With careful planning, a potluck dinner can be a virtually stress-free approach to entertaining. By limiting the amount of personal food prep, you free yourself to focus on the fun stuff: table settings, flower arrangements and other personal touches (think signature drink, dessert station and party games) that reflect your entertaining style.
Using your favorite fonts and design flourishes, mock up a custom invitation. Print out copies on scrapbook paper, trim and adhere to mini scalloped cardstock. Affix empty circle dots and alphabet stickers to the bottom of each invite to spell out the dish each guest should prepare – a friendly way to manage the dinner menu. Don’t forget to request recipe printouts from each guest! Punch a grommet through the top of each invite and thread a twine hanger through the hole so guests can display invitations in a prominent place.
Easy-As-Can-Be Flower Arrangements
To create a stylish centerpiece, fill a compote with water and whole limes, and tuck flowers – stripped of most stems – in amongst the limes. Pinecones, ornaments or fresh, colorful vegetables like artichokes and radishes also serve as sturdy anchors for blooms. In addition to candle-filled votives set casually on the table, succulents placed in water-filled votive cups make charming tabletop decorations .
Simply Elegant Place Settings
Casual is best when it comes to a potluck dinner table setting. Use what you have on hand; consider white or neutral earthenware and everyday flatware. Atop each plate, place a folded linen napkin and a small place card, nestled in a sprig of succulents. Other place card holders include flowers, ivy, a piece of chocolate, a crusty French roll or a candy-filled egg cup.
Crowd-Pleasing Party Appetizers
Bruschetta is the ideal potluck dinner hors d’oeuvre because its ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and toted in resealable containers for quick on-site assembly. Start with a fresh baguette and experiment with different toppings: caramelized dates, tomato jam or red pepper jelly over goat cheese; salami or crumbled Italian sausage atop fresh pesto; crispy bacon over Boursin cheese; or finely chopped pistachios over honey-topped cream cheese.
Elevate a comfort food favorite (mac and cheese, in this case) by adding a special ingredient. To start, mix together traditional elbow pasta, a creamy roux sauce, chopped lobster and your favorite cheeses. Top with panko bread crumbs and bake until brown and bubbly. This dish is easy to prepare ahead of time and reheat at the party.
Signature – and Sensational – Party Drink
Everyone loves a cocktail (or mocktail), and choosing one signature drink makes life easier for the hostess . Consider a crisp and refreshing pomegranate cocktail made with cold champagne and a splash of pomegranate juice. Or set out ingredients and let guests experiment with apple, pear, grape or even pineapple juice. Plan on at least three drinks per guest as most will alternate between wine, cocktails and water throughout the evening.
Bring on the Dessert
Dessert is a fun item to bring to a potluck dinner, and while it can be tempting to try something new, it is safer to simply update an old standby. Prepare brownies according to package directions. Then, to create a glaze, melt semisweet chocolate, butter and a bit of sugar over low heat. Add a splash of your favorite red wine. Pour glaze over fresh-from-the-oven brownies and allow to cool for two hours; cut and serve.
Blindfolded Wine-Tasting Party Game
Music and entertainment are paramount to any gathering. Compile a special iPod playlist of your favorite tunes and allow the music to play softly in the background: think Michael Bublé mixed with soft jazz. “Icebreaker” games are an invaluable way to promote mingling amongst guests. Try a blindfolded wine-tasting contest where partygoers must guess everything from wine type and vintage to the country of origin. This game can also be adapted for use with chocolates or cheeses.
Providing a take-home treat for guests is a thoughtful touch and can be assembled well in advance of the party. Fill cellophane bags with a mix of chocolate-covered coffee beans and place bags inside paper tubes designed to mimic your party invitations.