Tuesday, September 6, 2011

how to eat a potluck

A few years ago I got completely sick after eating at a potluck. Since then, just looking at a table filled with mismatched dishes of mismatched foods makes my stomach churn. But because of some church service I'm involved in, I end up at about 1 potluck a month. I've cultivated some careful potluck habits, and thought I'd share my strategies.

A disclaimer before I begin: If I have ever eaten your dish at a potluck, I'm sure it was wonderful and gave me no digestive troubles.

Potluck Rules.

1. Bring cut fruit or vegetables.
The potluck table can almost always use more produce. It's easy to prepare, and it always comes out tasting good (as long as your produce is fresh-ish). If you wash well, you aren't likely to make people sick. Picky potluck eaters like me will appreciate it.

2. Err on bringing the vegetables if going to a BBQ.
These potlucks are notoriously overloaded with watermelon and grapes. Some peppers, tomatoes, and cauliflower are a good alternative. But if you are thinking about bringing that shark watermelon (from a friend's blog), then by all means bring the fruit.

3. Since we can't all bring produce, another option is a food you make often.
If you make it often, that probably means it's simple, easy and reliable. Although it's fun to show off your culinary skills, I learned this lesson from my sister. She made beautiful and time-consuming stuffin muffins (not the same recipe, but you get the idea) for a potluck that were immediately devoured by 7- and 8-year-olds before the adults even got a look at the spread. And in true kid fashion their deliciousness sat only half-eaten on plates loaded with brownies and snickerdoodles.

4. When eating, see the table as a menu, not a platter.
Often, I think potluck pains are caused, not by poor food quality, but by the unprecedented mixing of all kinds of foods at once. I used to choose my food starting at the head of the table, selecting small pieces of each thing that looked good. Now I glace through the entire spread and select a main dish, 1-3 sides, and dessert that look like they could have come from one kitchen.

5. Find the best chefs, find their dishes.
Okay, this is a little below the belt. There's sort of an unwritten potluck rule that the identity of the chefs isn't widely broadcast. But if you know a few people in attendance that are reliable cooks, find out which dishes are theirs and go for the safe options. In the monthly potluck I attend, I always select the main dish of one particular contributor who makes excellent food.

6. No matter how much you think you want 2 desserts, you only want one.
I have always regretted picking up a second dessert. First, because my original dessert choice is usually superior and I feel obligated to waste precious no-nutrient calories on finishing the second choice so no one is offended. Second, because even if both desserts are good, it's just too much for me in one sitting. If I must have a second dessert, I choose one that I can wrap up and save for later in the evening.


Elizabeth Downie said...

In high school, a friend of mine told me a tale of terror. She was watching her mom prepare a cake for a church potluck, and as her mom was stirring the batter, she drooled in it! (On accident.) She quickly looked around, and kept stirring.

After hearing that story, I became very nervous about potlucks!!

Megan said...

Nice rules. If you ever come to a pot luck with me, do not eat the dish I bring because I am normally trying to get rid of something that I do not like. That being said, I have a calling now that relies heavily upon potlucks. Now I will really get to clean out my pantry.

Jen said...

Great advice!

I have to say that most salads that involve any sort of cream or dressing or cool whip get skipped by me. I prefer dishes where I can identify all of the ingredients, no unpleasant surprises.

Sherry said...

I think your rules are fantastic, particularly the part where you don't sample everything and instead get a few good things. I feel dumb for not having thought of this on my own.

I completely disagree with your one dessert rule. That's just silly.

Janssen said...

I think you meant for your last rule to read "No matter how much you think you want 3 desserts, you only want two." But I won't quibble.