April 17, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

The Return of the Potluck

Marseille Melamine Dinnerware Collection from Williams-SonomaFancy dining out at Crustacean or Morton’s may not be in the budget for many cash-strapped Westsiders, but thanks to the sluggish economy, an old-fashioned way to entertain with friends is back in vogue — the time-honored potluck party.

A potluck is a great way to have a dinner party with a lot of variety of dishes without a lot expense or fuss for the host. But saving a little money doesn’t mean a potluck party should be a cheap affair, and the host is not off the hook. According to party planning experts, a host should follow a few basic guidelines to ensure that guests have an enjoyable evening and that the meal goes smoothly.

The House Special

“Traditionally, the host provides the main dish, primarily because you have access to an oven and can serve hot foods,â€Galvanized Metal 3-Tier Stand from Pottery Barn according to Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati, authors of the independent cookbook, Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s.

Gunn and Miniati recommend chicken or roast beef which is easy to pair with any sides. Or, if you have a large group with several volunteers bringing main dishes, you can opt to skip providing one yourself and instead provide all the beverages.

If some of your guests are vegetarian or have food allergies or other dietary restrictions, ask them to bring a dish with no meat, no nuts, etc., and then you can head off the chaos of people running around asking, “What is this? What’s in that?” by making place cards to set by each dish with the ingredients listed.

What a Dish

Don’t forget that the host also provides serving utensils, flatware, plates, cups, glasses,Lauren Tablecloths, Napkins and Table Linens from Anna's Linens napkins and condiments. Also make sure you have plenty of potholders and kitchen towels as well as ice and a cooler for beverages. Clear out the fridge as much as possible in order to create room for any dishes that do have to be kept cold until served.

You may be on a budget, but that doesn’t mean you have to go cheap. Forgo paper napkins and class up your table with tasteful table linens. Anna’s Linen’s stores have incredible deals on napkins, placemats, table cloths, napkin holders and all the trimmings to create a beautiful buffet or dinner table. Find stores at http://www.AnnaLinens.com.

If you’re entertaining outdoors but you don’t want to risk carting your fine china outside, melamine dishes are a terrific option. The elegant Marseille Melamine Dinnerware Collection, exclusively from Williams-Sonoma (http://www.williams-sonoma.com), has a unique design that looks like hand-painted ceramic yet is made of shatterproof and durable plastic. Plates and bowls are sold in sets of fours, $46.00 to $53.00, serving dishes sold separately, $29.95 to $34.95.

A great serving dish that displays foods beautifully is the Galvanized Metal 3-Tier Stand from http://www.PotteryBarn.com ($69), with a stylish silvery riveted finish and a design that makes food accessible to all the guests standing around the table.

Don’t Spoil the Fun

The best bet is to bring foods that keep well and taste good at room temperature. Avoid foods that wilt or get soggy, like a spinach salad, unless you prepare it at the last minute. Most pasta dishes and casseroles do well at potlucks. Even main dishes can be great served at room temperature. For example, broiled salmon and grilled chicken are delicious at room temperature.

“Avoid anything too exotic unless cleared by the host first. You don’t want to bring the one thing that everyone at the party avoids trying,†says Rebecca Matter, author of the Web site WhatToCookWhen.com.
As a failsafe, Matter suggests “backup food.â€
“Someone will inevitably not bring what they planned, drop it on the way, burn it, etc. So be prepared with a couple of frozen lasagnas just in case.â€
Enough is Enough
The golden rule of any dinner party, don’t run out of food. According to Gunn and Miniati, each person should bring a dish that serves 4-6 people, and that is the average yield of most recipes. So if 12 people are attending, you will need two to three appetizers, two to three side dishes or salads, two to three entrees, and two to three desserts, which is a total of eight to 12 dishes. Some of your guests may be couples and will only bring one dish. You can also ask guests who don’t enjoy cooking, to bring their favorite beverage.

Order of the Evening

Plan to begin your meal within an hour of guests arriving. Late comers get a 15-minute grace period, then feel free to start without them. Plan for the party to go about two hours, or four hours if your guests are having a blast.
“If you’re looking to lengthen a potluck party, and keep it interesting, consider putting out the food in courses. Round one, appetizers; round two, main dishes and sides; round three, desserts,†says Matter.
I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together
When the party is over, it’s time to go home. It’s a good sign if partiers want to keep reveling into the wee hours, but if you’re ready for your guests to head home, Rebecca Matters offers this easy way out.
“Ask them if they’d like to take any of the leftovers home with them, and then start packing them up. That usually gives them the hint it’s time to go.â€
Clean it Up

Prevent unsightly trash overflow by having extra bins on hand, such as Flings Pop-Up Trash Bins and Recycling Bins ($4). These handy throwaway bins can be compacted down for storage and then snapped open to form a ready-to-use trash or recycling container complete with a built-in drawstring for easy disposal. Find stores or order online at http://www.FlingsBins.com.

Potluck Good Luck
It can be a lot less stress and cost than a traditional dinner party, and with a bit of planning and preparation, you can be on your way to a memorable soiree that guests will be talking about at many parties to come.
Just remember these three main ingredients for a successful potluck from Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati: An organized host, smart dish assignments, and happy partygoers.

Potluck Recipes from Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s

Anytime Mediterranean Pasta
This pasta dish can be your fallback option any time, even if your fridge is nearly bare. Just keep a bag of pasta, a bag of pine nuts, and the jars of ingredients on hand in your pantry. Parmesan cheese will keep for a long time in your fridge.

3 cups dry fusilli or penne pasta (we used Penne Rigata, about ½ a bag)
½ cup Pitted Kalamata Olives
2 Tbsp Julienne Sliced Sun Dried Tomatoes
1/3 cup Dry Toasted Pignolias (Pine Nuts)
2 Tbsp Pesto alla Genovese Basil Pesto
Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients, topping with grated Parmesan as desired.

Prep and cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves four

Olive-Stuffed Bread
A few minutes of work yields a rustic yet sophisticated crusty herbed-bread loaf with the salty surprise of olives inside. It’s a nice bread to enjoy warm with cheese, alongside an appetizer, or with a full meal.

1 (l-lb) bag refrigerated Garlic & Herb Dough
½ cup Mixed Olive Bruschetta

1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
2. On a floured surface, roll dough (or stretch out with hands) so it is about 6 x 15 inches. Spoon bruschetta down the center lengthwise, except for the last inch at each end. Pull up sides of bread and firmly pinch a seam down the center, sealing in bruschetta.
3. Place seam-side down on a pizza stone (preferred method) or an oiled baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
4. Slice loaf into one-inch pieces and serve warm.

Prep time: five minutes
Hands-off cooking time: 30
Serves six to eight

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