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Potluck "theme" ideas?


Sunny Simmons Steincamp
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We have a gathering of people at our home every week, and usually I make dinner, but lately it's gotten so that there are so many people that my husband has laid down the law, so to speak, on the expenditure. We have, in the past, done the occasional potluck dinner instead (usually when I have something else pressing going on that keeps me from spending the whole day in the kitchen!) but it's going to have to become the exception rather than the rule for a while.

Thing is, I want to keep up the tradition I started of having a "theme" each week for the food, so I need help coming up with a bunch of ideas in this respect. Outside of the usual suspects (specific ethnic cuisines, holiday-specific foods, all-appetizer suppers - a big favorite - bring-your-own cookouts, etc.) I could really use some inspiration!

Generally, even with a potluck scenario, I make bread and dessert. Our gatherings vary in attendance from 12-15 to 40ish, with most nights seeing an average of 20-25. We range in age from toddlers to 60-somethings and come from all walks of life. There are some vegetarians & vegans lurking in our midst, but they're not the militant types so we're cool with meat dishes, but any theme should be able to incorporate at least some vegan offerings as well.

We often grill, even in the winter, and people are just as happy to bring raw or marinated things to cook that way. We also have a bonfire every week, weather permitting, and sometimes even cook over that! (Last week we did a "weenie roast" with potluck sides.)

One thing to keep in mind is that the average degree of palate sophistication is not terribly high... so no "Ode to Offal" nights or anything. :) I will say, however, that everyone has been willing to try new things when I make them... I've introduced people to lots of new foods over the past few years. I'm just running out of original ideas!

Any suggestions would really be appreciated!

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I know there is a thread about a party with all the food on skewers in here somewhere....satays, veggie kabobs, fruit kabobs, tortellini even work with a vinaigret to dip in

you could try an updated hot dish party and hope you get an artichoke and crab hot dip and finish with cobblers, the middle part might be scarey

or different chili recipes assign different meats or veg to people and make corn bread and a toppings bar

or different decades

tracey

Edited by rooftop1000 (log)

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

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1. Tapas

2. Eggplant

3. Garlic

4. Chocolate

5. Rice

6. Tea

7. Wine

8. Legs

9. Blue

10. Circles

11. Slippery

12. A specific cookbook—with host handing out recipes

13. The September 2007 issue of Gourmet on Latino America

14. Move beyond generic ethnic to delve more seriously into a specific Mexican, French, Chinese or Italian region

15. Sandwiches

16. Sexual fantasies & fetishes

17. Favorite childhood food

18. What your spouse/beloved/ex won't eat

19. Something you love that you hated as a child

20. Molecular Gastronomy

21. What you'd serve during a presidential/candidate's visit

22. Were Chopin's Sonata No 2 in B flat minor edible, what would it taste like?

23. "Oops, I did it again…"

24. Jazz

25. Purity

26. Processed foods Prize to the most delicious concoction (seriously)

27. Dishes made from local, seasonal ingredients Exclusively? Permit oils, flours & spices?

28. Manifest Destiny

29. Satire

30. Architecture

31. Cafeteria

32. Purgatory

33. The 1980s (cf. a previous thread on the subject; for a book club meeting)

34. Earth Air Fire Water (One month—or substitute Wood & Metal for Air )

35. Cake vs. Pie

36. Gender

37. Multiculturalism

38. Senior Prom

39. Husks & Leaves

40. Hot Enough For You?

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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1. Tapas

2. Eggplant

3. Garlic

4. Chocolate

5. Rice

6. Tea

7. Wine

8. Legs

9. Blue

10. Circles

11. Slippery

12. A specific cookbook—with host handing out recipes

13. The September 2007 issue of Gourmet on Latino America

14. Move beyond generic ethnic to delve more seriously into a specific Mexican, French, Chinese or Italian region

15. Sandwiches

16. Sexual fantasies & fetishes

17. Favorite childhood food

18. What your spouse/beloved/ex won't eat

19. Something you love that you hated as a child

20. Molecular Gastronomy

21. What you'd serve during a presidential/candidate's visit

22. Were Chopin's Sonata No  2 in B flat minor edible, what would it taste like?

23. "Oops, I did it again…"

24. Jazz

25. Purity

26. Processed foods        Prize to the most delicious concoction (seriously)

27. Dishes made from local, seasonal ingredients  Exclusively?  Permit oils, flours & spices?

28. Manifest Destiny

29. Satire

30. Architecture

31. Cafeteria 

32. Purgatory

33. The 1980s  (cf. a previous thread on the subject; for a book club meeting)

34. Earth    Air  Fire  Water  (One month—or substitute Wood & Metal for Air )

35. Cake vs.  Pie

36. Gender

37. Multiculturalism

38. Senior Prom

39.  Husks & Leaves

40.  Hot Enough For You?

This must be the list that Bravo uses for Top Chef competitions ! :raz:

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Wow, thanks for all the great ideas so far!

rooftop1000, I've searched and searched but can't find the thread you mentioned... any ideas? I'm dying to see how a tortellini kabob was made!

amccomb, breakfast is a GREAT hit when we do it... haven't done so in a while, so thanks for the reminder. As a switcheroo, sometimes we cheat and have peach cobbler for breakfast, too! (Lots of times, we have overnight guests, as we live so far out in the country.)

pontormo -- woo! Lots of good ideas here. Some of 'em, I'd have to think real hard about to put into practice! Where on earth did you come up with all of these? Thanks!

And Peter... *doh* I LOVE curries and have never even thought of doing this. Thanks!

PS: Last night we had a build-your-own panini party. I made several different breads and put together a sandwich assembly bar with some homemade spreads & a lot of different condiments. My guests brought meat(s) and cheese(s), enough for themselves plus a little extra to share/swap, and then everyone got to design their sandwich(es!) and grill them. Quite fun and tasty!

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How about build your own pizza?  You could have dough ready and everyone could bring sauces and toppings?

This is a great idea, and one of my "go to's." Even though I want to branch out, we'll still probably do pizza night pretty regularly. There are just SO many permutations... and really none of my guests are cooks, themselves, so they just love trying different sauces, different types of pizza dough, etc. We're actually doing "Greek Pizza Night" next week, since in ages past, this weekend would mark the beginning of the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis!

Thanks!

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How about build your own pizza?  You could have dough ready and everyone could bring sauces and toppings?

This is a great idea, and one of my "go to's." Even though I want to branch out, we'll still probably do pizza night pretty regularly. There are just SO many permutations... and really none of my guests are cooks, themselves, so they just love trying different sauces, different types of pizza dough, etc. We're actually doing "Greek Pizza Night" next week, since in ages past, this weekend would mark the beginning of the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis!

Thanks!

Sorry I wasn't more creative. I'll keep thinking!

I had an idea about a "stir fry" night.....but it's hard to come up with different versions of that.

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A lot of these themes sound great. Nonetheless, I would urge caution. Most people aren't culinary polymaths. They have at most a comfort zone that includes a few dishes. And to them it's already stressful enough to have to cook something for a potluck. When you assign a theme, you run the risk of crossing the line into imposition territory. I might bristle if told, "Dinner is pot-luck, and you have to make a dish from the following cookbook." Actually, I'm sure I'd bristle. I would probably decline the invitation. So do be sensitive here.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Sorry I wasn't more creative.  I'll keep thinking!

I had an idea about a "stir fry" night.....but it's hard to come up with different versions of that.

Nope, it's a great idea... and always a favorite here. And I think stir fry could work for our group. They're good about "signing up" for specific things... and they do like stir fry when I make it.

Thanks again!

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A lot of these themes sound great. Nonetheless, I would urge caution. Most people aren't culinary polymaths. They have at most a comfort zone that includes a few dishes. And to them it's already stressful enough to have to cook something for a potluck. When you assign a theme, you run the risk of crossing the line into imposition territory. I might bristle if told, "Dinner is pot-luck, and you have to make a dish from the following cookbook." Actually, I'm sure I'd bristle. I would probably decline the invitation. So do be sensitive here.

Very good point. It's a church group (the hippie heathen type) and as I said, none of them really cook to any great degree. We try to keep things simple, since we meet every week for one thing, and also because many of these people drive over an hour to get out here to our place. They have really enjoyed trying new things, but they'd be intimidated by any overzealous assignments, for sure. :)

Definitely something to keep in mind, so I don't get too carried away!

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My college senior daughter and her roommates are planning a "Soviet" party. May not work for your group of hippie heathens, but everyone is to wear red, they have to bring a bottle of vodka but can't drink from their own, and there is a single distribution point for the bread that everyone has to stand in line for.

Not exactly politically correct, but one of the co-hosts for the party is Ukranian and it was her idea.

They plan on serving potato soup, bliny, borscht, cabbage rolls, and stroganoff.

Mom's not invited. :rolleyes:

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My college senior daughter and her roommates are planning a "Soviet" party. May not work for your group of hippie heathens, but everyone is to wear red, they have to bring a bottle of vodka but can't drink from their own, and there is a single distribution point for the bread that everyone has to stand in line for.

Not exactly politically correct, but one of the co-hosts for the party is Ukranian and it was her idea.

They plan on serving potato soup, bliny, borscht, cabbage rolls, and stroganoff.

Mom's not invited.  :rolleyes:

I MUST do this one !

One of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas is RED SQUARE, where their tag line is

"Join the Party!" next to a (duh) red square........... :wink:

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My college senior daughter and her roommates are planning a "Soviet" party. May not work for your group of hippie heathens, but everyone is to wear red, they have to bring a bottle of vodka but can't drink from their own, and there is a single distribution point for the bread that everyone has to stand in line for.

Not exactly politically correct, but one of the co-hosts for the party is Ukranian and it was her idea.

They plan on serving potato soup, bliny, borscht, cabbage rolls, and stroganoff.

Mom's not invited.  :rolleyes:

I MUST do this one !

One of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas is RED SQUARE, where their tag line is

"Join the Party!" next to a (duh) red square........... :wink:

Both ideas, or variations thereof... priceless. (And you'd be surprised what a group of hippie heathens will wind up enjoying!)

Thanks!

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We've got a thread somewhere on eGullet regarding some sort of "white trash" party. In addition to bringing low-rent food, I think they were also supposed to arrive in costume....ratty wife-beater tee-shirts and transmission shop gimme hats.

Pretty funny thread, as I recall it.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I used to have great success with a potluck picnic basket swap.

Everybody brings a picnic "basket" with a complete meal for two, including paper plates, a drink, cups, cutlery, napkins, dessert. They bring them in an unmarked large brown paper bag. Then you set all the bags on a table and everyone selects one. If you get your own back, you trade with someone else.

This is especially fun if, depending upon the weather and your house, you can set up tables or blankets out in your backyard and everybody actually does sit around and have a picnic.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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