Mention four little words “can I bring something?” and many people shudder when the answer is “yes.” What is it about Pot Luck dinners that turn the most confident person into a quivering mess? Thoughts of creating a four-star restaurant quaility dish permeates your brain and you’re toast.
Thinly Sliced Zucchini with Ricotta and Fresh Herbs
Most likely are you are being invited by friends, so forget the stress. You have a few options available to begin with: you can pick up something that is pre-made. No one will think any less of you. (If they do, then find some new friends!) You can attempt a recipe and the host will undoubtably be grateful and pleased, or you can offer to bring the wine.
Let’s start at the beginning: the very first thing you need to determine is the size and theme of the party and what the expectation is, if any. For example, when I do dinner parties at our house I never have the guests bring food. I take a great deal of time working out the menu and theme and having a dish arrive that is not expected throws me off. In that type of situation the host will feel obliagted to put it out, but might be a bit frazzled trying to figure out how to incorporate it. Why stress out the host for no reason? Should you find yourself being invited to a party of that nature a lovely hostess gift or bottle of wine is appropriate. A thought on wine: unless the host indicates for you to bring something specific to go with their dinner, just find a really lovely bottle of something for them to enjoy later. Don’t necessarily expect to see it opened if the host has already purchased a wine that will be paired with the dinner.
Mixed Green Salad
Some parties have pre-determined lists for people to choose from. In those cases the party planner is taking into account many different levels of participation, so if you pick the salad option rock that baby out. Pre-wash, prep and put it all together before you arrive to the party. There is nothing worse than a guest arriving and descending on the host’s kitchen looking for a cutting board and knife to deal with the tomatoes. Get your work done ahead of time – it’s only a salad right?
More after the jump ….
If you pick one of the other options be sure to check in with the host ahead of time if your dish needs to be finished or warmed in the oven. They will need to take that into account for the overall plan of the evening.
The third type of party you might be invited to is an all out, no holds barred, Open House Pot Luck. The host makes a random list of general dishes and asks the guest to essentially bring whatever they want. Our friends Peter and Carin host a party like that every year. I recently talked to him about the ups and downs of hosting such an event. First, he said that the rsvp situation is always crazy. A great deal of the people that actually come never respond. (Frankly, that would drive me batty.) If you are planning on going to a big party let the host know. Even though a party like that borders on an open house, the host still needs to figure out plates, utensils and beverages.
Bûche de Nöel
The other hope he has, goes back to a comment I made above, and that is for the guest to bring their dish ready to set on the buffet table. Happy chaos reigns in his kitchen at that party and having someone digging around for a platter as guests are pouring in is inconvenient. If you find that you will need something to serve your dish on let the host know ahead of time so they can be ready for you. The upside to this party for he and his wife is the breadth of what does arrive from a gourmet pizza cut up in bite size pieces to a spiral ham and even a luscious Bûche de Nöel.
I find now that I cook professionally hosts tend to be apolgetic when I arrive, saying they are sure the food is not up to par. Let me let you in on a little secret: Chefs truly enjoy being invited to a friend’s house for dinner. The idea that they have the night off from cooking is a real bonus.
For me the reverse tends to happen. When I’m invited to a dinner I almost feel like doing something simple (which of course would be completely ideal after working so hard) would be perceived as taking the easy way out. So I got to thinking, what could I do that is simple, yet dramatic and full of flavor, for my next Pot Luck invitation? Over the weekend I was noodling around on the internet and came across a couple of salads that had some similar themes and looked really special. First up is from my vegan buddy JL Fields. She has a delicious looking breakfast bowl  using quinoa, cranberries and nuts. Then I came across a Mark Bittman recipe using sweet potatoes and quinoa . I happen to have a bag of quinoa in the cabinet, so I thought why not use that as my main ingredient?
After a quick check of the pantry and ‘fridge I pulled together a few other things and got to work. Quinoa is just as easy to cook as rice. You basically add it to boiling water and cover. This particular brand only took 12 minutes to cook, and 5 minutes to rest.
While that was happening on the stove I combined the rest of the ingredients on a baking sheet and put them in the oven.
I had an orange in my fruit basket so I thought why not use that too, and make a simple vinaigrette to bring it all together?
I had a little arugula in the ‘fridge, but I think baby spinach would work really well with this too.
Larry and I decided that while is was quite tasty warm, it was significanty better once it got cold. What could be more ideal to take to a pot luck party? This can be made ahead and assembled just before you leave the house.
With the holiday season is in full swing I thought I would end with a fun television segment I remembered seeing on The Chew. Here are some additional tips for party going from Clinton Kelly .
Check back next week, for my second part of Holiday Pot Luck I’m going to be talking about appetizers.
A light and citrusy make-ahead salad for your next Pot Luck dinner
- 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked following the package instructions
- 2 cups sweet potato, cut on 3/4' cubes
- 3/4 cup fresh cranberry
- 3/4 cup whole pecans
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seed, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 7oz box of arugula or baby spinach greens
- 1 large orange, zested and supremed (segmented) and juiced
- 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
- 1 tablespoon rice wine or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup blended olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Cook the quinoa according to the package instructions. Remove from heat and leave the lid on for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and place in a large mixing bowl, fluffing with a fork.
- While the quinoa is cooking place the sweet potato, cranberry and pecans on a heavy rimed baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, coriander and cayenne. Toss well and place in oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.
- While the potatoes and quinoa are cooking put together the dressing. Zest the orange and place in the bowl of a mini chopper. Slice off the top and bottom of the skin and carefully cut along off the skin around the orange, removing all the pith. Carefully cut out the segments of the orange and place in a separate bowl. Squeeze the remains of the orange into a measuring cup. You should gave 1/4 cup of juice. If not, add a little from your juice bottle.
- Add the juice, mustard, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper to the mini chop. Process on high drizzling in the olive oil until it's emulsified. Taste for seasoning. You will have 1/2 cup of vinaigrette.
- Once the vegetables are done scrape them into the bowl with the quinoa and drizzle 1/4 cup of the dressing over it all and gently combine. Allow to cool completely. At this point you can place the salad in a container for later. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- To serve, arrange the greens in a flat layer on a platter. Drizzle the remaining dressing over them. Arrange the quinoa salad over the greens along with the orange segments and serve.
Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina  comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog , which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook , Twitter  and Pinterest .