Bring it: Potluck parties can mean a lot of food for shared cost




When I invite friends or family to dinner I usually provide everything from the appetizer to the dessert. Unless it's a potluck party, that is. A potluck party is a lot easier on the host and everybody gets to take part in creating a fun-filled feast. And nobody has to spend a lot of money.

The host prepares the main course and each guest brings an appetizer, salad, side dish or dessert. Another option is a traditional potluck party, when everyone, including the host, makes a casserole. There are hundreds of casserole recipes so it's not necessary for the host to assign dishes.

Katie Oberle of Peters -- aka the "Soup Nazi," after the character on "Seinfeld" -- has her own version of a potluck gathering. "It started about 23 years ago when four couples got together for dinner," she says. "The hosts would provide the main course, and others would bring appetizers and dessert or a side dish. Since my first turn fell in the winter, I started my main course with homemade cream of potato soup. It was a huge hit and our friends decided that I should always host the winter dinner and have soup!"

For her first soup party, she made three soups: cream of potato, wedding and split pea ("I do love to make soup"). She also provided assorted appetizers and a salad. Others brought dessert and bread.

She's continued her winter soup parties, and earned her nickname. "And I always send each couple home with containers of soup for the next day's lunch."

Potluck possibilities are not limited to food themes. You might try a Memorial Day potluck picnic, a weekend potluck tailgate party, or a patriotic potluck dinner to salute the Fourth of July.

I prefer to be surprised. I'd rather guests bring something they like to cook and want to share rather than something I've told them to bring. And it's fun to sample all kinds of different foods.

Serendipity was the theme of my recent potluck, which I didn't even wind up hosting. I invited eight friends, but that afternoon, one of them, Joan Kugler, called to suggest that we combine the potluck with our monthly game night party that was scheduled for the next night at her house.

So we all wound up there, as did the food. I brought Hummus in a Hurry, Tuscan Bean Salad, Black Bean Tortilla Bake, Low-Fat Idaho Potato Gratin, Polynesian Chicken and Katie Oberle's Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup -- all recipes you can find in this section and at post-gazette.com/food. Joan made chicken calzones and a recipe from the Kitchen Mailbox called Southwestern Salad. Other guests brought, appetizers and desserts.

Everyone loved the spread, even the picky eaters who sampled each dish. Still, the highlight was the creative game night planning of Joan and husband, George.

We played golf -- the card game version. The Kuglers set up three courses -- Oakmont, Augusta and Pebble Beach -- and each foursome played three holes on each course. The person with the lowest score was declared the winner and received a gold chocolate coin. Each of the other players received a "gold" golf ball. Find the rules at members.shaw.ca/bvwhit/golf.html. Enjoy!

POTLUCK POLYNESIAN CHICKEN

PG tested

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut up (or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, breasts or both)
  • 1 cup peanut oil
  • 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • Sliced pimientos, optional
  • Cooked rice, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Place buttermilk in a shallow bowl. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in another bowl. Dip chicken in buttermilk, dredge in flour mixture.

Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown. Place chicken in baking pan.

Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Place the juice in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add enough water to equal 11/2 cups.

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Stir in pineapple and water mixture, vinegar, soy sauce, bouillon and ginger. Stir until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add the pineapple chunks, pepper strips, and pimientos, if using.

Bake for 15 minutes longer, or until chicken is tender and no longer pink in the center. Serve over rice if desired.

-- "Hometown Get-Togethers" from the editors of American Profile (American Profile, 2008)

TUSCAN BEAN SALAD

PG tested

For the dressing
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced, optional
  • For the salad
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup cucumber, chopped (about 1/4 medium cucumber)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 15 1/2-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained


Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl. Stir well with a whisk.

Combine tomatoes and next 7 ingredients in a large bowll. Add dressing. Toss gently.

Cover and chill at least 8 hours, stirring occasionally.

Makes 8 servings.

--"Fix-It and Enjoy-It! Healthy Cookbook" Phyllis Pellman Good (Good Books, 2008)

CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE

PG tested

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • Strawberries for garnish


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Coat a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with flour.

In a bowl whisk together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk whole eggs, buttermilk, oil, corn syrup and vanilla in another bowl until well blended.

Beat egg whites in a clean bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until light and foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar until stiff glossy peaks form.

Beat butter and cream cheese until creamy.

Add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Alternately add flour and buttermilk mixtures, beating until just smooth.

Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites with a rubber spatula until just smooth and no white streaks remain.

Fold in the remaining egg whites. Scrape batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake cake until a skewer inserted into it comes out clean and the top springs back when touched, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn out onto a rack.

Let cool for at least 1 hour more before slicing.

Makes 20 servings.

Note: Whole-wheat pastry flour is lower in protein than regular whole-wheat flour and has less gluten-forming potential, making it a better choice for tender baked goods. You can find it in the natural foods section of large supermarkets and natural food markets. Store in the freezer.

-- "EatingWell: Comfort Foods Made Healthy" by Jessie Price and the editors of EatingWell (Countryman, 2009)

BLACK BEAN TORTILLA BAKE

PG tested

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium-size onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 3 medium-size garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded, deveined and chopped (optional)
  • 14 1/4-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 10-ounce can chopped tomatoes with green chiles
  • 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 6 flour tortillas (7 to 8 inches each)
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend (1 pound)
  • For serving
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sour cream
  • Lime wedges


Place oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees.

Place the vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, until onions soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add both types of tomatoes, black beans, and cumin and let simmer, stirring occasionally, uncovered, until sauce is slightly reduced, 7 to 8 minutes.

Spread about 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

Place 2 tortillas on top, overlapping them. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of cheese over tortillas. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the cheese, top it with 2 tortillas, and 1 1/2 cups of cheese.

Repeat with the remaining sauce, 2 tortillas and 1 cup of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake until cooked through and the cheese has melted, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a tray and serve with the lettuce, cilantro, sour cream and lime wedges on the side.

Serves 8 to 10.

Do ahead: The unbaked dish can be refrigerated covered with aluminum foil, up to 1 day. Bake straight from the refrigerator for about 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. To transport casserole, cover with aluminum foil to keep the casserole warm or reheat for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

-- "What Can I Bring? Cookbook," by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2007)

LOW-FAT IDAHO POTATO GRATIN

PG tested

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds Idaho potatoes (8 to 10 medium), scrubbed, then very thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces, shredded, light cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup nonfat mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup nonfat evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 zucchini (8 to 10 ounces) thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Sprinkle in garlic and arrange half of the potatoes in the dish. Spread half of cheddar evenly over potatoes.

In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, evaporated milk, white pepper and thyme.

Spoon 1/2 of the mixture over cheese. Cover with sliced zucchini. Sprinkle on remaining cheddar cheese, and spoon remaining milk mixture on top of cheese.

Arrange remaining potato slices on top and sprinkle parmesan over all. Cover tightly with foil and bake 50 minutes. Uncover and broil 6 inches from heat source for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 12.

-- Ohio Potato Commission

HUMMUS IN A HURRY

PG tested

For the pita triangles
  • 4 pita rounds (about 6 inches)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt, optional
  • For the hummus
  • 3 medium or 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste
  • Dash cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush both sides of pita rounds with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stack one pita round on top of another. Using a sharp knife, cut the stack into 8 wedges or triangles. Repeat with remaining two pitas.

Place wedges on baking sheets and sprinkle with kosher salt, if desired. Bake until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool pitas completely before placing in a resealable plastic bag.

Mince garlic in a food processor or blender (about 5 seconds). Drain chickpeas, reserve liquid. Add chickpeas, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper to the minced garlic. Process in short pulses until chickpeas are minced (about 5 seconds).

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons reserved chickpea liquid.

Process until smooth, adding 1 to 2 more tablespoons of chick pea liquid as needed (the hummus should have the consistency of a milkshake). Taste for seasoning, adding more spices and/or lemon juice.

Makes about 2 cups.

Serves 6 to 8.

Do ahead: The pita triangles can be stored up to a week in a plastic bag. The hummus can be stored in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

-- "What Can I Bring? Cookbook" by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2007)

KATIE OBERLE'S CREAM OF CHICKEN & WILD RICE SOUP

PG tested

"I double or triple this recipe because it freezes well," Katie Oberle says. If the soup isn't thick enough, add more flour and milk mixture.

-- Arlene Burnett

  • 2 whole bone-in chicken breasts (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 to 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 to 2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 cups chicken stock or broth (I used 2 cans, 49.5-ounce and 14.5-ounce)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons chicken-flavored soup base, or to taste (do not use boullion; chicken base is available at most large groceries)
  • 12-ounce bag of long-grain wild rice (I used Gourmet House from Giant Eagle)
  • 1 pint half and half
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Fresh parsley, cleaned and snipped (about 3 to 4 tablespoons or more)

Remove skin from chicken. Place olive oil in a large stock pot, add chicken and brown. Remove chicken, set aside. Add onions, celery and carrots and saute about 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper. Return chicken to stock pot. Add chicken stock or broth. Simmer on low about 1 hour (or until chicken is tender and juices run clear). Remove chicken, cool.

Make the rice according to package directions, set aside.

Remove meat from bone and shred or cut chicken into small pieces, set aside. Slowly pour in half and half; stir well. Mix flour and milk with a wire whisk until smooth. Drizzle flour and milk mixture in slowly, stirring constantly until desired thickness. Add about 2 to 3 teaspoons of chicken base, or more if needed. Add rice, chicken and parsley. Serve hot.

Serves 8 to 10.

-- Katie Oberle


Arlene Burnett does the Kitchen Mailbox column. She can be reached at aburnett@post-gazette.com. First Published April 23, 2009 4:00 AM




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