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I'm a Potluck FAILURE

I try so hard. Research recipes, try to please the majority of palates and whatever dish I bring in is usually unpopular!

Now I'm organizing a potluck for Thanksgiving. I want "holiday" type dishes. I know I could buy a pie or something, but we always lack for main / hearty type dishes.

Here are my constraints: No kitchen in the office, no refrigerator. I can use a cooler to keep something cold and I have a crockpot.

OK, give me your best shot!

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  1. Janet, if it's any consolation, I have the same problem. I am anxious to see the replies to your post, especially with holiday/potluck season upon us.

    ~TDQ

    1 Reply
    1. What about making a tart tatin? You can make it the night before and bring it in. It's close enough to apple pie that people should like it, but still 'fancy' enough to impress.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MMRuth

        Pecan Tassies, thay are not the main dish sorry, they are like mini pecan pies that are great and are a huge hit at holiday time, I can post my recipe or there are some very good ones on the web
        http://www.pamperedchef.com/our_produ...

        1. re: MMRuth

          Oops - I missed the 'main course' bit - sorry.

        2. You say you need a main dish.... I was thinking of a mixed salad with a variety of veggies and either chicken or shrimp. (These could be plated on the side.) The salad can be made sans dressing at home.....mix up the dressing and store in a jar in the fridge. The chicken can either be rotisserie from the market or grilled chicken breasts the night before at home. Since it will be served cold/room temp you won't need anything but the cooler to lug to the office. A nice loaf of crusty bread could accompany the salad.

          1. My potluck success story was a recipe given to me by a friend who, I think, got it out of Taste of Home magazine. I live in a rural NH town. An elderly church lady phoned me later for the recipe.
            Winter Salad - the dressing is a homemade poppy seed dressing with lemon juice in it. It's key to the success of the salad.
            Salad ingredients are: romaine lettuce, torn,
            a pear, cored and diced (I get the brown ones, Bosc?)
            an apple, cored and diced (I toss these two items in a little lemon juice to prevent browning)
            Shredded Swiss cheese
            unsalted cashews
            dried cranberries.
            I think that's it. It's a great salad for those times when fresh from the garden tomatoes aren't available. Everyone seems to like it.
            Potluck dishes in my area seem to be the same ones that have been going around for 100 years. For a family event, I take meatballs in a sauce made from brown sugar and chili sauce. Does great in a crock pot. But a lot of people bring meatballs in some kind of sauce. Taste of Home would be a good source of popular potluck recipes. Our relatives shy away from anything that looks too different or might be spicy. Good luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: dfrostnh

              That sounds great!
              Now how do you make the homemade poppy seed dressing?

            2. in the crock pot:
              macaroni and cheese with bacon pieces in it
              sweet potatoes and apples with a brown sugar-orange juice glaze
              sweet and sour meatballs

              or grueyre cheese puffs, which are just fine at room temp

              1. For about 10 years, my contribution to the office holiday luncheon was a big pot of cream of broccoli soup and there was never any left at the end of the day.

                1. This is one comonent that a friend served at a luncheon which I found impressive, yet very easy to prepare. Mini-biscuit sandwiches made with (store bought frozen) puff-pastry - split in half and filled with tuna/chicken/pimento.

                  All fillings could be made with Miracle Whip, so refridgeration wouldn't be such an issue. Where I had it served, the fillings were made somewhat bland, but she had green olives and gerkins on the side for some extra flavor.

                  Buy the puff pastry in the frozen section and cut into 1-1/2 or 2" rounds - bake per directions
                  Buy rotisserie chicken for the salad

                  It's easy and relatively inexpensive, plus the puff pastry adds a little piss-elegance.

                  1. I've found the simpler, the quicker the dish disappears. Meatballs, chili, skewers (meat on sticks disappear fast), covered in cheese, things that are easy to eat. One guy brought the best potato salad to one, once, it had blue cheese, red, white and purple potatoes, peas--delicious but I was the only one to touch it until I started raving about it to others.

                    1. STOP TRYING SO HARD! Just STOP it!
                      ok - get a 9x13 pyrex.
                      Chop tomatoes, lettuce, onions, buy a bag or two of shredded cheese, a container of sour cream, a few avocados, a few can of refrieds, and make some real salsa in a blender the night before. Please - everobody should just STOP with the jarred/canned salsa. It is So nasty. Make your 7 layer dip. Bring a can opener, and a knife for the avocadoes. If you cannot construct this in 5 min, you are doing something wrong. serve with some real chips (not "nacho" chips or tostitos. Use real chips.) If this isn't raved about, you are just not eating with hounds.

                      Homemade sub sammiches. buy REAL meat - do NOT buy things like "DEli Style Turkey Breast - you know - the stuff that subway claims is meat? Buy real meat, and simply make sandwiches out of a good french/italian loaf - lettuce tomato, REAL mayo, maybe a dressing of evoo, /vinegar, garlic, and basil?

                      When you re-introduce people to REAL food, they simply go nuts over it.

                      Life is WAAAY too short to agonize over something that can be so easy if you just let it be easy. A good sammich that travels well trumps mediocre reheated microwaved concoction that doesn't keep well any day of the week. 90% of the battle is working with "what you've got."

                      1. How about stuffing/dressing in your crockpot? The crockpot keeps it nice and moist. 464 people can't be wrong.

                        http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Slow-Coo...

                        Find something from the crockpot lady. She has 310 different recipes with her review of each. There are nifty categories on the left which will help you pick something that goes with your preference. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

                        1. My go-to crockpot dish is usually Artichoke Crab dip served with some good crusty bread, it's always a crowd pleaser.

                          For more of an entree, spinkle a 3 lb. turkey breast with cinnamon, pour a good orange marmalade over it and cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Serve with cranberry biscuits to complete the holiday theme. Super easy.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: oldbaycupcake

                            i'd definitely be ecstatic having artichoke crab dip with crusty bread as my main dish!!!

                            do you use garlic in your crab dip? ;-)

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Usually don't use garlic for this recipe which yields 2 lbs. & I usually double it for parties. Recipe is from a regional crab cookbook & has capers, lemon juice, Old Bay, hot sauce and onion soup mix for seasonings. For crab dip without artichoke I do use roasted Great MD or elephant garlic.

                              1. re: oldbaycupcake

                                yes, oldbaycupcake, please post that recipe. what is roasted great MD? a variety of garlic?

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Great Maryland is basically locally grown Elephant garlic, I believe. Technically both are in the leek family, coulda fooled me! You can use smaller garlic varieties, just use 2 cloves for every one called for. I use Lump Blue Crab meat, sub Gruyere, Parm or White Cheddar cheese for the Cheddar & throw in a little Old Bay seasoning to customize the recipe.

                                  http://www.crabsandseafood.com/recipe...

                            2. re: oldbaycupcake

                              can you post the recipe or post the link? This dip sounds great for the holidays. Even if I don't take it to the potluck, I have some cute holiday dip dishes to give as hostess gifts

                            3. My kids and their friends always ask me to bring deviled eggs to potlucks. I wouldn't have thought they'd be as popular as they are, but they're typically gone in minutes.

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                This is my go to potluck dish, everyone always asks for the recipe,
                                http://www.recipezaar.com/Red-Lentil-...

                                it is a very hearty soup, great with a really nice bread. You could make it up at home and just plug it in at work, or cook it overnight at home and bring it with you. I double the recipe and it would probably feed 10 people. Don't be scared off by the lentil. even non lentil eaters love it. make sure it cooks long enough for the lentils to break down.

                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                  I made this soup the other night and thought it was very good but it's even better with a couple of finely chopped serrano peppers. If you cook it whole time in crock pot I don't think it would be that hot. If you're really worried, just cut some up and serve in a dish alongside so people could sprinkle some in their cups. Next time, I'd put in half as much cumin.

                                  1. re: walker

                                    I often cut back on the cumin b/c my husband hates cumin!

                                  2. re: cleopatra999

                                    Until this thread, I would never have thought of soup for a potluck. What a great idea, especialy as the weather cools. (OK in So Calif we don;t really get cold) Someone suggest cute coffee type cups, another good idea

                                    1. re: cleopatra999

                                      Read this recipe and was surprised by the coconut milk! How does that end up tasting? Can you taste coconut? Does it have an Indian flavor?

                                      1. re: janetms383

                                        I think it seems to have an Indian flavor. If you don't want to add the coconut milk, you can omit. I had a can of regular, not lite, so I added it. It's not a pronounced flavor since there's already so much volume. I think it would freeze well. Everyone I fed it to liked it. The red lentils turn yellow, partly because of the addition of tumeric, I think.

                                        1. re: walker

                                          I personally don't think it has that much of an Indian Flavor, and even less so if you cut the cumin back. I think that the coconut milk blends the taste together and gives it a really nice creaminess. I often use the lite coconut in this with no ill effects. again my SO hates Indian food & loves this soup. In fact I think I will make it tomorrow!

                                          1. re: cleopatra999

                                            Cleo, the recipe says: 2 large carrots, peeled.... but it doesn't say chopped... you chop them don't you?

                                            1. re: janetms383

                                              I, too, thought that must have been in error -- I cut them into pieces -- also added more carrots.

                                              1. re: walker

                                                you are correct, I usually slice them into coins. I also use hot pepper diced instead of hot sauce, but I am sure either would do just fine. I sometimes add more carrots too. I use ground cumin instead of cumin seeds. The original recipe I have from my friend says to roast the seeds then grind, this is too much work for me!

                                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                                  i was wondering about that. I was thinking of adding a couple chopped serrano chilis, and thanks for the tip on the cumin... i wanted to use ground

                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                      Good suggestion. I'm always surprised at how quickly they disappear, too. I've even bought a deviled egg holder and it's become an easy thing to bring. Plus, they're easy to doctor up if you want, or leave plain.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        one absolutely CANNOT go wrong with deviled eggs. even crummy ones get scarfed up! (not that i'm suggesting yours would be crummy, of course!)

                                      2. I have two suggestions. One is a beef carbonade, which can be made ahead, frozen and reheated and would be just fine in a crockpot. The other would be Swedish Meatballs; this also works great to keep warm in a crockpot after you've heated them up beforehand.

                                        I've made both of these for large family holiday potlucks and they go over very well.

                                        The recipes have to be typed out and I'll be happy to do so if you are interested in either.

                                        1. If you want to blow them out of the water, how about Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves? Takes some prep time, but they are popular. Serve with yogurt, tahini sauce or hummus.

                                          I'm liking the meat ball ideas since there are so many variations. Or you could cheat and go semi-homemade with a bag from Smart and Final and homemade sauce - bad Divefan, bad Divefan :-).

                                          I was thinking empanadas or some such turnover, but without a toaster oven heating them could be problematic.

                                          Is there a microwave at work?

                                          1. Janet: How many people are participating? Do you have a microwave for reheating? Do you routinely get mostly pasta, chips, bread type dishes from the other participants? By "holiday" do you mean a dish connected to American Thanksgiving like typical turkey and mashed, or something you eat once a year at holiday time?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: nemo

                                              Nemo,
                                              We do have a microwave. We get a lot of chips and "drinks". Last potluck, I made chicken salad and had small rolls for sandwiches and nobody ate them. I don't know why. We are thinking more festive than actual Thanksgiving, and as of yet, don't have a head count, but about 20

                                              1. re: janetms383

                                                I can't imagine why chicken salad would not fly.

                                                Tell us, in which area of the country do you live?
                                                And what do most of your coworkers like, in other words, which dishes do get eaten?

                                                Is this more a meat & potatoes crowd or vegetarians or ??? Or are they just not all that interested in food? (there are those like that ya know!)

                                                1. re: Isabella

                                                  I'm in so calif and we have a very diverse group. Ethnically, racially.... some vegetarians, but not many. Some single guys that you would think would eat anything

                                            2. I have found over the years that a meatloaf or meatballs really go over well.

                                              OR a simple simple dish. Spread cream cheese in a glass pie plate. Spread cocktail sauce over to cover completely. Top with tiny shrimp and shredded crabmeat. Serve with crackers. Gone. every time.

                                              OR a platter with cooked shrimp/lemon slices/and black olives

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: laliz

                                                Chicken Cacchiatore works well in a crock pot & is a good main...especially if someone else can bring some sort of pasta to go with it-like a baked ziti.

                                              2. OMG, i have the SAME problem with my coworkers. I made baked ziti and no one would touch it. I made manicotti crepes (from scratch) and they wouldnt touch it. I made little sandwiches and they wouldnt tought it. No to buffalo chicken dip, seven layer dip, taco salad....

                                                The only thing they have ever eat is bacon wrapped little smokies. You can make them the night before and bake them in the morning and then keep warm in the crock-pot. Its hot dog, bacon and brown sugar. Even my snobby co-workers ate some!

                                                http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Bacon-Wr...

                                                The only other suggestion I can make is the following dip:

                                                http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Dip-For-...

                                                It is yummy, colorful and if they dont eat it then they dont have taste-buds.

                                                I feel your pain!!!!! Good luck :)

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: jenwee

                                                  what really kills me is that there is this one woman and no matter what she brings, everyone raves about it even if it is just so so.... she could bring wedges of iceberg and people would be asking her for the recipe

                                                  1. re: janetms383

                                                    The microwave opens a whole world of casseroles. Lasagna is always popular at pot lucks.

                                                    So, what dishes are popular at these pot lucks and which are duds? It might make it easier to make suggestions. I can see the chicken salad thing not working since it required some assembly. Also bread takes up too much plate and stomach space.

                                                    1. re: janetms383

                                                      I know! Same thing at my work. This one lady doesnt even make anything, just reheats so pre-cooked rolls and everyone declares it "the best". I gave up on my coworkers. I only bring something I know I wont mind having left overs or just buy some chips and salsa.

                                                    2. re: jenwee

                                                      jenwee, how in the world do you work with such dummies?

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        its hard believe me. I ate sushi in the breakroom last week and you would think I was walking around naked by the looks my coworkers were given me. I had to listen to "You're eating THAT?" and "EW!"

                                                        Its awful!

                                                    3. If you'd consider ethnic holiday spirit, Christmas tamales are a very old Mexican tradition, but they're great at Thanksgiving too. Yeah, usually sweet tamales, but savory come in there too... But who needs the work of making tamales from scratch? Not me! But a really good tamale pie is a piece of cake, tastes great, travels well, and you can keep it warm until lunch time by wrapping it in thick layers of newspaper for insulation.

                                                      For easy tamale pie, you just make a lot of corn meal mush and a nice spicy pork with green chiles stew. I always add black olives and corn freshly cut from the cob, but canned corn works well too. Then line a casserole (terra cotta if you have one) with a fairly thin layer of the corn meal, bringing it up the sides. Or you can skip the corn meal on the bottom, as you prefer. Pour in the stew. Pork is really good, so is chicken, or in honor of Thanksgiving, turkey would be great too and very Mexican! Then top with a nice layer of the cornmeal mush (you can season it a bit with a touch of cumin and chile, but not required), drizzle with a little bacon grease, if you have any, or with oil, or dot with butter, and pop it in the oven to get nice and crusty on top. Good to go! You can find tons of suitable "Mexican stew" recipes for the filling on th web. Have fun!

                                                      15 Replies
                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        That sounds like a good easy dinner meal. Is there a recipe you've used that you like?

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          Well, I'm one of those cooks who can't promise that any "from memory" recipe is accurate, but I think this is a pretty close approximation of what I usually do:

                                                          Tamale Pie

                                                          INGREDIENTS
                                                          1 pound meat of choice. Can be ground beef, chicken, pork or turkey. It can also be cubed pork or beef. Pork is my personal favorite. The cubes shouldn't be too large, maybe around an inch after cooking.

                                                          large onion, roughly chopped
                                                          2 or 3 cloves of garlic, to taste
                                                          1/3 to 1/3 cup fat of choice (bacon grease, lard or oil)
                                                          2 large charred, peeled & seeded fresh pasilla or anaheim chiles (or 2 or 3 small cans of chopped Hatch chiles)
                                                          1 chopped chipotle chile (optional)
                                                          1 large can of beans, pinto or black beans (or both)
                                                          1 large can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and drained with liquid reserved
                                                          1 large can corn ("Mexi-corn" is good, but usually in small cans so use 2)
                                                          1 medium to large roast potato, broken into pieces or diced
                                                          chile powder to taste, 1 tsp to 2 or more Tbsps or more
                                                          cumin, 1 Tbsp or more
                                                          1 tsp Mexican oregano
                                                          handful of chopped cilantro
                                                          1 cup of black olives, either the canned pitted California Mission type or pitted Kalamata (or other European) olives.
                                                          3/4 cup pimiento stuffed green olives (optional)
                                                          1 can of your favorite red enchilada sauce (optional) starting with half a can and increase as needed.

                                                          Ample corn meal mush to which a touch of chile powder and/or cumin may be added along with a bit of bacon grease or lard. If using oil, don't bother.

                                                          Grated cheese optional.

                                                          METHOD:
                                                          Start with the meat of your choice. If using ground meat, such as beef, pork, chicken or turkey, roughly chop a large onion and sweat it until transparent in bacon grease, lard or oil. Let your conscience and your cardiologist be your guide. When soft, add a clove or two (or three) of minced garlic. Add ground meat of choice, up the heat and stir to break meat into "crumbles." If using cubed meat, sweat onions and garlic as above, remove from pan, dredge meat heavily in seasoned flour, brown in fat of choice, return onions and garlic to pan and proceed, adjusting your simmer time so cubed meat is tender. With either meat, add remainder of ingredients now, except the mush. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a half hour or longer. The potato should act as a thickener. If it does not, add a little of the mush OR a tablespoon or so of dry cornmeal to thicken. If using cubed meat, this is where you may need to use the reserved tomato liquid and/or the remaining half can of enchilada sauce. The goal is the consistency of a thick stew.

                                                          Lightly grease the interior of a large casserole or oblong baking dish. coat bottom and sides with corn meal mush keeping it no more than an inch deep. It's also perfectly fine to omit the "bottom crust" of the tamale pie. Spoon or ladle in the filling being careful that everything is equally distributed. Wouldn't want anyone to miss getting an olive. Spoon a nice thick layer of corn meal mush over the top, smoothing it with the back of a spoon. Lightly drizzle with a little bacon grease or dot with dabs of lard to promote browning. If you wish to promote greater browning, you can sprinkle lightly with cheese. Mexican cotija is very good. Grated pepper jack or sharp cheddar also work, but don't use too much! You're not making pizza!

                                                          Place your finished dish on a cookie sheet or cover an oven shelf with aluminum foil to catch any drips. Bake at around 350F to 375F until the top is lightly browned and crusty. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. This allows the filling to "set up" and can save guests from burns.

                                                          Some people prefer a cornbread topping, most often made with Jiffy instant corn bread mix, and that's fine if that's what you like. I find the cornmeal mush more authentic. I tried using masa once and was not happy with the result, but hey, your mileage may vary!

                                                          This is a really flexible dish as you could probably omit about half the ingredients I use and still have a decent "tamale pie." You can also vary the flavor greatly by using just the canned tomatoes without the enchilada sauce or vice versa. Or use green enchilada sauce. Vary the chiles. Use a little hot and/or smoky paprika. In other words, let your imagination soar! Enjoy.

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            That sounds great--thanks. I've printed it out to make. I could have that w/ a lot of different things, not just the tamale pie. What is corn meal mush? I'd rather have something the texture of real tamales than corn bread and I'm afraid that's what I'd get if I used corn bread batter.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Exactly. I don't much care for the cornbread topping. "Cornmeal mush" is nothing exotic. It's just cornmeal boiled in lightly salted water to the consistency of... hmmm...? The consistency of whipped potatoes? Not runny but not overly thick because it will thicken (or maybe "solidify" is a better word) as it cools. It's about the consistency of polenta. Sorry I can't give directions like 15 cups of water and 24 cups of cornmeal, or whatever, but I use the dump and stir, then stop when it's right method for making the cornmeal mush. Good luck!

                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                Not to jump in on Caroline's recipe, but I make tamal en cazuela (tamale casserole) with traditional tamale dough instead of cornmeal mush. If you have a local tortilleria, you can buy masa preparada para tamales by the pound. If not, mix masa seca (corn tortilla flour) and and a pinch of salt with liquid (water, broth, whatever) to make a stiff dough. About 3 parts masa to 2 parts liquid by volume. Then beat that in the mixer with about 1 part lard until it gets fluffy. You know it's ready when you drop a pinch of it in a bowl of water and it floats.

                                                                The lard and the beating make the dough lighter and fluffier. And, uh, lardier. Yum.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  I was wondering if tamale dough would work so this is good to know. I'm not up for making tamales but a casserole would be so much easier. I've never made them myself but have watched friends' mothers do it (and they're so good that it didn't make sense to do it myself). I wonder if a crockpot might work better because of the moister environment.

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    alan, i know there was a recent thread, but it didn't answer this for me: what's the difference between the masa seca and masa harina? is it that the harina has used the corn treated with lye (hominy)?

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      AFAIK all corn doughs in Mexican cookery use nixtamalized grain (the hulls have been removed, usually with calcium hydroxide a/k/a slaked lime a/k/a cal in Spanish). "Masa seca" means "dry dough," while "masa harina" means "dough flour." I think the terms are used interchangeably.

                                                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Hi - a suggestion. Whipping the lard/fat BEFROE introducing it to the batter provides the exact same results, and is easier on the machine. Although, I haven't made any tamales with my Kitchenaid yet. Still in the box until after the kitchen remodel. I have only made them with a hand mixer. I usually whip the lard/fat until it triples in size. Once that's done, you just have to combine it with the other ingredients, and the batter floats. Much easier to whip the fat by itself when using a hand mixer.

                                                                      1. re: gordeaux

                                                                        I substitute butter for the lard. I think it tastes much better and perhaps better for you. Vegetarians would be able to eat it. (That's what I do when I make tamales. I buy the masa w/out lard from a Mexican store.)

                                                                        1. re: walker

                                                                          I'm with you. I use a mix of butter and lard, or butter and veg shortening. Usually depends what I have on hand, but I always have butter.

                                                              2. re: Caroline1

                                                                I love tamales and this time of year, it's really easy to find homemade... not me home making them, but I do live in So Calif after all............

                                                                1. re: janetms383

                                                                  They are good, but I don't do tamales for groups any more. Had a sort-of buffet dinner for about 16 people. My dining table is comfortable at eight, grating elbows at ten, so I served the food buffet style and let people eat where they liked. It was a Mexican menu that included tamales. No! No! No! Don't do it! Don't make my mistake! I was finding dried and curled tamale husks for weeks after! In vases, behind books, under furniture. Maybe the answer is food and no beer, or beer and no tamales!

                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    too funny Caroline, but this is at work, so let the husk fall where they may!!

                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                      People are barbarians! Thats awful!

                                                                2. Know your audience. We had a few potlucks here in my mostly Latin American office and some potluck standards (lasagna, sweet and sour meatballs) didn't move at all. One easy thing that did: a spiral ham. We had sternos set up, so I warmed the meat in the glaze liquid and it was gone VERY quickly.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: CeeBee

                                                                    Yes, yes, yes. It's one thing to try and introduce them to something "new" from my lunch (like hummus-that was really funny when the DM was chowing down on it & someone told him it was made from "beans" (which he says he hates) he got such a look on his face!) but to make a big something (time, effort, money, wasted ingredients) that won't be eaten is sort of depressing.

                                                                    Anyway-it's been said before. Main dish ideas for crock guaranteed to be eaten around here: meatballs in sauce, baked macaroni dishes (baked ziti, stuffed shells, etc) , chili... I have made a spicy pumpkin soup with cinnasugar croutons that is very popular also.

                                                                    I'm really interested in that tamale pie from Caroline. I will use Polenta, no corn, and I have a bag of fresh diced tomatoes that I will attempt to cook down and use instead of canned (because I have them and they need to be used.) I think that's tonight's dinner-thanks C!

                                                                  2. For a savory contribution at this time of year, I agree with the other folks who recommended a soup served from your crock pot. It will be able to be kept warm throughout the event, you can serve it in cute small hot/cold cups, or people can use their office mugs. If you go in the direction of a roasted vegetable soup that is sippable, it doesn't even need a spoon.

                                                                    Recently, I made Ellie Krieger's Curried Butternut Squash Soup for a get-together. People really liked it. The only change I made to the recipe was to roast the squash first. It was very spicy, which my friends liked. Depending on the composition of your office, you might want to halve the amount of curry, or buy a mild curry. The yougurt on top for garnish is great; though I use a whole milk creamy plain yogurt like Strauss (or the Trader Joe's equivalent) or Brown Cow.

                                                                    If you want something super easy, I've also simply purchased Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato soup (not the low-sodium version, unfortunately too bland). It comes in one liter containers, and so you can keep adding a container to the crock pot when it starts to run low (microwave to speed up the heating process in a separate container if you don't want people to see the TJ's box, :). To provide some additional variety, you can serve basil oil and/or chili oil on the side and people can drizzle it on the top of their serving.

                                                                    For any of these soups, you can also serve big chunky croutons or toasted thin slices of baguettes.

                                                                    1. I agree that simple is best. I've organized a few office potlucks in my time and the things that have gone over best are Lit'l Smokies with the chili sauce/grape jelly sauce heated in the crockpot, crackers with salami and cheese, and shredded pork from the local barbecue joint heated in the crockpot with barbecue sauce, served with rolls to make small sandwiches.

                                                                      1. Janet: Good you have a microwave. Although there are some great suggestions in this thread, I'm with the others who suggested meatballs, deviled eggs, or soup. Sounds like your crew isn't very adventurous, and you shouldn't have to foot the bill for ALL the protein for the ingrates! Since they won't even eat chicken salad, I'm not going to suggest stuffed cabbage! Kudos to you for trying to contribute something substantial when the others just bring chips.

                                                                        If you go the soup route, I make a minestrone, usually put mini chicken meatballs in it, and use cheese tortellini for the pasta. For casseroles, scalloped potatoes with ham chunks? I use the shortcut method of boiling the potatoes, slicing, adding white sauce (more than you think you need because the potatoes suck it up), bake until bubbly. Reheats in the micro well.

                                                                        Alternatively, could you post a sheet where coworkers sign up for dishes? List columns for X-amount of chips-and-dips, X-amount of salads (pasta and green), X-amount of hearty dishes, X-amount of relish trays, desserts, whatever. I have the feeling you've already tried that and it didn't work!

                                                                        Best of luck. You're not a failure! You're just playing to a tough audience!

                                                                        1. I really want to thank everyone for some wonderful suggestions! One posted said it, keep it pretty simple. Maybe I'm trying to hard, or else it's a popularity contest and I'm not. LOL

                                                                          15 Replies
                                                                          1. re: janetms383

                                                                            Maybe it has nothing to do with popularity...perhaps they seem to love your co-worker's dishes because they fear her, are intimidated by her or respect her position? Ha! She might also be a really good marketer & seek out compliments to (subconsciously) start a buzz!

                                                                            1. re: oldbaycupcake

                                                                              I think it still goes back to knowing your audiance. A few years back I went to a potluck at a church that was put together by suburban moms. One would think this would be good. I remember a lot of cold cuts straight from Safeway, casseroles that utilized Stovetop Stuffing and the absolute hit of the get together ... cool whip with oreo cookies folded in. Someone asked for the recipe. It was all I could do not to make a snarky comment ... come on ... buy Cool Whip, buy oreos, mix together. These were NOT working moms by the way, had plenty of time for other activities, so it was not a harried mom syndrome. These people liked this type of food.

                                                                              I'm still curious what type of dishes that woman brings. You can go with all the suggestions here, but until you tune into what pleases this particular group, you will be bringing home leftovers so make what pleases you.

                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                Hence Sandra Lee is so popular. I find more dishes that she'd make than ones made from scratch. She does appeal to the suburban mom.

                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                  I'm just playing devil's advocate here...but what's with the assumption that suburban moms ought to know how to cook? The times have changed :)

                                                                                  1. re: fallingup

                                                                                    Because they're home all the time, don't work and have nothing to do but brush up on their domestic skills :-P

                                                                                    1. re: janetms383

                                                                                      I don't think it is changing times. In the Bay Area, the stay at home moms I know don't eat junk like this. I have never been to such a sorry potluck either at work, church or whatever.

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        I'll bet location matters. Not that the moms I knew in the Bay Area cooked that much more but more than the ones where I am now (suburban DC). I also think there might be a correlation between how much you cook and how popular chains are. It seems the less people cook, or use processed foods, at home, the more they embrace chains which is prevalent where I am now. People talk about how much they love Macaroni Grill and PF Changs and their eyes glaze over like Homer Simpson with donuts. They're the same people who love doctored cake mix.

                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          >>> I also think there might be a correlation between how much you cook and how popular chains are

                                                                                          I think your theory might be correct. This was in a chain wonderland. It was where old chains went to die and new chains cut their baby teeth.

                                                                                          The one chain that cracked me up highlighted brand names on the menu like Bay Area retaurants highlight farmers.. however, instead of "Frog Hollow peach gallette" or "Blue Bottle coffee" it was "Maxwell House coffee, Uncle Ben's rice (really), etc.

                                                                                    2. re: fallingup

                                                                                      I don't assume they can. I was pointing out that most don't which is why Sandra Lee has so much appeal. It's not different, when you come down to it, than the rest of America, in general --people don't cook as much as they used to and when they do, it's doctoring up processed foods. When I'm bored waiting in line in supermarkets, I look to see what others have in their carts and I rarely see someone w/out predominantly processed premade food.

                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                        HA! I've often thought about this...Funnily enough, if you saw me in line in the supermarket, what you would see in my car is predominantly processed premade food... I get all of my produce and poultry from my CSA or from family gardens (except in the dead of winter), my meat from the producer directly, and most of my dairy and grains from my local co-op. But there are a few indulgences I can only get from a regular "commercial" grocery...like Cheerios or Laughing Cow Lite cheese (not a choice I'm proud of...), Molly McButter, Wholly Guacamole snack packets, microwave popcorn, and on my occasional trips (maybe monthly?) trips to the grocery, I stock up on those things. I always think it must look pretty weird to someone who might assume those items form the core of my diet, when, in fact, it's just the opposite.

                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                          Good point. I buy different things from different stores. I'm sure my Costco cart could look pretty bad. I have the feeing I wouldn't see Swanson's frozen lasagne in your cart.:-) But, Molly McButter? From the Dairy Queen!;-)

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            True, no frozen lasagne in my cart! But Molly McButter--Lately, yeah. I've been trying to lose a little weight. We like to put it on our popcorn. Molly McButter is at least made from real butter solids... but, I can't wait until I can go back to having normal dairy!

                                                                                            ~TDQ

                                                                                    3. re: chowser

                                                                                      All I know is if anyone looks to Sandra Lee as their inspiration, it's no wonder they can't cook. I'd like to brain that woman for ruining food.

                                                                                      1. re: jencounter

                                                                                        LOL, i can't watch her but I thikn she has her function. It would be one thing if she were getting people from cooking real food to cooking with processed foods but I think she's getting people who aren't cooking at all to cooking with processed food.:-)

                                                                                    4. re: rworange

                                                                                      People LOVE those Cool Whip pies.

                                                                                      I agree, some crowds prefer the readymade storebought stuff -- I guess it tastes like comfort food to them.

                                                                                      Mac and cheese, as someone mentioned above, was the first thing that came to my mind. Can't go wrong with that.

                                                                                2. I am embarrassed to admit this but my most successful pot luck dish is baked beans made from canned pork and beans. Pour off the liquid, add a lot of brown sugar and ketchup, and put some bacon on top. Bake. In our family we have been taking this to parties for three generations and it always gets gobbled up. Another sure winner is half a ham, baked and glazed, with a basket of little sandwich rolls and a jar of mustard next to it, and a knife. I don't think people go for "carefully researched" cuisine as much as for what is familiar, hearty, and good.

                                                                                  1. I couldn't help but think of you when I was at the library today and discovered a cookbook in the "new" books section called "Potluck Paradise--Favorite Fare from Church and Community Cookbooks" --it's just been published by the Minnesota Historical Society.

                                                                                    The authors combed through church cookbooks from the 1950's and selected the recipes that appeared the most frequently, then, from those they tested them until they narrowed it down to 125 recipes for their book. Except for those in the chapter "International and Heritage Recipes", none of them sound very sophisticated or chow'ish, but, at the same time, for the most part, the recipes call for "real" food (sadly, there are 2-3 that called for a can of condensed soup) and I'll bet are guaranteed crowd pleasers.

                                                                                    Many of the ideas mentioned in this thread are listed in the main dishes chapter, including mac and cheese, goulash, a couple of meatballs recipes, a couple of stroganoffs, a couple of "sloppy joes", tamale pie... anyway, kind of an interesting book. They seem like the kinds of recipes you might groan about (ugh, ham loaf or glorified rice), but, I'll bet people do really enjoy.

                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                    1. The night before the department potluck I panfry sweet Italian sausages, peppers and onions. Cut up the sausages into bite size pieces. Refrigerate. The next morning drain off any liquid and toss everything in the crockpot. Plug in on low until potluck time. Buy a small package of mini sub rolls (not everybody wants the bread but some do). Three years running I've been asked to make this as it disappears every time. Not especially a holiday dish but it's super simple.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: ns538bmk

                                                                                        This is a great idea !!! One of my favorite dishes when we cater from the Italian Deli... now why didn't I think of this??
                                                                                        Thanks!

                                                                                        And again, thanks to all for posting

                                                                                      2. Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Soup-- it's made in a crockpot; u can find the recipe on epicurious. This is a very delicious soup that can be prepared vegetarian. I know you are in CA, but I'm In AZ right now and it's starting to get cold. Everybody gets excited and wants all those wintery things--sweaters, soup, red wine , fireplaces, etc. It's hearty too, and even the unadventurous will eat potatoes and cheese! ;>