So I am sure that many of you have this vision of dank church basements with rows of jelly salads and crock pots bubbling away when I say the word potluck. I know that is what it used to mean to me. But I am here to tell you the potluck is not dead. In today’s economic times it is hard to have a dinner party for more then 3 or 4 people without busting the bank, but if we return to the potluck well the possibilities are endless. I will endeavor to share some tricks and tips to make your potluck dinner party a hit every time.
Pick a theme (see below for a list of a few themes you might want to try). Recently I had joked with friends about having a curry/video game potluck, little did I know how much interest I would have in this little gathering. Turns out everyone loved the idea, so a date was set and off we went. I hosted the party and so offered to make enough rice for everyone. I in fact made two types of rice, long grain wild rice just plain, and then a veggie version of the same in case we did not get enough veggie dishes to satisfy our vegetarian friends. I also found some Nann bread that was on sale and bought it up. I made the rice the night before and just heated it through in disposable tin pans in the oven.
I did the rice that way for two very important reasons, one as a host of a dinner party I hate being stuck in the kitchen all through the party so I try hard to make stuff in advance that can be heated without my attention. The second reason is that I knew we would need the stove top space to heat the curries. This brings me to our first tip. Everyone usually has a pot in every size they might need to cook but very few of us have the money or space to have several of the same size pot this means heating food brought to your house can be a challenge. I solved this problem but doing the following. First I asked my guests to try and bring their curry in a dish that could either go into the oven or mircowave. This way we could heat a few dishes at a time. I also asked anyone who had a crock pot to bring their dish in that, instant heating. When it came time with a few helping hands we had all the dishes quickly heated and ready to eat at the same time.
This brings us to problem two you will run into. Now I have plenty of serving spoons but in the end even those were not enough. If you are a guest going to a potluck try and remember to bring a serving spoon for you dish, it will help. But if none do then here is my tip, use mugs. Yes that is right plain old coffee mugs make great serving utensils. I use them all the time for soups and stews and curry. Alternately try measuring cups used for dry ingredients they work amazingly for things like rice and pasta.
So your dinner is all heated, you found utensils to serve it with and you call everyone to the table/counters and the shouted questions begin. “What’s in the red dish, what about the white one?” “Hey I smell fish is this safe for me to eat?” While we all think we are being careful and safe and staying away from the dishes we THINK are going to hurt us we can never be 100% of what is in someone’s potluck dish, and lets be honest if we are going to go to someone’s house for potluck and only eat the one dish we brought we might as well have stayed home. So what do you do? Well the answer is simple, even if we did not think of it until AFTER this party. For our next party we plan to make ingredient cards for each dish.
I get this seems like a lot of work but with the rate of allergies these days it is vital to make sure we do not end up sending a friend to the hospital because they accidentally ate a dish with gluten in it, or dairy. So I suggest you start this practice with from the start. Ask your guests to prepare an ingredient card or recipe card to sit next to their dish. I also offer the service free of charge, guests just need to e-mail me their info and I will print the cards up and have them waiting for them. It is important to note here that something as simple as a bullion cube contains soy/dairy and wheat by products which can set off many types of allergies, so if it is listed as an ingredient the person with this allergies will be able to decide if they wish to take the chance of not.
One quick note about parties supplies here. I always use disposable dishes for these parties. I love my friends but even I don’t want to clean that many dishes at the end the night and honestly who has a 15-20 piece dinner setting these days. The trick here is that while for many of these parties you can get away with the standard dollar store stuff (I buy lots of it and just tuck it away for the next party) be sure your dishes fit what you are serving. For example while paper is great those tiny thin plates just don’t hold food all that well, and Styrofoam bowls work for lots of stuff but be careful serving hot soup in them as sometimes they melt. So just keep your theme in mind and buy accordingly.
So everyone has eaten, most of the food is gone but not all, because after all some people cooked for an army. So what do you do with all the left overs, well I know Bob over there is eying Jane’s dish like he would like to lick the pot so why not send him home with some. But what to put it in, his pot is still dirty and it is too big to carry such a small serving. Well I have you covered with my next tip. We all buy things like margarine and butter and even ice cream in tubs (Thanks to my friend Shasta for this one) so why not save those dishes. Wash them out and tuck them away. Now I like my regular ziplock dishes for storing my own food and normally just toss out those others, but since the party I have been saving them and they came in handy. I was able to pack up several dishes with just a few spoonfuls left and sent them with guests as lunch the next day. I did not worry about the dish as I was going to throw it out anyway, but it sure came in handy to send along with guest. I now have a neat little stack in varying sizes set aside for this very purpose.
And that my friends is the secret to a great potluck. People are already asking when we plan to have another one. I think I spent in total $20 to host a party of 15ish people and everyone went home well fed and filled with the joys of spending time with good food and friends. I wish you the same when you plan and host your next potluck (or your first as the case may be).
Potluck themes: Curry, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Tappas (little hors d’œuvres) Pizza (everyone makes homemade ones), Soups, Stews. You could ask each friend what their nationality is and then pick from a hat which ones to do. If you have ideas for themes feel free to drop us a line and let me know. I would love to hear them.
Good luck, and most of all remember to have fun the kitchen.