Tips on putting together a potluck party

By Maxine Turner

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Shepherds Pie is a great dish to serve at a holiday potluck.

Cuisine Unlimited

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Entertaining doesn’t have to be complicated or formal. Spontaneously getting together with family and friends can be easy and great fun, and the task of putting this together can be shared with everyone.

The potluck may seem like an old-fashioned way of entertaining, but it fits well with today’s lifestyle. Our busy schedules may not allow us to entertain as much as we would like. What better way to entertain than for everyone to participate?

Potlucks go back to 16th century England and came over with the first colonists. A potluck is a get-together where people bring a different dish to share. The idea is that no one is burdened with the expense or time of doing all the preparation, and there is a contribution from everyone. Potlucks are also a great way to meet new people and even experience new foods.

Here are some helpful tips on how to put it all together.

Potluck party tips

Select a date that won't conflict with vacations, a holiday or a major community event. Community calendars are available through local newspapers.

Choose a location that can accommodate the number of people you expect to attend. Potlucks can be a neighborhood street party in a park, community hall or at someone’s home. If you are including children, be sure the location is safe for children to play.

If children are coming, organizing some children’s activities will help keep them entertained. Try hiring young adults who can help with organizing children’s activities, like making decorations for the buffet table. The key is to be prepared and plan for this. It will give the adults time to visit with others and make your get-together more enjoyable for everyone.

If people are driving, think about where they will park and even include this information on the invitation.

Potlucks are about sharing experiences. At a neighborhood party I went to, each guest, in addition to their food dish, also brought a contribution for a food bank donation. The box was full by the end of the evening with all kinds of canned goods, cereals and household staples. The host then delivered this to the local food bank. It was a great opportunity to help a very worthwhile cause.

Food safety is very important for potluck events. In some states, legislation has even been passed restricting these parties. Other states have safety tips available for the general public to follow.

When organizing the potluck, assign a category of food for each guest to bring. If you have chosen a theme, let everyone know so they can be creative with their menu choice. Category examples include appetizers, main course, side dishes, salads, rolls/spreads, dessert, beverages and disposables. Use your invitations to assign food categories or special projects. Keep vegetarian selections in mind as well.

Attendees will appreciate knowing how many portions they should provide. Remind them to bring hot food hot, and all food should be in containers ready for the table. I suggest limiting this to 10 servings. This is ample for anyone to bring.

Assigning someone to provide music can help to enhance the party.

Have a clean-up committee to help make the evening end on a positive note for everyone.

Ask for RSVPs, and give yourself two weeks ahead in case you need to make menu changes.

Check what you need in the way of tables, chairs, extra bowls, platters, serving pieces, etc.

Be sure you clean out your refrigerator and that coolers are clean and sanitized so that food can be stored until ready to serve. Coolers can be converted into hot boxes to help give you that extra heating space. Just be sure the temperature is high enough to hold food safely. Encourage guests to bring hot food hot so heating does not become an issue.

As your guests and the food arrive, have sticky notes or labels available for guests to jot their name on their bowl or platter. This will help guests pick up their personal items at the end of the evening. If a guest leaves early, you will know to whom a dish belongs for returning at a later time.

Invitations

Your creativity can really come through when selecting the invitation. I have turned large recipe cards into invitations using a word processor and home printer. Since much information will need to be included, blank cards work well.

Besides the date, time and location, include a theme if you have selected one, menu category you would like provided, or the special project you are assigning the attendee. Be sure you have an envelope to fit the card.

I also ask each person to bring five to 10 copies of their recipe to display right beside the dish on the buffet so people can take the recipe

CRAB CAKE SLIDERS

1 cup mayonnaise

1 large egg

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon hot chili sauce (Sriracha recommended)

2 green onions finely chopped

1 teaspoon dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

½ cup bread crumbs

½ lemon, zested and juiced

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 cup jumbo lump crab meat

½ cup all-purpose flour, for dusting

12 slider buns

Combine mayonnaise, egg, Dijon mustard and hot chili sauce in a large bowl. Using a wire whisk, mix until well blended. Add green onions, dill, parsley, bread crumbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Gently fold in crab meat and mix gently. Try not to break the crab meat. Carefully divide mixture into 12 patties and dust with flour. Place patties into frying pan with oil. Sauté on medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes. Turn carefully and cook for 4 to 6 minutes on the other side. Drain on paper towel. When completely cooked, top with horseradish aioli.

— Cuisine Unlimited

HORSERADISH AIOLI

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl.

— Cuisine Unlimited

SHEPHERD'S PIE

Serves: 8 hearty portions

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 tablespoons sour cream

2 large egg yolks

1 cup milk or cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 pounds ground beef or ground turkey

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ cup beef stock or broth

2 teaspoons Worcestershire

1 cup frozen peas

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender, about 12 minutes.

Combine the sour cream, egg yolk and milk. Set aside.

While potatoes are boiling, heat a large skillet over medium heat, adding the oil, beef or turkey. Season with salt and pepper. As the meat browns, crumble into fine pieces. Cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add carrots and onion and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the potatoes from the stove and drain. Pour into a bowl and combine with the sour cream mixture. Mix well by hand or using a hand mixer. Set aside.

Continue stirring the meat mixture.

In a second small skillet, heat butter and flour over medium heat, stirring well for 2 minutes. Whisk in beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Thicken gravy 1 minute. Add gravy to meat and vegetables. Add the frozen peas. Preheat broiler in oven to high heat.

Fill a casserole dish with meat and vegetable mixture. Spoon the potatoes over the meat and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top of the potato crust with paprika and broil 6 to 8 inches from the heat until golden brown. This recipe will serve eight hearty portions.

— Cuisine Unlimited

CUISINE'S COLE SLAW

Serves: 8

For the salad:

3 cups shredded cabbage (or 12 ounce bag)

1 finely grated carrot

2 cups jicama, cut into strips

2 cups oranges sections, cut in half

½ medium green pepper, yellow pepper and red pepper cut into strips

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons salad oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

¾ teaspoon dry mustard

For the garnish:

1 whole orange with peel, thinly sliced into rings and slit halfway through

Cilantro stems

Combine all salad ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Combine all dressing ingredients and mix well in a blender. Pour into a container and refrigerate until ready to serve the salad. Shake dressing again before adding to salad mixture. Lightly toss until all ingredients are well coated.

Pour salad onto platter and garnish with twisted orange and stems of cilantro.

— Cuisine Unlimited

POTATO CHIP COOKIES

Makes: 24 medium cookies

1 cup softened butter

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup crushed potato chips

½ cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

¼ cup sugar in flat container

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whip butter, adding sugar and vanilla. Gradually add the flour and continue mixing until well blended. Stir in the potato chips and pecans and mix well.

Form 24 equal balls of the dough. Press and form each into ½-inch thick cookies and dredge in sugar. Place on parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Cookies should be firm but not browned. Cool completely.

Wrap in clear cellophane wrap and store in airtight container. They can be frozen for up to 30 days.

— Cuisine Unlimited

Maxine Turner is the president of Cuisine Unlimited.

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