How To: Be a Potluck Party All-Star

Posted by on Sunday Mar 20th, 2011 | Print

We’ve been huge fans of a good potluck long before we became the bloggers of Big Girls, Small Kitchen. As you’ll read in The Book, we grew up amongst a group of girls who just plain loved to cook–and who had tastes that were wise beyond their (our) years. At least once a month, we would gather at one of our parents’ dining room tables and feast. There were some especially memorable potlucks during college, when we’d come together over thanksgiving break and pass around a token after we were done eating. When you were holding the token, you had to spill everything about your college life, from classes to travel to guys.

Now, of course, we have Magazine Club, as well as potlucks with that same group of high school girls. We’ve opined before about how great potlucks are, how as the host you don’t have to do everything and as the guest you get to participate. Whether you’re invited to a potluck or you’re hosting one, here are some tips to make sure the food is awesome, the conversation is inappropriate and loud, and the mess is not overwhelming.

**Tips and Tricks**

Invite a Crowd. Because you’re not responsible for the monetary and time expenditures of a regular dinner party, invite lots of people. Potlucks are an awesome time to mix groups of friends, or to introduce someone new to the crowd. As at Make-Your-Own-Pizza Parties, food is an essential part of the discussion, and that makes breaking the ice easy.

Use Paper! Potlucks are parties, and when we host big parties, we like to use paper plates. This way, everyone can share in the very short clean up. We’ll usually use a couple real forks, spoons, and knifes for serving. Plates, as well as cups, forks, and knives, are a good thing to ask one of the potluck guests to bring–a good job for a non cook.

Bring a Vegetable. Especially if you’re potlucking with a group of ladies, everyone will be happy to see one more plate-filling, but not stomach-expanding veggie. Many will err on the side of carbs, since they’re easy to make and transport, but it’s the veggies that tend to be gone at the end of our potluck parties. Salads that improve with time are the best choice. Try these String Beans with Mustard Dressing or Fennel-Cabbage Slaw.

Drink Up. This depends a lot on the type of party you’re hosting, but it’s best to split the booze duties amongst a few. If you’re having a brunch, delegate sparkling wine to some and OJ to others; the result is potluck mimosas. For dinner, you can simply ask a couple friends to bring wine, or you can make a potluck cocktail that can be assembled on the spot: Sangria, dark & stormies, etc.

Divide and Conquer. Though it’s sometimes nice to have a potluck be a free for all, where everyone brings what he or she wants to, you can create a more refined menu when tasks are assigned. (Unless it’s Mag Club, where we have ESP.) Ask one person to bring hummus or another caprese skewers for appetizers. For the main course, you’ll want to have at least one pasta or grain salad, plus a dressed-up green salad, like this Colorful Southwestern Salad. One or two people can bring roasted vegetables, which taste awesome and travel well: try Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower, Parmesan-Roasted Potatoes and Squash, Roasted Asparagus with Lemon, or Roasted Fennel. Have one guest make something heartier, as long as there’s an oven to warm it up–a casserole or a Chicken Pot Pie.  And don’t forget to make sure someone arrives with dessert! Cookies or brownies are key, and cupcakes are always winners.

Make It There. If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to cook something in advance, pick up a some ingredients, arrive a few minutes early, and whip something up on the host’s countertop. Guacamole is a favorite–you can enlist another guest to help you chop. Mexican Dip is another winner–just stop by a grocery store on the way over, and assemble and bake it on site. At the very least, buy good cheese and crackers.

Get Inspired. Whatever your potluck go-to is, branch out from it every so often. Check out our full index of potluck favorites here.

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  • Jessicaslorah

    The southwestern salad was a major hit. I had to stop myself from eating the dressing straight from the blender.