As the saying goes, “It’s summertime and the living is easy”. That is something I try to take to heart, savoring every chance to host or gather during the longest days of the year. Those who know me best are often stopping by after work or on the weekend, where I am whipping up snacks or infusing cocktails with herbs from my garden. Our backyard and poolside patio are typically filled with friends several days each week. That doesn’t mean I want to spend too much spare time slaving in the kitchen. The solution when doing something more substantial than a happy hour is to get others to bring something. Potluck Suppers definitely bring back memories of church socials and family reunions, but they can be as elegant or as casual as you like. There’s no better time of year to embrace that tradition and there are lots of ways to get creative in planning ahead or being prepared for impromptu gatherings if you get a last-minute invitation by having a few recipes on-hand.
We kicked off our summer by taking things out of the office and to my house for a late lunch on a busy Tuesday afternoon. This same kind of thing could easily work at an office or simply meeting up with friends at a park or someone’s home. Part of the fun is in coming up with the plan, getting members to choose if they want to bring the main course, appetizer, side, drinks or dessert. It doesn’t feel like a chore at all when you just have one thing on your list as a guest but a bit of a fun project to look forward to. From a host’s point of view, it certainly makes things easier. All you have to do is have some necessities and niceties on hand to bring it all together.
These are my tips on how to create the perfect potluck, followed by our team’s go-to recipes for taking to summer parties.
Here are my potluck planning tips:
A week in advance, ask your friends what they would like to make so that they can work it into their shopping. Basically, have everyone choose a course or item. In our case, we all prefer light, healthy fare with as much local sourcing as possible rather than typical heavy dishes. We’re just not a fried-chicken and potato salad crowd—but go with whatever suits your preferences.
For non-cooks, it’s fine to ask them to bring wine, non-alcoholic beverages or paper goods, but I prefer to do that myself to keep the presentation consistent.
It starts with the flowers. My go-to is Import Flowers on Murphy Road, but I am also a huge fan of Produce Place just a few blocks away. Discovering that they are carrying sustainable, locally-raised floral bunches from The Flower Patch was a welcome surprise, saving me one stop on a very hot morning.
Add color to the table. Something as easy as sliced watermelon with a little sea salt or chili-lime seasoning makes for a pretty table and refreshing addition, always.
If you want everything to look a certain way, encourage guests to bring their dishes in their mixing bowls or containers and then transfer to serving dishes that go with the desired look you want. In this case, it was casual chic, so we used my plates and bowls from Crate and Barrell (cannot WAIT for their Nashville location to open!) with a lovely platter from The Iron Gate that coordinated well for the setting. I like cloth napkins and have too many to count—so much less waste than paper and won’t blow away for outdoor parties or picnics. Just bag them up and toss into the wash when it’s over.
Have plenty to drink. I keep pitchers of cucumber water with sprigs of either mint or basil in my fridge all summer. So refreshing. I also slice and freeze cucumber for tossing into sparkling water with lime or lemon. Iced tea by the gallon is on hand no matter what the occasion, especially during the day. I mix either hibiscus or tropical green tea with black tea bags for a little kick of flavor. Everyone loves it. Lots of lemons, a few Stevia drops, and you have summer in a glass.
Wine is always a hit, especially for afternoon gatherings. The Edit team is currently in love with Sabine Aix-en-Provence Rosé from Bieler Wines, thanks to the bottles brought to us by winemaker Charles Bieler when he passed through town recently. It’s light, crisp and so much better than most of the rosé being touted on social networks and hip patios around the city. It’s affordable but with a French flair that brings joy to the table and the palate.
Now, for the recipes:
Lobster & Avocado Salsa
This dip could easily be made with shrimp or even delicious without shellfish. But, one of Kimberly’s weekend hobbies is deep-sea diving and spear-fishing with her husband. Since she had recently caught several fresh lobsters on a jaunt to the Gulf Coast, she upped her appetizer game with this delicious concoction. It was hands-down the group favorite and would be a hit at any party.
1lb cooked lobster tail, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 medium avocados, peeled and chopped
1 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
¾ cup thinly sliced scallions
½ cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Put all ingredients into large bowl drizzling the lime juice over all. Toss to mix and coat well, then store in the fridge until ready to serve. Delicious when cold or just room temperature.
The center of our meal was both indulgent and unique. I recently met with the owners of the highly anticipated E3 Chophouse, which is set to open in Hillsboro Village this September. While we cannot wait for the space to open, I am personally equally thrilled to find out about their meat home-delivery service. I am not a big meat eater, and very particular when indulging on occasion, but their holistic approach to completely responsible and sustainable farming brings peace of mind with their ranch-to-table method. The steaks came completely shrink-wrapped and had incredible flavor and quality not easily found in the grass-fed and humane sections of some local stores. So, instead of a boring main course, we had a steakhouse-style main course that everyone felt good about eating.
Just choose from the E3 online menu for the quantity of steaks. When ready to use, take out of the packaging, dry well, cover liberally with salt and pepper and leave out for about an hour to get to room temperature. Throw onto the grill or grill pan for a few minutes on each side to sear (time depends on the desired temperature). For single servings, I would just set individual steaks on a platter, but for this mid-day meal, opted to let the steaks rest and then sliced on a cutting board with a few romaine leaves, cherry tomatoes and red onions to serve.
We are all about greens, so it was no surprise that both of our side-dish contributions were versions of flavorful leaves. Ellen opted to create a simple Arugula Salad, mixing the ingredients on site just before lunch, while Alaina picked up a Quinoa and Kale Salad from Corner Market that I jazzed up with a few ingredients on hand. Both are likely going to be on our regular salad rotation.
Arugula & Blackberry Salad
4 cups organic Arugula
Two 6 oz. containers of organic blackberries
Glazed or raw walnuts, lightly toasted
1-2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (do this before you juice!)
Juice from one medium lemon
1 single package of stevia or 2 tablespoons of raw honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 cup of organic extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put dressing ingredients into a medium to small size mason jar and shake well. This makes it easy to travel/pack as well as cutting down on washing another mixing bowl. When ready to serve, toss produce with the desired amount of nuts and crumbles and dress to coat lightly.
Dressed Up Store-Bought Salad
Making a special salad doesn’t mean you have to buy tons of produce that you may not have on hand. Sources like Corner Market (their products are also available at The Produce Place) make it easy to add flair with little expense and less chopping. Their Quinoa and Kale Salad is a delightful mix of finely chopped kale, dried cranberries, green onions, mini orange slices, scallions, and a sweet sesame-vinaigrette. We just took it up a notch and made it go a little further for a hungry group of working girls.
Ingredients for our version:
2 half-pint containers of the Corner Market Salad
2 cups of fresh baby spinach or butter lettuce leaves
¼ cup sliced raw almonds
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
Juice of ½ large lemon
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of organic blueberries
Additional salt and pepper to taste
Toss all together and serve.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
While we typically skip dessert, on this occasion, Lacey surprised us with a handmade strawberry pie. With the neighborhood farmers’ markets all having gorgeous berries on display, it was just too much to resist. The result was the sweetest treat that she says she whipped up before work that day.
Your favorite store-bought crust, baked per package instructions and cooled
2 cartons of strawberries (washed and thoroughly dried)
1 cup of water
¾ cup white sugar (yep, we eat sugar sometimes)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp sugar-free strawberry gelatin powder
Natural/plant-based red food coloring to brighten – two drops
Once the pie crust is cooled, arrange the berries in the shell. Mix and boil the water, sugar, and cornstarch until thick and clear. Remove from heat and add the strawberry gelatin powder and food coloring. Let cool and pour over berries. Refrigerate pie to set until ready to serve.