Three Easy Potluck Dishes

The joys of group gatherings and potlucks can’t be denied. What better way to entertain guests and enjoy a get together than a sampling of everyone’s culinary talents? Potlucks have been an American tradition for decades, and seem to have originated in Europe as part of many pagan celebrations. Not only do potlucks fare well as low-cost, low maintenance events, but they can bring some new tastes and flavors to large groups of people.

At most potlucks, there’s always the neighborhood baker who outdoes everyone each year by bringing the best of Pillsbury or Betty Crocker to the table. Or, there’s the organic health-nut who insists that their low calorie organic Jell-O and fruit is enough for dessert. And don’t forget the back-of-the-soup-can recipe guru; this potluck participant always brings a photographic replica of the latest Campbell’s designer casserole as their signature contribution. If you’re looking for something a little different this year, try any of these three easy and creative potluck dishes. You’ll breeze through the cooking process to bring some flavorful flair to the next picnic table or community event.

1. ‘Mama Mia!’ Baked Pasta Shells and Cheese

This easy recipe is a tasty baked rendition of a cheesy cannelloni. A zesty red sauce makes it a complete meal, and can be made at least a day in advance. This recipe serves 4-6.

24 oz. of your favorite red pasta sauce (chunky Italian styles work best)
1 can sliced mushrooms
�½ cup dry white wine
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg, beaten
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
�½ cup parmesan cheese
�½ cup feta cheese
2 tsp. dried basil
16 large pasta shells, cooked and set aside

Pour pasta sauce, mushrooms, and white wine into a saucepan and bring to a boil Stir until bubbling, then leave to simmer for 8-10 minutes. Spoon into a baking dish, and reserve 1 cup for the topping.

In medium bowl, combine all cheeses, egg, and basil to form a paste. Stuff shells with mixture, and layer over tomato sauce. Pour reserved cup of sauce over the shells, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

2. Asian Chinese Chicken Salad

This is a must-try for a change of pace. Chinese chicken salads are a popular gourmet salad at many of today’s restaurants, and this recipe can serves 4-6 and can be multiplied for larger groups. The basic ingredients are just tossed together and refrigerated, making it easy and manageable for any busy schedule:

24 oz. shredded cabbage
4 green onions, chopped
12 oz. cooked chicken strips (Louis Rich work great), diced
4 tbsp. sesame seeds
4 oz. chicken flavor ramen noodles (set packet aside)

1 cup olive oil
6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
4 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
�½ packet of reserved noodle flavoring

Mix the cabbage, onions, chicken, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Cook the ramen noodles, and add to the mixture. Combine dressing ingredients and whisk briskly. Add to noodles and cabbage mixture, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours. This salad tastes GREAT the next day, when the dressing has marinated with the vegetables, so be patient if you can!

3. ‘Carrot Cake’ Layered Salad

This is a great rendition of a carrot and raisin salad that only takes about 10 minutes to prepare. This recipe serves 12, and can be multiplied for larger volume.

2 lbs. grated or shredded carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup raisins
�½ cup powdered sugar (Splenda works well here for diabetics or dieters!)
3 tbsp. cinnamon powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, low-fat also works well)

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, pineapple, raisins, and walnuts. In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. Pour over carrot mixture and combine thoroughly. Store covered in refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

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