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The Art of the Potluck: A guide for the 21st Century

As fall gets into full swing, so does the season of the potluck.

The period of October through January is becoming known as America’s newest season built around the tradition of gatherings of family and friends – Potluck Season.

From football games to Thanksgiving, Christmas to New Year’s and then the Super Bowl, food plays a central role that reflects a diverse American culture.

While traditions among families and cultural heritage may differ, the common factor that brings everyone together is food.

Times have changed though. While your mother’s cookbook may have her handwritten notes on favorite dishes for her generation, anything that requires a Jello mold may need to be avoided in the 21st Century.

Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Professor of Religion Jonathan Kraus, in an interview with HuffPost, shared about the history of the potluck.

Kraus says that the concept of the potluck dates back to biblical times. He points to the New Testament, where poor and well-off members of the community share dishes and unite through a symbolic offering of bread and wine.

“They don’t call it a potluck, but that appears to be what’s happening,” Kraus says.

Though the act of sharing food among family and friends (and even strangers) has changed in numerous and striking ways through the centuries, the potluck of the 21st Century still encourages people to be “much more inclusive and aware” of the needs of their community of believers, whether it means bringing a dish that will have broad appeal or respecting the dietary restrictions of fellow diners, according to the article.

“You want everyone at the meal to feel a part of it and have something to eat,” Brumberg-Kraus says.

Potlucks are an inexpensive way to bring people together and celebrate – or entertain. Preparing food in the convenience of your own kitchen may take a little more time than running to Costco or your local supermarket and buying a tray of prepared food, but guests DO notice the care and effort you put into gathering.

As a host, you just provide the location and a couple of your signature dishes while your guests bring their favorites. The fun starts when you explore each person’s contribution and personality which often shines through their dish.

Dining together as a community in this way does two things. First, it allows the host to enjoy dinner, conversation and fellowship. Second, it spreads the cost out among numerous people. If everyone contributes, it reduces the cost by 90% for a “night out” for all.

Third, it provides an opportunity for greater selection and variety of offerings.

Despite the popular name, “potlucks” take more than just luck!

Forget the chips and salsa unless there are lots of kids joining you. Successful potlucks should feature dishes that other guests are not likely to prepare at home for themselves. That’s what makes it special!

But one word of caution. Plan, plan plan! No one wants to show up with 7 meat dishes, and a table of desserts. Start a list by asking whose brining what. If too many are bringing side dishes, encourage someone to bring a dessert. Too many desserts? Suggest finger foods or appetizers.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to bring a dish of meat. As the most costly item on the menu, the burden should not always fall on the host. Three meat options brought by several people will provide a good selection. Just make sure they’re not all the same.

Bring the right amount

J.D. Roth with the website GetRichSlowly says be courteous in the preparation and pay attention to the amounts.

“For a streamlined potluck, guests should arrive with their food ready to serve,” states Roth. “Unless you know the host can accommodate you, avoid being the person who brings a bag of groceries and expects to use the entire kitchen to prepare your bok choy sautéed in sesame oil. If you’re the host, the responsibility falls to you, then, to provide those items that need to be served hot out of the oven or right off the grill.

“Guests should always know the size of the group they’re feeding, so that they can estimate how much to bring. And as a guest, it’s helpful if you bring your own serving dishes and utensils so the host doesn’t have to scrounge up 12 serving spoons. If you bring a pot of soup, make sure the host has enough bowls, or provide them yourself. Just be sure to mark your items or otherwise make sure they get home with you.”

Author Belinda Hulin Crissman, writing in the Epoch Times, puts it this way when figuring amounts:The temptation to bring food for an army is always strong. Resist the urge. Unless you’re providing a centerpiece dish—say, a ham or turkey—you can feel very comfortable bringing a casserole that feeds 12–16 to a party of 30 people.”

Crissman says assume everyone will sample and enjoy everything available on the table or kitchen counter. “A sampling of 30 dishes will result in each guest grabbing a spoonful of each dish,” she says.

Bring the right dish at the right time

Crisman goes on to say that your dish should be ready to serve and eat when you arrive. “Don’t show up at a potluck with food that you must cook or otherwise prepare. Transferring a closed container of something into a prettier serving dish or into a slow cooker to maintain temperature is fine,” she shares.

The author on food also says preparing a dish like sushi on the spot as a surprise, isn’t a good option.

Another important factor is fridge space. It’s always a good idea to ask the host about how much room is in the refrigerator for their dish, should it need cooling. Also ask about other special accommodations, says Crissman.

“Oh, and don’t leave your dish to “get it later,” which puts the burden of cleaning or disposing of it on the host.”

Make the decision and don’t look back

Everyone reading this article has probably already had, or attended, a potluck – probably dozens of times. They can sometimes begin to feel the same. Don’t be afraid to try new things and, with these handy tips, you’ll have a potluck for the 21st Century that will be the talk of the neighborhood.

Ideas for that perfect dish

Need some fresh ideas for potluck selections? Many of the recipes below can be made ahead of time, they are also extremely easy to transport and reheat. Plus, they are just really tasty!  So, whether you need a dish for a church gathering, football game, or holiday party, they’ll all be a hit.

Spanish-Style Chicken and Tomato Sauce

Toby Amidor Nutrition

This simple dish delivers on flavor and aroma. Just one skillet is required to brown the chicken and then simmer in a tomato bath. Garnish with parsley and olives for a fresh and salty bite. Make it in a cast-iron skillet, cover with aluminum foil and bring it straight to the party. When you arrive, just simmer it for 5 to 10 minutes on the stove-top to warm it up!

Southwestern Cauliflower Rice Casserole

Jessica Levinson

While most baked casseroles include some sort of pasta or grain, this recipe uses cauliflower rice instead. Perfect for vegetarians, this casserole is packed with meatless protein from the black beans and cottage cheese. Admittedly, roasting the sweet potatoesahead of time adds about 20 minutes to the prep work, but you can omit the tubers if you’re short on time. Best of all, this casserole can be made days in advance and reheated when it’s time to eat!

Chicken Florentine with Yummy Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Nourished Simply

This one-pot meal cooks chicken, pasta and veggiesin one pan. Simply start by cooking the chicken in a skillet, then add the sauce, pasta and veggies and you’ve got a flavorful one-pot meal in 20 minutes. Not to mention that a box of pasta is extremely affordable and can feed a crowd. Throw this in a Tupperware to bring to the party or transport it right in the skillet.

For the Vegetarian: Enchilada Casserole

Simple Swaps

If you’re looking for a simple, customizable meal to please vegetarians at the party, look no further than this meatlessenchilada casserole. The recipe calls for zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, but you can sub in whatever type of veggie suits your fancy. The same goes for the type of tortilla — flour, wheat or rice work just fine. Bake it all in a casserole dish and bring it with you to add some spicy flair to your next potluck.

One-Pot Spring Tortilla de Patata


This one-pot meal is extremely straightforward and a real crowd-pleaser. A traditional Spanish tortilla is baked eggs and potato, but this one also includes asparagus for a hint of color and texture. This recipe may seem too simple for a party, but pair it with a baguette and everyone will be asking for seconds. Plus, anything looks fancy when you serve it right out of a cast-iron skillet.

For the Vegetarian: Buffalo Cauliflower Wing Dip

Kara Lydon

Grab your food processorand baking dish for this incredibly tasty vegetarian buffalo dip. No potluck party is complete without a cheesy dip, and this one does not disappoint. But there is a little secret: it’s actually quite healthier than the traditional buffalo dip because of some easy swaps. Use cauliflower instead of chicken, Greek yogurt in place of cream cheese and cut back on the cheese. Not only is this dip spicy and cheesy, it’s vegetarian, gluten-free, fiber-filledand satisfying.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Triad to Wellness

This Indian-inspired dish cooks in the Instant Pot, and it’s sure to stand-out from the standard casseroles at the potluck. Coated in aromatic spices, yogurt and lemon juice, the chicken is juicy and is accompanied by nutritious veggies, like cauliflower and tomatoes. You’ll need about every spice in your cupboard to make the orangey red sauce, which is sure to be showstopper.

Spinach and Artichoke Quinoa Bake

Smart Nutrition

Is this one pot cheesy dish a dip or an entree? You decide. It combines cooked quinoa with feta cheese, milk, egg, spinach, artichokes, beans and white wine and it’s all topped with mozzarella cheese. While you can eat it right out of the pan with a fork, it pairs really well with some toasted French bread. Either way, it’s all baked in a casserole dish and is easy to transport to any party. Just reheat, serve and let your guests decide how they want to eat it!

One-Pot Moroccan Tagine with Dried Apricots and Chickpeas

Edwina Clark

If you’ve never had tagine before, let me introduce you to your new favorite dish. It gets its name from the cooking vessel, the tagine — a North African clay pot with a wide bottom and conical top. Luckily, the home cook doesn’t need a tagine to mimic the flavors. Instead, all that is required are some veggies and spices. Cook them all up in one pot until they reach a stew-like consistency and serve with rice. This mouthwatering dish will not only be the hit of the party, but sharing the fun facts about the tagine makes some stellar small talk.

Slow Cooker Vegan Tacos with Walnuts

Nutrition a la Natalie

If you’re going to a party, but you don’t have time to cook all day, break out the slow cooker. Just throw beans, veggies and spices into the slow-cooker, go about your day and swing by after work to grab the cooked dish and some tortillas to bring along to the fiesta. This recipe calls for unique taco toppings, like walnuts, avocado, cabbage and lime, but feel free to switch it up and use any ingredients you have laying around, like jarred salsa, sour cream, Greek yogurt or shredded cheese.

–Metro Voice Staff

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