The season of parties and potluck is here! To those who don’t want the pressure of creating an entire menu, potluck is the best way to bring people together. Potluck is informal, flexible on the budget and less stress for all. What to bring? First, here are 10 thoughtful tips to consider when hosting and attending a potluck party.
- Is there a theme? Whether it’s Pinoy Fiesta or Parisian Night, guests will have more fun eating if everyone sticks to the theme as closely as possible.
- Who’s in charge? A good host assigns menu items such as appetizer, main course, side dish and dessert. Best to sweetly specify the variety – beef, chicken, pork or vegetable. To be polite, you need not be too specific in your food requests. Let your guests be creative. It is the element of surprise that makes potluck fun!
- Do you have variety? Mix indulgent food with healthful fare. Salad greens in mango vinaigrette lessens the guilt and leaves room for heavy and richer dishes such as cheesy baked macaroni, pork barbecue, grilled steaks and rice.
- Is it easy to transport? Notice how you don’t see soup at potlucks? Bring something that is easy to carry. It should fit in a container with a secure lid, or can be wrapped without much trouble. Unless you want to demo-cook your favorite dish and don’t mind carrying extra equipment with you.
- Are you cooking? Do you enjoy slow-cooking your favorite beef kaldereta until the meat falls off the bone? Do you make a mean cheesecake? Or do you get a lot of praises for your gourmet sandwiches? Less stress for you if you bring something that’s quick to make. But if you have the time to make it ahead, by all means delight your guests with your source of pride!
- Is it easy to eat? Potluck is usually served buffet-style. Empanadas or similar turnovers and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls come in good portions and don’t require serving utensils. Small pasta like elbows, ribbons and spirals are easy to spoon out onto plates. Salsas, dips and sauces could be messy – they run all over the plate and mix into other food. Provide paper or foil muffin cups in which to put these condiments.
- How long does it last? Consider shelf life. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. A cheese-based dip for chips, nachos, crackers, bread and apple slices will keep for about five days in the refrigerator. Dried fruits such as apricot, peaches and dates can sit out on the table a bit longer because they do not contain ingredients that spoil quickly. Some dessert actually improves with age such as banana or carrot cake. Let it sit for at least four hours before serving. Overnight, a mayonnaise-based dip will help the spices flavor the puree more deeply.
- Is it good at any temperature? Pizza is at its best when all gooey and hot-off-the-stove, but becomes tough when cold. Fried spring rolls, when cooked the wrong way, tend to wilt the longer they get exposed. Choose something that tastes good served warm, room temperature, or cold. Heirloom pork stew and classic baked lasagna are safe and satisfying candidates. Consider spoilage too. Take extra care with creamy desserts and opt for baked pastries and fresh fruits instead.
- Can you keep it fresh? Particles in the air as well as the changes in temperature affect the life of the food. A lot of guests find themselves chatting by the buffet table. Keep the food covered to protect it from bacteria in the air. Wrap warm bread in aluminum foil and slice just before serving. Pack salad ingredients such as romaine lettuce, grapes, walnuts and orange dressing in separate containers. Toss everything together just before serving, and provide dressing on the side. If bringing toasts and toppings, prepare the ingredients ahead and assemble just before serving.
- Does it look appetizing? Food tends to lose attractiveness the longer it sits out on the table. Pasta, a party favorite because it is filling and fun to eat, tends to stiffen up and stick together when cold. But you can refresh it by serving spaghetti sauce on the side. If it is pesto, an occasional drizzle of olive oil will add luster without the guilt of grease. Perk up your baked fish by adding chopped fresh parsley and squirt of lemon over it. If your pound cake manages to last to the end, you can touch it up by brushing it with coffee and drops of rum. Decorative toppings should be added just before serving. Keep the buffet table and overall food presentation neat.
Lastly, some of your guests may request to bring home a dish they liked. Some might also want to bring home the leftovers. If you’re the host, have some disposable containers and food storage supplies on hand. Aluminum foil, plastic shopping bags and saran plastic also help wrap things up conveniently. Follow these essential tips and your potluck has a long way to go.
Want to wow your friends at your next holiday get-together? Stay tuned for an easy, yummy recipe that is sure to be the star of your next potluck party spread!