By Kerri Conan
Groupcook isn’t for everyone, but me, I’m a potluck gamer. And now, as folks eager to show off dig deep into their gardens and larders, the odds of finding something interesting around a summertime Kansas buffet table are better than even.
These bring-a-dish throw-downs provide a chance for folks to strut their best stuff, but I wouldn’t call them competitive. Instead they create a community table, with a rare glimpse into other people’s kitchens, and an opportunity to bulk up your recipe box. I also appreciate potlucks for the chance to pop food you never make yourself into your pie hole every now and then.
Devilled eggs—the last way I’d choose to make eggs at home—are the perfect example. As are Crockpot scalloped potatoes, stuffed Limoncello muffins, Parmesan-spinach balls with Dijon mustard sauce, tangy artichoke dip, and Rice Crispy birthday cake—all delicious surprises recently plucked from local potluck spreads.
So far this summer I’ve been to five BYO food parties. Each either had a specific theme or the host provided the main dish and we were invited to contribute sides, desserts, or drinks. The first the most hippy-ish affair of the lot (the reason was to chow down before a William Burroughs biopic screening in Lawrence and the party was at his old house) so there were some fun vegetable casseroles, including memorable plump spears of purple asparagus from a nearby farm. (I brought Gale Gand’s toffee cake with the sauce on the side; two apple pies on the table deservedly went first).
Soon after came another trek to Lawrence for a small picnic in the park after the annual Art TouGeau parade. This time we feasted on bok choy stir fry (kept warm and unctuous in a big thermos) and wilted spinach salad from our friends’s garden, plus the first bottles of Free State beer to roll off the production line. (I brought hummus made from creamy urad dal and a dense loaf of all whole wheat bread; oh yeah, and fruit salad because I had a big pineapple to use up.)
Next came champagne brunch at Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery, right down the road. It’s always a pancake feed—one of our friends brings a restaurant-style propane-fired griddle—offset with piles of oven-crisped bacon. The contributions traditionally fall into two camps: breakfast casseroles or stratas, and fabulous baked treats. (I always bring the only vegetables for the table; this year three pints of pickles from the pantry.) A couple weeks later we also celebrated my birthday with a potluck at the winery during one of their jazz nights. We supplied yummy barbecued brisket, ribs, and chicken from Papa Bob’s Bar-B-Que and my fabulous guests brought sides—like potato salad made with cottage cheese dressing—and cakes (yes plural!).
The latest shindig was one of our favorite parties of the year—and the biggest potluck on the roster so far—a 3rd of July event where the hosts spend days smoking brisket, pork, and turkey and making burnt ends and beans from the trimmings. They’re even making their own barbecue sauces now. Guests take this event quite seriously (there’s a table devoted to chips and dips alone) and many people make labels to help advertise their items. Some highlights: A close-encounter-style mountain of potato salad (dressed quite simply with mayonnaise and celery seeds while still warm I am told then refrigerated overnight), a silky-crunchy classic cole slaw, and mini cheesecakes with berry topping. (To this event I always bring cornbread, this year with a little chipotle-honey butter on the side.)
Whew. I’m full all over again.