I’ve been doing this for a while. We have been doing this for a while. My book club’s decade anniversary is becoming visible on the horizon if I squint my eyes–mistily, faintly, somewhere in 2011, peeping around the corner and beckoning us forward with a welcoming wave.
Book club was at my house this time around. The book was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
One thing I’ve learned over all these years is that there are some limitations on what I can successfully pull off for a book club dinner. The challenge is the timing. I usually get home from work just a few minutes before our 6:00 pm start time. I want to put something good on the table, and I dream up all sorts of delicacies I’d like to serve, but practically speaking, it has to be something that can be cooked the night before or put in the crock pot.
But necessity is the mother of invention. Challenge is the spice of life. I’ve run with the bulls, darn it– a weeknight dinner party does not scare me. I just iron the napkins the night before, plan a menu that can be made in advance, and welcome the ladies of the club in out of the chilly twilight.
For this book club, I decided on my old reliable cream of potato and butternut squash soup. For novelty, I went light on the Indian spices, heavy on the chipotle, and added a roasted, diced poblano pepper before blending it. I made it the night before, so before dinner I just had to add the cream and reheat.
With this fall soup, I wanted something more substantial than a typical green salad, so I served a raw lacinato kale salad. Lacinato kale is so sturdy that I probably could have dressed the kale the night before, but instead, I cleaned and cut the kale, made the dressing, prepped the other ingredients, and put them in the refrigerator overnight in separate containers, to be tossed just before dinner.
Alongside this were a round of hearty, whole grain bread and a cheese plate: Stilton, Manchego, Seastack, Saxon Green Fields, and Iberico. Larry, my wine merchant, selected a Coopers Creek Chardonnay/Viognier blend that paired perfectly with the meal.
For dessert, we had Mechele’s pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting in the living room in front of the fire, while discussing the book–as well as various other topics that nearly made us fall out of our respective chairs with laughter.
There aren’t many things in life that top a full belly and a shared laugh.
The book for next time is Anna Karenina. I’d better get cracking, because it’s been an awfully long time since I originally read it, and it must be fully three inches thick.
Kale salad really is the ideal make-ahead dish for a party. It is good cold or at room temperature, sits well without getting limp, and doesn’t have any ingredients that can go bad unrefrigerated on a buffet or in a picnic basket. It is vegetarian, gluten-free, and can be served to your vegan friends before you add the cheese.
Besides all that, it is delicious: crunchy, tangy, and sparked with bright sweetness from the sultanas. I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, and they were so good that I made more.
Lacinato Kale Salad
- 1 bunch lacinato kale (also called dino kale)
- ½ cup crushed walnuts
- ½ cup sultana raisins
- 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp English mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
Wash kale, discard stems and tough center ribs. Cut or tear into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Whisk all dressing ingredients together, pour over the kale, and toss to coat. At this point, the salad can sit for a few minutes to several hours in the refrigerator without noticeable deterioration. When ready to serve, toss in the walnuts, raisins, and pecorino.