Potluck Dishes for Dummies: What to bring to Pass
What to bring to a potluck when you can't cook!
Potluck. The mere word conjures up lots of images in my head--more hot dishes (casseroles if you are not from Minnesota) than I can count. Growing up the daughter of a minister, I probably attended more potlucks than your average person. I was a child, however, and my mom had to worry about what to bring and share. I just got the pleasure of eating and sampling the vast array of homemade specialties and treats.
Unfortunately, I had to grow up...and I can't count on my mom to make my contributions to a potluck dinner. And even more unfortunate, I never really developed any culinary expertise. But should that stop me from showing up at any potluck I can find? Heck no! If you are wondering what to bring to a potluck when you are a non-cook (maybe by choice or maybe for the safety of others) here are a few really simple ideas.
The least glamorous item, but an absolute necessity at a good potluck--the beverages. If you bring in several 2-liters of soda and lemonade, you will definitely be fulfilling a need. If you bring the plastic solo cups--even better. You can also bring jugs of Gatorade, ice tea, or even ice water. Speaking of ice, bring a couple bags of ice also. People tend to forget that little item and it will be greatly appreciated, especially if you are having an outdoor potluck in the park.
Easy potluck dishes
Another easy item for the non-cook is the veggie tray. You can buy a veggie tray at any grocery store, or chop up your own, if it makes you feel more useful. Just don't forget the dip! While it is the healthiest choice at the potluck, the dip keeps people from whispering derogatory things behind your back like "healthnut".
Fruit trays or a fruit bowl is another easy item to pass. You can buy the platters with fruit already chopped up into handy bite size morsels, or you can be a little more creative and make your own fruit salad. If they allow you to play with knives (its questionable in my household), then you can buy a watermelon, cut it in half and dig one half out, making it the "bowl". Then you can fill it with melon balls, strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, etc. It's not only attractive, but a fairly healthy treat in comparison to the rest of the "goodies" that will surround them. It makes people feel better about themselves if they eat a few spoonfuls of fruit before diving into the plate of brownies.
Speaking of brownies...the desserts are usually plentiful at a potluck. Everyone seems to have their own special treats and traditions. But honestly, if you buy a box of cookies from the bakery--people will wolf them down just as quickly as "Aunt Martha's secret recipe". You can even remove them from the box and put them into your own tupperware, if you don't want to admit to them being store bought. Or, you can "make" your own brownies, if you have the skills. Side note: I count boxes of Betty Crocker brownies as homemade. If I have to add an egg and oil--plus bake it in the oven, than that counts as making it from scratch in my mind.
Dishes that require nominal preparation
Some of us know that our culinary skills are limited, but that doesn't mean we want anyone else to know. For those of you who want to bring something "homemade" to share with others, here are a few easy suggestions.
1) Meatballs or Cocktail Wieners: Both require almost no preparation or talent, but they taste and smell great! Buy the frozen bags of meatballs or cocktail wieners, drop them into a crock pot and add some "sauce". Let them simmer 2-3 hours. You can leave a box of toothpicks on the side, and people can "stab" their own.
2) Deviled Eggs: This is my personal favorite. All you need is a carton of eggs, mayo and mustard (and some paprika for garnish is optional). It doesn't get much easier. The hardest part is peeling the eggs after you are done hard-boiling them. Then you just slice them lengthwise and scoop out the yolk into a bowl. Add some mayo (1/3 of cup) and mustard (I use the horseradish mustard for some extra zing) and then just dump in whatever spices you might have on hand (this last time it was garlic salt and pepper). Stir it all up and then spoon it back into the hole where the yolk was! Easy and yet people will rave about these eggs and for just a few minutes--you actually start to believe that you have a special skill!
3) Pasta Salads: Pasta salads are a simple solution for someone that doesn't spend a lot of time in a kitchen. I like to buy Suddenly Salads, or other packaged salads. I'll chop up a cooked chicken breast or imitation crab sticks, to make it a little more substantial. If you don't have a package, you can make your own from "scratch". All you need to do is cook your noodles, toss with Italian Dressing and refrigerate. Then add chopped tomatoes, olives or peppers. Sprinkle some graded Parmesan on top right before serving. Delicious! And all you had to do was boil water...
Enjoy your potluck
Whatever you decide to bring, know that the company and fellowship is more important than the food itself. People don't care if you bring a bucket of chicken from the deli (actually they probably would really enjoy it), bring a bag of chips, or make your own 7-layer lasagna from scratch. Everyone contributes to make the "potluck" a unique meal each and every time. And personally, I enjoy getting to taste everyone's "specialty"--even if your "secret recipe" tastes suspiciously like KFC original blend.