Whether you’re a Synergy Potluck regular, or you love to take a break from Rastall and cook some food with friends, dinner parties and potlucks are a popular part of CC culture. Especially during this time of year, when the cold has come and the dark sets in, you may find yourself in the kitchen more than ever, craving Christmas cookies or hot toddies.
Now that Thanksgiving is wrapped up and the winter holidays are around the corner, this is the best time of the year to spruce up your evening routine by attending or hosting your own potluck.
Potlucks, by definition, are a dinner party where each attendee contributes a dish. These collaborative soirees are a great way to taste new dishes, get out of cooking your own full meal, and, most of all, catch up with friends and make new acquaintances without having to shove your way up to the keg.
Potlucks attract all types of people. Look around the room you’re in and you will find all types of potluck characters: those who spend all day cooking an extravagant dish with 20-something ingredients, those who bring a bag of tortilla chips from the C-Store, those who make something simple, those who bring the alcohol, and those who will always come and say “I’m sorry I didn’t bring anything but here I am!” In some form, every potluck represents these characters. You know them, you’ve been them, and maybe you’ve taken note of the empty-handed ones, yet in the name of holiday cheer, you love them each the same.
If you’re nervous to attend your first potluck, or you are worried about what to bring because of your empty pantry and busy schedule, I have some simple tips for you.
If you have the time, make the process of cooking fun by inviting friends to collaborate on a group dish. Team up and catch up in the kitchen over some wine and cooking (It’s totally the new type of pregame). If you don’t want to go to the store, work together to figure out what you can make between all of you.
I find a helpful tool is Foodgawker.com. Last winter, I had an abundance of squash that I needed to use up. By looking on Foodgawker I was inspired by all the beautiful pictures of squash dishes, each of which had a link to its corresponding recipe. By collaborating with a friend on the meal plan who had access to the cheese and salsa at the C-Store, and another who had Mexican leftovers aplenty in the form of peppers and tortillas, we were able to create butternut squash black bean enchiladas. This sounds decadent, but is extremely easy to make and sure to be a crowd pleaser. (You can find this recipe at www.ccstudentfarm.blogspot.com)
Have I not inspired your inner Julia Child yet? Still unsure about what to make? In true CC fashion, find out if the potluck has a theme, or, better yet, make your own theme. Challenge yourself to make something completely seasonal or pick a random holiday that you want to celebrate. My house had an Election Day potluck, where we decided to go all-out American and have some classic chili.
Another way to deal with potluck anxiety is to make a tradition for yourself and become that token dish attendee. I have one friend who is famous for showing up to every potluck with a hot and fresh loaf of homemade bread.
Whatever you do make, do it big, literally. Always be sure to make enough for everyone to at least taste. Potlucks will have a lot of people, and if your dish is tasty, it is bound to go fast. Earlier this year, a friend and I spent a good deal of time picking peaches in Manitou and making a fresh peach crisp. Unfortunately, we showed up to the potluck at the wrong time (post drinking and dessert), and students hounded down our crisp before we could even set it down on the table. Take my fault in account and make enough to anticipate a wave of drunchie-zombies while also scoring a taste for yourself. Easy dishes to make in large quantities can be chilis, pasta bakes, dips, brownies, and salads.
The fuss of deciding on your dish, finding time to prepare it, and transport it to the location of the potluck can be a stressful task. But, remember, this is supposed to be fun. So don’t sweat it. Be proud of whatever you contribute. If your cookies get burnt, or your dish just didn’t come out the way you wanted (beet pasta sounds a lot cooler than it looks folks), or your just overwhelmed by the amount of food, don’t forget to take a step back, grab a drink, and enjoy the company. It will be these occasions where you can get to know people better and bond over the joys of good food and the holidays.
And finally, always, ALWAYS bring something. When in doubt, bring wine, beer, or heck, just bring a handle of Juarez.
Try out these two recipes for a seasonal twist on some holiday favorites:
For the Christmas Cookie Lover: Pumpkin Gingerbread Cookies:
2 1/3 cup Flour
2 tsp Baking Soda
Seasonings: 1/2 tsp Salt, 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon,1 tsp Ginger, 1/2 tsp All-Spice, 1/2 tsp Ground Cloves, 1/2 tsp fresh grated Nutmeg, 1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup Butter (room temp or melted)
1 cup packed Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Molasses
2/3 cup Pumpkin Puree
Mix together, lay out on a greased baking sheet in balls, and bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes. Optional to decorate with icing (or homemade cream cheese frosting)
For the Hannukah Celebrators: Curried Butternut Squash Latkes
1 finely chopped seeded serrano chile (or chili powder)
5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Dash of Salt
3 cups shredded peeled butternut squash (about 3/4 pound)
3 cups shredded peeled baking potato (about 3/4 pound)
1 cup grated onion
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Seasonings: 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients into a batter, heat up vegetable oil in a skillet until extremely hot, scoop ¼ of a cup into the skillet and flatten slightly. Repeat with however many latkes your skillet can hold. Flip after about three minutes and do the same on the other side. Pat down with paper towels to remove grease. Serve with applesauce, ketchup, or sour cream.