The Pleasures of Potlucks
by Kate Heyhoe
Hosting a dinner for a dozen friends seems like a lot of work, and it is. But hosting a potluck for twelve is a piece of cake—or at least as easy as pie.
Right now, while cozy casseroles and comfort foods sound so inviting, consider hosting a casual potluck dinner. The biggest effort may be cleaning the house. To create a potluck dinner, the main things you need are one tasty dish, some serving ware, and phone calls to a few good friends.
In fact, with today's many food resources available, friends don't even have to cook to bring a communal dish. Bakeries, delicatessens, specialty markets and grocery stores can provide such ready-to-serve dishes as appetizers, mixed olives, artisanal breads, gourmet cheese platters, hearty salads, rotisserie chickens, roasts and luscious desserts. For the cooking impaired, there's always the task of bringing some decent wines, such as a trusty Cabernet, a Chianti Classico for an Italian theme, a mildly oaky Chardonnay, or a mix of wines, soft drinks and ales. And for complete culinary morons, fresh flowers, exotic coffee beans, bags of ice and even acting as entertainment director by bringing a rented DVD or a CD mix are decent options. So is being the chief dishwasher at the end of the meal.
Tips for Potluck Hosts
Coordinate the meal: Don't be too demanding, but act as a referee to prevent duplicate dishes or courses (a couple of desserts are okay, but they shouldn't outnumber the main meal dishes). Let guests know what the main course will be (whether you or a guest is bringing it) so they can plan accordingly. You can go ad hoc, or dine with a theme, such as Italian night or Tex-Mex.
Extend the fridge: Make more room for your guests' specialties by setting out ice chests or large tubs of ice for drinks, salads and cold dishes. For food safety, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If the cooked dishes will be out longer than two hours (from the time they were packed up until when they'll be eaten), chill them and then reheat. Some hosts fill their washers with ice and drinks for the party, then run the spin cycle when the ice is melted.
Beat the heat: If dishes need cooking or reheating, try to coordinate the oven's use (both time and temperature) during the meal planning. If guests bring their dishes in microwave safe cookware, you can ease up on your main oven's demand. Keep heavy foil around to retain heat.
Serve it up: Ask guests to bring whatever serving ware (utensils, bowls and platters) their dish needs, but plan on having extras available. Set out the dinnerware, silverware, glasses, cups and napkins before everyone arrives. Don't forget the salt and pepper.
Tips for Potluck Guests
Inquire with options: Ask the host what would be best to bring, and suggest a few dishes. Inquire what the theme or the main course will be. If some of the guests are vegetarian, offer to bring a meatless dish.
Pick dishes wisely: Avoid anything that needs lots of last minute preparation or fussing. The best warm foods are ones that can be reheated by stovetop, oven or microwave, using the same vessel for reheating as for transport and serving. If a dish requires lengthy cooking time, ask the host if this is convenient before bringing it.
Pack dishes wisely: For cold dishes, transport them in an ice chest with enough cold packs or ice to keep them chilled until serving time, rather than hogging the host's fridge. Ice chests (without the ice) can also be used to keep foods warm; just make sure the cookware isn't hot enough to damage the ice chest, or wrap the dish in towels or paper bags. Check out the nifty disposable or reusable/microwaveable plastic cookware available today if you'd rather not bring dirty cookware home.
Come complete: Bring the serving ware (utensils, bowls, platters) as well as the materials needed for toting your dish home. A box or sturdy bag can transport a full or a dirty casserole and accessories, and a stash of plastic wrap, zip lock bags or foil may be needed for sealing up leftovers. Trivets and potholders may be handy, too.
Be considerate: If you want clean your cookware and serving utensils before traveling home, be sure you're the one to wash them up, not the host. Unless, of course, there's a designated dishwasher for the night, contributing to the meal by using their valuable "technical skills." If not, jump into washing the host's glasses and dinnerware, or loading the dishwasher. You can also help set and clear tables.
Finally, as the potluck host, don't feel like you have to cook anything yourself. Providing the gathering place, the dinnerware and bringing everyone together is more than enough. On the other hand, if cooking a one-pot meal is your specialty, then whip up a main course of chile, stew, or lasagna, and let the guests fill in with salad, bread, appetizers and desserts. Whichever strategy you chose, the act of cooking one dish and enjoying many is sure to make for a festive night for all.
Portable Potluck Recipes
Kate's Global Kitchen for November 2002:
11/01/02 Thanksgiving Headquarters 2002
11/08/02 The Pleasures of Potlucks
11/15/02 The Happy Holiday Potato
11/22/02 Pretty as a Pomegranate
11/29/02 Morning Muffin Magic
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.Current Kate's Global Kitchen
Kate's Global Kitchen Archive
This page created November 2002