RALEIGH, N.C. — Today’s supper clubs come in many forms: potlucks among college friends, formal dinners with grandmother’s china or themed feasts with diners in costume.
Whatever form they take, supper clubs are as vibrant as ever as groups tailor the vintage concept to make it their own.
When we asked folks to share information about their supper clubs, we got so many invitations that we could have eaten a month’s worth of meals.
One club, the Without Reservations Luncheon Club in Hickory, N.C., is so popular that it has a waiting list.
What we learned from many people is that the food matters less than the friendship.
“It’s not about impressing your friends with food. It’s not about spending a lot of money. It’s about having fun — with food,” says Wendi Lassiter, 48, of Raleigh, N.C.
Lassiter’s group of six couples has been meeting every month for about six years. Their one rule: They don’t meet unless everyone can attend.
What’s feeding the supper club phenomenon? The economy, according to many, and a basic need to carve out time for friends.
“With the economy, people are looking at how they are spending their dollars, but people still want to socialize,” says author Debi Shawcross, whose book, “Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook,” presents themed seasonal menus for supper clubs.
“These days, it’s hard to make time for each other. Supper club enables you to maintain relationships with your friends.”
Here is a sampling of the supper clubs we heard from:
Julia Hartsell, 24, of Charlotte, N.C., has a supper club with 10 friends every Sunday night. Hartsell says she and three members met at UNC-Chapel Hill, and several others know each other via Young Life, a nondenominational Christian youth ministry. The group started six months ago. Members take turns hosting and cooking meals that range from bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches with sweet potato fries to shrimp linguine.
The only consistent practice is to ask each other a new question during dessert each week: What was your favorite game during childhood? Who is your best friend? How can we help you better as a friend?
Leslie Hobbs, 46, used to organize supper clubs for her church. The idea was for church members who go to different services to get to know each other. Each year, the members would switch to a new supper club.
But Hobbs’ group of three couples and herself so enjoyed each other’s company that they refused to switch. They have been getting together once a month since 2007.
Their format is simple. The hostess chooses the entree and the others bring a side dish, appetizer or dessert. Once a year, they spend a weekend together at the beach or in the mountains, going out to eat one night and dividing up the cooking of the rest of the meals.
At a recent dinner of Layered Raspberry Salsa Dip with tortilla chips, chicken enchiladas, salad and a Four-Day-Old Coconut Cake, the group gathered at Mary Dionne’s home. Dionne is a friend of Hobbs, who likes to bring someone new each month.
Dionne, who doesn’t cook but just renovated her kitchen, offered to host. As the group drank sangria and Dos Equis beers, the conversation flowed, with plenty of quips and teasing. “We obviously have a good time. We’re always laughing,” said Hal Barnes, 70.
Kathy Poe’s supper club started in 1981 among seven couples who lived on two streets in Charlotte, N.C. They try to meet five times a year, taking the summer off to accommodate vacations. The host determines the menu, assigns dishes and sends out recipes. The previous hostess gets a break from cooking but has to bring the wine.
They have tracked the group’s history. Poe, 56, explains that the group’s two most organized members have kept 30 years worth of menus from their dinners; one is chronological and the other is by family.
Angie Altstaetter, 54, says her supper club with six couples started in 1985. At one point, half the members worked at the same accounting firm. Most moved from out of state and were looking to meet people.
Altstaetter says they have tried any number of formats, from potlucks to themed dinners with costumes. Some years, the men have been in charge of organizing and cooking. “They do pretty good when pushed to do so,” she says.
Over the years, the couples became close, raising 16 children and watching five of them marry. The group has traveled to New York and Chicago and took a 25-year anniversary trip to Asheville, N.C. Altstaetter says, “It created a family away from home.”
TIPS FOR STARTING A SUPPER CLUB
Make sure members want the same thing out of a supper club. Some common goals may be: Beginner cooks hoping to learn new techniques; experienced foodies wanting to show off their skills; or a mutual feeling that the food matters less than the socializing.
The supper club has to be a priority for the members. Put it in stone and plan your life around it.
Just do it. If you wait until the house is clean and the next renovation project is complete, you will never get together.
Choose an organized member to set a schedule or collect recipes for a cookbook.
FOUR-DAY-OLD COCONUT CAKE
This four-layer cake is a moist rich cake for coconut fans. From Susan Sink of Raleigh, who found it in “Something Old Something New,” the Clinton (N.C.) Junior Woman’s Club Cookbook (1975.) The recipe’s author was Doris Stewart, the mother of Sink’s college roommate.
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 12-ounce packages frozen coconut
- 1 yellow cake mix plus other ingredients required
- 1 egg
MIX together sour cream, sugar and coconut in a medium-size bowl. Cover icing and leave overnight in the refrigerator.
MIX up yellow cake mix, per instructions on box, but add one extra egg. Bake two layers per instructions on box. Cut each layer in two when cool. Frost with icing.
FROST each layer and then the top of the cake. Do not frost the sides. Cover tightly and refrigerate for four days. Yield:8 servings
LAYERED RASPBERRY SALSA DIP
From Earleen Barnes of Raleigh, N.C.
- 1 14-ounce can black beans, drained
- 8 ounces cream cheese, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 1 10- to 12-ounce jar raspberry salsa
- 8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated
PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees.
LAYER beans, cream cheese, red onion, raspberry salsa and Monterey jack cheese in an oven-safe casserole.
BAKE for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.Yield:12-16 servings
GREEN CHILE CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
You can use chicken breasts or thighs with or without bones. You can freeze already-made enchiladas and reheat for a quick weeknight meal. Adapted by Leslie Hobbs from “The Art of Mexican Cooking” by Diana Kennedy.
- 2 chicken breasts
- 2 chicken thighs
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 2 Serrano chiles
- 3 tablespoons safflower oil, divided
- 1 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion, divided
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 10-ounce can green chile enchilada sauce
- 12 corn tortillas
- 1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco or Monterrey Jack cheese
- 1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream or yogurt
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, optional garnish
- 1 avocado cut into slices, optional garnish
- cilantro leaves, optional garnish
PLACE chicken breast and thighs in a pot with chicken broth. If necessary, add water until chicken is just covered. Bring to a simmer. Cook until just tender but not soft, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken meat. Set aside.
ROAST chiles under broiler until black on all sides or over gas flame on the stovetop. When black on all sides, place in a paper bag and let sit for 15 minutes. Then peel, remove stem and seeds. Chop chiles into small dice.
HEAT 1 tablespoon safflower oil to medium heat in a saute pan. Add 1 cup chopped white onion and garlic. Saute until translucent. Add diced Serrano and stir. Remove from heat. Add 1 1/2 cups shredded meat and 1/4 to 1/3 cup green chile enchilada sauce, enough to moisten the mixture but not to make it drippy.
WARM remaining green chile enchilada sauce in a small saucepan over low heat. Warm a 9-inch-by-13-inch rectangular casserole dish for the enchiladas in the oven on low heat.
HEAT 2 tablespoons safflower oil in a frying pan. Immerse one of the tortillas, holding it down in the oil with tongs or a spatula for about 1 minute, turn it over, and fry the second side for about 30 seconds. Remove to paper-lined plate to drain and continue cooking the rest of the tortillas.
SPREAD about 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of the warm casserole dish. Turn oven heat up to 300 degrees. One at a time, dip fried tortillas into remaining sauce. Spread 2 to 4 tablespoons of chicken/onion/chile mixture down the center of each tortilla. Add a sprinkling of the remaining uncooked white onion and cheese and a drizzle of some of the sour cream. Roll up the tortilla and place in the dish seam-side down. Continue with remaining tortillas until pan is full.
POUR remaining sauce over enchiladas. Cover with foil and cook in 300-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with a drizzle of crema, queso fresco, cilantro leaves, red onion and avocado slices. Serve. Yield:6-8 servings.