Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Party Potluck Ideas

I don't know how you good people are managing your social dance cards this holiday season, but mine are a bit full. Of course, this is both a blessing--to have lots of friends--and a curse--to have to prepare many potluck dishes to bring to many events during this terribly busy time, right at the end of the semester.  So let me offer a few quick-and-easy people pleasers.

First on the docket was my office potluck which I had very little advance notice about and just one evening to prepare for (after teaching a night class, I might add). It was to take place on the last day of the term after two, three-hour finals and shortly before our winter graduation ceremony. When I was bouncing ideas off of my roommate the night before, I blurted out that I really needed something that I could throw in a crock pot when I got to school in the morning, and it would take care of itself all day and be ready to serve in the late afternoon. We considered soup, but I knew of two people that were already bringing some, so we started discussing hot dips. We briefly toyed with the idea of that Rotel cheese dip that everyone is crazy about, but I HATE processed cheese sauce, and I knew I would never live it down if I served something Velveeta-based to my colleagues.

When I contemplated my favorite hot dip that I'd ever sampled at a potluck gathering, my mind went immediately to an artichoke dip that I first had at a Christmas party a few years ago. It was baked, but I thought it might work in a slow cooker. I made a few adaptations--mainly, the inclusion of crabmeat--and I took home a clean crockpot from my office party!  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Crockpot Crab and Artichoke Dip

2 cans artichoke hearts, drained
1 (8 oz.) brick cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 (8 oz.) bag shredded Italian cheese blend (mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, asiago, fontina, romano)
1 can crabmeat, drained
2 teaspoons dill weed
2 to 4 cloves garlic (to taste), peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
several shakes of hot sauce, to taste
juice of half a lemon

Blitz the artichoke hearts in a food processor, then blend in the cream cheese and mayo. Scrape this out into your crock pot, and add the cheese, crab, and the rest of the seasonings. Stir everything together and turn the crock pot on high for an hour or so, until it's hot all the way through, then lower the heat to keep the dip warm throughout your party. Serve with sliced rounds of a crusty baguette that you have toasted in the oven just before serving.

Right on the heels of our gathering at work was my officemate's Christmas annual Christmas party. And I was so wiped out from the crashing halt of the semester that I wasn't feeling like coming up with anything too intricate. Luckily, my divine friend, Phillip, and his lovely hubby, Rob sent me an early and very tasty Christmas present this year: Medjool dates and date crystals from Shields Date Farm near Indio, CA. So for the party, I made a special hors d'oeuvre--those ginormous, sweet, almost creamy Medjool dates filled with tangy goat cheese and wrapped in bacon. I didn't follow any recipe--you don't really need to. But here's the jist of what I did:

I sliced each date on one side, filled the cavity with goat cheese, wrapped it in a half piece of extra-thick, very smoky bacon, and secured it with a toothpick. I placed them all on Silpay-lined trays and baked them at 400 degrees until the bacon was crispy (15-20 minutes?), turning them halfway through to promote even browning. They were very yummy, although I think I might try filling them with a blue cheese next time just for kicks!

I have one last idea if you're REALLY in a time crunch and can't even cook anything for an event. I have a couple of friends--who shall remain nameless--who often bring the following salad to potluck gatherings (because they can't be bothered to actually cook?!). It's an elegant, delicious, usually lighter offering to offset so many heavy dishes, and is something that the vegetarians can enjoy, too. And the best part of all, to prepare the salad, mostly what you need to do is open bags and assemble! I'm sure many of you already have a version of this salad in your repertoire, but just in case, consider this the master formula with infinite variations.

You start with mixed baby greens, any blend you prefer. Alternately, baby spinach on its own is lovely. Secondly, you add crumbled cheese, feta (plain or flavored) or a bleu. Third, you add nuts--pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds or even sunflower seeds. Some onion is optional, scallions or slivers of red onion. Lastly, you add fruit: strawberries in the summer, apples in the fall, or dried cranberries all year round (have you tried the pomegranate juice-infused Ocean Spray craisins?). Then you dress it all with--and this is KEY--Newman's Own Raspberry Walnut Light Vinaigrette (though your favorite balsamic dressing is yummy, too).  So easy, so sophisticated, so YUMMY, that you're guaranteed to take home an empty bowl from your party or potluck! Better yet, you should make a version of this salad weekly at your own house--it's just that good!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, everyone! Enjoy them, and don't let them stress you out! :-)

1 comment:

mackyton said...
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