Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How to Host: Holiday Potluck

Mr. 3 and I hosted an Easter Potluck for our young married couples Bible study group.  I like the idea of a potluck for a holiday event so the pressure isn't on just one person or family to supply all the goods.  We invited fewer people to this event  because I wanted to have a place for everyone to sit and enjoy their Easter meal rather than stand around trying not to let deviled eggs roll off their plate.  We also scheduled it for 2 PM so that we all had time to get to church at 9:30 and then go home and finish cooking our dishes.  We had a great time visiting and eating with all our friends!  I think a potluck is great for any special holiday meal.

The Decor

We hosted 10 people so I busted out all the dishes in my cabinets for this shin dig, using my everyday white from Williams-Sonoma and Mr. 3's grandmother's china for the place settings and appetizer plates, my blue crystal from Villeroy and Boch, and some clear pressed glass plates for dessert.  We used navy blue (Williams Sonoma, but purchased at the Leesburg Outlet) and grey cloth napkins (World Market) and I had enough silverware to cover all our needs.  I used a tablecloth from Target in a pretty robin's blue and I used my table throw that I got during spring break to cover the coffee table. 

Mr. 3's Grandma's China

I don't like tons of Easter themed decorations, so I limited myself to one bunny shaped dip spreader and a pack of yellow paper napkins from Sur la Table for the appetizers.  

Mr. 3 and I dyed Easter eggs on Friday night, so I put down a layer of Easter grass in my crystal Tiffany bowl and arranged the eggs for a centerpiece on our dining room table.

I also spent a grand whopping total of $13.74 (!!!!) to make five flower arrangements using the bud vases I picked up from the Fort Myer Thrift Shop a few weekends ago, two promotional glasses I got with a Christmas time purchase of lemoncello, and an old candle jar that I was using to store my makeup brushes (stay tuned for a Posh Purpose tutorial on arranging bud vase flowers).  I place one on each table in the apartment and the candle jar arrangement in the bathroom.  I also lit a grapefruit scented candle and put some pink paper guest towels in the bathroom.

The only decor items I bought for the party were the eggs and food coloring, the Easter grass, the flowers, the napkins, and the bunny spreader.

The Food

Obviously, since this was a potluck there was a whole lot less cooking going on up in my kitchen for this party.  That said, I wanted to make sure that Mr. 3 and I got our favorite Easter foods, so I made a two key lime pies, lemon coconut cake with sour cream frosting, green salad or fluffy stuff (my mama's recipe...it's the Cool Whip and lime jello kind y'all....not the lettuce and carrots kind),  and deviled eggs.  I kept the appetizers simple, just picking up some pre-made pimento cheese for Ritz crackers and brie from Trader Joe's.

If you are going to host a potluck, I highly recommend that you prepare the meat and the bread.  I certainly wouldn't want to try to transport a turkey, chicken, pork tenderloin, or in our case, a spiral ham, if I were a guest at a potluck.  Spiral cut ham is one of my new favorite entertaining meats...it's already cooked so it only requires reheating and you can buy them pre-seasoned like I did so you literally wrap it in tin foil and throw it in the oven.  I would recommend purchasing a disposable aluminum pan no matter what meat you prepare.  You can put the carved meat on a serving platter so it looks nicer and pitch the pan.  We timed it so that the meat would be finished heating about 30 mins after everyone arrived.  Also, I like a nice warm biscuit over a room temp or cold one any day, so I threw some Grands canned biscuits in the oven after everyone had arrived so they would be nice and warm (my great Aunt Margaret who got up everyday on the farm to fix a meal for her family said she started sleeping later once Grands got invented...so I figure it's good enough for me too!).

Our wonderful friends brought green beans, asparagus, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cornbread pudding, and some really cute cake pops in the shape of chicks.

As a final fun treat, I set up a mini candy bar on my bar cart with Peeps, rainbow Twizzlers, easter M&Ms, Sweetart jelly beans, mini Snickers, mini Reese's eggs, and mini Cadbury eggs.  I didn't buy anything for the candy bar besides the candy itself.  I used a bit of leftover Easter grass from my egg centerpiece, I already had the cellophane bags and ties, and the fuzzy chick was in my Easter basket. 

For drinks, I served Simply Lemonade (which is the best kind in my personal opinion), white wine, and beer.   Post-meal I made coffee using my Nespresso for anyone who wanted it.

The Set Up

Because we live in an apartment, I had to get creative with the seating.  I put some guests around the dining table and the rest around the coffee table in the living room.  I managed to put 5 people at each table using my dining chairs and the couch and bench in the living room.  I also put all the food in the kitchen for serving and I used my awesome, truly awesome food warmer trays for the first time (you can read about them here and here) for people to put their dishes on when they arrived.  They kept all the food warm for the whole party!  Like all my parties, I offered everyone a drink when they first arrived, but after that I kept it self service (minus the Nespresso) so I didn't have to play bartender all day.

After people had eaten, I immediately began portioning out the leftover food in some cheap disposable containers from Target and Ziplock baggies.  I loaded the dishwasher as I went.  There was far far less clean up involved with this potluck than our other parties.  Mr. 3 and I were able to clean up everything in about 45 minutes after everyone left.

Tips & Tricks to Take Away

1. Use what you have for decor and servingware.  If you find gaps, hit up Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Target, or World Market.  They have the best prices and the most diversified selection.  If you have time, check out your local thrift store.  My warming trays, table throw, bud vases, and a few pieces of servingware all came from the thrift store.  Also, a lot of stores start marking down their decor items a few days before the holiday, so you can pick up some themed items for much cheaper.  I bought my bunny spreader and yellow paper napkins for 50% off the day before Easter.  Finally, check  your closet for unused wedding gifts.  Now is the perfect time to break them out...didn't you register for them because you thought you might use them for a special occasion one day?  

2.  Use cloth napkins, tablecloths, china, and glassware.  Try to have a seat for everyone because it can be difficult to eat an entire meal standing up.

3.  Put fresh flowers out.  Bud vases are a very affordable way to add some fresh flowers to your table without breaking the bank  (I only spent $13.74!).  You can get creative like I did by repurposing drinking glasses and old candle jar containers to make small arrangements if you don't have bud vases.  I used cheerful spring blossoms that complimented my colors but didn't match anything 100%.  My flowers were still going strong over a week later!

3. Mix up your food.  Signature dishes should be made from scratch (i.e. my key lime pie...which is one of the reasons Mr. 3 fell in love with me), but appetizers and bread can definitely be store bought.  For holiday potlucks, it's important to make the dishes you enjoy and associate with family recipes or childhood memories.  Guests can bring dishes that you don't have an emotional attachment to like sides.  ALSO, be sure to let you guests know (via Evite or email) what dishes you will be making and offer a menu of suggestions so your guests aren't stumped by what to bring.  Be sure to request that they commit to which dish they will provide with their RSVP so that they won't bring the same dish as anyone else.

4. Divvy up your leftovers and send them home with people in plastic containers.  Get those extra calories out of your house as fast as possible!

Don't think this is just a guide for Easter...you can easily implement these ideas for other occasions.  I think Cinco de Mayo would be super fun or 4th of July.  Why not have a more formal potluck dinner party?  It doesn't always have to be tacos and margaritas or hot dogs and hamburgers served on a paper plate. Anyone else hosting a potluck anytime soon?  Let us know your tips below!