By Meda Kessler
Photos by Jill Johnson
Styling by Meda Kessler and Jennifer Shoucair Weaver
A cookbook club celebrates food and friendship with a healthy harvest dinner
It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon and as storm clouds quietly gather in the distant skies, members of Jennifer Shoucair Weaver’s cookbook club arrive bearing bowls of salad, platters of veggies, a slow cooker full of soup, breads and, of course, desserts.
A long table is set for dinner under expansive oaks in one of the many picturesque spots on Weaver’s Keller farm. Two friendly orange barn cats sit nearby, mesmerized by the action. A trio of llamas graze in the pasture outside the fenced-in yard.
Aside from oohs and aahs over the photo-ready food, conversation ranges from updates on kids to a recent trip to Austin for a music festival to upcoming holiday plans. Wine is poured, and dinner is served.
While most gatherings of the group are a bit more casual, Weaver and her friends enthusiastically agreed to setting up this “dinner in a field” for our November issue. It was the perfect way to showcase their specialties: healthy and wholesome dishes that look as good as they taste.
“It’s the common denominator that brought us together and the way we all like to cook, whether for family meals or the holidays,” says Weaver.
A former entertainment publicist and adventurous eater, the California native moved from Los Angeles with her husband in late 2012. “I’ll be the first to admit I may have shed a few tears when we moved here,” says Weaver with a smile. “I had visions of eating nothing but chain Tex-Mex food.”
While the Weavers originally lived in Southlake, finding the Keller property helped ease Jennifer’s nerves about moving to Texas. The llamas came with the 13 acres, as did a large pond and a home that has since been updated to reflect their easygoing California style. That includes the light-filled kitchen, with its spacious island and prep areas.
“I cook almost every day,” says Weaver. It’s one reason she started a Facebook group — now at 2,000 members and growing — for those who not only are handy in the kitchen but who like to eat, too.
From there, the cookbook club was born, made up of women from the Southlake-Westlake-Keller area. While time is always a factor, the 10 to 12 core members manage to get together every six weeks or so and take turns hosting. The cookbooks they choose typically reflect their interest in eating healthy, and everyone signs up to bring a specific dish.
“You probably won’t find us whipping up Paula Deen’s latest creation; we’re more in tune with Ottolenghi [a London-based deli] and Heidi Swanson [California cookbook author], and we love to mix things up,” says Weaver.
This past spring, they selected recipes from Tacos by Alex Stupak, and made barbacoa and tortillas by hand. Vietnamese food is on the agenda.
“Some of us are gluten free, and others don’t eat red meat or dairy, but we never let dietary restrictions stop us from exploring a cookbook. It’s a potluck-style affair and, of course, we have awesome cocktails,” says Jessica Adcock, a member of the club who’s also considered a dessert guru.
For the November dinner, the club turned to At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, a vegan-vegetarian cookbook by Amy Chaplin, who gained a following helping clients, including celebrities, stock their pantries and eat healthier. Chaplin avoids processed ingredients and loves pureed vegetable soups, good olive oil and nut butters.
The cookbook club dinner includes everything from drinks, a Hibiscus Infusion With Citrus and Ginger, to desserts, Chocolate Pots de Crème and Pumpkin Tartlets With Cashew Ginger Crust. Winter vegetables get a star turn thanks to the Creamy Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup With Roasted Shiitakes; Roasted Winter Vegetables and Arugula Salad With Mustard Dressing; Shaved Fennel and Beet Salad With Blood Orange and Crushed Hazelnuts; and Crispy Smashed Potatoes With Caper Garlic Yogurt Dip. All are filling on their own but also make satisfying sides to a roast turkey.
While we can’t share all the recipes, we’ve chosen a few of our favorites.
Hibiscus Infusion With Citrus and Ginger
Makes about 8 cups
- 8 cups filtered water
- ½ cup dried hibiscus flowers (1½ ounces)
- 1/3 cup mild raw honey, plus more to taste
- ½ cup strained fresh orange juice
- 4 teaspoons fresh ginger juice (see note)
Bring water to boil in large pot over high heat. Add flowers, cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a large bowl. Compost (or discard) flowers. Cool for 5 minutes before stirring in honey. Cool to room temperature; stir in orange and ginger juices. Pour into jars or glass bottles, chilling before serving. Keep up to one week in the fridge.
Note To make fresh ginger juice, finely grate a 2½-inch piece fresh, unpeeled ginger root and place in the palm of your hand. Squeeze over a small bowl to extract 4 teaspoons of juice.
Kale Slaw With Creamy Mustard Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 tablespoons raw cashew butter
- 2 tablespoons filtered water
- 1 small garlic clove, pressed
- 1 tablespoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cups thinly sliced kale (about 1 medium bunch)
- 2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage (from about ¼ small-medium red cabbage)
- 1 medium carrot, cut in matchsticks
- 1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 thinly sliced scallions
- 2 tablespoons roasted sunflower seeds
Prepare dressing by combining cashew butter and water in a small bowl, mixing until smooth. Stir in garlic, vinegars, mustard and pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Add olive oil, mix again until smooth and creamy; adjust seasonings if needed and set aside.
Prepare salad by combining all ingredients in a large bowl; toss. Drizzle with dressing and toss again until salad is evenly coated.
Creamy Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup With Roasted Shiitakes
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 large garlic bulbs
- 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 medium-large head cauliflower
(2½ pounds), cut into 1½-inch chunks
- 1 medium celery root (1 pound), peeled and cut in ½-inch dice
- 6 cups filtered water
- 1 teaspoon tamari
- Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste
- Roasted shiitakes to garnish (recipe follows)Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice ½ inch off top of each garlic bulb, drizzle tops with 1 teaspoon olive oil each and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Wrap in parchment paper, then foil; seal tightly. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour or until cloves are soft and golden brown. Set aside to cool.
In large pot, warm remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and 1½ teaspoons salt and saute for 5 minutes or until golden. Add cauliflower, celery root and water. Stir, raise heat and bring to boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not falling apart. Add tamari and remove pan from heat.
Squeeze garlic cloves from skin and add to soup. Puree soup in batches in an upright blender on the highest speed until completely smooth and velvety. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and salt. Served garnished with roasted shiitakes.
Cut stems from ¾ pound fresh shiitakes and thinly slice mushrooms; spread on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, ½ teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, tossing well to combine. Spread in single layer and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes; stir and roast until shiitakes begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool, or serve immediately. (They tend to soften over time and don’t store well in fridge.)
Shaved Fennel Beet Salad With Blood Orange and Crushed Hazelnuts
- 5 baby red beets
- 1 medium fennel bulb, stems and tough outer layer removed, cored and shaved (about 2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 medium blood oranges, segments removed
- 1 small to medium head radicchio (6 ounces), leaves torn into bite-size pieces
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces aged goat cheese, rind removed, shaved
- ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed
Place beets in small pot, cover with filtered water and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until beets are tender. Test them by inserting toothpick or tip of sharp knife. Drain beets and slip off skins under cold running water. Halve and thinly slice beets. Place in salad bowl; add shaved fennel, vinegars and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes or refrigerate for up to one day to marinate. Add blood orange segments and radicchio to beets and fennel; toss to combine. Add olive oil, shaved cheese and hazelnuts; toss gently again. Taste for seasonings and serve.
Crispy Smashed Baby Potatoes
- 1½ pounds baby potatoes
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place potatoes in a medium-large pot and cover with filtered water. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Test the center of a potato with a toothpick or tip of a sharp knife; if it is still slightly firm, continue cooking for a couple more minutes and test again.
While potatoes cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Drain potatoes in a colander and shake off any excess water. Place on parchment-lined tray, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and a generous pinch of black pepper; toss well. Spread potatoes out over the tray and use the palm of your hand (or a flat spatula) to press potatoes down until flattened — be careful, they’re hot! Roast for 30 minutes, rotate tray, and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy around the edges. Serve warm with Caper Garlic Yogurt Dip.
Caper Garlic Yogurt Dip
Makes about 1¼ cups
- 1 cup thick whole-milk yogurt
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, pressed
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced scallions or chives
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place yogurt, capers, garlic, parsley, olive oil, scallions, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well, and season to taste with black pepper and additional salt. Serve with smashed potatoes, or place in a jar and store in the fridge for up to three days.
Chocolate Pots de Crème
- ½ cup whole raw almonds, soaked 8 to 24 hours in 1 cup filtered water
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked 2 to 6 hours in 1 cup filtered water
- 1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
- 3 cups filtered water
- 1 cup plain rice milk
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon agar flakes
- Small pinch sea salt
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more to dust mousse
- 1¾ ounces dark (70 percent) chocolate, broken into pieces
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Fresh raspberries to serve, optional
Line medium strainer with a nut milk bag; a clean, thin kitchen towel; or several layers of cheesecloth. Place over a medium, heavy-bottomed pot and set aside.
Slip skins off almonds and cashews, rinse and drain nuts and place in upright blender. Add coconut and water. Blend on highest speed until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour through strainer into pot; gather edges of bag or excess cloth and gently squeeze milk out. You should have 2½ cups nut milk. Rinse blender and set aside.
Add rice milk, maple syrup, agar and sea salt to pot with nut milk. Whisk and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes. Check that agar is completely dissolved.
Add cocoa powder and whisk until combined. Remove from heat, add chocolate, cover pot again and let mixture sit for 2 minutes so chocolate can melt. Remove lid and whisk thoroughly until completely smooth.
Stir in vanilla and set aside, uncovered, for 10 minutes to cool slightly. Pour into blender and combine on highest speed for 1 minute.
Divide mixture among small bowls, cups or glasses and place in fridge to set for at least an hour or until ready to serve. These can be made a day in advance. Dust surface with cocoa powder and top with raspberries; serve chilled.