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Friday, January 3, 2014

You don't need to go out and buy special ingredients, to make something to bring to a potluck

Using what you have on hand can save you a bundle. When I'm invited to a potluck, and I want to bring something special, taking a survey of what's in my pantry, fridge and freezer can yield some wonderful treasures to add to a dish or two.

As so many of us on these blogs are, I happen to be good with bread-baking. So that is my first thought when invited to a potluck. Homemade bread is devoured at these sort of events. I will also offer to bring a dessert. Dessert is a very flexible category. It can be anything from a simple plate of cookies or pan of brownies, to a cake, pie or cobbler. Most potlucks seem to feature home-style cooking, so what may seem like an ordinary dessert, like a cobbler or crisp, becomes a star when you add one or two extras to the recipe.

To the potluck we went on New Year's Day, I brought a golden loaf of homemade rosemary French bread, 2 crusty whole wheat baguettes and a dessert. Believe me, the bread was a hit. People who normally eat shop-bought bread think that homemade bread is out of this world. There were just 3 small slices of the baguettes left (the rosemary bread was gone halfway through the afternoon) at the end of the night. The only addition to make my homemade bread "special', was 2 tablespoons of minced, fresh rosemary from the fridge. I took great care in the baking of the loaves, so that they would be both beautiful and delicious.

For dessert, I took a quick survey of my discerning staff (my two teen daughters). In our conference room (the family room), we "brainstormed" and made pie charts, bar charts, line charts, graphs, etc., and postulated theories as to the demographics of the intended gathering, and came up with this:

I needed to check the kitchen for ingredients, then work from there.

I still had some apples from last fall's harvest, some pecans from an earlier purchase, lots of sugar, flour, butter and spices. But no eggs. So, whatever it would be, it had to be egg-less. That's when I searched online for desserts, listing my key ingredients, apples, spices and pecans. I came up with a recipe for a pecan-apple crumble. It was fabulous. It had a crispy and nutty topping, with soft and spicy apples beneath. I used whole allspice and ground the berries myself, for the freshest spicy flavor ever. My hostess had some vanilla ice cream to go with it. And once again, this was a hit. The men loved it, the women loved it, and my kids devoured the extra little bit that I had made for us.

There was no need to run out and buy special ingredients for the items I brought to the potluck. I used just what I had in my kitchen. And I didn't need to follow any complicated recipes. I stuck with what I know and do best.

For you, appetizers might be your thing. Or maybe it's a salad that you make that's enjoyed by all. Whatever your specialty, use what you have on hand and stick to what you do well. You may have had it so many times that you're growing weary of it. But to others, it's new and delicious -- the hit of the party. There really is no need to pop out to the store for special ingredients. You likely have all that you need at home, to make your signature dish for the next potluck you attend.


Liz @ Economies of Kale said...

I definitely agree, and people are sometimes amazed that you can cook anything to bring to a party (a lot of my friends will bring a pack of chips or a packet of cookies). I like to bring homemade dips to parties, as I usually have yogurt or tahini and veggies in the house.

Jayne said...

Both items that you took to the event sound so delicious! I think the little extra touches like fresh rosemary and freshly grounded allspice added to it.

Regarding your "no eggs" situation, I recently re-read an article that mentioned flax seed as a substitution. You may already know this, but just in case you don't, you can substitute 2 Tbsp ground flax seed and 3 Tbsp water for each egg (this is presuming that you have flaxseeds on hand).

Belinda said...

Such a great example of using what you have on hand to save money. You're right, homemade bread is devoured! When I've made it in the past, it is gobbled up right away. Your dessert sounds delicious. Searching online for a recipe using ingredients you have on hand is such a good way to save money. And what a good feeling it must have been for you that both items were a hit. :)

Lili said...

Hi Liz,
Oh, especially in your age group, friends must really be amazed that you cook so much from scratch! My son is not too much younger than you and his friends (both men and women) bring so much commercially prepared stuff when they come over. And easy to make things, too, like guacamole.
You've established excellent habits to last your lifetime, at such a young age!

Delores said...

It wasn't so long ago that everyone brought home-cooking to potlucks. Things have changed in the way that people think about foods for their families as well as friendship gatherings.

Lili said...

Hi Jayne,
These past couple of weeks, I have discovered just how much you can bake without eggs. Even without any substitutes like soy flour or ground flax seed, I was able to make egg-less waffles for New Year's breakfast the other day. I never would have thought that was possible, before trying.

I just used a regular recipe, cutting in the shortening/oil with the dry ingredients, then adding just a bit more liquid to make the batter. It was a lot like making drop biscuits, which don't take any eggs at all. They might not have had keeping qualities, but they were delicious for breakfast that day.

My guess is that in the "olden days", people often cooked all winter long without eggs, and did just fine.

If you haven't tried freshly ground allspice, oh is it ever flavorful.I never liked commercially ground allspice before. I thought it was flavorless. Freshly ground is really full of flavor!

Lili said...

Hi Belinda,
I've had my share of things at potlucks that just sat there. I think bringing homemade bread is always a huge hit, and I'll stick to that in the future.
We have so many advantages in cooking, that our mother's didn't have, especially with the ability to go online and search for a recipe based on the ingredients that we currently have.
It was a good feeling! :-)

Lili said...

Hi Delores,
I think you're right about that. I don't ever remember my mother buying something to bring to a potluck. Potlucks were a place for women to "showcase" their specialties. And women took immense pride in the dishes that they'd prepared to bring, almost to a competitive level.

My mom had a couple of signature dishes that she always prepared, cheesecake, cream cheese and bleu cheese ball, a chicken salad and a bar cookie recipe. Every woman in her gathering seemed to have a different few dishes, which made the meals together so interesting.

Kath Berry said...

What you said in your last paragraph is so-o-o-o true! I make a really good layered dip that I bring to get-togethers. I'm tired of it. My family is tired of it. But when I bring it to Bunco night, everybody just thinks it's the greatest dip that they've tasted.

Jacqueline said...

Good morning, Lili. The rosemary bread sounds absolutely yummy! I adore rosemary, and I'm lucky that it is an evergreen where I live. Can I ask, do you use a bread maker to make your French bread dough, or do you mix and knead by hand?

Lili said...

Hi Kath,
I think that sometimes we just over-think what to bring to potlucks. Your dip is a real crowd-pleaser, it sounds. You've had it dozens of times, but your bunco group has not.

What's in your dip? Do you make it the same every time, or do you vary what you put in the layers?

Lili said...

Hi Jacqueline,
My bread maker bit the dust a while back. But I sometimes knead dough in the food processor, if I'm feeling lazy. Or by hand, especially when it's just a small batch. But also, if I'm doing a quadruple batch (enough for 2 pizzas and 3 baguettes), I just use the KitchenAid mixer. The mixer doesn't do as well with small amounts, so use it primarily for large batches of dough. I guess my answer is that I do the dough whichever way suits me at the moment. I know -- I'm not much help here, am I?! :-)
Do you make bread? How do you prefer to mix and knead?

The Prudent Homemaker said...

I made a homemade pasta salad with homemade Italian dressing on it to the last potluck I attended. It was specifically a salad meal (everyone was supposed to bring a salad). Most of the salads were pre-made! One person was asking for another person's recipe for a salad, and she said that she just bought the mix and tossed it together. Everything came chopped with the dressing.

In the spring, I have lettuce, and I bring salad with lettuce from the garden.

ruthie said...

The rosemary bread sounds wonderful. Do you grow it? It's pricey when you buy it fresh. How long will it keep in the fridge?

Live and Learn said...

When I go to potlucks, I hope that everyone brings their specialty dish--meaning something that they always make. Usually it's not a fancy dish, but always tasty.

Anonymous said...

You say, the rosemary was from your fridge. Do you grow it in your garden or had you purchased it previously?
How much did you add to the recipe?

Anonymous said...

Fresh eggs keep for months, if you don't wash off the protective coating. I know a family of 4 with 10 hens. Although the girls don't lay when the days are short & cold, the family eat fresh eggs year round. They told a story of a hen who was laying her eggs off in the woods. When they found the clutch there were 20 eggs in it (so the frst one was 20 days old) they ate all those eggs with no ill effects.

Anonymous said...

So in the olden days when most families had backyard chickens they could still have eggs in the winter months.

Lili said...

Hi Brandy,
Your pasta salad sounds delicious. And a very frugal choice, with the stock up of pasta you were able to make in the last few months (was that just this fall?).

So strange that people would bring a boughten salad to a potluck. But maybe it's more than just not enough time. I think some women feel intimidated by the other women in a group, who cook and bake from scratch with ease. It's a shame, because I think just about everybody can make something and do it well. Some women just don't know what they're capable of, yet.

Lili said...

Hi Ruthie,
I have 2 pots of rosemary on my deck. I go out and pick a handful of sprigs once every few weeks. It keeps in the fridge for 3-4 weeks, with the stems submerged in water. I love it! Something fresh to add to dishes, when most of the garden herbs aren't doing anything.

Lili said...

Hi live and learn,
I know, those are the best dishes! I know a woman who usually brings these out-of-this-world chocolate-mint bars. If she brings something else, does she ever hear about forgetting to make her specialty!

Lili said...

Hi frugal spinster,
I have the rosemary growing in pots on the deck. Even though I could go outside and pick some any time during winter, it's just too cold to be out there often. So I pick a handful at a time, and keep it in the fridge. This last bunch was from a picking on Dec. 1, and it was still fresh-tasting.
I added about 2 tablespoons of minced rosemary to a French bread recipe that uses 2 cups of flour. It made 1 round loaf of bread.

Lili said...

I know in the fridge, eggs can keep for months, with no ill effects. I do remember from some historical fiction, that in winter, to keep hens laying, you need to add something to their diet.

I've read of a couple of old-timey ways to store eggs. One was in a jar of lard. Submerging the eggs in a crock of lard kept them edible all winter.

Kris said...

As others have mentioned above, I think homemade goods are a rarity these days. A few years ago we had a friend over--it was a last-minute affair and I was making meatloaf. NOT what I would normally serve company--but he was thrilled and devoured it. So I've learned not to try to be fancy--just cook or bake simply but do it well.

DW said...

I'm not sure some younger folks see the value in cooking. At work, someone mentioned baking a pie ... another worker looked at her quite puzzled and asked, "Why? You can just go buy one from the store."

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
I think that's the key, to do something simple, but do it well.
It is funny, hanging around these blogs you'd think that everybody cooks from scratch. But we're just a sliver of the general population.

I bet your meatloaf was delicious!

Lili said...

Hi DW,
Isn't that sad! I hate to see something as basic as home-cooking become something of the past. I am hopeful that there will always be some folks who do enjoy cooking.

Anna@stuffedveggies said...

You're so right about the homemade bread! Yesterday, I took 4 #1 loaves to a rather small potluck (about 20 people) - and there was not a piece left when I went home! It is especially appreciated by the kids in families with a GF Mom! Bread is seen as an out-of-this-world treat by them! : ) They also devoured 3 dozen homemade cookies.

Lili said...

Hi Anna,
Those kids must have loooooved your baking! And I bet the GF mom was happy her kids could have something that she doesn't keep in the house.
I brought a large pan of dinner rolls to a potluck recently, and people just hung around that pan eating rolls, and telling me how good they were. Meanwhile, in my head, I was thinking, "but they're just rolls".

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