Meet Kristin. She’s sitting in front of four (4!) bowls of homemade pho. How did she manage to score that kind of jackpot? She and her husband Eric, along with a group of friends, have a private cookbook club. “Most of us went to college together so it’s a great way to stay connected,” she explained.
They are avid cooks and had worked through many of the recipes in my Asian Dumplings cookbook before they took one of my classes last year. A week or so ago, Eric emailed to invite me to crash their cookbook club’s pho party.
The event was casual, he wrote, adding, “Just excited to be making more stuff/sharing with friends, and recall you’re local. If you happen to not have plans and are hungry then, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to share! :)” He explained that I wouldn’t have to bring anything (hooray!).
Not only was I curious and lived nearby, but I also tend to be hungry around 5pm – when their party would be getting heated up. My husband and I happily attended.
It’s always tough to be a party crasher and Eric didn’t tell his club members that I was going to show up. He wasn’t sure if I’d show (we’d left things kinda loose) and he didn’t want his friends to get nervous. I think all of that was wise.
Surprise! Everyone was very friendly. I had to nose around to see what was going on. There were 4 kinds of broths to try! Two were simmered slowly in a stockpot by Kristin and Eric and the other two were made in the Instant Pot by Deb, David, Julianne, and Gerald. Deb proudly showed me the gorgeous Thai chiles she’d purchased from the Chinese market, to boot!
The club members had gathered and prepped all the ingredients for bowl assembly – soaked noodles, sliced beef, bite-size pieces of chicken, onion and herbs, and bean sprouts. There was a bottle of sriracha and sliced chiles, as well as homemade hoisin, which Eric had whipped up from a recipe in the book that morning. Gerald and Julianne made IP chicken pho but was also whipped up a batch of the beef meatballs, which he remarked was super easy from grocery store ingredients. (Yay!)
Deb made the spicy cabbage salad and Chinese peanut cookies, a recipe that she plucked from VWK. (If you subscribe to All Recipes magazine, the cookie recipe is in the February/March 2018 issue!) Another person made ca-phe sua da iced Vietnamese coffee. As suggested for Viet-American authenticity, David tracked down Café du Monde coffee with chicory.
Theirs is a small kitchen so things spread out onto the dining table. They set out medium-small bowls, chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons for everyone to make their own. It was organized but unfussy. I took a spoon and tasted each broth. I loved how Kristin and Eric used blue painting tape to label the broths on the stove. It’s how I label a lot of stuff at home.
There were differences among them and we discussed the merits of each – long simmer versus pressure cooker. Brisket versus chuck for beef pho. Deb had received a 3-quart Instant Pot mini so she simply halved the pressure cooker chicken pho recipe and used two bone-in chicken breasts. That’s such smart cooking, and I’m happy to know that she realized the flexibility in my book.
The group also gave me feedback on the book, noting that the instructions had just enough details to guide people. (I’m always worry about over writing.) There were technical writers and teachers in the group but more importantly, everyone was a cookbook user and curious cook.
Kristin appreciated how the recipes encourage people to make the most of their pho broths. Eric said they brewed the pho broth the weekend before and kept it frozen. (You know how much I love my frozen pho bank!)
Yikes, they pointed to a typo that I was unaware of: the page reference to tips for parboiling bones is on page 30, not page 28. It’s okay, Eric pointed out, because nearby, there’s usually a reference to tips for charring the onion/shallot and ginger, which is correctly stated as being on page 30. You’ll be on page 30!
So how does their cookbook club work?
The gatherings started out as potlucks, Kristin explained. Over time, they got more organized and picked a cookbook for each session. One memorable party entailed smoking things in Weber grills.
Because of family and work commitments, the cookbook club lapsed a bit. However, this year, they decided to make it a regular thing again. With the cool weather, they kicked off 2018 with a pho focus.
There was twice as much food as we could eat. At the end of the meal, takeaway containers were distributed for leftovers. Hard-to-find ingredients like yellow rock sugar was shared. I brought along a stash of dried sa sung seaworms to gift the club members.
Kristin and Eric said that they often select books that they know they will want to keep around. Committing to trying a new cookbook once a month is hard, Gerald said. The club will likely hold their parties every other month.
Most times, I talk to cookbook owners before they buy my books. Seldom do we get to chat after they’ve worked through it. This cookbook club’s pho party was very special for me as an author and cook.
If you organize a gathering based on The Pho Cookbook, let me know! I’d be happy to crash it via a Google Hangout! Just send me a note.
Have tips on organizing a cookbook club? Do share!