Perfect Potluck!

It’s that time of year! We’re invited to block parties, 4th of July fests, family reunions, picnics, and potlucks of all shapes and sizes. This is when we’re supposed to show up with the PERFECT dish that everyone loves, something that won’t wilt in the heat, will go with whatever everyone else brings (or at least out shine all those other dishes).

Here’s my favorite potluck story ever.

When I moved in with my husband on his street in San Rafael, California, no one in the neighborhood knew about me yet. I was working really hard doing heavy-duty cancer retreat cooking at Commonweal at the time, and, well, I was like the shoemaker with holes in her shoes! The summer party invitation arrived, asking us to bring something for the grill, and something for the cooler. I thought, corn! I bought a whole blue bag full from our farmer’s market. Gregg brought a bottle of wine and some fish for the grill. We walked a few doors down to the Burford’s home, and on the counter were ALL these gorgeous dishes, the most AMAZING spread. Frittatas, tarts, grain salads, gorgeous vegetables. It was like, oh my God! I did not get the memo. I’m a trained chef, I had just come out with my first cookbook and I’m walking in with a bag of corn. Granted, it was shucked! And it wasn’t a bad thing to bring, actually. But ouch! Not the ideal first impression. I could have brought a million more sophisticated things!
 
I said to my husband, you did not inform me about the cooking prowess on this block! I literally ran back to our house and grabbed copies of my new cookbook to give to each family!  
 
To this day, Julie Burford teases me. “I’m having a Memorial Day potluck. No need to bring corn!”
 
We did end up grilling the corn that first summer, and it was good. But, not dazzling! And btw, corn takes up a lot of room on the grill. Again, not the best choice. I’ve learned my lesson.

What makes a good potluck?

Summers are all about outside! Grilling, entertaining, on your back porch, at the beach, family reunions. Families and neighbors get together in a little more unstructured gatherings. Not as buttoned up as holiday buffets. The dining is more casual. People don’t want to be slaving in their kitchens over a hot stove in the middle of summer.
 
How can you have a successful potluck strategy, whether you are participating or hosting one, and get the desired results? Often they are a little disorganized, and there are a lot of dishes that have no relationship to one another, or too much of one thing and not enough of another. Seven people bringing dessert and no main course. I’ve seen it happen! Or sometimes people bring things and they don’t bring them all the way done, and they want to use the host’s kitchen to complete their dish, bustling in and asking for serving dishes, pots, whisks and bowls. Not what a host wants to hear.

Secrets for a successful and yummy potluck

 Map out the menu

  • If you’re organizing the potluck, you get first choice about what YOU want to make. What’s your crowd-pleasing specialty? If it’s a main course, specifically request what you’d like others to bring to revolve around it. Many people don’t want to have to think about what they’re going to make. Let them know! A grain salad, or a green salad, or this dip with raw vegetables. Orchestrate your potluck! Your guests will have the best experience, and it’s easy for you. Win/win! 
  • Take the guesswork out of your potluck by using a simple, free online program like Perfect Potluck. You create the page, and share what you will be providing so others can build around it. Presto!

A little potluck etiquette

  • Bring your dish complete, in a serving dish with utensils, so all you have to do is whisk off a lid. 
  • If you’ve brought a dish, clean it and take it with you at the end of the party, so your host isn’t left with a consignment shop-full of various dishware.
  • Don’t forget about dietary concerns! If you are bringing a lentil salad with herbs and feta, consider serving the feta on the side so dairy-free folks can enjoy it, too. If you are a gluten-free eater, perhaps opt to bring gluten-free cornbread with a little label so other g/f eaters know it is safe for them. 
  • If you’re not comfortable cooking, everyone will appreciate your bringing beverages or condiments. In the end, it’s a feast!  

What recipes work best?
 
You’ll want to think about what I call sturdy dishes. Things that hold up, durable food: grain salads, marinated vegetables, grilled vegetables. I was recently asked to bring a vegetable for the grill. It was asparagus season. I blanched it and shocked in in cold water. I brought a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest to pour on post-grill. Easy! Delicious. Popular!
 

An encyclopedia of perfect potluck recipes from my Recipe Box!

The color and texture of this salad make this a standout for the picnic or potluck table. Japonica rice is particularly delightful for its firm texture and nutty flavor. The fresh herbs, ginger, edamame beans, celery, red bell pepper, scallions and lime make it sparkle. A winner!

 If you’re a coleslaw fan, this colorful, crunchy, flavor-packed recipe will enchant with a whole new vibe. Colorful and packed with nutrients, this recipe plays well with anything on the summer menu! People won’t stop raving about this one.

A deliciously refreshing appetizer to whet the palate. Make it a few days ahead, and bring it in a pitchen with small paper cups. We make pitchers of this all summer long. Topped with a dollop of avocado cream, it’s party time!

Out of red grapes! Try peaches instead! Many fresh fruits will provide an unusual spark of delight for this very nicely balanced, sturdy salad — definitely a perfect option for potluck!

Tricolor Pepper Salsa.jpg

This colorful beauty gets style AND flavor points. Drape this on almost any other dish for an explosion of summer delight! 

What could be a better finale for a summer potluck or picnic than an insanely good chocolate brownie, I ask you? And these are gluten-free, so you are good to go for all your guests. 

Non-alcoholic drinks- the pomegranate mock mojito are popular

Last — but by no means least! — on the list for a magical potluck are these refreshing, non-alcoholic mock mojitos, with that delicious, brain-boosting flavor of pomegranate. Because you can :)

DRESSINGS CAN BE MADE IN ADVANCE AND MANY OF THE RECIPES CAN BE ASSEMBLED THE DAY BEFORE. ARRIVE AT THE PARTY WITH EASE, WITH A SMILE ON YOUR FACE AND A PERFECT POTLUCK DISH IN HAND. ENJOY!