There is the potluck, but there is also collective cooking. And given a willing helper or two, it can turn a fairly standard weeknight meal into a rocking party. The pace is not necessarily relaxed, but it’s fun.
I had such an experience last week, on the East Side. Two new friends (really complete strangers — I was doing this as a charity auction prize) and I met at 4:30 at the 86th Street Fairway, with barely a plan; we just knew we were supposed to feed seven people at 7:30. I had some ideas, like buy all the vegetables that look good and figure out how to cook them later, and the others had some food preferences: one person didn’t eat meat and another didn’t eat fish. So we decided meat and fish and vegetables and dessert. Starters, I’ll confess, were olives and bread. But hey, you can’t cook everything.
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By Kerri Conan
There’s a reason they call them pot lucks: You take your chances at these shindigs. But last weekend I went to the best bring-your-own-food party ever, where the mandate was soup.
It started a couple weeks ago, when 30 or so folks were summoned to the old William Burroughs—yes, that William Burroughs—residence in Lawrence, Kansas. My friend Tom King, a chef-now-writer from California who has been taking good care of the place and its guests for the last few years, had gotten the idea for a soup potluck from his pal Heather Hall’s family Christmas tradition. Immediately after Tom sent out the sign-up email, the soups started pouring in: Muligatawny; Potato, Kale, Bacon; Chicken Tortilla with Lime; Gypsy Soup (a hearty mix of chickpeas, vegetables, and sweet potatoes); Hot Chili Soup (with several kinds of fresh and dried chiles); Cannellini; Chuck Wagon Beef Yee Haw; Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Spinach; Creamy Potato Leek; Mushroom-Beef with Oat Groats; Chicken Soup with Black-Eyed Peas and Turnip Greens; and Thai Chicken with Lemongrass and Chiles. Twelve in all, each more delicious than the last (I can say with confidence having tried eleven).
The set-up was simple: On the sunny porch, a large table was set with Tom’s seedling starters (that’s where they live so why move them?) a power strip for the slow cookers, and a bread spread. Desserts, slurping vessels, and utensils were handy on a side table. In the kitchen, four pots of soup simmered on the stove, a counter was transformed into a cheese board, and one stray Crock Pot found a free outlet, its garnish of crisp tortillas in a bowl nearby. Beer and wine in the fridge and a fire burning out back ensured the flow between soups was constant and convivial. Afterwards, Tom provided containers for everyone to take home the leftovers. What a perfect way to transition from winter to spring.
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.