Potlucks, picnics and summertime are just around the corner. Blink and it will be sunny, warm and beckoning for a get together with friends and family.
Hosting a potluck or “bring-a-dish” gathering in your backyard doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, with a little planning it can be fun and memorable. Planning is key to the success of any potluck.
Check out perfectpotluck.com/index.php for tools and tips to make this event a success. I found the potluck calculator on this website to be a valuable tool. You will want to make sure that a variety of dishes appear on the potluck table. Ask guests to bring their dishes ready to serve.
Here are a few tips for perfect potluck entertaining:
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Have a sign-up sheet that you create or that is generated at an online website. You don’t want to end up with 5 lasagnas or worse yet, having someone bring a favorite recipe that requires individual bowls for serving. Your mantra must be, “Be prepared,” but with that, please keep it simple! The point of a potluck is to allow time for all to enjoy and ease the burden on everyone.
Make sure your guests come prepared with everything they need to serve the dish or query guests beforehand to see what they need and confirm what you have on hand that can be used for the event. Will guests need an oven? If so, limit the number of oven dishes or suggest alternative recipes.
If you have decided to have an outdoor potluck or picnic at a park, guests will need to select recipes accordingly. If you are a planner at heart, you could plan the menu and have the sign-up sheet narrow the options. For instance, hummus with crunchy vegetables, Greek salad, pita sandwiches, carrot slaw and lemon blueberry dump cake might be a start, and then guests would have a template as to what might complement the menu.
If it is easier for planning, select a theme. This avoids too many cuisines competing on the table. Enchiladas, Greek salad and Chinese noodles are all good, but may not be the best if served all at once, on one table. A theme helps keep recipes in the same genre.
In the spirit of simplicity, forget about recipes that require individual bowls. Always bring dishes that you can eat off a plate without a lot of fuss.
Potluck tables usually need a bit of life added to them. They tend to lack color and crunch. Incorporate recipes like a roasted vegetable grain salad or a raw vegetable side dish. The freshness component is essential.
Getting together in the backyard or at a local park brings together all the elements. No loud restaurant noises to contend with and friends can linger or come and go.
Keep food safety in mind. Food left at room temperature longer than 2 hours is not considered safe to eat. Plan to eat soon after guests arrive. If there are leftovers, refrigerate them or place them in a cooler while the laughter, games and party continue.
Desserts need not be fussy and 9 x 13-inch dishes rule! Why not make a dump cake? Dump cakes go together in minutes and require no mixers or hassle. Take a look at our newest cookbook, Delicious Dump Cakes (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) for a plethora of up-to-date dump cake recipes. Here is a recipe from that book for one of our favorite picnic and potluck dump cakes.
You can also check out this recipe for Brownie Turtle Pecan Dump cake
Rocky Road Dump Cake
Makes 1 (9 x 13-inch) cake
A Rocky Road Dump Cake trumps rocky road ice cream any day of the week. Of course, you can always serve this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
1 (15.25 to 18-ounce) box chocolate cake mix
1 (3.9-ounce) package chocolate instant pudding mix
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together the cake mix, pudding mix, and milk until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle evenly with the chocolate chips, then sprinkle evenly with the marshmallows. Sprinkle the top evenly with the pecans.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Tip: Substitute regular-size marshmallows for the mini version by simply cutting the large marshmallows into fourths; measure 1 1/2 cups of the cut marshmallows and proceed as the recipe directs.
Roxanne Wyss is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Delicious Dump Cakes.” Other recent books include “Slow Cooker Desserts: Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious” and “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After.” She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com .