Several years ago – at least 15 years but I know it’s been longer – two of my friends from work (Linda and Val) and I started getting together on a regular basis for what we called GNO (Girls’ Night Out). It’s not unusual to have a GNO where you and your female friends go out on the town. For us, however, Girls’ Night In would have been a more appropriate name.
Our version of Girls’ Night Out
Our GNO wasn’t about going out and partying. For one thing, we were at an age where that was no longer appealing. GNO for us was (and still is) getting together at one of our homes and cooking for each other.
It’s involved a lot of experimentation, which is so fun. We’d pick things to make we’d never tried before and fortunately, most things turned out great. I honestly can’t think of any flops we had. Or did I choose to forget those?
At one point, we focused on recipes from Julie Trusler’s cookbook. If you’re from central Iowa you may have heard of her. She lived outside of Newton and hosted dinners at her home for up to ten people. She called her “restaurant” JT’s Cuisine. The meal was predetermined and everyone ate the same five-courses. She was famous for her crescent and cinnamon rolls.
I was actually introduced to Julie through my mom, who worked in a gift shop and carried Julie’s cookbook. It’s called JT’s – Volume 1 but I don’t recall there ever being a volume 2. Julie would come to the store and bring samples of her food while promoting her cookbook.
I can’t remember why we decided to make her recipes for our Girls’ Night Out meals. I had the book originally and eventually bought books for both Linda and Val. It’s kind of sad but I see you can currently get a copy for just $.70 on Amazon. In her heyday, this book cost $25.
Initially, we got together more frequently – almost monthly. Anymore, we’re lucky if we get together three times a year. And there have been times when we met at a restaurant for someone’s turn, simply because we wanted to get together but not have to cook. Is it because we’re older? I can’t believe it’s because we’re too busy.
We’ve done lots of things over the years besides cook for each other. Once we went to Kansas City for an Alison Krauss concert. Linda’s originally from northeast Iowa and has a love for trout fishing. We even spent a weekend up there once.
Our GNO was also the founding group of our book club – A Novel Group. We celebrate each other’s birthdays and Christmas. It’s so nice to have friends like Linda and Val.
As you can imagine, we’ve all gone through many changes (and struggles) in our lives during these 15+ years. Having each other to talk to has definitely helped me at times.
Our one regret – we never made it to JT’s. You had to reserve a spot, especially around the holidays, months (maybe even years) in advance. She retired a few years ago so we’ve lost our chance.
Every so often, we’ll take a picture of ourselves, always in the same positions. (I’m in the middle.) The earliest digital photo I have is from 2004 and our latest one is from last year. It’s fun to see how we’ve changed!!
A couple of recipes from her book
Because I think you all need to experience a JT recipe, I’m going to include a couple of favorites from this book. I haven’t made either recipe recently so I don’t have any pictures to entice you. Maybe you’ll decide it’s worth spending $.70 to get your own copy.
Not only have we used Julie’s cookbook for GNO, but my mom and sister have copies and have also made her recipes a lot. The second one below is one of my sister’s favorites.
If you have the book, I can steer you to the recipes we’ve made and love. Just last month, we got together at my house and I reinstated our tradition by making almost the entire meal from Julie’s cookbook. It was like seeing an old friend again.
Greens & Strawberries with Poppy Seed Dressing
It may sound like an odd combination but it's actually quite good. The dressing is the key.
- 4-6 cups greens (romaine, iceberg, butter lettuce or a combination, cut into bite-size pieces)
- 3 cups sliced, fresh strawberries
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced or chopped sweet onion (I typically use red onion)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 T. white vinegar
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 t. poppy seeds
Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl or divide among individual salad plates.
For dressing, combine all ingredients and whisk briskly.
Pour just enough dressing over salad to coat or drizzle over individual servings.
You can alter the salad by including other ingredients but this simple version is surprisingly good. You’ll probably have extra dressing but don’t throw it away. I sometimes make the poppy seed dressing by itself and use it for other salads. It’s that good.
These are chocolate decadence. If you take them anywhere, you'll come home empty handed.
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1/4 c. granulated sugar
- 1/4 c. cocoa
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1 large egg (slightly beaten)
- 1.5 c. graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 c. butter
- 3 T. milk
- 1 3.4 oz. package of vanilla instant pudding mix
- 2 c. powdered sugar
- 1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 T. solid vegetable shortening
Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and vanilla in a heavy saucepan.
Cook over medium heat until butter melts.
Stir in egg.
Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture is thick (this doesn't take very long).
Remove from heat, stir in crumbs and press into an 8 or 9 inch square pan.
Cream butter well.
Add milk, pudding mix and powdered sugar.
Beat until fluffy.
Spread evenly over the bottom layer.
Chill until firm.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and shortening.
Microwave on medium for 1-2 minutes or until the chocolate is just melted.
Stir until smooth.
Spread over pudding layer.
Chill just until the chocolate is easy to cut (5-10 minutes).
Cut into small pieces (bite-size squares or two-bite rectangles) and continue to chill until very cold.