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Memorial Day dilemma...two parties and no idea what to make/cook

Hi, all.
I've signed myself up for two potlucks this weekend, and at a loss for inspiration in the kitchen. I usually make desserts, but I'm so tired of the same old cookies and cupcakes...anyone have great outdoor potluck ideas? I need something that will be okay to sit outside for a few hours. I'm also willing to consider any other main or side dish ideas...I just want to serve something wonderful that will be the talk of both parties.
Thanks so much!

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  1. I make a corn and green beans salad in the summer for picnics and cook-out pot lucks. Find the freshest, snappiest green beans you can and freshest sweetest corn. Cook both in batches in boiling salted water until they are cooked but still crisp. Shock in ice bath. Drain really well. Dress with a lime-chile-olive oil vinaigrette. Sprinkle some torn basil over. Easy. Delicious. Done.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sweetTooth

      Thanks, sweetTooth...that sounds great. Do you think I could get the details on your lime-chile-olive oil vinaigrette? I love salads that are fresh and delicious.

      1. re: attran99

        Oops! Sorry, I went missing a couple of days. I wish I could give you proportions, but I haven't made this since last summer. I would just zest some limes and set the zest aside. Then juice them and add to very finely minced hot green chili (I like the thin hot ones from an Indian grocery, or Thai green chili). Add salt, a few grinds of the pepper mills and enough oil while whisking, so the dressing is as acidic as you want it. I prefer to add zest right at the end, when tossing dressing with the veggies. It would be a good idea to dry the par-boiled and shocked veggies in a spinner or in a thick dish towel before dressing. Ooh, I seem to also recall some firm ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, since all these are in season at the same time.

    2. I made some mac and cheese in mini muffin tins yesterday and they were easy to serve, yummy and cute to boot. They work for appetizers and sides. I used this recipe for my guide, but I used cheddar and mo-jack and added a chopped chipotle and combine panko with the parm. I refrigerated them before I cooked them and let them cool a bit before I removed them from the pan. Easy crowd pleaser-without the chipotle, they would be kid friendly too.

      http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/th...

      5 Replies
      1. re: margib

        What a great idea! Thanks for the link!

        Attran99, do you want to make something other than dessert? I'm no baker, so I usually specialize in simple desserts if I have to make one. But I prefer to make appetizers, sides and mains.

        Just a few ideas, if its NOT dessert you want to make:

        BBQ nachos
        Brats and onions in beer
        Stuffed knockwurst, with bacon & cheese
        Red, white & blue potato salad
        Grilled corn, tomato and avocado salad
        Orzo salad with feta, roasted peppers and olives
        Grilled jalapeno poppers w/ goat cheese and cheddar

        Some of these require a grill, and others are self explanatory, but let me know if you want recipes for any of these, I made most of them for last 4th of July's RV BBQ we did. For desserts, I made a coconut-pineapple pound cake and some smores brownies, both recipes came from an Everyday Food issue. They were relatively easy, I usually only bake from mags like that, since I'm not very good at it. That mag also has great lemon squares and chocolate cheesecake squares recipes that are now part of my regular rotation. Can look them up if you want the recipes. Have Fun!!

        1. re: Phurstluv

          Phurstluv, I love your ideas...that's the kind of inspiration that I've been looking for. I see things in the magazines, and haven't said "Wow! I want to make that!" But i definitely want to try a few of your ideas. My heart is not set on dessert...I'm just the one that's known for bringing a fabulous dessert, but most of my confections require some sort of refrigeration (frosting, whipped cream, tiramisu, etc.). The BBQ nachos and s'more brownies sound divine...would love to get the recipes from you if you wouldn't mind.
          I've made the grilled corn, tomato, and avocado salad before, so been there done that...so to speak. I'll have to try the mac and cheese idea some other time...one of our friends is famous for her pepper-jack jalapeno mac and cheese so we'll be covered in the mac and cheese category.
          Thanks to everyone for getting my creative juices rolling!

          1. re: attran99

            Happy to help. One correction, the brownies weren't smores, but rocky road. From the Everyday Food June '08 issue:
            They start with a homemade brownie batter. I used a boxed mix. They recommend an 8x8" pan, lined with buttered parchment. Preheat oven to 350*. Spread prepared brownie batter in pan, and bake until toothpick in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30 - 35 minutes.

            Remove from oven and sprinkle with semi sweet chocolate chips, (They use the whole bag, but divided with one cup of chips for the batter, I think I used about half the bag to sprinkle on top of brownies.) Then top with 1 cup of mini marshmallows and 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, like walnuts, cashews and pecans. Bake until chocolate is shiny and marshmallows are puffed, about 5 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Easy to take out of the pan with the parchment overhang, and cut into 16 squares. Store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

            The BBQ nachos are very simple. I took corn chips and spread them in a disposable aluminum pan, that I covered the bottom in more h-d aluminum foil. Spread chips with your choice of cheeses, cheddar and monterey jack being the standards. If you have taco meat or cooked beans, you can add that too. Make another layer of chips and cheese, and can also sprinkle with a favorite hot sauce at this point. Put the pan on a preheated grill, we had a small charcoal unit, but I would say no higher than medium heat, cover to let cheeses melt. When the cheese is all gooey, drizzle nachos with bbq sauce and ranch dressing. I also sprinkled with chopped tomatoes, olives and chopped pickled jalapenos. Serve with guacamole. Big hit.

            1. re: attran99

              Regarding the s'mores bars, I made these for a super bowl party and they got rave reviews...

              http://www.lovintheoven.com/2008/12/d...

              Also, seven layer bars are always popular and good.

              http://www.eaglebrand.com/recipes/det...

          2. My old stand-by is a chopped Israeli salad - cucumber, radish, bell pepper, and carrots tossed in a garlic, mint and lemon dressing. Really any sturdy vegetable would work, that is just what tends to be cheap/local around here when BBQ season is in full swing. When I use a stick blender to make the dressing, it emulsifies enough to remain mixed throughout the day.

            3 Replies
            1. re: TampaAurora

              TampaAurora...Could I have the recipe for the garlic, mint, lemon dressing.

              Phurstluv...Recipe please for the orzo salad and the poppers.

              Thanks.

              1. re: lilmomma

                Orzo Salad with feta, olives & bell peppers

                12 oz. orzo
                2 tbsp. plus ½ cup olive oil
                1 ½ cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese
                1 cup chopped red bell pepper, roasted
                1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper, roasted
                ¾ cup pitted Kalamata olives
                4 green onions, chopped
                2 tbsp. drained capers

                3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
                1 tbsp white wine vinegar
                1 tbsp minced garlic
                1½ tsp dried oregano
                1 tsp Dijon mustard
                1 tsp ground cumin

                3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

                Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain & rinse with cold water; drain well. Transfer to a large bowl. Toss with 2 tbsp olive oil. Add crumbled feta, chopped roasted peppers, olives, green onions and capers.

                Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard & cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining ½ cup olive oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover & refrigerate. Garnish salad with pine nuts before serving.

                The jalapeno poppers, I believe, were a pioneerwomancooks.com recipe that I found on these boards before the Super Bowl. I put crushed pineapple in the cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. Bobby Flay does a version with the goat cheese & white cheddar, along with the cream cheese. Whisk goat & cream cheeses together, then fold in the cheddar and thinly slice green onions. Season w/salt & pepper. Fill each jalapeno half with 2 Tbsp of mixture, sprinkle top with ancho chile powder. Grill over medium heat, about 8 - 10 minutes. He serves them over a grilled red pepper tomato sauce, that he processes with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, fresh cilantro and about 1/4 cup olive oil.

                1. re: lilmomma

                  I have never used a recipe, but just make it to taste using equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, adding garlic cloves, salt and fresh chopped mint. My mom has been making the recipe for about 30 years and never wrote it down.

                  Here's a thread explaining the quantities. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/625201

              2. I'll recommend a very simple preparation: gently cook a bean variety (or beans) of your choice, cool the beans, and then toss them with some herbs, salt and pepper, and the best olive oil you can get.

                The trick to this dish is to avoid overcooking the beans. I cook them in a chicken broth with bay leaf and herbs and some seasonings, and I watch them closely so that they can be drained exactly when they've become tender. Let them cool and drain at room temp, and then mix them with herbs, oil, etc. Sometimes I also mix in finely diced red bell pepper (roasted first, if possible). If your ingredients are good quality, this tastes great, and it can sit for hours without bacterial problems or flavor degradation.

                1. I really like the Pioneer Woman's olive-cheese bread: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20... which is great hot or room temperature. I've made it several times for parties and it always flies off the table. I have also done a spinach-artichoke version - it's like spinach-artichoke dip on great crusty bread.

                  An easy, elegant app/side dish is cucumber slices, cut into shapes with a tiny cookie cutter, topped with a creme-fraiche/cream cheese/dill mixture and smoked salmon pieces.

                  Southwestern salad with quinoa (red is especially pretty), black or pinto beans, corn, chopped bell peppers, green onions and cilantro. Dress with a lime-cilantro vinaigrette. Add some jalepeno or chipotle if desired. This is good for both vegetarians and gluten-free folks, if that is a concern.

                  Another thing you might consider is to do Chinese lettuce wraps. Make the filling - ground chicken or turkey, Napa cabbage, carrots, green onions, dressed with soy, sesame oil, etc - and bring with a few separated and cleaned heads of Boston lettuce.

                  Peanut noodles are always a hit when I take them to parties. Or make chicken satay skewers and peanut sauce for dipping.

                  Pesto pasta salad, or pesto potato salad. A little different, a little familiar.

                  Oh! Endive boats. I love this one. It's so easy, so refreshing, so sophisticated. Take several heads of French endive (the spear-like leaves, not the curly kind) and separate. Place on a platter, Sprinkle with crumbled blue or goat cheese and pine nuts. Salt and pepper. Drizzle with EVOO. Done! You can also serve the endive leaves with any kind of dip.

                  Hope that helps - I have a potluck to go to too and this is helping me brainstorm!

                  ETA: You still have time to make gravlax, too. It takes a couple of days but it's mostly hands-off, and it's darn impressive. I use the Silver Palate's recipe. Make some mustard dill sauce to go with, and pick up a loaf of pumpernickel bread or some Wasa breads. yum!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: VikingKvinna

                    This is a recipe that's always been a big hit at pot luck parties.

                    Line up and clean every fresh vegetable you like that can be cut small and tastes good raw or will crunch and give diverse color... tiny tomatoes (don't chop), carrots, broccoli, asparagus, (stems peeled), celery, red onion, peas, snow peas, any color bell peppers, celery, zucchini, shredded spinach... whatever. If there are any vegetables you don't like totally raw/crunchy, add them to a pan of boiling water, let simmer for 30-60 seconds and then shock in an ice bath. You are about to cook a pound of pasta and you want the proportion of veggies to pasta to be at least half and half.

                    Cook a pound of rotini pasta according to directions for al dente. Immediately drain thoroughly and rinse with cold water. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of olive oil and toss, then put in the fridge. Let chill for about an hour.

                    Transfer to a big chilled bowl, add all the chopped vegetables, a cup of drained pittted black olives, sliced, and toss with at least half a bottle of Paul Newman's Caesar salad dressing. I usually use about 3/4 to a whole bottle and about an additional 1/2 to 1 cup of grated parm. Combine thoroughly, cover and let sit overnight.

                  2. I created a Roasted Green & Yellow Wax Bean Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, Crispy Proscuitto & Cornbread Croutons for a recipe contest recently. It's a beautiful salad in which you blanch then oven roast the beans briefly then add to the dressing. The proscuitto gets crispy in the oven like a chip and you can take regular cornbread, cube it and toast in the oven.

                    Before serving, crumble up the proscuitto to sprinkle over the salad and garnish with the croutons (or if you prefer, leave off the croutons) .If you can't find the yellow wax beans, you can just use the fresh green beans and maybe add some quartered red potatoes which have been boiled. It's perfect for a barbecue or summer meal and can be left out without spoiling.

                    If interested in the recipe, you can find it here: http://www.inspiredbymarzetti.com/Sid...

                    1. If you want something that'll sit, the best recommendation hereinabove is the red-white-and-blue potato salad. Those tiny potatoes are for sale in bags at all of the gourmet stores.

                      When I was bringing stuff to the party "circuit" in a town much fancier than where I live now, I'd boil up a bunch of lobsters at night, and then add cooked shrimp and some hunks of med-rare grilled tuna to 'em the next day and season with black pepper and lemon juice. Make a salad of beautiful red, yellow and blue peppers (blanch 'em for a moment if you've time) and then add good onions and maybe some blanched or raw snow pea pods. Vinaigrette is lemon-based with mustard, olive oil and tarragon. Add the cooked, chilled seafood. You won't have to worry about it sitting around for a long time because they'll scarf it up in a few minutes; and you'll blow everyone else away by having brought lobster to the party! Garnish, if you will, with little cucumber "boats" or discs filled with inexpensive caviar -- the black color adds to the high-drama kinda visual/textural contrast of this dish.

                      A macedoine (sp?) of fruit salad is also impressive if you get a huge, huge bowl and don't mind spending an hour or so peeling and pitting melon, berries, plums, etc. Garnish with lemon and mint.

                      For memorial day, it's too early for really great corn, otherwise I'd agree also with sweetTooth, whose corn and green bean salad sounds divine and will also have longevity on the buffet line.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: shaogo

                        Why thank you shaogo, although I'll have to pass on the credit to Suzanne Goin. She served this at a Santa Monica Public Library panel about the importance of farmer's markets. The reason I remembered this salad is because fresh sweet corn has shown up here at the SoCal farmer's markets for the past few weeks. Green beans, however, are not quite there yet in terms of supply and greatness.