Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Potluck Contest: Wish Me Luck

So, the New York Times has a contest to submit your “Signature Pot Luck Dish.” My spouse once advised me that we needed such a thing.

“We need a signature dish,” he said. “You know, for parties.”

Wow, few thoughts on this. First, I am so married to the metrosexual. Which is not a bad thing, it has its benefits. But, as the down-to-earth type with probably a wardrobe too heavy in flannel shirts, I find irony in these moments of how opposites can attract.

My approach to potlucks, like my flannel attire, is practical. Here’s some tips, some of which I learned from screwing up. But never numbers 2 and 5. Never.

1. Your hostess does not have room in her oven, on her stove, or in her fridge for your item. Think about last Thanksgiving when Aunt Martha showed up with her ingredients in a bag for Stewed Brussels Sprouts, left it all on your counter with her cheap wine gift, poured a huge glass of your good stuff and tottered off to the couch leaving you with another dish to prepare? Yeah, it’s like that.

2. Which reminds me of another “Signature” effort for parties. If you bring the cheap stuff and drink the good stuff, you will not be invited back. Unless you are family. In that case, they will start hiding the good stuff and opening your wine to pour for only you. Just sayin.’ Choose wisely. You’re drinking it.

3. So, arrive with your dish prepared and ready for the table. This includes all the items required for service; platter, bowl, basket, serving spoon, fork or shovel. All of it.

4. Be prepared to take it all home with you unwashed. Really. Look around, isn’t there enough for the host to clean up as it is?

5. I don’t care if you don’t cook. Leave your one half-eaten bag of chips offering at home if that’s all you are bringing. See item number 2 and join Netflix. You’re going to need entertainment for staying home alone with your box wine and chips.

6. Finally, consider food safety. We’re looking at a maximum window of four hours between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. For long parties, someone may barf and it won’t just be from the cheap wine. If your signature dish is hot, invest in a chafing dish or a crockpot that can be transported easily. If cold, bring a small cooler with ice and put out only what will be eaten fairly soon. Refresh as needed with chilled items.

7. Finally, is there ONE signature dish? Not really. What you bring should vary with the time of the event, type of event (meal, party, brunch, shower), and the season or holiday. So, with that said, here are two of my go-to dishes and the events I would bring them for.

Fennel, Orange and Pomegranate Salad

Best for Thanksgiving, Christmas Brunch or Dinner

Why: Citrus and Pomegranate are in season and at their best. The light, tangy salad is a good foil for all the heavy dishes that are typical of these holiday gatherings. As a bonus, the salad is colorful and gorgeous especially for Christmas with the gold, red and green colors.

When Not: Long events like cocktail parties. The greens won’t hold up and will wilt, requires two hands to eat and a fork, and the greens may end up in your teeth. It happens.

Orange, Fennel and Pomegranate Salad
5 oranges, rind cut off and sliced
3 medium fennel bulbs chopped, plus 2 tbs. of the fennel fronds
1 pomegranate, seeded
6 cups mixed greens

For Dressing, Whisk Together:
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
2 tbs Champagne vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. honey
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything but the greens, including the dressing. At party, place greens on your platter. Add the other items on top.

Red Pepper and Kalamata Tapenade

When: Best for Fall and Winter cocktail parties

Why: Combined with pita wedges, a block of Manchego, and some salami, sopressta, prosciutto, etc. this makes a nice antipasto platter that will hold up to transport and sitting out for a bit. This is what to make when you don’t have time to actually MAKE anything. Easy and still classy.

When Not: Hmmm. I guess if you are hanging out with anyone who can’t eat salt or cured meats. It’s not as good for summer meals, either.

Red Pepper and Kalamata Olive Tapenade
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained
1-1/2 cups pitted kalamata olives
½ cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic
Black pepper to taste

Process all in the food processor. Taste and adjust for the black pepper. Chill for at least two hours to allow the flavor to marry. Be sure those olives really are all pitted. I’ve lost a food processor blade this way before. This makes a great sandwich spread, too, so save yourself a bit for home.

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