Spring brings terrific new reasons to get together: Outdoor gatherings and picnics beckon as the weather warms, some great family holidays (Easter and Passover!) are on the way, and a whole new season of produce is tempting us cooks.
Potlucks are a favorite way to celebrate, spreading the cooking duties around to minimize the stress on a single host and maximize the enjoyment for all.
Keeping it simple and yummy is the key. Here are my top strategies for hosting and attending, plus a dozen recipes that can make you a potluck hero.
Tips for Hosts and Organizers
Coming up with a theme for your potluck isn’t necessary, but it can help to make sure the foods your friends and family bring harmonize. It might also inspire guests to go the extra mile and bring really fun dishes.
Assigning guests to bring a certain type of dish (appetizer, main, side, or dessert) helps ensure that the meal is balanced. This is more practical for smaller parties, less so for larger, less formal gatherings. Let your natural inclinations be you guide.
You’ll probably be asked for suggestions on what to contribute, so it’s good to have some ideas on hand. And keep a running tally of what you know guests have promised; it can help you fill gaps in the menu if you see them forming.
Have a few extra kitchen items handy before guests arrive so things will run more smoothly: Trivets for protecting the table from hot casserole dishes, extra serving utensils in case guests don’t bring their own, an assortment of plate sizes and bowl sizes, a slow-cooker for soups or stews that need to stay warm, extra pot holders, and extra dish towels or paper towels for cleaning up spills.
Tips for Guests
If possible, let your host or organizer know ahead of time what you’ll be bringing. That way he or she can anticipate duplications or offer suggestions for rounding out the meal.
If you’re bringing a dish that should be served warm, it’s best if you can keep the food hot while you transport it. Specially designed insulated carriers are great. You can also improvise by having the food very hot, then wrapping it first in foil and then in several layers of thick bath towel (I’ve had dishes stay warm for a half-hour winter car ride like this!).
If you do need to reheat your contribution, check with your host or organizer ahead of time to make sure there’ll be oven or stovetop space available.
Foods that need to stay cold should also be insulated for transport — this is very important in warmer weather, when harmful bacteria can grow quickly. Use a cooler and plenty of ice or icepacks.
It’s best to bring any special serving equipment or dinnerware your dish will need with you. This goes for soup bowls, serving spoons or spatulas, cake servers, etc. If it’s not practical to bring your own, consult ahead to make sure your host will have what you need.
Recipes That Will Make You A Potluck Superstar
Looking to get raves? Here are some all-time favorite dishes for spring gatherings. All can be transported with minimal fuss, and all are appropriate for scaling up for large groups.
Deviled eggs are always a winner. These Lemon-Caper Deviled Eggs pack great spring flavor and are simple to put together.
But if your idea of a great dish is something you just need to assemble (no cooking required!), you can’t beat this Antipasti Salad for taste and style.
Got matzoh? This deliciously unusual Spinach and Feta Matzoh Pie is a crowd-pleaser that’s reminiscent of spanakopita or vegetarian lasagna but much simpler to put together. It’s ideal for Passover.
Just about no dish is as popular with young and old alike as a good baked mac n’ cheese. You can add a twist by stirring in ingredients like bacon, pureed winter squash, or even lobster. This popular Macaroni and Cheese adds a healthy spin by calling for whole wheat or spelt noodles and adds roasted bell pepper for color.
Everyone Loves Chicken
A real standout for flavor and easy serving is Curried Coconut Chicken Salad; you can make the chicken part of the recipe up to a day ahead, then scoop it over a platter covered with the romaine lettuce a hour or so before serving.
These Picnic Chicken Drumsticks are baked, not fried, and it’s easy to double (or even triple) the recipe. You can serve them either warm or room temperature, and diners don’t even need a knife and fork to eat them.
Most groups will include a few people on special diets, so bringing a dish that can accommodate two of the most common — vegan and gluten-free — can make you a hero.
This sliceable Quinoa Loaf with Mushrooms and Peas is a terrific show stopper and looks great on a buffet table.
And we can’t resist this wildly popular Rainbow Kale Slaw; you can even make it a main course by adding chickpeas and cooked quinoa.
Bringing a side dish? Indulge in some of spring’s most delicious produce. For a inspired twist on that potluck standard, potato salad, you can’t beat Red Potato and Asparagus Salad; this recipe is conveniently sized to serve 12 to 14.
For a sumptuous blending of seasonal favorites, try Carrots with Peas and Pancetta; it’s perfect for a potluck or Easter buffet and reheats well (just keep the herbs aside as a last-minute garnish).
Easy to serve, easy to eat desserts will steal the show at a potluck. I also recommend a good dose of chocolate to really woo the crowd.
These Texas Sheet Cake Cupcakes are rich and decadent but pack a couple of welcome nutritional surprises along with their fudgy, chocolaty charms: whole wheat pastry flour and sweet potato puree.
Cookie fans can’t go wrong with these sweet, nutty Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Fleur de Sel that get an irresistible finish from a touch of sea salt. The recipe is simple enough for novice bakers and a great one for kids to help with.
What are your favorite potluck strategies and recipes?