With the event less than a week away, we sure were happy we made it potluck. This entertaining style is a smart way to get together with family and friends without the entire burden falling to one person.
As hosts of the event — starting with Friday dinner and ending with dinner the next night — we prepared many of the anchor dishes, but we also gave our foodie guests the opportunity to participate. It was fun to watch the menu blanks get filled in as guests' offers of food started to roll in.
Not only were their dish offerings a time (and money!) savings, it was a great way to taste other people's culinary talents. Plus our guests felt as if they got to help. Most people who come to dinner want to bring something. Why not tell them what you need?
Of course, not all potlucks are a success. I remember attending a small one where the menu was as follows: red-sauced lasagna, maple-glazed winter squash, fruit salad and a fruit tart for dessert. We all ate, but with a little planning it could have been so much more enjoyable.
As someone who's thrown and attended her share of potlucks over the years, I offer these tips and a few winning recipes.
- Decide on a main course (or two) and assign the rest. The main course in place, it's easier for others to decide what to bring. When we announced we were serving enchiladas at one of the Big Summer Potluck dinners, we got offers of margaritas, fresh peach salsa with tortilla chips, and gazpacho.
- Be a conductor rather than a dictator. Let guests know what you need, but be open to what they want to make. (I almost nixed the gazpacho until I heard they were also bringing disposable cups for serving.)
- Don't assign appetizers to people who are chronically late.
- Assign bread and beverages — a tremendous cost savings if serving beer and wine — to people who don't like to cook. Have a small stash to put out until they arrive.
- Check with guests about last minute baking or prep for their dish. It's nice to be ready for them.
- Make sure you have enough serving utensils for all the dishes (e.g. ladles, tongs, spatulas, pie servers) and have them set out.
- As much as possible clear your fridge for food that needs to stay chilled.
- For off-site and outdoor potlucks, disposable table and glassware are the way to go but for a nicer look, mix and match your dishware and glassware with disposable items.
- If you tend to bring the same kind of dish to potlucks, maybe it's time to invest in the right carrier to make transportation a breeze.
The following three crowd-pleasing dishes are all easy to pack up for your next potluck or picnic: chicken salad flavored with apricots and almonds and bound with cream cheese rather than mayonnaise; black bean and corn salad that doubles as a side dish or vegetarian main course; and oversized chewy-crisp oatmeal cookies with white chocolate, dried cherries and pecans.