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Our Laurie Colwin-Themed Dinner Party

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We spend more time talking about cooking from cookbooks than we spend cooking from cookbooks, and it’s time to change that. About once a month, we’ll have Cookbook Club—a meal planned entirely from a cookbook or two, new or old, big or small—and we’ll ask our community members to do the same. 

Today, we celebrate Laurie Colwin. 

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Here you see, clockwise: Nantucket Cranberry Pie (made with plums); Rice Pudding; Buttermilk Cocoa Cake; Blue-Ribbon Corn Relish; Inez Fontenez's Succoatash; Spiced Beef; Yam Cakes with Hot Pepper and Fermented Black Beans; Flatbread; Peach Pizza

A few weeks ago, we asked for the Laurie Colwin recipes you love the most so that we could cook from her classic books and share in your admiration.

Well, we finally did it. We compiled a list of your recommendations, divvied them up (and added a few new ones to the mix), invited fellow Colwin connoisseurs and celebrity guests to join us, and got cooking. Then, we packed all of the food up and hauled it to Madison Square Park.

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We ate the food on flimsy paper plates or straight out of the deli containers. We were hot, slightly dirty, and fairly hungry. Colwin's recipes are satisfying: The majority of what we tried was not revolutionary or mind-boggling (perhaps with the exception of the green sauce). Most of the recipes required we use cook's intuition—adding salt, choosing marinades, knowing how to stretch and grill dough. And since many of the dishes are explained in narrative form, a reader is asked to do more deciphering work than is required from today's newest cookbooks. 

But for all the guesswork, the food was homey and creamy—the kind of food you want to share with the kind of friends who will sit in a hot park with you and eat Spiced Beef. And we had done it! We had assembled a weeknight dinner party and started eating before sunset. Thank you, Laurie. 

Here's a rundown of what we made:

  • Ten days before our picnic, former Food52 editor and general friend of the site Nozlee started making the Spiced Beef (More Home Cooking 205). Yes, it involves over a week of chilling, rubbing, and turning the meat, but it's a recipe that Colwin declares "perfectly expressed, perfectly correct, and perfectly delicious." Colwin writes that her mother was "extremely impressed" when she tasted the beef, "as were the six friends who gathered on Christmas Day and ate every scrap of the beef, which was cut paper thin." We were all impressed, too.

  • Nozlee also made Inez Fontenez's Succotash (MHC 61), which is made with corn, lima beans, okra, and red bell pepper. According to Colwin, this "is what succotash can be if it really tries hard."

  • Kenzi, Food52's Potato Salad Ambassador, surprised no one by making Rob Wynne's Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche (Home Cooking 36). We were all skeptical of the short ingredient list—boiled potatoes, sliced cucumbers (what?!), mayonnaise, crème fraîche, and a hint of garlic—but there were no leftovers. Colwin wins.

  • Amanda Sims made the corn from Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine (MHC 144). Consisting of only corn, butter, cream, salt, and cayenne pepper, Colwin calls it a "multicultural dish" that "is mellow and sweet as well as spicy and suave." 

  • Our celebrity guest Lukas Volger brought Jeannette Kossuth's Green Sauce (HC 42) and crudités for dipping. The fresh, peppery green sauce is made from blending watercress and scallions with olive oil. Colwin recommends serving it to guests with dietary restrictions: "The sauce is a trick: it looks like and has the texture of mayonnaise, but it is not. This recipe was given to me by a friend with a tender stomach who has been on every health regime known to man."

  • Sarah made Flatbread (MHC 49), which begins with a yogurt starter that sits overnight. The dough is flavored with black onion seeds (otherwise known as kalaunji or nigella seeds)stretched like pizza dough, and then griddled or grilled. She also made Yam Cakes with Hot Pepper and Fermented Black Beans (HC 62)—sweet potato fritters flavored with red pepper flakes and salty fermented black beans. 

  • Former intern Taylor Schwartz brought a beautiful loaf of bread from Breads Bakery. Not a Colwin recipe, but we think she'd have approved. 

Above: Flatbread with nigella seeds and potato salad, heavy on the cucumber.

And don't forget dessert:

  • Caroline made the beloved Buttermilk Cocoa Cake (MHC 158). "It is hard to encapsulate the virtues of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel—the result of all that cocoa," writes Colwin. 

  • Sam, who had just returned to New York with sweet-tart Georgia peaches, made Peach Pizza (MCH 127), which we will now refer to as "peachza." 

  • Our intern Riddley wanted to make the Nantucket Cranberry Pie (MHC 121) that so many of you raved about, but was wary of finding fresh cranberries in June. Resourceful baker that she is, she used tart plums instead. The pie reminded us of Marian Burros' Plum Torte—but with even more of a crackly, sugar cookie-like covering. 

  • Kristen made the Lemon Rice Pudding (MHC 15), which Colwin calls a "neglected nursery staple."

What we still want to try:

  • Lemon Chutney (MHC 171)
  • Tomato Pie (MHC 110)
  • Scarlet Eggs (MHC 80)
  • Damp Gingerbread (MHC 69)
  • Pepper Chicken with Broccoli Rabe and Polenta (HC 13)

Our community members also cooked from Colwin's books:

  • Tory Nettleton made the Mustard Chicken (HC 100) and reflected on the experience of using Home Cooking: "Instead of being a book full of the carefully laid-out recipes and perfectly lit photos we’ve all come to rely on, it’s a book full of light-hearted humor and casual recipes that are being passed on to you, the reader, to bring some wholesome comfort and joy to your own home cooking. Some of those recipes come with measurements; some don’t. It reminds me of recipe cards passed down from my parents and grandparents when everybody used to cook. Reading Colwin’s words feels like having a conversation with some of the family friends who I never got to meet, but whose recipes I’ve learned and know so well."

  • Radish made Meat Loaf (HC 86): "Like [Laurie], I am a meat loaf lover. A lot of different meat loaf recipes  will work for me, and I enjoyed making Laurie’s. This recipe was like my mother’s in many ways. Laurie soaks dried bread in milk for a while, as my mother soaked Ritz Crackers in milk. You can jazz this up almost anyway you like or remember with herbs or spices. It is moist—you need not worry about the meat being too dry. This is what I would refer to as an old-fashioned recipe. Not festive, but it meets the requirement of satisfaction." 

  • Erin Lares made Rosemary Walnuts (HC 189), which she says "were tasty and just special enough with minimal effort." But more importantly, "Colwin writes about cooking the way I like to talk about cooking: the introduction of a delightful ingredient, followed by a myriad ways to use it. Because, yes, I LOVE gomasio, and hot damn, I can’t wait to try it with yogurt as a salad dressing."

Since you had so much to say about Laurie's recipes, we want YOU to cook from her books, too. Cook from Home Cooking or More Home Cooking and share what you've made with us: Take a photo of your finished dish (or your cooking experience) and tag it with #f52cookbookclub on Instagram

Tags: cookbooks, cookbook, cookbook club, laurie colwin, home cooking, more home cooking