Laura Jackson’s Take On Hosting A Virtual Dinner With Friends

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Making do with the food you already have in your store cupboard offers an opportunity to get creative with your cooking, says Hoste supper club and lifestyle brand founder Laura Jackson. From stealthy recipe substitutions to getting the most out of the ingredients in your freezer, here’s how to share your love of food with your online community right now.

“I’m naturally an extrovert and I don’t really do anything on my own apart from cooking,” Laura Jackson, the brains behind the Hoste supper club series, explains via Skype from her London home. Like many, Jackson has found herself turning to cooking’s therapeutic powers over the past few days, with simple, hands-on rituals offering both a sense of peace and a connection with our inner resourcefulness. “It probably sounds totally sad, but I really enjoy peeling a potato or sautéing vegetables while listening to true crime podcasts,” she laughs as the connection jitters. “If things are getting too much, it actually helps to be in the kitchen alone; I’m not on my phone and it’s really nice to have that time to think.”

On the flipside, cooking has grown to be a vital part of how Jackson, and many others like her, relate to the world beyond our kitchens, which is why it feels so natural to reach out to our online communities who may also find some solace in exchanging resourceful recipes or sharing a meal at the moment. Let’s also not forget that our kitchens (no matter how small) are often the social focal point of our homes. “I always try to make sure there’s space for friends to sit around and chat as I’m cooking. My kitchen is going to be empty for the time being, but anything virtual that encourages people to stay home while also allowing us all to check in with our friends is a great idea.”

Download Houseparty, get on a Google Hangout or schedule a four-way Skype. Here, Laura Jackson shares nine suggestions for connecting virtually with others through your love of food.

Buy food responsibly, with the welfare of others in mind

“Not everyone has a cupboard full of food or can even get hold of that many ingredients at the moment – a virtual dinner party should be strictly about making do with what you’ve got at home or what’s available within your local network. It’s really important not to encourage people to buy lots of things on Amazon that they don’t need. We should all be using up what we’ve got; panic buying is not the solution.”

Atmosphere is still important

“Just as with a regular dinner party, put some thought into your lighting and table setting. If you’re going to be having a Skype supper club, you’re going to need a lot more light so that people can see what’s going on. Set the tone and the mood that suits you. If you’re in a calm and quiet space, embrace it. If you’re listening to loud music and dancing around like a maniac, that will definitely shine through!”

Think creatively with the ingredients you already have

“The last few days have made me think harder about how to be creative and more adventurous with what’s already in my fridge – the challenge is to think ahead for the next two weeks. I’m lucky to have a garden in London, but I don’t have anything growing in there yet. However, my local greengrocer has got loads of fresh fruit and vegetables and it’s only a short walk away. It’s the dry ingredients – like pasta – that seem to be flying off the shelves, but these are items that we all tend to keep at home anyway. Double-check what you already have and remember that dried beans, pulses, lentils and grains all make great bases for interesting meals.”

Check your angles

“My advice on where to put your laptop? In front of you, resting on top of a bowl of crisps (for sustenance while you cook).”

Don’t be afraid to substitute

“From using potato as a replacement for ricotta to adapting recipes for creamy sources with tinned coconut milk, now is the moment to be imaginative. For my online dinner party tonight I’m going to be making a rhubarb tart and I don’t have any eggs. If I can’t get any today I’ll be going vegan, replacing the butter I would ordinarily use to make the pastry with coconut oil. If I can’t get the right flour, I’ll experiment with ground oats.”

Make the most of your freezer

“There’s lots of ingredients that you can store in the freezer and pull out for meals. Chillies can revive even the simplest of dishes (cheese on toast included): one great hack is to put your chillies in the freezer, and when you need them just grate a little off. The same goes for ginger. Frozen fruit is also amazing – try overnight oats, a quick-fix compote or straightforward smoothie – as it’s normally frozen on the day that it’s picked. There’s nothing to stop you hosting a virtual brunch.”

Ignore appearances

“Sharing your creative approach to cooking in 2020 is not about ensuring your dish looks picture perfect on Instagram. It’s about making the effort to try something new and getting inventive with what you’ve got to hopefully inspire others to do the same.”

Most of all, enjoy the process

“The cooking part is what your friends ordinarily won’t see when you host a dinner party, but when going virtual this is what matters most – mistakes and mess included.”

Make a wish list

“I’m alway inspired by restaurants that I want to eat at. It’s not safe to travel or socialise at the moment, but when it is safe to go out to restaurants they’re going to really need our help and we need to be supporting them.”

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