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Coming up with a cookbook for Charm City Cookbook Club can be a challenge. Thankfully Joanne suggested we do Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey, in case you didn’t know, is an acclaimed Indian actress. And her Indian cookbooks have introduced the cuisine to millions.

What I like best about Jaffrey’s recipes is how straightforward they are and how much taste they pack. She isn’t about the fancy techniques for the sake of just doing them. P.S. She didn’t learn to cook until she was an adult. One of my favorite of her books is “Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.” It’s a sweet story, and there are recipes, too.

So back to the samosas. Alayne found a good place for the dough to rest:
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And while we were waiting, we snacked on some spiced chickpeas.

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First up was Alayne, who faced my biggest cooking fear: frying. She made these delicate potato and pea stuffed samosas that were brightened with a little lemon. With Joanne’s expert help — and a little fry-o-lator (also Joanne’s) — Alayne made some really delicious, delicate fried, stuffed, dumplings. And here’s the bonus: Look: No grease fires!

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Next up was Elizabeth, who made soup and naan. Her butternut squash soup was spicy, sweet and delicious.
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And Elizabeth’s naan, though difficult to execute at first, came out well once she and Joanne got the hang of it.

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The main course was next. While Joanne and I got ourselves into the kitchen, Alayne, Elizabeth, and Mia decided it was time for manicures, with glitter nailpolish.

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Joanne made ground lamb with peas. It was tender and delicious, with a little heat. It tasted great.

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I made a shellfish curry with coconut milk. It had shrimp, scallop, and squid and was delicate and tasty. And really easy to make.

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So this was the first Cookbook Club since Renee moved to Houston. We miss her. It felt lonely with just five of us. We needed something sweet. So Julie made a yogurt and mango dessert that was sweet, fresh, and light.

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And there was an extra something special, too. Joanne’s birthday was in two days and Elizabeth made her pumpkin tarts in a gingersnap crust. After she blew out the candles, she was nice enough to share.

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Happy Birthday Joanne!

And thanks for a spicy, sweet October evening.

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Being part of Charm City Cookbook Club gives me courage to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. Like mail order shaved pressed fish roe from Italy for a French Laundry blini recipe, or shred a mess of oxtail a la Mario Batali, or have a gaggle of girl chefs over to cook dinner in my small, not very well equipped kitchen on a cold Friday night in April.

I put my hostess anxiety aside last week, grabbed a copy of Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite,” (Hyperion, 2010) and headed to the kitchen with Julie, Alayne, Joanne, Renee, and Elizabeth to cook up a mess of fun. It was my first time hosting and I was excited.
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First up was Joanne, who made Lamb and Bulgur Kibbe, little nuggets of ground lamb, onions, bulgur and spices that were broiled in the oven and served with chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onions, garlic yogurt sauce, and homemade sumac scented pita. She hit this dish out of the park. My kitchen has never smelled so good. In fact, the scent roused the boy child from the basement, and he pilfered kibbe from the tray when he thought we weren’t looking. He even stuffed a few in his pockets for good measure.

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Elizabeth had the questionable honor of making salad, a task that can be somewhat overlooked and thankless. This salad of tender greens with herbs and hazelnuts was neither. It was so delicious and easy — just baby greens, toasted hazelnuts, and a simple nut oil, salt and vinegar dressing. Clark calls it “Hello, Salad.” We all loved it.
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A brief aside: Like at all Charm City Cookbook Club gatherings, there was sparkling wine and dancing.
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Okay so next up was Julie who wins the night’s award for most ambitious and difficult to pronounce dish. She made spaetzle, a European egg noodle whose name means “little sparrow.”
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Making these little dumplings take a few extra hands and a cool little spaetzle maker, which Julie purchased just for the occasion, that cuts and drops the dough into a pot of salted boiling water.
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After she fished the cooked dumplings out of the water, Julie mixed them with carmelized red onion, sautéed Swiss chard and Emmentaler cheese and baked it all in the oven until it was warm and bubbly and delicious.
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But I am getting ahead of myself. Sort of. Because there are still other components on the plate that we need to talk about. Like the roasted balsamic carrots and roasted spiced cauliflower with almonds that Alayne fired up in my vintage 80s oven.
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I usually hate cooked carrots, but these were delicious. And the cauliflower had a lovely warmth and nuttiness to it.

And speaking of nuttiness ….
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And
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Now where were we? Oh yes, the main course: Crisp Chicken Schnitzel with Lemony Spring Herb Salad. It’s a simple dish: A panfried panko crusted chicken breast on some greens with a lemon anchovy dressing, but it came out really well and it tasted like spring.
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Thanks to Joanne and Julie for manning the saute pan while I was God knows where doing God knows what.

And here’s dinner:
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Now, perhaps you would think that with so much good food and delicious wine on the table that no one would even dare think about dessert. Well buddy, you are wrong. Not only did we think about dessert, Renee was planning on making TWO desserts: A gooey honey butter cake and Fudgy Brownies with Chile and Sea Salt. Alas, the yeast dough that formed the based of the butter cake failed to rise to the occasion even after multiple attempts and so we had to soldier on with only one dessert, a la mode of course.
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The chile and sea salt gave the brownies a nice flavor, although they would have been delicious without them, too.

Thanks to all for a great night of cooking and friendship, for tolerating my vintage 80s kitchen and my overly energetic family and yellow Lab, and for inviting me to become part of the best, most fun, most vibrant group of girl chefs ever to hit Charm City.
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P.S. by Someone new says she wants to join, but I think we should put her off for about 10 years…
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