It’s a snowy Thursday night and Shawn Bard’s house is lit up like a film set. Out in front, cars park, doors slam, and clusters of women hurry up the walkway with pots, platters, and trays full of food. Inside, ladies dish and nibble, sipping punch and eggnog as they set up this new rendition of a good old- fashioned potluck buffet. The monthly meeting of the Kenilworth Cookbook Club (KCC) is officially underway.
“Food is a great conduit — the perfect common denominator to bring people together,” says Allison McEntee, who started KCC two years ago as a way for Kenilworth residents to get to know each other better.
Relocating to Kenilworth from New York in 2017, McEntee enjoyed meeting other moms at the occasional function or mom’s night out at her children’s schools. “But I just felt like I wanted more out of meeting these women. Something fun on a regular basis, that would always be on the schedule. I had a hunch there were others who wanted the same thing.”
With a background in marketing for companies such as Nestle, The Food Network, and Tasting Table, McEntee knew she wanted food to be the foundation of her future get-togethers. Her hunch was a good one — the club now has 100 members, with monthly gatherings booked all the way through July 2021.
The concept is simple. Each month, one member signs up to host a dinner at her home. The host chooses a cookbook for the event, and recipes are divvied up to ensure every course—including drinks and dessert—is covered. Members prepare their chosen recipe
and present it with a brief background: a history of the dish, how easy or difficult it was to prepare, and how it was received by previous diners (usually eager family members.)
“I hosted the first dinner in August, 2018,” says McEntee. “I picked the Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook and just invited a few women.” From there, McEntee says things took off. “The club is very inclusive—anyone can join. I think it’s grown so fast because people are looking for a way to connect with others in the neighborhood. Food does that, whether it’s high-end gourmet fare, or comfort food.”
Tonight’s event is especially festive. The featured cookbook is none other than “Kenilworth Cooks,” the new community cookbook by KCC members featuring favorite family recipes. The book not only creates a record of current Kenilworth tastes, it also raises funds to support the completion of the new Village House at Joseph Sears School. All profits from cookbook sales will go toward that project. “It’s been over 30 years since our community has gathered together to create a cookbook, and we’re excited to bring this to the neighborhood, especially in time for the holidays,” says McEntee.
To create the cookbook, KCC formed a committee and solicited club membership for recipe submissions. Next, they gathered, tested, and compiled all of the data through the summer of 2019. Working with the Kenilworth Historical Society, the group studied previous Kenilworth community cookbooks from decades past to view themes and formats.
“We wanted something very easy and accessible,” says McEntee. “And as the recipe submissions came in, we saw a really good range of drinks, appetizers, mains, and desserts, with a lot of breakfast, and brunch items. So rather than theme the book around just eggs, or entertaining, or some other narrow focus, we decided to just flow with the submissions.”
The panoply of offerings on tonight’s buffet is a diverse reflection of the cookbook. There is Meredith Sullivan’s queso blanco dip, spiked with three kinds of chilies, cumin, and cilantro. Next to that, Leslie Martin’s provolone loaf, a pretty composition of garlic and sundried tomato-accented cheeses with basil and pesto. Among the mains, Shannon Stoelting has brought her namesake “Shannon’s Paella with Kick.” Made with garlicky, saffron-infused Arborio rice, the dish is studded with chicken, chorizo, Andouille sausage, and shrimp. Stephanie Joyce’s peanut butter noodles—flavored with soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, peanut butter and ginger— are an easy-to-make family favorite. Dessert includes Kath Lyman’s rum-spiked bundt cake and Ruth Flaherty’s homemade graham cracker fingers, baked using her pastry chef sister-in-law Megan Campbell’s recipe.
To promote the book, KCC is hosting a holiday cookie exchange at 7 p.m. on December 12 at the Kenilworth Assembly Hall. The event will give guests an opportunity to flex their own baking skills (a contribution of two dozen cookies is required) while picking up a gift-wrapped copy of the community cookbook.
“We couldn’t be happier with all of this,” says McEntee. “Our community is really thirsty to create bonds, and this club and cookbook have proven to be a great way to do that.”