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October 28, 2009

Wish me potluck

stw%20empty%20plate.jpgGuest poster John Lindner expresses my potluck anxiety much better than I could. I want people to be impressed by what I bring, I just don't feel like spending time cooking for the peons my neighbors, who would just as soon have a taco casserole. My only quarrel with John's excellent post on a timely topic: He doesn't include a Johnbalaya recipe. EL

Do you go to potluck dinners, picnics, company Christmas food days, gatherings in church basements or other group diney things that require you to bring food for all?

Do you get potluck anxiety? Do you worry whether you should go artful, thoughtful, complicated, or last-minute, processed, obviously-purchased-as-an-afterthought-as-you-raced-down-the-Royal-Farms-snack-aisle? ...

Or are you known for something? (Mrs. Smith will bring her famous Jell-O salad; Mr. Potz, his sinful etouffee; Ms. Sloozell-Von Tweeg, her traditional bread pudding...)

Once upon a time, a bag of Ruffles and a twelve pack would get me into all the parties I wanted to go to.

Then I discovered the joy of cooking. I got fancy. And my stuff always got rave reviews, if not for taste, at least for imagination.

Eventually, I tired of sacrificing two weeks to planning, preparation and cooking up a platter of artwork that would be plopped down next to barbecued cocktail weinies and a mac and cheese casserole. Why was I busting tuchus? The other cooks had the right idea: simplicity and volume.

For a while, buying hummus and pita chips and dumping them in Tupperware and Baggies worked. Friends at least had to guess whether I made it myself. But hummus didn’t remain exotic. When you’re the tenth guest to walk through the door with a bowl of mashed garbanzos, it’s time to fish another part of the lake.

I thought I struck gold years ago when I concocted a home-made pesto pasta dish that worked as well cold as hot. Went over big. A pleasant surprise. It wasn’t reliable enough, though. Too seasonal. Once I ran out of home-made pesto I was lost. And I didn’t like sharing my last couple of batches of summer goodness. So pesto went by the wayside and I was back to potluck anxiety.

Then I discovered Johnbalaya. It’s easy but clearly takes more thought than chips and Helluva Good dip. It’s relatively cheap and people like it. Two Saturday shindigs in a row now, and I think this is my new dish-to-pass standby. Twenty years from now I’ll be known as the guy who always brings that big farty dish with the funny name everyone raves about.

That or they’ll stop inviting me to their parties.

(Photo of an empty plate by Colin Brough courtesy stock xchng)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:37 PM | | Comments (45)


A good post, and rather timely since another one is afoot here at work.

I try to avoid potlucks, but the people here at work are always wanting to have one, about once a month.
They also want to start a Biggest Loser Challenge here at work. Losing the potlucks would be a good start.

I wish you would have posted the Johnbalaya recipe, I could try that instead of the chips and salsa or pitas and hummus that I usually bring. I thought of bringing a spicy quinoa dish, but not sure how it would be received.

I typically end up contributing paper goods, chips, soda, etc. to my department's yearly holiday potluck. I always struggle with finding a CREATIVE dish that can be easily reheated/kept warm and won't dry out. I guess something in a crock pot is the way to go?

jl, you've latched onto a winner. I've been to pot lucks where there is nothing to eat but snacks and desserts so an entree is always welcome!

I'd like the Johnbalaya recipe too!

I used to have pot-luck anxiety. However, that was eased after I discovered Gunther's Chesapeake Bay Crab Salsa in a wine shop in Occoquan, VA. a couple of years ago. My family loves it and it has been a big hit at football parties and the annual company holiday party.

We have several "go-to" dishes:
greek and italian tomatoes
dill dip with pumpernickel bread
trifle dessert
monkey cake - which I am making for my father's halloween potluck at work on Friday. His co-workers always request that he bring it.

I recently struggled with this same problem, complicated by the fact that our latest potluck was in a space with no kitchen facility, not even a microwave. I ended up roasting a variety of colorful veggies with fresh herbs, and served that at room temperature. It was very popular--but I still want that Johnbayala recipe, jl! Pretty puleeze!

A bag or two of pre-cooked shrimp from Trader Joe's is always a hit.

For the record, I prefer Ms. Sloozell-Von Tweeg's traditional rice pudding.

Google search returned this...

1 lb smoked sausage (two links) sliced in 1/4 inch slices (14 oz. pkg.turkey smoked sausage)
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced 1/4 inch
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 12 oz can beer (can sub 1 1/2 cups water or low sodium chicken broth or better yet a can of non-alcoholic beer) (I didn't have beer at home so I used chicken broth~chefly)

1 cup water, tomato juice or V-8 vegetable juice (I used 3 oz. tomato paste mixed with 1 cup water~chefly)
1 tsp garlic powder (4 large garlic cloves, minced~chefly)

1 tsp Lawry's seasoned salt (taste before using, didn't use~chefly)
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 15 oz cans red beans, drained and rinsed
1 12 oz bag 50-60 count cooked shrimp, tails removed
1 cup uncooked Minute rice (brown Minute rice~chefly)

Put sausage, onion, celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, water or juice and beer into a 6 quart Dutch oven or stockpot and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer. Add garlic powder, Lawry's seasoning, Old Bay seasoning and Cajun seasoning and cook 10-15 minutes or until celery is almost tender.
Bring back up to a boil and add the beans, shrimp and rice and stir to mix. Cover, remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes for the rice to cook. (For brown Minute rice I let it cook for 5 minutes, then removed from the heat and let it stand 5 minutes~chefly) Enjoy!
Makes 4-6 servings. (about 8 servings for my family~chefly)

PCB Rob, SPICY quinoa?!? And you'd inflict it upon your unsuspecting co-workers?!? Oh, the HORROR! The HORROR!!! (But wait--do you hate your co-workers? If so, then it's FINE.)

Old Standyby
Green(?) Salad
Lots o tomatoes
grape, cherry etc.
Green Peppers
Red Peppers
Yellow Peppers
Orange Peppers
Fresh Mushrooms
Spanish Olives
Calamata Olives
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Garbanzo Beans
A Little Iceberg Lettuce
Some Romaine Lettuce
Some Fresh Spinach
Chunks of Feta and Anchovies
on the side
Oil and Vinegar for Dressing
on the side
And I stop at Santoni's in Glyndon and load up on their in house italian dressing.
Everything prepped the evening before and tossed together in the AM

x number boxes Zatarain's red beans and rice. Andouille sausage, chicken an shrimp to taste.
I sautee the sausage, remove, saute the chicken in the drippings with a splash of bourbon, remove, sautee shrimp in drippings, remove, reduce pan drippings in a litte more bourbon. Add everything to the beans and rice and hit the road.
That's the basic version. Onions and other goodies are nice too.

I usually make the NY Times no-knead bread. Takes time, but no effort. Add a few sticks of butter, and it is impressive (you baked) and easy (95% of the prep is ignoring the dough).

Bourbon, jl? That leads to one of my main problems with potlucks - not knowing what is in stuff. I can't have alcohol, but I wouldn't think to look for it in a beans, sausage and rice dish. Some folks can't have eggs or meat or pork or other things. So I've taken to labeling my donations if there is anything unexpected in them.

A most excellent Shallow Thought Recipe. Thanks, jl.

If you have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook (or other suitable machine), the no-knead bread thing doesn't really buy you anything. The good thing about the no-knead dough is that it's a very slack (i.e. wet) dough, but the machine will knead slack doughs just fine.

Lissa, very good point. At my last byodtp (bring your own dish to pass) the main Johnbalaya fan couldn't handle onions and asked aforehand if I'd included them. I had not, I assured him. He ate four bowls. Never thought to mention the bourbon.
Someone else brought a seductive bread/cake like thing. I learned later it was pumpkin bread. I hadn't detected a trace of pumpkin. Had I been told ahead of time, I might not have tried it.
Food. It's as complicated as life sometimes.
Maybe that's why I like it.
And maybe I'll adopt your label approach.

serial spammer 5:44AM

I like to make a mango-black bean salad. It's easy, keeps well without refrigeration and is nutritious without tasting like it. A can black beans, a can of corn, 1 diced red pepper, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced mango (I think I have used frozen). Dressing = 1/4 c pineapple juice, 2 tbsp cumin, lime juice and cilantro.

Could also serve it with chips and call it a salsa.

monkey cake - which I am making for my father's halloween potluck at work on Friday.

How does Monkey Cake differ from Monkey Bread?

I used to make potato salad for potlucks, but so many grocery store deli containers of the stuff were showing up that I decided not to bother anymore. Lately, I've been bringing Cobbler or Brown Betty made from whatever fruit is in season.

Bourbon won't work for this weekend's gathering. I wonder what would substitute reasonably well....

Eve, how 'bout whiskey?

Aweee, comeon, potlucks aren't that bad. For my last three potlucks I used the forms I found on

to invite, plan and organize my potluck party. It worked really well and I didn't end up with a bunch of lasagna. Here are some interesting themes too!

Being a native West Virginia country girl, I always like to bring country food that you can't find in Baltimore; homemade noodles and chicken, pepperoni rolls, hot dogs with hot dog sauce (totally different than chili, that gross imposter), or green beans cooked for 900 hours in bacon.

It's always a treat to see people's initial skepticism to simple country food turn to complete joy when tasted, and always makes for a great conversation piece.

So I say bring a little of your childhood to potlucks - that's always the stuff the goes first!

Eve - I don't know if monkey cake and monkey bread are the same thing or not. I use pillsbury biscuits (diced into four's), cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar, and a melted butter, brown sugar, and sugar sauce. You break pieces of the cake off with your fingers.

The 10:56 comment smells of spam, although I suppose it might be topical spam.

It's hard to go wrong with deviled eggs. It seems everyone likes them, no one ever makes them for themselves, and there are never any left at the end of the party.

Here is a recipe I came across while looking for something else. It seems very Sandra Lee to me but if you brought it to a pot luck maybe you wouldn't be asked to bring anything anymore.


Spam And Velveeta Casserole

By Markeverett

Tagged with velveeta spam casserole comfort food guilty pleasure

I admit to two guilty pleasures - I love Spam and I love Velveeta.
This recipe combines these two flavors in a great "comfort
food" dinner. It's great for an evening with friends watching
old movies!

Cook Time: 60
Prep Time: 20
Average Rating: 4.8

1 can Spam, cubed
16 oz. Velveeta, cubed
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 can Cream of Celery Soup
2 cans milk
16 oz. frozen mixed veggies
3 cups minute rice
2 Tbsp. Soy sauce
Crushed potato chips
Cooking spray

SO easy!
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix all ingredients except potato chips and fold into a glass
casserole sprayed with cooking spray.
Sprinkle crushed chips on top and bake for about one hour.
Serve with a great bread and salad or just by it self!
NOTE: I often will use fat-free and low-fat products for this and
it's just as good. Turkey Spam has way less fat and sodium than even
reduced fat. Also, fat-free 1/2 & 1/2 works great in this recipe
in place of the milk

Today is the office Halloween potluck. The big stars so far appear to be the chili, the white chocolate covered strawberries and of course the Chik-Fil-A platter.

I was planning on bringing in some non-pasteurized cider I bought in Michigan; however, it has started to ferment and I didn't want to run afoul of the alcohol restrictions in the workplace. To that end, I settled for some risk-approved, grocery store cider.

i have an age old pasta salad recipe that is always a hit. people always want the recipe but it's well kept secret. folks can pretty much put together most of it but there are two unique ingredients that are critical and never guessed.

unbelievaboh, what are the two ingredients? You can trust us.

Yeah, unbelievaboh--or maybe just tell us one, then we can have a contest to guess the other. I hope no foam of any sort is involved.

Just to encourage you, I will now reveal that one of the secret ingredients in my mother's fabulous potato salad was pickle juice. But you'll never guess the other one.


Nah -- probably macaroni and mayonnaise.

pickle juice is an ingredient I would definitely keep secret

Scoff if you like, jl, but Mom's potato salad always disappeared first at potlucks!

pickle juice is so pedestrian. hint: the secret ingredients to my pasta salad are in the dressing. i use tri-color pasta, artichoke hearts, black olives, multiple peppers for color, tomatoes (if fresh, a few sundried if not), feta (added shortly before serving), snow peas, and whatever else strikes my fancy-- maybe some onion, shallot, or whatever i have leftover. the secret lies in the dressing. the secret also stirs conversation just like in this sandbox. the conversation makes a good pot luck.

to make it more fun, any future guesses will be answered with, "yes! spot on!" just so you never really know if i'm serious. really though, i'm dead serious.

The "secret" of unbelievaboh's dressing is likely obscured (like the entire post) by the difficult to read font choice.

!no tops. !sey

Okay, unbelievaboh, I'll bite. How about goat's milk yogurt?

yes! spot on! (seriously, nothing quite that interesting but it sounds good)

Hue, good call on the Santoni's dressing. It totally rocks their ICC too!

Everyone has his faults which he continually repeats: neither fear nor shame can cure them.

Dahlink, pickle juice is also a secret ingredient in a homemade tartar sauce I'm aware of (don't have recipe -- all I know is the secret ingredient ... pls don't tell nobody!)
And was I scoffIng? No ... well ...
Another strike against me: Can't stand potato salad. So I guess you have to consider the source, right?

Nothing is so dangerous as an ignorant friend

jl, it's okay not to love potato salad. I rarely make it any more (and never use my mother's recipe anymore, either). But the memories are bright.

unbelievaboh, the two ingredients I've used on that kind of salad are catalina dressing and parmesan cheese.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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