Hosting a Book Club

daughter of fortune by isabel allende host your own book club entertaining ideas

My recent book club read, Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, inspired me to host a themed book club last month.  Set in the mid 19th century, it is the story of a young Chilean girl, Eliza Sommers, who is raised by a well-to-do British family in Valparaiso, Chile.  At 16, Eliza finds her first love in Joaquin Andieta, a young man who, like many Chileans at the time, takes off to California to seek his fortune in the gold rush.  Months later, Eliza follows him, and in an elusive search for her lover, embarks upon a journey of self-discovery.

This novel is full of inspiration when it comes to hosting a themed book club evening.  There are many images and elements from the story to draw upon: Chile itself, the Victorian clothing of the period which incorporated lace, gold to symbolize the Gold Rush, luxuries to Chileans at the time, including chocolate, and the fact that our heroine is an incredible chef and baker and resourcefully makes empanadas while in California as a means to a living.

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For our meeting, I served Chilean wine, empanadas, and an olive and spanish cheese plate with marcona almonds and black grapes.  We finished the evening with Martha’s devil’s food chocolate cupcakes with a velvety smooth dark chocolate ganache frosting. While the idea of topping my cupcakes with a sprinkle of edible gold leaf was divine, the $28 price tag from Sur la Table didn’t make it thriftycrafter friendly, so I had to omit it!

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining

Gold chargers, crisp white plates and black lace adornments decorated the table and super easy to make hand-fashioned wine charms (this is, after all, a wine, er, book club!), marked our glasses. Finally, I made a simple garland out of leftover gold Christmas ribbon and white paper doilies from the Dollar Tree.  Thanks to apartmenttherapy.com for the inspiration!

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First, the crafts!

Wine Charms

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper wine charms


Here’s what you need:

host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  • cardstock
  • eyelet stickers (alternatively, you could use a stamp or these great rub-ons from Paper Source)
  • compass with pencil
  • scissors
  • hammer, nail and wooden block
  • jewelry ear wires
  • gel pen or other marker for writing

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use your compass to create circles on cardstock.  I made mine with a radius of 5/8 of an inch.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  2. Cut out circles and adhere lace stickers to cover just more than half of the circle.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  3. Cut excess edge of sticker and write your characters’ names below the arc.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  4. Use hammer, nail and wooden block to pierce tag where you want your ring to go.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  5. Use wire bending tool to bend end portion of your hoop up to create lock and feed through hole in tag.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

Cost: less than $5!

Doily Garland

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

Here’s what you need:

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  • paper doily pack
  • stitch witchery
  • iron and ironing board
  • 1/2 inch width ribbon or thicker
  • scissors or Fiskars paper trimmer

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use scissors or paper trimmer to cut doilies in half.

    hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  2. Rip stitch witchery in pieces that measure the diameter of your doily, place between the ribbon and doily, and use iron on low setting to adhere.

    hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  3. Repeat until desired length of garland is achieved!

Cost: less than $3!

Adorned Cake Plate

host your own themed book club entertaining ideas recipes lace adorned cake plate

Here’s what you need:

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining lace adorned cake plate

  • cake plate
  • strip of lace, in the measured circumference of your cake platter
  • Zots

Here’s what you do:

  1. Adhere Zots to cake plate rim every 1.5-2 inches.

    host your own themed book club entertaining ideas recipes lace adorned cake plate

  2. Starting with one end of your strip of lace, press lace against zots, keeping correct amount of slack, until lace band encircles your platter.

Cost: less than $5!

Now, onto the food!

I used an empanada dough recipe found on Epicurious.com for my mini empanaditas, a beef filling recipe from Susan Feniger (of Border Grill and Ciudad fame) and a pork filling recipe from Food & Wine Magazine.

Empanada Dough:

Doubling the recipe made just under 4 dozen 3.5 inch empanaditas

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  1. Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
  2. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
  3. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.
  4. On lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness and use 3.5″ cookie cutter to make discos.

Beef Filling:

host your own themed book club empanada filling recipe entertaining ideas

Makes enough for 4 dozen mini empanadas (I halved the recipe to make two dozen)

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup dark raisins
  • 8 Italian Roma tomatoes
  • 3 serrano chilies
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a large heavy skillet, over a medium high heat, saute the ground beef until the meat is browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain off the excess fat.
  2. Add the onion and saute 2 minutes. Then add the garlic, almonds, and raisins, and saute 1 minute.
  3. Place the tomatoes, chilies, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender and puree until smooth.
  4. Add the puree, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and salt and pepper to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes to get rid of any excess liquid. Cool.
  5. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle of pastry. Fold over the pastry and seal the edges. Let the empanadas rest in the refrigerator 1/2 hour or freeze immediately. (Bake the frozen empanadas without defrosting.)
  6. Empanadas may be glazed (1 egg and 2 tablespoons milk, well beaten) and baked until golden in a 400 degree oven, for about 15 minutes.

Pork Filling:

host your own themed book club empanada filling recipe entertaining ideas

Makes enough for 4 dozen mini empanadas (I halved the recipe to make two dozen)

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup amber beer
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese chile-garlic paste or sambal oelek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and very finely chopped
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
  • 6 pitted kalamata olives, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  1. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browned, about 8 minutes longer.
  2. Meanwhile in a large skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped pork, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until the pork is golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Stir and cook until no pink remains, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in the browned onions, beer, soy sauce, paprika, chile paste, cumin and jalapeño and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the filling to a large bowl. Stir in the hard-cooked eggs, olives and raisins and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  4. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake them for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the empanadas are golden brown, then serve.

Devil’s Food Cupcakes:

host your own themed book club devils food cupcake recipe entertaining ideas

Makes 32 cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.
  3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
Makes 4 cups
  • 1 pound good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour mixture over chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until chocolate begins to melt.
  2. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir melted chocolate into cream until mixture is combined and smooth (do not overstir).
  3. Refrigerate, stirring every 5 minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately (ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring).
  4. To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature and garnish just before serving.

  • Kelly Reinberger posted: 29 Sep at 9:36 am

    I feel so privileged to have been a guest on this lovely evening, Gabriella! Thank you for posting the recipes, the ganache was incredible, and the cupcake so moist the next day.

  • Jenni Carter posted: 15 Oct at 12:56 am

    Gab! What a beautiful set up. I love themes. I don’t know how you do it and I don’t know how Martha hasn’t discovered you yet!

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