The Unofficial Student Guide to Potlucking

Where’d the time go? With the holidays and end of term approaching, it’s time for a good old fashioned get together with all your friends whom you can’t bear the thought of parting with for winter break. And what's better than a potluck when you all want to gather over some food? Whether you’re hosting or attending, here are my tips and recipes for a successful event:

Get organized. We’ve all been to that classic all-dessert potluck where everyone brought two-bite brownies and no one thought to make an entrée. If you’re the host, get everyone to coordinate dishes in advance to avoid any potential overlap. If you don’t have that much faith in the organizational prowess of your attendees, make sure that your own dish is main meal material so even if everyone shows up with matching fruit trays, you’ll all get to eat something resembling a full dinner.

Make something easy. Save yourself the trouble: don’t try and pull a Martha Stewart. Make something delicious, but portable and not overly complicated. Chances are that by the time you bring it to the party (or your guests arrive), you won’t want to fuss with any last-minute details or have it fall to ruins on the way there. Choose dishes that can be made in advance. Whether you’re the guest or the host, aim for finger foods that don’t need to be served at any specific temperature. Ideas are at the end of this article!

Keep dietary restrictions in mind. I know, I know – it seems like everyone’s a gluten-free vegan with a nut allergy these days. But it sucks for people with dietary restrictions not to be able to eat anything. Even though most of them probably won’t say anything, it’s always nice to have your needs considered. If you’re at a loss for what people with X allergy or Y dietary regime eat, ask them for ideas or do some googling – there are plenty of specific food blogs out there that cater to many a food niche.

Have fun. I mean, duh. You’re getting together for an evening with all your friends where everyone heaps their plates with random delicious foods! What could be better?

Now for some recipe ideas

Snack: Seasoned popcorn. Liberated from the confines of the movie theatre and tossed with an interesting spice mix, popcorn becomes the cool older cousin of chips in the party snacks family. Pop your own at home on the stove or in an air popper and sprinkle with one or a mixture of the following while it’s still hot: sea salt or flavoured/infused salts, garlic or onion powder, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, cayenne, curry powder or garam masala.

Appetizer: Guacamole. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Rather, make that lime squeezy. Combine ripe avocado, lime juice and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until it reaches the desired consistency. Add finely diced tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion then mix until evenly distributed. Taste and add more of anything you think it needs. For 4-6 people, use 2-3 avocadoes. For 6-10, use 3-4. If making any further than 10 minutes in advance, gently press a layer of plastic wrap on the surface of the guacamole and form a seal around the sides of the container so that it doesn’t oxidize and turn brown.

Dinner: Vietnamese salad rolls. Sounds fancy, but these are cheap, delicious and very easy to customize. Rice wrappers and rice vermicelli are the main components and these are available at any Asian grocer as well as at conventional supermarkets like Safeway for anywhere from $1 to $3 a package. These are usually served at restaurants with prawns, barbecue pork, cucumber, basil or mint inside and normally come with a hoisin or peanut dipping sauce. I make them with strips of smoked or marinated cooked tofu inside as well as whatever vegetables I have on hand — julienned carrots, cucumbers, thin strips of bell pepper, alfalfa sprouts, shredded lettuce or kale, etc. Boil a kettle of water or run your tap hot so that you have hot water on hand. In a dish or pan large enough to accommodate the rice wrapper, pour a shallow layer of hot water and soak the rice wrapper for 10 seconds or until it softens slightly, but not entirely. You will need to change your water as you go so it stays hot. Then remove them from the water, let drip and roll them like so. Serve with this dipping sauce.

Dessert: Scones. Easily made in advance, easy to transport and hella impressive-looking. Here’s a good basic recipe. The only trick is that your butter should be as cold as possible. When it tells you to “cut in butter,” all you’re doing is rubbing it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until it forms a sort of clumpy mixture. This is good. Don’t worry about your dough looking perfectly smooth – it’s not supposed to. It should only be mixed until it just comes together. Only use as much milk/egg as you need in order for it to stick together.

There you have it! Your friends will be the (pot)lucky ones when you roll up with any of these in hand.