Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Supper Club: An Affordable Way to Enjoy a Great Meal

Kyle and I, along with three other couples, started a supper club. I guess it's more of a dinner club, but this is about the only instance in which "supper" sounds nicer than "dinner." Anyway, once a month, the eight of us (well, now seven of us) get together at one person's or couple's home for a meal. The host or host couple chooses the theme for that month and are responsible for the main course. The others take care of the rest, depending on where they are in the course rotation.

We hosted the first dinner in the summer of 2011. The theme was "Local," and we encouraged everyone to make dishes using ingredients produced within 100 miles of Kansas City. I made a little amuse-bouche of fried squash blossoms from my garden. They were stuffed with local sheep's cheese and my own basil, and battered using beer from our local brewery. In his typical fashion, Kyle made a pretty decadent main: braised bison shoulder (the bison was from western Kansas), local broccoli, and homemade pancetta mac-and-cheese. The pancetta was made using pork from a local butcher.

Since then, themes have ranged from "Indian" (we grilled naan and made chutneys for the salad course) to "Vegan" (we made a delicious galangal soup with coconut milk) to "A Night at The Movies" (for dessert, we made a Big Lebowski-themed cake that may or may not have included an F-bomb in the name and a bloody toe sugar cookie on the side).

I love supper club because we always get a fantastic four-course meal (save for the time I tried to make gluten-free matzo ball soup in a lobster stock for the "Conflict in the Middle East" theme; I went a little heavy on the conflict, but I think my friends just wanted to cook from "Jerusalem") without spending too much money. Whatever course we're making, we're making it in bulk, so it's affordable. Plus, we get a chance to catch up with friends we wouldn't otherwise see often enough.

This month, the theme was "County Fair," and everyone rose to the occasion. There were two interpretations of a corndog, a salad with pork, more pork, and whoopie pies.

The host, John, started us off with some boozy lemonade, homemade onion rings, and lamb corndogs — lamb sausage fried in a cornmeal batter.

Then we got started with the first of four official courses: soup. Our friends Heather and Phil (who always do amazing things with soup) made a deconstructed corn dog soup. I know it doesn't sound great, and while it's composed nicely in the bowl, it doesn't look incredibly appetizing either. Still, I promise that the combination of sweet corn broth, poached pork sausage, cornichon relish, corn cracker, spicy ketchup, and scallions was nothing short of delicious.

Next up was us with the salad. That was our course, and whenever it's our turn to make a salad, my meat-obsessed husband finds a way to get meat into it. Lots of meat. Our salad for the "Southern" theme, was a deconstructed Frogmore stew that included SEVEN meats. Yes, seven.

This month, for the "County Fair" theme, we made what I am calling a reverse pork salad. That's because my body doesn't process wheat as, er, gracefully as I'd like it to, so I avoid bread whenever possible. When I go to barbeque restaurants, I usually get pulled pork, slather it in sauce and top it off with some slaw. It's really a pulled pork sandwich without the bun, and Kyle's salad was a reverse version of that. He started off with homemade grilled-peach coleslaw, piled it with pulled pork shoulder (he braised it in veal stock and Coke), homemade barbeque sauce, and and homemade pickles. I probably don't need to tell you how good it was.

Then John presented his main course: a porkburger. Apparently this is a staple at county fairs. I can't say I've seen it, not that I've been to many county fairs, but I can say it was delicious. It didn't need any toppings because the patty itself was so flavorful and worked so well with the bun. (See? I don't always avoid wheat.)

By the time we got to the dessert course — whoopie pies, made by my friend Kristina and her partner Adam — it was dark, and the pictures didn't turn out. But a very messy good time was had by all.

By this time next month, Kristina and Adam will have a baby girl, so instead of a four-course dinner, I'm going to make a casserole, and the others will bring some meals we can stick in the freezer for them.

Life is a lot easier when you have good friends who can cook.

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