Potlucks can be a lot of fun. Partly because they can be a lot less work than the one cook wonder. Meaning (in theory) that even the host has time to enjoy the festivities. But that doesn’t mean a Potluck Party is without stress. There’s the social pressure. The lurkingly painful doubts in the back of your head. Those little voices that say: “Will this be good enough? Will my friends like my Gramma Jeanne’s braised turnip greens?”
Then there’s the etiquette. Not just the what to bring, but the how to bring it. You need to choose wisely. Many a disaster has befallen a would be potlucker during the drive to the party. Because the challenges of potluck mean you need to choose food that will not only be delicious but will travel well and stay good after hours of sitting on the buffet line. Slaw is always a crowd pleaser. It has real staying power too. Besides, there are so many creative ways to shred vegetables. Try kale, I like to make a garlicky raw slaw with the nubbly variety known as lacinato or dinosaur kale.
There are other great ideas. It all starts this week on The Table Set with a call from a listener in Hawaii, whose weekly beachside potlucks sound like something to envy. So Andy, Nathan and I decided to talk Potluck Party. From the friend who says “bring octopus” to the idea of a Sizzler-style Salad Bar for the home. Even the High Brow/Low Brow dilemma presented by casserole– including two healthier versions of a ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole, plus a trumped up, truffled up Mac N Cheese Pie. But sometimes you want the Low Brow original, so check out Nathan’s Gala Parfait “church lady basement style” casserole cook-off, which includes a recipe for Glorified Rice that should catch attention.
There are also some new features on the show we think you’ll like. So please tune in and let us know what you think. Your comments will be greatly appreciated. Leave them on Homefries Podcast Network or on iTunes.
Since potlucks can make some people uneasy. I also put together a few simple guidelines for a successful potluck here on Sippity Sup. Because, like everything in life, the Potluck Party goes much smoother when a little common sense etiquette paves the way. GREG
- People don’t always think of this, but the point of a potluck is to make things as easy as possible for the host. So bring your dish ready for serving. I’m not saying you can’t do any last minute prep, but don’t presume there will be room in the oven, on the stove, or even a few square feet of extra counter space. So ask well in advance of the party day and plan accordingly. Because it’s possible that the reason the host chose a potluck party is that the stove is broken or maybe they never paid the water bill. In fact, the kitchen could be in the middle of an entire remodel!
- Also, bring your own serving utensils. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in a buffet line behind a guest plaintively dribbling a bit of soup into his bowl with a plastic teaspoon (because you didn’t bring a ladle with that soupe au pistou). Still, don’t bring anything so precious that it would kill the friendship if you never got it back. In fact, buy something just for the event. Something cheap, fun and vintage would make a thoughtful leave behind as a host gift.
- If the dish is a bit unidentifiable, label it! I know that I have passed up dishes at potlucks because I couldn’t figure out what it was, only to regret it later when people were raving over an empty pie plate! Besides some people have food issues, so it’s polite to keep the guests informed.
- If it’s a particularly large party don’t expect folks to bring enough to serve all 80 guests. Same goes if you are a guest. If 80 people bring enough food to feed about 20 people, I promise nobody will go hungry.
- This may sound harsh, but if you don’t (or won’t) cook, you have two choices: Skip the party, or offer to handle some other vital element. You could volunteer to bring drinks. But ask first. That chore may already be handled by the host or another guest. But I am going to say it again. A tub of hummus or a bag of potato chips is not really in the spirit of the event. At a potluck buffet these items only take up space. They are not actually meant for eating.
- I hear many people say that condiments do not count as a suitable dish for a potluck. I disagree. Though, as I said before, they shouldn’t be store bought. But Hand-Made Mustard, out of the ordinary Ketchup, or a Trio of Creative Salsas can enliven even the deadest of meat! In fact nothing beats the fresh herb flavor of just made Chimichurri. Because good condiments can save bad food– not that you’d have bad food at your potluck. But then again, you can’t really control that can you?
- Which brings me to the most ticklish of all potluck taboos. Have a heart. Do not snarkily whisper to the guest behind you in line that some dish is decidedly under par (even if it is). The person who made that ugly quinoa tuna casserole with marshmallows could be standing right next to you. Oh and speaking of lines. Don’t be first in line, standing in front of the buffet– plate in hand. Wait til the host announces the buffet is open.
- If you are going to arrive late and know it, ask to bring a dessert. As the party winds down, and guests begin to fill up, a big bowl of mashed potatoes isn’t going to hit the spot. People will be thinking about something sweet.
- Avoid poisoning your dear sweet friends. It’s way not cool. So please, use your very best, most hygenic practices when preparing the food– especially meat or (egads!) seafood. If the worst were to happen, I realize it’s not likely that any guest in particular will be fingered as the culprit, but that’s not the point. Besides everyone will be betting on who’s to blame, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that bet.
- Be prepared to take your leftovers home with you. I prefer to bring my contribution in a covered dish (with a lid) that can go straight to the table. Then it’s super simple to grab the lid and whisk the leftovers away. Leaving the host with one less chore.
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.