How to start a supper club
Cookbook author and chef Debi Shawcross longs to recapture the spirit of the supper clubs of the 1930s and 1940s and those who patronized them.
“They carved out time in their lives to sit down and laugh and talk and sip drinks and listen to live music,” she said in a telephone interview last week.
Her new book, “Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook,” encourages readers to commit as groups to recreating the experience on a regular basis in their own homes. Two of her suggested recipes are on this page and 1D.
She offered the following advice for News-Journal readers:
· Make sure everybody’s on the same page. The members of the group should have a common understanding of the purpose of the gatherings. The details should be built around the purpose.
· Unless the purpose of the group involves learning from one another in the kitchen, as much of the cooking as possible should be done before meeting time. If the structure involves everyone contributing a dish, “I encourage people to have as much of the prep work done at your own home ahead of time, just so when you get together you have time to talk and laugh with your friends.”
· “The way to keep things interesting is to kind of vary your menus and the theme and even the dress code.” For instance, one meeting can have a formal menu with guests dressed to the nines and the hostess bringing out the wedding china, and the next can be an outdoor dinner party where guests go for a hike and then have picnic. “Keep it alive and thriving instead of just doing the same thing every month.”
— Denise O’Toole Kelly
Disappointing service at a high-end restaurant on a busy night got a group of frequent dining companions from DeLand's historic district thinking.
"We went out to dinner New Year's Eve, and didn't have a great dinner," recalled Sabrina Hightower Patterson of that evening she and her husband, Jim Patterson, spent with two other neighborhood couples. "We kind of as group decided that night we'd do a supper club."
Every other month since, the Pattersons have been getting together with fellow homeowners Jeannie and Laddie Rasi and Carol Tanner and Chester Rothberg, each couple taking a turn to offer their place as the venue. The hostess chooses a theme and makes the entree, and each other couple brings a compatible dish.
First it was France at the Rasis, then Scotland at the Pattersons.
"Meanwhile, we met Kelly," Sabrina Patterson, said gesturing toward Kelly McCulloch, who with husband Oak hosted the club's Cinco de Mayo dinner early this month. Next up? A Caribbean seafood feast in July at the Tanner/Rothberg residence.
The model chosen by the DeLand couples to ensure they share a meal and one another's company on a regular basis is one of virtually unlimited options, said Debi Shawcross, author of "Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook" (Franklin Green Publishing, 245 pages, $24.95, hardcover).
"What separates it from a regular dinner party is you're committing to you're going to spend time together," the Virginia-based chef and author said in a phone interview last week. "The whole reason is to get together and build those relationships and maintain relationships."
The first step in the process of forming a satisfying and lasting supper club is to define the group, said Shawcross, whose book came out this year. Ideally, the group should be kept to eight or 10, she said.
The supper club concept is popular among young married couples eager to entertain, longtime friends looking to maintain friendships despite busy lives, couples interested in getting to know other couples in their neighborhoods, young professionals interested in networking and home cooks who want to challenge themselves, according to Shawcross.
Once the group -- and by extension the goal -- has been identified, it's time to discuss details, she said. How often, when and where will you meet? Does anyone have food allergies, dietary restrictions or strong preferences? How will the responsibility for the food and drink be divided? Should there be budget guidelines? Will cooking together be part of the experience? Who will clean up?
"These are important things to talk about ahead of time," Shawcross said. "Those could be stumbling blocks down the road."
For a group of young women who have formed a supper club in the greater Daytona Beach area, the goals are to spend time bonding and spreading their culinary wings. Members of the club, founded by Erum Kistemaker and Melissa Burt, both of Ormond Beach, take turns as hostess. Each month's hostess chooses a theme and plans a menu, then emails recipes for the others to prepare and bring to the gathering.
"You have girlfriends that the husbands don't hang out with," Kistemaker said. "This is a way to be with your friends without having to get the spouses together. None of our husbands would get into cooking, and part of it is getting out the nice china and fixing a lovely table."
The wives in the DeLand couples' supper club do most of the cooking, but the husbands enjoy the evenings, too.
"They just show up and eat," Sabrina Patterson said, only partly in jest as the female members of the group gathered in a restaurant last week to talk to a reporter about the club. As with Kistemaker's group, the gatherings have themes, she said.
"The hostess picks the theme, then next thing you know we're emailing back and forth," Jeannie Rasi said.
Each couple chooses what to bring, but there's a lot of communication among the women to make sure the menu is complete and complementary, they said.
In fact, Patterson, Rasi and Kelly McCulloch walk together every morning, discussing supper club business, along with everything else, and keeping an eye on the neighborhood.
"We refer to ourselves as Mrs. Kravitz," McCulloch said, alluding to the nosy-neighbor character on the 1960s sitcom "Bewitched." "I've been calling myself Mrs. Kravitz for years. I'm just observant ..."
"That's a nice word -- observant," Patterson chimed in playfully.
The McCullochs were a natural fit for the group; they had been in similar clubs elsewhere before their recent move to DeLand, Kelly McCulloch said. But the women agreed the supper club is just the right size now to fit comfortably around their dining room tables and have a single collective conversation.
McCulloch said one previous club in which she participated had a rule that you couldn't bring anything for dinner that you had made before. The women said they didn't want to go that far, but agreed they often use the occasion of supper club meetings to try recipes.
"When you go on the Internet, there are so many to choose from," said Carol Tanner.
Patterson added: "And it's fun."
-- Correspondent Patti Light contributed to this story.
Cilantro Shrimp Skewers With Tomatillo Dipping Sauce
Adapted from "Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook," Debi Shawcross, Franklin Green Publishing, 245 pages, $24.95; serves 8 as an appetizer
For the skewers:
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (or cayenne pepper)
32 large uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
8 wooden skewers
For the sauce:
1 pound fresh green tomatillos, husked
3 tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
In medium bowl, combine the olive oil, 1/2 cup cilantro, garlic, cumin and chile powder. Add the shrimp and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak wood skewers in hot water for 30 minutes.
Ahead of time or while the shrimp is marinating and skewers are soaking, make the sauce. In large pot of boiling water blanch the tomatillos for 15 seconds. Remove the tomatillos from the pot and place in a large bowl of cold water for 5 to 7 minutes. Place in the bowl of a food processor the onion, chile, lime juice, cilantro, sour cream and tomatillos. Process until smooth.
Thread four shrimp onto each skewer. Grill over medium heat, 2 minutes per side. Serve shrimp with sauce.
Fresh Fruit Tartlets With Pistachio Coconut Crust and Blackberry Drizzle
Adapted from "Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook," Debi Shawcross, Franklin Green Publishing, 245 pages, $24.95; makes 8 tartlets
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
10 large egg yolks
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
For the crusts:
nonstick cooking spray
1 1/4 cups shelled pistachios (about 5 ounces)
2 cups macadamia nuts (about 7 ounces)
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 large egg whites
For the sauce:
10-ounce bag frozen blackberries
For the topping:
2 kiwi fruits, peeled, thinly sliced
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blueberries
12 large strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
For the lime curd filling, in large bowl whisk the sugar, lime juice and egg yolks together until blended. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water) and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 9 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Gradually add butter, whisking until melted and well blended. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees for the crusts. Spray eight 4-inch-diameter tartlet pans with removable bottoms with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the nuts, coconut, brown sugar and graham cracker crumbs in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold whites into the nut mixture in 3 batches (mixture with be sticky). Let mixture stand 10 minutes. Using plastic wrap as an aid, press about 1/3 cup nut mixture onto the bottoms and up the sides of each prepared pan. Place the pans on a baking sheet. Bake until crusts are puffed and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Cool crusts in pans 5 minutes. Using an oven mitt, gently remove the pan sides. Cool crusts completely on a wire rack. (Crusts can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.)
For the sauce, puree the blackberries in a processor until smooth. Transfer to a sieve over a small bowl and push the sauce through with the back of a spoon in order to catch the seeds. Transfer blackberry sauce to a squeeze bottle.
To serve, fill each crust with some of the lime curd. Arrange the fruit toppings decoratively over curd. Place each tartlet on a plate and drizzle with blackberry sauce.