grover, shares some of her tips in Cooking Club. Like me, Candy started out with the IU club. She then decided to form an independent group more focused on serious cooking. Town and Gown has been going strong since 1998.

On a recent spring evening, I dropped in on the home of Jill and Jack Patrick, who were hosting the club that evening. Among the culinary offerings were a Rabbit Terrine with Pistachios and Green Olives; Roast Lamb with Lamb Sausage Crust and Fresh Grape Pan Sauce; a Saute of Asparagus, Morels and Ramps over Polenta; and an Italian dessert, Millefoglie with Grappa Cream and Rhubarb.

Clearly, the group had pulled out all the stops for this meal, and to delicious effect — it was a sublime dinner. While few individuals would ever contemplate cooking up a meal like this solo, the discrete parts are easily accomplished by eight cooks.

With the local growing season heating up, there is much inspiration for fine cooking to be had at our farmers’ markets. This would be a perfect time to gather a group of food-loving friends and see to what great use you can put the excellent ingredients to be found locally.

If you’re a newcomer to the world of cooking clubs, I recommend that you purchase a copy of Cooking Club to serve as your guide. You could also stop by Goods for Cooks, where, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can find Candy Grover, who will be happy to let you pick her brain.

Saute of Asparagus, Morels and Ramps over Polenta

Polenta (recipe follows)

40 stalks slender asparagus

20 pencil-thin ramps

30 small black morel mushrooms

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare polenta and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Snap off the ends of the asparagus and peel the stalks.

Clean the ramps and prepare as follows: Wrap the green leaves together loosely in tinfoil and carefully lower the bulb ends into boiling water, leaning them against the side of the pot and keeping the tinfoil-covered leaves protected from the water. Cook a few minutes and then remove. Unwrap the foil and dip the leaves in the boiling water for just a few seconds.

Blanch the asparagus in heavily salted boiling water about five minutes, until tender.

Heat 5 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When it foams, add morels; do not overcrowd. Cook three to four minutes, stirring often. Turn the heat to medium and add thyme, salt and pepper. Let the mushrooms cook another six to eight minutes. They should be crispy on the outside, yet still tender.

Add the remaining butter to the mushrooms and place the blanched asparagus in the pan. Toss to coat the asparagus in the butter and cook over medium heat for two minutes. Add the ramps and cook another two minutes. Check for seasoning. Remove pan from heat and stir in the parsley.

To serve, make a bed of polenta on eight plates. Top with the vegetables.


1 cup medium-grain polenta

51/2 cups water, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Kosher salt

In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring 51/2 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil over high heat. Add the polenta slowly, whisking continuously. Turn the heat down to low and continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring often. Add 1/2 cup water and cook one more hour, adding boiling water as needed, about every 20 minutes. (You don’t want the polenta to get too dry before it is completely cooked.) The heat should be low, so the polenta is barely simmering. As you stir, make sure you reach the bottom of the pot to keep the polenta from scorching.

Stir in the butter and check for seasoning. If the polenta seems a bit too thick, add a little more hot water to achieve a creamy consistency.

Millefoglie with Grappa Cream and Rhubarb

For custard
21/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons grappa
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
For rhubarb
11/2 pound rhubarb stalks, cut diagonally into 1-1/4-inch pieces
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons grappa
For pastry
1 (171/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
Garnish: confectioners’ sugar
For custard: Bring 2 cups milk with salt to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk together yolks, sugar, flour, cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup milk in a bowl. Add one third of hot milk to yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking, then add to remaining milk in saucepan, whisking.
Bring custard to a boil over moderate heat, whisking for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted, then stir in grappa. Transfer custard to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold, at least one hour.
Cook rhubarb while custard chills: Simmer rhubarb, water, sugar and grappa in cleaned 3-quart heavy saucepan, uncovered, stirring gently once or twice, until rhubarb is tender but not falling apart, about four minutes. Set pan in a bowl of ice and cold water and let stand two minutes to stop cooking.
Slowly pour rhubarb mixture into a sieve set over a bowl. Return syrup to saucepan, reserving rhubarb, and boil until reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Keep rhubarb and syrup, covered, at room temperature until ready to use.
Prepare pastry while rhubarb cooks: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Unfold 1 puff pastry sheet and gently roll out into a 14-inch square with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a buttered large baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Repeat with remaining sheet. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until pastry is puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool.
Trim edges of pastry with a large serrated knife. Cut each sheet into 12 (3-inch) squares and break pastry scraps into small shards.
Assemble millefoglie: Beat cream (for custard) in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks. Whisk custard to loosen, then fold in whipped cream gently but thoroughly.
Dollop 2 rounded tablespoons of grappa cream on each of eight dessert plates and top with half of rhubarb. Cover cream and rhubarb with a pastry square. Make another layer of cream, rhubarb and pastry squares, then top with pastry shards. Sift confectioners’ sugar evenly over each serving and drizzle with syrup.
Cooks’ notes: Custard (without whipped cream) can be made one day ahead and chilled, covered. Rhubarb can be prepared one day ahead and chilled, covered. Pastry can be baked and cut one day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature. Recrisp on two baking sheets in a 350 degree oven about five minutes.

Rabbit Terrine with Pistachios and Green Olives

Active time: 11/2 hours. Start to finish: 111/2 hours (includes chilling).
For rabbit and broth
1 (3 pounds) rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 leek (green part only), rinsed
1 head garlic, left unpeeled and halved horizontally
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
1/2 teaspoon salt
61/4 cups cold water
2 large egg whites plus shells, crushed
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from two 1/4-oz envelopes)
1 tablespoons Madeira
For assembling terrines
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
1/2 cup picholine or other brine-cured green olives (3 ounces), pitted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup salted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
Special equipment: 2 (12-by-2-inch) tapered narrow rectangular terrines; kitchen string; 2 (111/2- by-11/2 inches) strips of corrugated cardboard wrapped with foil; 2 (10- to 11-inch) rolling pins or high-shouldered wine bottles.
Rabbit: Remove fat, kidneys and liver from rabbit if necessary. Put rabbit, shallots, carrots, parsley, thyme, leek, garlic, peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 6 cups water in a 4-quart heavy pot and bring to a boil, skimming froth. Reduce heat and gently simmer rabbit, partially covered, until tender, one hour.
Clarify broth: Cool rabbit in broth, uncovered, 30 minutes. Remove, reserving rabbit pieces and broth separately. Pour broth through a fine sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. Whisk egg whites in another bowl until foamy and add egg shells. Whisk in warm broth in a stream and return mixture to cleaned pot.
Heat over moderate heat, stirring and scraping bottom constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent egg white from sticking, until stock comes to a simmer, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and gently simmer broth, without stirring, until all impurities rise to surface and form a crust, and broth is clear, about 10 minutes.
While broth is simmering, coarsely shred rabbit meat, being careful to remove all small bones.
Pour broth through a sieve lined with a double thickness of dampened paper towels into a bowl and let all broth drain through. Discard solids. Broth should be completely clear; if not, repeat procedure with clean dampened paper towels.
If clarified broth measures more than 21/2 cups, boil to reduce. If it measures less, add water. Bring broth just to a simmer. Sprinkle gelatin over remaining 1/4 cup cold water and soften one minute, then whisk into hot broth until dissolved. Stir in Madeira and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste.
Assemble terrines: Lightly oil terrines and line with a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to drape over edges. Place terrines on a tray. Cut four (18-inch) pieces of kitchen string and place two crosswise under each terrine about 2 inches from each end.
Grind fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or in an electric coffee/spice grinder and toss with rabbit, olives, pistachios, chives, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide mixture between terrines, then stir broth well and pour slowly into terrines, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Reserve any remaining broth, covered and chilled. Place a foil-wrapped cardboard strip on top of each terrine, then rest a rolling pin or bottle on top of cardboard and tie to terrine, creating just enough pressure to press cardboard about 1/2 inch into terrine.
Chill terrines on tray three hours, then remove string, weights, and cardboard. Heat any reserved jelled broth (including spillover on tray) just until it becomes liquid and add to terrines. Cover with overhanging plastic wrap and chill at least six hours more.
To unmold terrines, unwrap plastic wrap and invert molds onto a long narrow platter, pulling slightly on plastic to release terrines from molds, then removing it. Gently cut terrines with a serrated knife into 1/3-inch-thick slices and serve on toasts.
Note: Toast spices in a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant and a shade or two darker.
Accompaniment: 18 very thin slices firm white sandwich bread, each slice buttered and cut into two pieces the shape of terrine slices, then toast on baking sheet and spread with 2 tablespoons butter. Toast in the middle of the oven until golden, about 10 minutes.


Roast Lamb with Lamb Sausage Crust and Fresh Grape Pan Sauce

A savory crust and simple sauce lift this roast into the special-occasion realm.
2 cups halved seedless red grapes
2 cups tawny Port
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Sausage Crust and Lamb:
1/2 cup halved seedless red grapes
1/4 cup halved pitted Kalamata olives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
8 ounces ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 2- to 21/2-pound well-trimmed racks of lamb (each with 8 bones)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
21/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
For sauce: Boil all ingredients in large saucepan until reduced to 21/3 cups, about 20 minutes. Cool. Puree in blender. This can be made five days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
For lamb: Pulse grapes, olives, chopped rosemary, vinegar and garlic clove in mini processor until olives are chopped. Transfer to bowl. Mix in ground lamb,1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Sprinkle racks of lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 rack, meat side down, and cook until browned, about five minutes. Set on rimmed baking sheet, meat side up. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and remaining rack; reserve skillet. Cool lamb completely.
Add 1/2 cup broth to skillet. Boil until reduced to glaze, scraping up browned bits. Add to sauce. Cover and chill.
Spread each rack with 1 tablespoon mustard. Press half of lamb sausage over top of each rack (layer will be thin). This can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons oil, and 2 tablespoons mustard in medium skillet. Toss over medium heat until beginning to color, about five minutes. Press crumbs over sausage on each rack. Cut through crumb crust (not lamb) between bones to score. Roast until thermometer inserted into center registers 135 degrees, about 30 minutes for medium-rare.
Transfer lamb to platter; let rest 10 minutes. Pour juices from baking sheet into sauce. Simmer in small saucepan until reduced to about 11/3 cups, about 9 minutes (sauce will thicken slightly). Season with salt and pepper.
Cut lamb between bones into chops. Set two on each plate. Spoon sauce over.
Makes eight servings.


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