When you are invited to a potluck dinner, do you feel the pressure to get it perfect? Sure, you want to provide a delicious dish, but somewhere between a culinary masterpiece and a disaster lies a dish you can be proud of.
Let’s take a look at some issues that could create a less than perfect, or even presentable, potluck table, and what you can do to prevent it from happening.
For the Love of Jello
There is just something about a Jello dish that evokes strong emotions – joy, nostalgia, or despair – perhaps even all three at the same time. Nevertheless, Jello often plays a major part in a potluck meal, so we need to explore this dish and how to make it work.
Whether your Jello recipe is a dessert, salad, or somewhere in between, remember; not everyone appreciates Jello. You may have fond memories of your Great Aunt Tilly’s lime Jello salad with grated carrots and Miracle Whip, but try to imagine if you had never seen or tasted it before. The true test of a Jello dish is one question; “Would I have to explain what this dish is?” If the answer is “Yes,” chances are you want to rethink your choice.
However, that is not to say all Jello concoctions are a catastrophe. There are many ways to serve Jello that are familiar and delicious. The rule of thumb here would be “When in doubt, don’t.” Save your Great Aunt Tilly’s salad for the family who remembers it fondly.
Sad Green Salad
Although it should go without saying, a wilted green salad is just plain sad on a potluck table. The idea of a crispy fresh salad is certainly appetizing, but when that salad wilts, discolors, or gets watery, it can make you want to skip the whole table and head for the beverages and desserts.
The first thing to keep in mind with a green salad is to avoid the greens that discolor and wilt fast. Iceberg lettuce is a definite no-no. The edges turn brown and the lettuce is super-watery, causing the salad to form a lake at the bottom of the bowl very quickly. Choose dark, leafy greens that you would typically find in a bag of mixed greens. It’s a much safer bet. You can mix in some chopped Romaine for extra crunch which tends to stay fresher longer than iceberg.
It should also be noted that, no matter how inconvenient it may seem to supply separate containers of dressing, do it anyway. Fresh greens coated with creamy or oil and vinegar dressing will be wilted before you even get to the potluck. So go ahead and bring your big bowl of lovely crispy salad to the potluck, but bring along the dressing ‘on the side.’
Aside from the soggy salads or the mystery Jello dishes, there is a catastrophe that is much more serious – keeping your food safe to eat. There are several ways to ensure that your hot food stays hot and your cold food stays cold.
You want to be sure that each and every crockpot, chaffing dish, electric roaster, etc., has its own outlet. That means, you don’t want to be plugging one dish in, then unplugging it to give another dish a chance to warm up. With that system, none of the dishes actually reach the safety zone before they are unplugged and left to cool down to the bacteria growing zone. Plan ahead and arrange your tables to accommodate each of the hot items.
If you expect to receive salads with mayonnaise-based dressing, be sure to have plenty of large bins, bowls, or tubs with ice. When your guests arrive with their salads, have them gently lower the bowls into the ice bath. Leave the salads covered and drape a clean towel over the top to maintain the chill until ready to serve. Time can get away from you when you are busy organizing your table, and that potato salad that was set down and ignored could be starting to get warm even in the short time it takes to start serving.
You want your potluck meal to come off without a hitch, but it takes more than wishing and hoping – it takes planning. Keep in mind that there are things you can do, both as a host and a guest, to help make a potluck a real success. A potluck is supposed to have some surprises, but they should all be delicious ones! Good luck and enjoy the fun.