~Potlucks are not for the faint of heart~

Potlucks. I love them. I was reminded of the impending holiday season yesterday at my Writers’ Group meeting, where we planned our Christmas potluck for December 14th. I am returning to my comfort zone for my contribution to potlucks and bringing a salad. After reading this post from last year, you will understand:

Fruit and berries in a grocery store, Paris, F...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cookbooks are kind of a hobby for me. I love to read about food, about exotic ingredients combined in unusual ways to create magnificence, all the while stirring 1% milk into my macaroni and cheese and warming up meatballs from the frozen section of the grocery store.

I have long made fun of my skills as a cook. I have a friend who calls me on it, saying that she thinks I use my “phantom lack of skills” to ward off any criticism of my cooking. And she is right. I am not a bad cook—my family is not starving, and I can be creative in my own right—but I am not a particularly confident cook. I attended a small get together on Saturday night—a casual dinner party, and having volunteered to bring dessert, I had visions of all kinds of delectables I could make and offer lovingly to my friends. I usually volunteer to make the salad, but in my new quest to “take risks” I offered to bring the grande finale to the dinner instead.

I told my sister of this unusual offer to make dessert and she promptly emailed me an easy and foolproof recipe fora dessert that she was sure would be a hit. She is aware of my skills, so sent something that had very few ingredients, and even fewer steps. I think that part of my problem is that I am a languid (synonym for lazy) cook, as well as a little unsure when it comes to feeding anyone outside my family.

I was determined to try the recipe. I made a list of the ingredients and was all set to buy them and “compose” a homemade dessert. Then I got cold feet. I perused the bakery section of a local grocery store and found a sinful dessert that would be sure to please. I considered putting the caramel chocolate mousse cake {with artistic chocolate curls} on a plate from home to “make it seem” as if I had baked it. But I decided instead to be honest, knowing they would see through my ruse anyway. I presented the cake unapologetically in its original packaging. These were good friends—they would understand. And they did. But they did not know the angst that went into “buying” dessert.

I never judge when people bring “prepared” food to a potluck, as I understand their trepidation. I suffer from it too. To those of you out there who either do not care what people think about your cooking (good for you) or are such good cooks that you have great confidence from years of success, I honour your commitment to “homemade” and enjoy it immensely. There is also a faction out there who is unabashedly unapologetic—as they should be. They bring offerings that may not be “from their hands but from their hearts” and I honour you too. We are all talented in different ways and being made to feel guilty because you do not make your offerings from scratch is just not hospitable.

So, this holiday season, as we all venture out to our potlucks, go with what makes your season bright and not stressful. If “homemade” is not your forte, that is what grocery stores and specialty shops are for.

Salad with Thousand Island Dressing

Salad with Thousand Island Dressing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A note: my salads are not of the iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing thrown over them ilk (though this is good and has its place). I go all out with fancy greens, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, cheese, and even, on occasion, have been known to make my own dressing. I take my commitment to bring the salad very seriously.

What do you bring to potlucks? Are you brave–or do you have tried and true recipes?

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68 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My hubby is the cook in our house, so if I had to go to a potluck I would just sweet talk him into making something :). I don’t mind cooking – I just have so many other things that I would rather be doing LOL.

    • I wish there was another cook at my house–you are one lucky girl–I am too, just not in this respect

  2. I have a potluck at work next week and I’m in the “Appetizer” category.. I’m wanting to make something myself but have a feeling I’ll settle for the Sam’s Club special.. I wish I were a good cook ..

    • there are lots of good cooks around–leave it to them

      • My thoughts exactly 🙂

      • 😉

  3. Pasta salad is my go to. Feta, black olives, tomato, artichoke hearts. I make my own dressing. I have picky eaters with food allergies, so bring the one thing I know they can eat. It saves everyone else the trouble.

    • sounds good–has some of my favourite things- feta and artichoke hearts – send me the recipe

  4. I haven’t been to a potluck in a while, but if I did, I think I’d volunteer in the appetizer category. The spinach dip recipe on the back of the Knorr’s dry vegetable soup (double the spinach) is always well received, easy, fail-proof and coupled with some crackers or bread chunks looks fine, too. It’s as adventurous as I get. 🙂

    • I hate to admit thi but I buy the round loaf of bread, hollow it out and put in spinach dip that I buy–and no one knows (until now)–but I do love the homemade

  5. I’ve never heard of the term ‘potluck’ but I do remember going to a small party where I was asked to bring dessert so I brought a packet of timtams – haha!

    • are timtams cookies?

      • Oh they must be Australian – yeah chocolate covered cookies almost as popular here as vegemite!

      • then you made a good choice — anything chocolate is a good choice
        what is in vegemite–another blogger talked about it but did not say what was in it–you are educating me today

      • It is like marmite but better!

      • okay, what is marmite — am I getting tiresome?

      • yeast extract stuff – if you google it you will be tantalized – don’t go for marmite – vegemite rocks!

      • I googled it – I still think one has to eat it to understand it–now I will leave you alone

      • I should send you a little jar of vegemite – it will give you paroxysms of joy – hehe!
        oh hell how do you spell paroxyisms!!!

      • the first spelling and I only know because I Googled it–I live on, wait for it, wait for it–Melbourne Street in Kingsville, Ontario–

  6. Though I can bake and often do, I always volunteer for beverages and paper napkins. So much easier, and really, what would the potluck be without them?

  7. What was the dessert recipe I sent you? I am known for an appetizer called, olive cheese melts, so I always bring that to potlucks. Btw, I have been to plenty of dinners at your house, always good, however I don’t think I have ever been treated to a home made dessert.

    • you sent me the recipe for a dump cake–hmm–I am trying to think of a homemade dessert — I make toffee bars from scratch–I made you those peanut butter cookies when you were at the cottage a couple of summers ago; and there is something else I make–but I am very short on making desserts, you are right

  8. I think we are similar with regards to our cooking ability….Actually my husband loves to cook and who am I to take this away from him. I do cook things from time to time but potlucks always scare me too. If it is possible to fit in …I make a cabbage salad. Not too hard for me but people seem to like the simplicity of it…I have a potluck coming up too so here’s hoping they want a cabbage salad…otherwise it’s off to buy something…Diane

  9. I love potlucks, and don’t have anything tried and true – I just bring what I’m told. When we have a potluck-ish bbq in the summer, I am always happy when someone doesnt want to “make” something – I tell them chips, pop, or store-bought buns are always welcome. It’s more about the visiting anyway. I’d hate to think anyone had angst about coming to a party.

  10. I always feel WAY too much pressure, always self-imposed, when I contribute to potlucks.

    Funny story: I was raised in the suburbs of New Jersey, and the concept of potlucks is completely foreign and mystifying to a lot of people from there. It took me a long time to warm to the ritual, very popular here in the Pacific Northwest, but I have a friend from back east who continues to be dead set against them. He says, “What they hell is with all of these potlucks?! Back home, when you invite people to your house, you cook for them and supply everything, meal, drinks, dessert, and then, next time, it’s their turn to do all the work! Potlucks are for lazy people!”

    I don’t agree, but cultural conflict always makes me laugh.

    • sometime though, potlucks are mutally agreed upon because it divides up the work for a party — it is funny that it is not accepted everywhere

  11. It all depends on the occasion for the potluck. If I know there will be a lot of food, I will bring a fruit salad or a homemade sour cream kuchin loaf (grandmother’s recipe). I also have a pie which even you could make that people ask for regularly. It’s a pre-made graham cracker crust. You mix a can of pie filling and an 8 oz container of sour cream together pour into the crust and refrigerate overnight. My boys were making this by the time they were 2 and 3. If a hot meal is needed I’ll make a tray of stuffed shells. Of course if a dessert is needed I bring a red beet cake (sounds gross, but is delicious).

    • I like the sound of that pie–would it be good with cherry pie filling–and your beet cake I bet looks gorgeous

      • It’s delicious with cherry pie filling (the children’s favorite). I usually make two at a time cherry and another. I’ve used pineapple, apple, and just about any other fruit pie filling that struck my fancy.

      • sounds like I have a new recipe-thanks

      • You are more than welcome. Enjoy it, I found the recipe years and years ago on the cover of one of those graham cracker crusts, must have been before 1990 as my boys were still really little and it was easy to mix up with everything else I had going on at the time.

      • I remember those busy busy days!

  12. I ALWAYS volunteer to bring the salad. Why? It is cheap. And I am cheap. Just kidding. I love making salads, that’s why.

    • me too– and you can be so creative –I love salad with dried cranberries, goat cheese and slivered almonds in mixed greens with poppy seed dressing at Christmas

      • Yum! Can I come over?

  13. I’m just like you when it comes to cooking. And I can toss together a most lovely and delectable salad too.

  14. We’ve had a pot luck dinner in or house many times. I like watching Rachel Ray sometimes when she givesa new recipe for left over foods like pasta, rice, veggies, and more. 🙂

  15. The last pot luck I went to I brought my Mac and Cheese. Other times I bring a spinach fruited salad. All depends upon how much time I have to make a dish.

    • I love homemade mac and cheese–it is so good–never made it myself–your salad sounds good too

  16. There is no shame if you do not like to cook or what ever. I used to cook when I had someone to cook for. But as I gotten older, I now hate it with a passion. You do not have to be a “cook” to be a good housewife or a mother, wife, etc.

    I have never done pot luck and I don’t want to begin. As you wrote, bakeries and grocery stores are at at hand and that is a very good thing .

    • that is what they are there for–most of the potlucks I go to are organizations–where someone offers their home
      but we all bring something to the meal

  17. I usually appreciate if someone brings something store-bought as a way to insure the rest of us doesn’t eat something totally inedible. It’s the thought that counts right? I usually volunteer to bring pasta, although it’s almost always the same kind. Not too many people cook these days anyways so my friends are usually impressed that I even bothered to turn on the stove. 🙂

    • I sometimes bring a greek pasta salad–I love anything with feta cheese in it–I am impressed that you turn on the stove too

  18. I don’t cook. I usually buy a Kringle – It’s a tasty pastry that goes fast & there is never any left to bring home.

  19. I am sure it will be a great salad.

  20. confession: I cannot do potluck at all. I am a simple person. I can’t eat stuff that I have no idea what is in it or where it came from. I am a terrible person.

    • I understand–there are probably some people’s offerings I might avoid–though the potlucks I have been to have always had great (and clean) cooks

      • 🙂 I am sure.
        I know I offend my family and friends. I try but ….

      • just have a drink or two at these things–that will solve the whole problem and bread is usually safe (lol)

      • thanks for the advice.. haa

  21. great post. funny and smart as always. i do bake and cook although i come from a family of great cooks so i’m not a confident cook and know that mine will be the least oohed and aahed over at a family gathering. but when i bring something to work or to a potluck or the guys at the video store on boring summer sunday, i get rave reviews. balance both and it’s the cook i am, not bad, not great, and that’s good enough for me. but the real thing is its the company and the sense of community that sharing a meal brings, who cares if someone slaved or ran to the store, its about the people around the table. and nothing gets more laughs than a cooking disaster that came along anyway. i know from the cheesecake i made once – forgot the sugar…

    • love this comment–you sound both talented and down to earth–it is in the end the community feel

  22. I usually bring either a salad or a dessert. I have a few tried and true recipes that I trust so I usually choose one of those.

    • do you have a favourite easy one?

      • My Japanese cabbage salad and my bean salad are easy favourites. They’re both adaptations of recipes I found in cookbooks. Lately, I’ve taken a pumpkin dessert to a couple of potlucks and it has been very popular. It’s also pretty easy to make and super delicious. I’d be happy to send you any of these recipes.

  23. Potlucks scare me silly, LouAnn. You are so right–you have to be strong to figure out what to bring! So often come away from your posts smiling.

  24. The last few potlucks I went to were more like BBQs so people weren’t too afraid to pop into the store for a purchased tub of potato salad – the hot dogs weren’t homemade either, right?? 🙂 In general, I agree that it’s the thought that counts – bringing something ready made is much more polite than showing up to a potluck empty handed, anyways!

    When in doubt though, I tend to go for cheesecake. It gets pulled out for just about every big occasion in my family, so I’ve made it enough times that I’m pretty familiar and confident with the recipe. Plus, who doesn’t like cheesecake?

    • I love cheesecake–what a brilliant “go to”. I think potlucks are fun–one year though my writers group had a potluck where nothing was assigned–it did not work out very well (too many entrees not enough sides) so now we assign categories–mine is always salad

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