One of the plus sides of the recession is that people are cooking and entertaining at home a lot more frequently. While dinner parties and supper clubs are still popular, there is an emerging trend for casual cooking and dining, where the focus is on connecting and sharing with your friends and family, rather than trying to show off with your 'Come Dine With Me'-esque menu.
Neighbourhood parties and travelling suppers are making a comeback as people try to reconnect with what is important. This is how the idea for 'Street Feast' germinated.
Started by a group of volunteers passionate about their community, the idea is that on on 23 June, in car parks, streets, fields and parks around the country, people will host their own street feast: a communal lunch where everyone brings a dish and gets to know one another over sharing food.
Everything you need to know about hosting your own street feast is on www.streetfeast.ie, and you can even send off for a street feast pack, crammed full with everything you need – even bunting!
Food – preparing, sharing and enjoying – is one of life's greatest pleasures.
So the 'pop-up' restaurant and 'supper clubs' have sprung up as an organised but less expensive means to enjoy a top quality meal, have a night out and meet new people.
In South Africa, entertaining at home is an integral part of our culture. I'm sure the great weather and abundance and variety of fresh, locally-grown and harvested produce have something to do with it. Also, prepackaged foods in South Africa are very expensive, encouraging people to cook from scratch. Here, convenience foods like microwaveable dinners are very cheap, so of course that makes them attractive.
My circle of friends in South Africa added another fun element to our social calendar by starting a supper club. We organised one dinner a month around a theme. It could be Mexican, Indian, Thai – almost anything. We would each take a turn to host it, with themed table settings, napkins and decorations. The idea was that everyone brought a course of the meal, not just wine! The Americans call this a 'pot luck' dinner, and I think it's time to start a movement here.
If you organise it in your neighbourhood, you can even do a 'travelling supper' – moving to the next house for each course. Pick a theme if you'd like, but make sure that people know what they're bringing. You can also provide 'nibbles' before with drinks, but this can become either very labour-intensive or a really naff 'chips and dip' affair.
Ensure full and happy 'street feasters' with these delicious ideas
I recommend the hostess providing the main course, as it's easier for heating and food safety.
Supper clubs by nature are informal, so a meal you can eat while standing and chatting is ideal. I call these 'fork dinners'. The safest option is normally a chicken dish, which everyone will enjoy.
As an ex-vegetarian I would often bring my own veggie option.
If you're a diligent hostess, you can rustle up something.
You can either make a large vegetarian dish like a pot of butternut squash and chickpea curry, or one of my go-tos – the good old stuffed pepper.
You can make one for your vegetarian guest, or prepare a tray.
There have to be spuds, and plenty of them.
My favourite entertaining potato recipes are a garlicky gratin dauphinois and my caramelised French onion potato bake.
Baking a loaf of Irish soda bread has to be one of the easiest yet most satisfying things to do. There are also many artisan bakeries that produce an excellent variety of lovely breads.
I would hesitate to bring a leafy salad to a party. Even if you don't dress it, it will look sad and wilted very soon.
Better to make something more resilient, like a bean, grain or lentil-based salad, or a Greek salad with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, mint and lemony dressing.
Veggie side dishes:
If you're going to bring a veggie side dish, you need to put some effort in! I like bringing trays of mixed roasted vegetables. Veggie fritters also work well.
Choose something that is easy to transport and portion out. If the dessert needs cream, ice cream or custard to serve it with, don't forget to bring it!
Otherwise one poor guest will be sent off to the local shop.
This is my favourite thing to bring to a party. I buy a nice wooden chopping board and arrange a gorgeous cheese platter on it.
Petits fours are making a comeback!
Macaroons are very popular, but I also love small blocks of fudge, Turkish Delight and nougat.
Make extra to have as a gift for the hostess.
See www.streetfeast.ie to host your own street feast on 23 June.
Recipes are from 'Relish BBQ' by Rozanne Stevens, which is available online at www.rozannestevens.com or in
most book shops.