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What foodies do

ASHLAND — A collection of 150 cookbooks can't keep Carryl Breon from buying another every two months just to enjoy dinner with friends.

A new take on enchiladas was Breon's contribution to a recent 12-course meal, which leisurely progressed from goat cheese torta to "almost-flourless" chocolate cake. Delicious dishes aside, the gathering — a cookbook club meeting — embodied so much more than food.

"Part of the cookbook club is everybody sits down together," said Barb Magee, 55, of Ashland.

This time, it was in Vivian Stubblefield's dining room with a view of madrones twisting atop Ashland's hills. Golden tulips precisely arranged on the blue-and-white tablecloth proclaimed this a much-anticipated feast.

Similar to the format of any book club, members discuss the text. But this club goes one step further, putting the book to work in their own kitchens. Recipes are offered up for the group's approval, tempered with advice on how to improve flavors, increase health benefits or ease preparation.

"They all are women that love to talk about food ... and they always know the latest tool you need for your kitchen," said Sheri Burrell, 68, of Ashland.

Burrell's adaptation of Pasta e Fagioli challenged members to go the extra mile. Use of homemade chicken stock, home-canned tomatoes and dried herbs gleaned from her own garden drew oohs and ahs that turned to chuckles. Burrell also raised and butchered a pig for the hearty soup, joked Denise Marshall, 58, of Eagle Point.

"She is an absolute role model," countered Janice Olson, subduing the laughter.

"When you consider that she cooks just for herself, " Olson said. "When I grow up and get big, Sheri, I'm going to be just like you."

The club's oldest member, Olson, 70, sparked testimonials of cooking throughout one's retirement. The former school administrator from Grants Pass said that, once she retired, she vowed to become a "marvelous cook."

Olson is one of several members to meet through various cooking schools around the valley. Most, like Breon, have ties to Allyson's Kitchen, an Ashland gourmet emporium. Although she has always cooked, Breon said she took Allyson's "Confident Cooking" series six times because that's what "foodies" do.

Her vast cookbook collection prompted Breon to originate this meeting's twist: Every recipe was taken from www.epicurious.com.

"I have 150 cookbooks, and I didn't want anymore," Breon said.

When her online search for chicken entrees yielded more than 3,000 recipes, Breon chose enchiladas because she already had most of the ingredients on hand. The Mexican favorite followed Mediterranean starters, seasonal salads and paprika-spiced fish cakes.

"Because we've chosen from Epicurious, we're really all over the culinary map," Marshall said.

Italian cookbooks and Ina Garten's "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" have earned the club's thumbs-up. Members found an Indian cookbook challenging because of the dearth of ingredients available locally. A Spanish tapas book was proposed for the next meeting but lost out to "The Best Make-ahead Recipes," from the editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine.

"We're all busy; this is the time we have lots of company," said Stubblefield, 60.

But members agree that even when life gets hectic, everyone still finds time for the cookbook club. Five years after the club's founding, nearly all 12 original members remain. And they don't expect a vacancy any time soon, Marshall said.

"No one leaves."

Try the following recipes from their most recent meeting.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small rib celery, chopped fine

1 carrot, sliced thin

11/2 cups chicken broth

1 (16-ounce) can white beans, rinsed well and drained

1 (16-ounce) can tomatoes, drained and chopped

1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta

2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley leaves

Freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish

In a heavy saucepan cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat, and in remaining fat cook the onion and garlic, stirring, until onion is softened.

Add the celery, carrot and broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes.

In a bowl, mash 1/3 cup of the beans, stir them into the bacon mixture with the remaining whole beans and the tomatoes; simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the tubetti, simmer the soup, covered, for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente, and if desired thin soup with water.

Let soup stand off heat, covered, for 5 minutes, stir in the parsley and serve soup in bowls sprinkled with the Parmesan.

Makes about 3 cups, serving 2 as a main course.

Recipe from the October 1993 edition of Gourmet.

Chicken and Green Olive Enchiladas

1 (4.5-pound) chicken, quartered

4 (14.5-ounce) cans low-salt chicken broth

8 tablespoons (about) olive oil, divided

2 cups finely chopped onion, divided

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons hot, Mexican-style chili powder

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 ounce semisweet chocolate

Salt and pepper, to taste

16 (5- to 6-inch) corn tortillas

1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated (about 41/2 cups)

1 cup drained, pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced

Place the chicken and broth in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pot and simmer until chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes. Cool chicken in broth. Strain broth and spoon off fat; reserve broth.

Remove chicken skin and bones; discard. Shred chicken coarsely; transfer to a large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 cup of the onion, the garlic, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Cover. Cook until onion is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Mix in the chili powder and flour; stir 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in 41/2 cups of broth. Increase heat to medium-high. Boil until reduced to 3 cups, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tortilla and cook until just pliable, about 20 seconds per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adding oil as needed.

Spread 1/3 cup of sauce in each of two 9-by-13-inch, glass baking dishes.

Mix 1 cup of sauce into chicken. Arrange 8 tortillas on a work surface. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheese, 1 tablespoon of the olives, 1 tablespoon of onion and 1/4 cup chicken over center of each.

Roll up tortillas. Arrange seam-side down in 1 prepared dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas, cheese, olives, onion and chicken. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover sauce and enchiladas separately; chill.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Top enchiladas with remaining sauce, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with foil; bake 20 minutes (30 minutes if chilled). Remove foil and bake until sauce bubbles, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from the February 1998 edition of Bon Appétit.

Warm Olives with Fennel and Orange

11/2 cups assorted brine-cured olives (including picholine, Niçoise, and Kalamata)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground

1/4 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon white-wine vinegar

Place the olives in medium bowl. Cover with 2 cups water; let stand 10 minutes to remove excess salt. Drain.

Combine olives with the oil, thyme, garlic, fennel seeds and orange peel in a small skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until garlic is fragrant and oil is hot, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the vinegar. Cool slightly; serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from the August 2001 edition of Bon Appétit.

Asparagus with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

1 large shallot, minced

2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and lower 2 inches of stalks peeled

1 hard-cooked large egg, finely chopped

In a bowl whisk together the shallot, vinegar, mustard, sugar and salt and pepper, to taste. Add the oil in a stream, whisking, until emulsified. Whisk in the hazelnuts.

In a deep 10- to 12-inch skillet bring 11/2 inches salted water to a boil and cook the asparagus over high heat until crisp-tender, about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with tongs to a colander and drain. Transfer asparagus to a serving dish. Spoon vinaigrette over asparagus and sprinkle with the egg. Serve asparagus warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from the April 1995 edition of Gourmet.

Crepes with Fresh Strawberry Marmalade and Mascarpone Cream

11/3 cups whole milk, at room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon salt

31/2 tablespoons sugar, divided

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

9 tablespoons good-quality strawberry preserves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

In a blender mix until just smooth, the milk, flour, eggs, melted butter, salt and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Spray a 7-inch-diameter nonstick skillet with the vegetable oil spray and heat over medium heat. Pour 2 tablespoons of batter into pan and swirl to coat bottom. Cook until edge of crepe is light brown, about 1 minute. Loosen edges gently with spatula. Carefully turn crepe over. Cook until bottom begins to brown in spots, about 30 seconds.

Transfer to a plate. Cover with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining batter, spraying pan with oil spray as needed and covering each crepe with a paper towel. (Crepes can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Stir the mascarpone cheese, vanilla and 11/2 tablespoons of the sugar in a medium bowl to blend. Cover and chill.

Stir the strawberry preserves in a heavy small saucepan over low heat until melted. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of preserves over 1 side of each crepe. Fold crepes in half, enclosing preserves. Fold crepes in half again, forming triangles.

Mix the cinnamon and remaining sugar in a small bowl. Spread the room-temperature butter over both sides of crepes and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Transfer to a baking sheet. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover crepes and refrigerate. Keep mascarpone cream refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Spray a large, nonstick skillet with the vegetable oil spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add 6 crepes to skillet. Sauté until sugar begins to caramelize, about 45 seconds per side. Transfer crepes to another baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining crepes, wiping skillet and spraying with vegetable oil spray before each batch.

Arrange 3 crepes on each of 6 plates. Spoon remaining strawberry preserves over crepes. Spoon dollops of mascarpone cream atop preserves and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from the June 1998 edition of Bon Appétit.

Left: Vivian Stubblefield's Ashland dining room is ready for a cookbook club meeting. Right: Stubblefield and other cookbook club members discuss the evening's dishes. - Photo illustration by Bob Pennell