Trying to figure out what to bring to the next potluck? Read on! The PescoVegetarian Times has conducted an experiment to determine which items at potlucks are most popular.
Yes, Michelle and I turned our annual ChrisKwanukah holiday party into a friendly cooking competition this year. Everyone got a chance to vote on their favorite dish in four categories: best appetizer, best main dish, best dessert, and the popular wild card category, the best “Yes, I made it! I made my way to the store to buy it” store-bought item.
While not exactly a controlled lab test, the PescoVegetarian Times did allow meat dishes to compete–strictly in the interest of science, of course. What’s more, the results were tabulated by my neighbor, Judy Glaven, who’s a PhD scientist, so hopefully some magic science dust got sprinkled over the data.
Here–in unscientific order of importance–are my tips:
1. Come early. The first entrants got to put their dish in the best places on the table and more people got a chance to sample what they made. I thought Jacquie Bishop’s “Celtic Cod and Veggie Soup” was one of the best dishes, but because she was a late arrival, hardly anyone tasted it. Several worthy chefs didn’t even make it into the contest because I accidentally missed their entries (sorry, folks!)
2. Make it a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The winning appetizer, which we unfortunately did not photograph, was Amelie Ratliff’s beautiful “Stuffed Endive.” She made three different dips, which she spread in individual endive leaves and fanned out on a large round platter. In addition to looking good, you could kind of guess what you were about to eat. It was also light and healthy, which enabled our guests to feel entitled to eat at least one extra dessert. (This dieting tip only works if you don’t look at the scale the next day.)
3. Old favorites (especially with a twist) are always a hit. Our neighbor, Phoebe O’Mara, brought sweet and sour meat balls, the main course winner. As a pescovegetarian, I was unable to taste her entrée, but I heard it was great. Of course, she had a bit of an advantage, as she lives next door and was able to bring her own crock pot with her.
4. Shrimp sells. All of the shrimp dishes, including Evelynn Hammonds’ “Shrimp Pesto Pizza,” which she assembled and baked at our house, went fast. Of course, she was one of the first people to arrive, proving tip #1. Kate Raisz and Stephanie Stewart’s “Shrimp with Feta” also got eaten, along with the shrimp cocktail that Michelle and I provided. (As hosts, Michelle and I were not allowed to enter the contest, although I’m proud to say quite a few people wanted to vote for the Moroccan (Kwanzaa) Chicken, Lemon Couscous, Spinach and Chickpea Curry, and the three kinds of latkes we made.)
5. Any kind of meat is a winner. Evan Williams made a “Helvetican Pot Roast,” which was also a hit, as were the aforementioned meatballs and chicken. I’ve always associated Helvetica with a typeface rather than food, but apparently Helvetica is also the Latin name for Switzerland, and this was a Swiss-inspired dish. Who knew?
6. Don’t apologize for what you made. Quite a few of our guests, including one of our winners, looked sadly at their dishes and said, “It didn’t come out as good as I hoped. Don’t put it in the contest,” yet I heard many of these same dishes praised. Chin up. Think about the crap that people eat McDonald’s every day. Whatever you brought it is bound to be tastier.
7. There’s always room for dessert. Between the home-made and the store-bought ones, there were at least ten desserts, and our guests almost managed to eat them all. The hands-down winner in the home-made dessert category was Dick Lehr’s delicious Mocha Cake. It was so good that people didn’t believe he made it.
8. If you can’t cook, bring something fabulous. There was lots of competition in the store-bought category, from the fabulous platter of sushi from JP Seafood that Glenda Buell had delivered to some wonderful wine. The winner, Jon “Satch” Satriale, not only worked the crowd, asking them to vote for him, but hedged his bets by bringing cannolis from both Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry in the North End. My personal favorite was the “Happy Chriswanukah!” cake pictured above, which was “brung” by Elyse Cherry. She was embarrassed that Chriskwanukah was misspelled, but I say, see tip #6!