Book Clubs

I put this guide together thanks to feedback from various book groups, including those I joined their book discussion via phone. Want me to join in yours? Just drop me an email and we’ll see what we can work out.

Book Club Menu Guide

I’ve been a member of various book clubs most of my adult life. In all of them, we consumed food and wine as well as words as part of our gatherings. So I’ve put together this menu guide for clubs reading The Sharper Your Knife. For copyright reasons, I can’t put all the recipes online, so I’ve noted the page number of those in the book in parentheses. For discussion purposes, Viking/Penguin has put together a reading guide for the book, too.

Serving notes

Most of the recipes in The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry are for six to eight; but you’ll need only one batch for up to 12 people if serving appetizers (especially cheese), bread and desserts. Of course, if it’s a portioned thing such as the steaks with red wine sauce, you’ll need one per person. One main course, a cheese plate, a side and a salad are plenty for most gatherings; if you have more than 12 guests, solicit a member to bring a second main course.
Round out the fare with cheese, olive, baguettes and paté. For dessert, assign someone to bring a fruit tart, an assortment of chocolates or a cheesecake (invoking the cheesecake disaster from Chapter 18), either homemade or purchased.
• Salad: Allow about a handful of salad or a half ounce of greens per person.
• Wine: This depends on your friends. A bottle has five glasses; most caterers allow ½ bottle per person. When I ask my friends to each bring a bottle, they’re usually consumed by evening’s end.
• Cheese: Allow about two ounces per person (see “the cheese tray” below)
• Spreads, pâtés: One batch is typically enough for a group of up to eight; if you have more people, make an additional appetizer, rather than more of the same. I’m a fan of this pate with figs and walnuts recipe from

Most popular book club recipes
Often it’s hard to know exactly who will show up, so main dishes without specific portions work work well. Poulet à la Moutarde is straightforward, plus inexpensive to prepare for a group. Other than the long cooking time involved, Sharon’s spaghetti bolognaise (page 141) is undemanding, yet satisfying. The coq au vin (page 162) can be time consuming, but made a day ahead (see notes below), it needs only to be reheated. Ditto for boeuf bourguignon (page 63).Don’t let the idea of making a leg of lamb scare you from the olive-marinated grilled lamb with white beans (page 147). Elegant and easy, a lot of the work can be done ahead of time, and easily serves a crowd. It’s my favorite recipe in the book.

With all these main dishes, you can serve the braised endives (page 258) as a side dish, although you need only a simple salad to round out the meal. Try arugula drizzled with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Or, try a warm chevré salad

Hands-on approach
In London, I belonged to a club that liked to make dinner together. We’d talk and sip wine as we cooked, then discuss the book as we ate. The grilled pizza (page 156) is a fun option in good weather. The crêpes recipe (page 208) can be used with both savory fillings such as chicken in cream sauce, or simple ham, cheese, mushrooms as well as sweet stuff. Either the chicken cordon bleu (page 72) or mushroom-crusted steaks with red wine sauce make an elegant dinner, paired with Wilted greens, grilled corn with herbs or chevre mashed potatoes and braised endives (page 258), with chocolate soufflé (page 89) for dessert

These are recipes that lend themselves to being brought to or served at a club as the bulk of the work can be done ahead; I’ve included some tips on how to make each work

Quiche: This reheats well in a low oven, about 225 degrees
Puff pastry with tuna ceviche : Make the Provençal spread up to two days in advance. The ceviche needs to marinate at least six hours but not more than 20 hours. Then, just bake the pastry, layer the spread and top with the ceviche. Or, you can always serve the ceviche on its own.
• Gumbo (page 100): the roux can be made up to a month in advance and frozen. The gumbo can be made a day ahead up to the point of adding the shrimp, cool and refrigerated, or even frozen for up to a month. Thaw if necessary, and then reheat slowly to near boiling before add the shrimp.
• Spaghetti Bolognese (141): Make sauce up to two days in advance.
• Chicken cordon bleu (172): Prepare bundles a day ahead except for breading; store in airtight container in the fridge until just before cooking; bread packages and continue with recipe.
• French onion soup (229): Prepare onions and broth the day prior, and prepare croutons. (Don’t grate the cheese though; it may dry out). Before serving, reheat soup, add to bowls and continue recipe. Note: Make sure you have enough ovenproof bowls for all your guests.
• Crêpes (208): Prepare crêpes, cool and separate with pieces of parchment paper, then place in sealable plastic bags. Keep up to three days in the fridge or frozen for about a month.

These dishes are better the second day:
Cassoulet (181): Make up to point of adding breadcrumbs, cover and refrigerate. Add breadcrumbs when reheating and continue.
• Grilled lamb, white beans with artichokes and tomatoes (147): The beans can be made up to two days in advance and reheated. The marinated lamb can be grilled before guests arrive and kept warm in a low oven covered with foil.
• Coq au vin (162): Make the whole dish except parsley a day prior, cover and reheat in the oven at 275° degrees until hot, about 20 to 30 minutes.
• Beef bourguignon (63): Same as the coq au vin above. Always a crowd pleaser, and makes a lot.
• Minestrone soup (33): Make up to two days in advance, also freezes well; check seasonings before serving.

Too Busy To Cook?
Call a local French bistro and see what they have to offer. A lot of restaurants will do takeout even if they don’t advertise it. Otherwise, make a calculated stop at a deli or quality supermarket. Duck confit is always elegant, and makes its own entrée when paired with mixed greens. (If you can’t find it locally, it can be ordered from Many cheese shops also have collections of pâté and spreads, an easy appetizer when paired with sliced baguette. Roasted chickens make an easy main course when paired with simply prepared green beans or even a simple salad and French bread.

Vegetarians unite
These recipes can be prepared sans meat: Golden onion quiche (page 53), Provençal spread, grilled pizzas (page 156), Crepes with bananas and Nutella or jam (page 208). The white beans with artichokes and tomatoes (page 147) are good even without the salt pork. A couple of other good recipes are farmer’s market salad with goat cheese and mushroom and walnut pate.

Mastering the elusive cheese tray
Once, I suggested “bring some cheese” to my book club. All seven brought brie.
Select three or four from the groups below for a group up to eight people, and four or five for larger groups. Allow about two ounces per person. Round out a cheese platter with a baguette, sliced apples, pears, quince paste, figs, baguettes and crackers. There’s no science to it, just go for an interesting mix, say a goat, sheep and cow’s milk mix or focus on all French or American artisanal.

  • Goat or sheep’s milk cheese: Chevre, Montrachet, feta, among others.
  • “Monastery” cheese – Typically semi-soft and mild, these include Port Salut, Chaumes and Belgian Chimay. Look for a monk on the label.
    Cheddar-ish: Mostly English or American made, Cantal is a French version.
  • Soft-ripened cheese: Camembert and brie are easy to find, consider St. Albany, Sainte Andre or even a flavored Boursin.
  • Swiss-style: Emmathaler is the Swiss version, Gruyere and Comte are French varieties. Gouda is a distant cousin.
  • Something blue: Roquefort, Stilton and gorgonzola, et. al.
Members can bring wine, or you can purchase a bottle person at a local wine store (and just get a donation from each person for the average cost) or do the new millennium thing and have it delivered. Women & Wine will actually ship you a case based on the book as part of their Reading Glasses program. It’s easy and like opening up a Christmas present when it arrives.
Questions? Suggestions to share with other book club members? Send them along.

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