The Cookbook Club

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Book clubs are a great idea; the tough part is actually getting people together regularly — but what if the meetings revolved around food? With A Reader's Cookbook, you can set aside the same old wine and cheese plate and entice your friends by serving delicious foods and drinks inspired by the author's home country or theme of the book.

If you were reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of Judie Choate's favorite books, then the discussion would be interspersed with mouthfuls of Pollo Barracho or sips of Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipes from the Latin America section of Choate's book). Or, if you've just finished a particularly sad novel (think The Notebook), then you can refer to Chapter 17 in which all recipes are "intended to promote happiness."

Encouraged by her daughter and granddaughter (both members of book clubs), Judie Choate, a three-time James Beard Award winner, created A Reader's Cookbook in hopes of encouraging people to read and learn how to cook and enjoy different foods from around the world. It basically creates the modern-day book club for food lovers.

Conveniently, all the recipes serve 10-12 people and are divided into small plates ('nibbles'), main courses and desserts. Each chapter also has quotes from notable writers and books from the region or topic featured: Asia hosts a wise Zen blessing, while a visit to Great Britain presents a rather sarcastic comment from Oscar Wilde who was evidently very displeased with a watercress sandwich.

As someone who has been in the food industry for over 40 years, worked with famous chefs like Charlie Trotter and David Burke as well as consulted for huge companies like Heinz, Starbucks and Costco, Judie Choate knows food. She has also authored or co-authored over 100 books and created recipes that cover a broad array of eating styles, ranging from classic French recipes to vegan and vegetarian dishes.

You wouldn't think that there was much she didn't know or hadn't already seen, but A Reader's Cookbook showed her something new: That many different cuisines around the world are already part of the American culinary scene. Because of immigration, she found that, especially in large cities, we are eating foods that were unknown 30 years ago.

But instead of choosing recipes for offal or uncommon vegetables to surprise readers, Choate only wanted to include recipes that would entice people to cook. She understands that book clubs don't often focus on food and a lot of time isn't spent in the kitchen, so all of the recipes are relatively easy and stress free.

Choate is probably the last generation of women whose mothers and grandmothers made everything by scratch, In fact, one of her biggest inspirations was her mother's recipe box that housed many of the cards she still has today. She's also a woman who has over 3,000 cookbooks that, until recently, lined the kitchen walls of her upstate New York home, which was recently sold.

She's seen a lot of change during her 40 years in the food industry, yet her simple and fresh recipes are still in style — maybe more so than ever before. She does a lot of her own butchering and tries to cook locally and from the garden, but almost always has her marinara sauce in the freezer and refrigerator.

A recipe that she's taught in so many cooking classes, and can also be found on her blog, consists of Pomi brand tomatoes (the only kind she uses) and cooking the them quickly (about 12-15 minutes) with a handful of garlic and basil because much longer would bring out too much of the acidity in the tomatoes. Her laidback approach to cooking is evident in her description of how she prepares the garlic: "either minced, sliced, or grated using a microplane — depending on the degree of laziness."

Click here to see the Swedish Meatballs recipe.

Click here to see the Feijoada with Spicy Lime Sauce.

Click here to see the Lassi drink recipe.

Click here to see the Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe.