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Ten Tips for Summer Potlucks

Comments from the Kitchen Office

Taking food for a potluck is an American tradition. Get togethers with friends, family dinners, church socials. I grew up knowing all the rules of potlucks. For example,

⋅ Ice cream tastes better when you wait for the ice cream freezer to finish cranking
⋅ Anything mayonnaise-based is best passed over if your potluck is outdoors in July

I’m pretty well stocked when it comes to carrying devices, too. I have a nice big picnic basket that has a supply of plastic utensils and paper products stored inside. I have a couple of those zipper holders with casserole dishes inside – including the hot/cold piece that will help keep food at the right temperature during transport. And, I have lots of stackable containers with handles that allow me to take multiple cakes, layers of cupcakes, and more without a lot of hassle.

Here are a few tips picked up over the years that may help if you are taking food – whether it’s to a neighborhood potluck, a church ‘dinner on the grounds,’ or a family celebration.

1. Safety first. Be sure you have plenty of ice for things that need refrigeration (cold foods should be stored at 40 degrees or below), and don’t let food sit out longer than the time it takes to serve it.

2. Feel free to use your local grocery store deli for assistance. Get a rotisserie chicken and all the sides and spend your time with the kids instead of in preparation.

3. Consider ‘mini’s’ when planning your menu – both to save on serving utensils and to give people a chance to sample a greater variety without leaving food behind. Chicken wings for an entrée; small cupcakes for dessert.

4. Think ‘fresh’ – fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh bread. There is a reason that a simple loaf of artisan bread, a block of cheese, and a bunch of grapes make a meal. Don’t forget the knife!

5. If you are using a public park, make sure you have called ahead to reserve it. Many public parks allow free use; others have a security deposit or small fee. In return, they’ll put up a reservation sign so you are assured you’ll have a spot.

6. Keep bugs away. One of the easiest new ways is through the mosquito repellent apps available on itunes – there’s a growing list of them, but Anti-Mosquito Free is, well, free.

7. Carry a tablecloth in your basket – outdoor picnic tables can be difficult to clean, and a sturdy tablecloth is the easiest way to protect yourself from what the weather, bugs, and other people may have left behind. Pack an extra for a friend who may not be quite as savvy when it comes to outdoor entertaining!

8. Bring foil – if you are grilling, you can cover the grate and have a clean surface. It gives you an easy way to pack food up when it’s all over, and comes in handy in many other ways – you’ll be glad you thought to bring it.

9. Consider how people will go through line and arrange accordingly – separate the drink line, dessert line and main dish/side dishes if nothing else. It makes it easier to go back for seconds that way, too!

10. Tuck plastic bags in your basket for easy clean up – the large ones will store dirty dishes and utensils if you want to avoid using disposables; smaller ones allow you to take home a piece of that dessert you were eyeing.

Here are some great potluck recipe recommendations.

Spicy Pulled Pork
Smoked Macaroni and Cheese
Sicilian Pasta Salad
Watermelon Salad
Lemon Curd Cupcakes
Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream