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Potluck Parties
Posted by Lori Ross - Viewed 78350 times

Recipes and photography by Lori Ross except where noted.

Potluck parties are popular, inexpensive and enjoyable anytime, but while cruising, they are a terrific way to spend time at a friendly rendezvous or to get to know other boaters on a club or owners association gathering.  Most potlucks involve bringing a dish to share for a meal, but I have also enjoyed impromptu "happy hour appetizer" potlucks and "cookout on the grill" potlucks! 

My favorite “happy hour” potluck took place on the Pokie Run, a PassageMaker cruise to the Abacos that included 40 people on a couple dozen boats.  One evening, everyone gathered on the dock where we were tied up to share their favorite appetizer or mixed drink!  We had Mimosas, Rum Punches and Painkillers along with wonderful cheeses, dips, salsa and snacks.  The most wonderful dish, in my view, was a fresh conch ceviche – the conch fisherman had come to the dock and sold us fresh-shelled conch which was chopped and mixed with lime, salt, jalapeno peppers and cilantro!  Delicious and exotic!

Another potluck was described to us by our live-aboard cruising friends, Bernadette and Douglas Bernon, who hosted a holiday potluck while anchored near the San Blas Islands with a half dozen other cruisers.  Each boat agreed to cook a couple dishes and they all gathered  together to a feast that I seem to recall included a ham and chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed onions, red and green salad, creamed corn and canned cranberry sauce.  They had champagne and pumpkin pie and  a cranberry tart made with a bag of frozen cranberries the Bernons had kept for nearly 6 months in their freezer for such an event!  It sounded lovely! 

Potlucks do not always require a lot of planning  -- in fact, the word potluck means one's luck or chance as to what may be in the pot – implying little planning.  In this case, everyone brings their favorite dish and you have an on-the-spot party.  When we rendezvous with friends, we often simply bring each our dinners onto someone’s boat and eat together, sharing a little of our smaller portions.  One evening, under a lovely star-studded sky, we shared such a dinner with sailing friends on our own boat and had a feast!  We had skewers of beef and shrimp with rice and salad; one sailing friend brought a lovely pasta dish with antipasto and bread, while the third boat brought a platter of veal with roasted peppers dressed with balsamic vinegar and a platter of pierogies!  We all shared wine and toasted our fortune in being cruisers!

We often host “grill pot luck” parties where we offer our cruising friends use of the grill to cook whatever they want for dinner and we share side dishes such as bread, salad, vegetables and dessert.  However, my favorite is the “leftover pot luck” party where on the last day of a cruise, everyone brings what they’ve got left and we come up with a delicious meal!  On a small club cruise in late October several years ago, we found ourselves anchored in a pretty cove with no restaurants ashore.  It was a cool, drizzly day and we decided to bring all our leftovers to my boat for potluck.  I still remember being faced with two large kielbasa, a rind of cheese, stale bread, fresh spinach, a jug of red wine, canned white beans, 1 pound of pasta and several cans of chunky vegetable soup, wondering what on earth could be pulled together from it all. An hour later, eight of us were sipping red wine and dining on a thick and savory sausage minestrone soup with toasted garlic bread – the perfect dinner for a cool, rainy Autumn day!

When faced with a group larger than 3-4 boats, I like to plan potlucks a little more carefully.  An unplanned potluck for a large group leaves a lot of room for potential culinary disaster -- you might get 10 salads and one entrée!  At a potluck party ashore, I made the mistake of asking my extended family of 15  to bring their favorite potluck dish, but forgot to ask them to let me know what they were bringing.  The result was that we had four identical potato salads (Grandmother’s recipe), 12 cupcakes, three pasta salads, one small baked ham, 75 toll house cookies and 3 appetizers.  I quickly lit the grill defrosted beef and pork tenderloins and made a huge green salad to balance things out! 

Planning a large potluck party is actually pretty easy, in my view.  I usually ask that each boat sign up to bring a specific dish genre -- appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, side dishes, bread or dessert.  To ensuring the proper proportion of entrée to appetizer to side dish to dessert, I make a check list that includes list the number of each dish genres that makes sense for the size of the group. When guests select an item to bring the dishes disappear off the “needed” list, and I can get a count of “who’s bringing what.”

If we make a plan for potluck before we leave for a cruise, we sometimes suggest a theme – Southern, Mexican, Mediterranean or Creative Burgers n’ Dogs!  Once I asked everyone to bring their most creative burgers and dogs and I provided the rolls, condiments, appetizers, salads and dessert.  Wow, I got beef and lamb burgers, tuna burgers, bison and venison sausage, chorizo, chicken and turkey burgers, knockwurst and bratworst and kielbasa.  It was fabulous!

When I am hosting, I design a menu and tell all my party people what I am having....I will assign a few of my tried and true attendee's dishes to make (usually one of their specialty's) and give gentle suggestions to the others.
When hosting a large potluck, it is nice to give your guests some guidelines.
1.    Let them know how many people their dish should serve – they do not need to bring 10 servings of their dish if 10 people are attending, 4-6 servings should suffice, because not everyone will eat everything
2.    Make sure that you have enough plates and utensils. Nothing is worse than having to cut and eat lasagna with a plastic spoon.
3.    Decide which dishes you will prepare. For large holiday potlucks, the host typically makes the turkey, ham, and the immediate accoutrements.
4.    Decide what type of food you want ahead of time. Be as specific as possible when assigning dishes; communicate what kinds you want and how many people you'll serve.
5.    Monitor the menu by selecting dishes with a variety of tastes and textures. (Go for opposites: crunchy/smooth, spicy/mild, soft/firm.)
6.    Make sure you know what everyone is bringing to the potluck. There need to be enough main dishes, sides and desserts..
7.    Make sure you'll have enough room in the oven and the microwave to get everyone's dish hot by dinner time.
8.    Set up your serving table so the guests don’t have to wait too long in line (e.g. salads and bread on one side; main course and sides on the other)
9.    Use index cards folded in half width-wise and write the name of the dish. This cuts down on questions from guests (e.g. what’s this?).
10.    Build your guest list and menu to comfortably fit your space. Will you eat standing up? Sitting down? A little of both?  Serve knife-and-fork food ONLY if your guests will be seated at a table.
11.    If you're building around a theme, make menu suggestions. And always keep a running list of who is bringing what. 
12.    Dishes should be made in advance, but plan for oven, stovetop and microwave reheating needs.
13.    Consider asking guests bringing a dish to make multiple copies of the recipe for the dish.  People often ask for recipes. Place the recipe cards beside the appropriate dishes, and invite people to help themselves to both. Later, whenever somebody uses one of these recipes, she will remember the occasion when she first enjoyed it.
14.    Indeed, whether you’re the host or an attendee, the most important thing you can do in advance of a potluck is find out what type of eaters will be attending. Is Aunt Sue bringing her lacto-ovo vegetarian third cousin by marriage? Did you somehow score an invite to a wheat-free fête? You won’t necessarily know unless you ask about food allergies/preferences. At one (successful) potluck party I attended recently, the host assigned out dishes, and she herself prepared only the substitutions: a quiche instead of the main fish course for a few vegetarians, a cheese plate instead of a pie dessert for a sugar-phobe, etc.
15.    If you’re the host, it’s all about organizing out options.
16.    Plan a menu that can be served at room temperature if you're worried about having to keep items warm. If not, foods that should be kept hot or cold should not enter the "danger zone" (temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees) for more than two hours. Use small platters, and replenish as needed.
17.    Stack mix-and-match plates and napkins to add a colorful element to your buffet table.
18.    Place food on pedestals for visual appeal; fill vertical space with flowers or breadsticks.
19.    Enhance the serving table with one or more centerpieces. Use votives or lanterns to avoid open flames from candlesticks.
20.    Make a recipe you’ve made before, you’ll know the drill and the turnout

There is also potluck etiquette that we who are making dishes should follow both to help the host and to avoid losing our dishes and serving ware.  For example:

•    When you bring a dish, it should be completely ready to serve. NO additional preparation time in the galley should be required beyond reheating a dish in the oven or adding croutons.
•    Label your dish with your name on masking tape so you can get it back afterward.
•    Bring a serving utensil and any condiments you want to serve with the dish. Label these items with your name so you don't loose track of them. 
•    Before you select a dish to bring to the dinner party, be sure to ask the host what he or she needs to fill out the spread. Also, find out whether or not there will be space in their oven, microwave, stove, or refrigerator for your dish.
•    Try to choose recipes that are good warm or at room temperature unless you will be able to reheat in the microwave or oven just before serving.
•    Creative Containers
•    Look for unique plates and serving dishes at local outlets or discount stores. For example, you can place a cake on a terra-cotta plate or put a salad in a similar pot.
•    Serve cookies or brownies in decorative gift bags.
•    Line a basket with a bandanna or colorful tea towels to hold croissants, rolls, or muffins.
•    Use a decorative ice bucket for cold foods such as potato salad or coleslaw. Fill with ice, and place a bowl or container of your chilled side dish in the bucket. Then serve from on top of the ice.
•    Collect containers suitable for instant flower arranging. Simple vases or bottles will work, as well as planters, galvanized buckets, or hurricane lanterns.
•    If you’re a guest, it’s all about pressing your host for information about these options. Work together, guests and hosts, to make your potluck perfect. And if all else fails, just make sure the buffet table is stocked with wine.

Good potluck dishes are lasagna, casseroles, pasta salads, bean and rice dishes, fruit or vegetable salads, cold appetizers or hot dips, fresh bread or rolls with butter, biscuits, cookies, cakes and fruit dishes.  Think of ingredients that are easily stored on board for your contribution to a potluck, rather than a dish for which you have to shop for fresh food. We always carry risotto rice, wild rice, pasta, pickled vegetables and gardiniera for an antipasto. 

Sources for Potluck Ideas:

A team of potluck specialists sifted through the tens of thousands of recipes on and selected the most marvelous potluck recipes on site. For your convenience, they are organized by category: for example, if the host of the potluck assigns you to bring a dish to grill, look under the main dish category; if you're assigned a salad, look under the salad category, for example

Island Paradise
Fireside Supper
Beach Party

Yield: 6 servings
3- to 4-pound boneless beef brisket
1 bottle chili sauce
1 can of Coca-Cola
1 packet dry onion soup mix

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Combine chili sauce, cola and soup mix.
2. Place brisket in a foil-lined pan. Pour sauce mixture over brisket and cover with foil, sealing edges.
3. Bake for 3 to 3½ hours, until tender.
4. Carve against grain and serve pan juices as a sauce.
Source: Texas Beef Council

My friend Virginia gave me the easiest recipe for enchiladas, but look out because we call them "white trash enchiladas". Nothing fresh here! Just stuff from a can! Everyone loved them!

Here's the recipe:
1 lb ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 can of Rotel (tomatoes with chilis)
1 can diced chilis (small can)
2 pkgs shredded Mexican cheese
2 large cans of enchilada sauce
1 pkg flour tortillas

1.  Cook meat, just before done, drain fat and add tomatoes with chilis and diced chilis. Finish cooking.
2.  Pour enough sauce in bottom of baking dish to cover.
3. Fill enchiladas with 1/3 meat and cheese in center. Cut off rounded ends, and then roll together. Place in pan seam side down.
4. Cover all with sauce and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. Then add more cheese to top and bake to melt.
5. Serve with sour cream and guac!

Then on Sunday we had a church pot luck fundraiser to benefit Imagine LA. I made a Mediterranean pasta salad and it's not only easy but sooooo good! I had it first at Whole Foods, but then when I Googled it, I came up with a new blog that I just love. She had the recipe! So credit to you!

Pasta with Spinach, Feta and Olives
Serves 4 (except it occasionally only serves 2)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced (increase or decrease to taste)
6 cups hot cooked pasta
2 cups chopped spinach
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives (oh, go ahead, do 1/2 cup, you know you want to)
2 tbsp capers (rinse if they're salted)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Whisk olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic in a large bowl. Add everything else and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

So good!
Hot Onion Soufflé
SERVES 6 – 8

This recipe, from Heart and Soul, the 1992 Memphis Junior League Cookbook, is prone to disappearing quickly when served at parties.

1 14-oz. package frozen chopped onions, thawed
24 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Drain chopped onions in a colander, then squeeze out any excess liquid. Put onions into a medium bowl. Add cream cheese, parmesan cheese, and mayonnaise and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.

2. Transfer onion–cheese mixture to a 1-quart soufflé dish, smoothing top slightly with the back of a spoon. Bake dip until top is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with corn chips or crackers, if you like. 

I don't know anyone who doesn't like potato salad. I like to make it, and I like to eat it! If you need to bring something to a barbeque or pot luck, try this recipe. It's different and delicious. Someone always asks me for the recipe every time I bring this dish to a function. You can also make it with low fat or fat free sour cream and mayonnaise for a healthier version.

New Potato Salad
1 ½ lbs new potatoes, skin on, cubed and steamed until just tender
1 small sweet onion (like a Walla Walla), chopped fine
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced

½ cup sour cream
2 tbsp mayonnaise
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp tarragon
1 tsp caraway seeds
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine the salad ingredients. Mix together the dressing ingredients, toss with salad ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serves 4 – 6. Can be doubled.

At Park Avenue Potluck: Recipes from New York's Savviest Hostesses: The Society of Memorial Sloan Ketteri

Far East Chicken Salad
1 can (12 oz.) chicken
1 can (8 oz.) sliced water chestnuts, drained
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp hot chili sauce (or to taste)
shredded cabbage, shredded carrots and, if available, shredded lettuce (4 cups total)
1/2 cup chow mein noodles
1/4 cup cashews or peanuts

Mix rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and hot sauce. Add all other ingredients and mix.  Makes 4 - 5 servings

Pineapple Cake
My kids won’t let us go to a potluck on the beach without making our Pineapple Cake with Cream Sauce.

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tspn baking soda
20-ounce can of crushed pineapple (with juice)
2 beaten eggs
2/3 cup of brown sugar

Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cream (can use canned cream)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tspn vanilla

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Mix flour, sugar and baking soda. Add beaten eggs and pineapple with juice to dry ingredients. Mix. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9 inch pan that has been greased and floured. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top of the batter. Bake for about 30 minutes.


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