Summer is most certainly winding down and there is a little nip in the air. But fear not! The farmers’ market is still humming. And while you might see an apple or pear starting to make an appearance, corn, tomatoes and stone fruit are still holding court. I have been jonesing for a menu that highlights all that and more, where more equals a big honking tomahawk steak, rubbed to an inch of its life with a killer zesty spice rub. Do you feel me?
I guess you could call this a Pot Lucky because I had help. Lots and lots of help. But it was a pint-sized party compared to others in the past. It was dinner-party sized, to be exact. It was also a Pot Lucky in its most basic form because the menu was curated around a theme. The theme: Farmers’ Market Summer Harvest Bounty! I love the creativity that my guests bring to the table. A quick stroll through a farmers’ market or two and they all raised the bar on imaginative recipes and colorful culinary creations. I have to say – and they all agreed – it was a top ten (five?) meal of my life. Every damn delicious morsel. If I could, I’d eat it all over again. Right! Now!!
What’s a Tomahawk Steak?
I thought you’d never ask. Before I drill down on the deliciousness that was this menu, I wanted to throw a little 411 on you about the famous TomahawkSteak. Also sometimes known as a Cowboy Steak, a Tomahawk is a bone-in ribeye. And by bone-in, I mean all the way in. The steak is usually cut with 5 – 15” inches of rib bone hanging off the chop. The longer the bone, the more tomahawk-looking and all the more dramatic its presentation. It’s a bit fashionable at the moment because of its oh-so-eye-popping presentation. A Tomahawk also varies from a boned ribeye in thickness and weight. Because each rib gets its own serious slab of meat (a boned ribeye can be cut to any thickness), they tend to be about 2” thick and weigh upwards of three pounds, depending on the butcher and size of the cow. This section of the cow is also where T-bones and Porterhouses come from.
Once cut, a butcher will clean the bone by scraping off meat, fat and sinew, a technique called “Frenching”. Think of a rack of lamb with those pristine gleaming racks (bones). You’ve likely heard that cooking meat on the bone adds flavor, but since most of the bone extends beyond the meat it won’t likely add much. True, bones are full of collagen and vitamins, and that is why they are turned into stock and cooked down for demi-glace. But to get at any residual marrow, you need a wet cooking technique like braising, not a high temp grilling technique that chars the bone.
And in case you are wondering, Tomahawks are not limited to beef. Any large rib-cage animal can produce a Tomahawk. In a fancy steakhouse – or at your local butcher – you might find bison, pork or even venison Tomahawks. For the summer harvest dinner, I went with beef.
How to Cook a Tomahawk Steak
I think the ultimate in Tomahawk Steak preparation is a rip-snorting fire. I mean if we are going to eat like a caveman, let’s cook like one, too. It’s pretty foolproof, but if you are at all unclear about doneness, invest in an instant read thermometer, like the one in my shop. Make sure the meat is at room temperature and pat it dry. I have included a spice rub below, but feel free to use any spice rub that you love. If it contains salt, as does mine, rub it on just before grilling. The salt will pull the moisture out if you let it sit too long. Apply the spice rub generously to both sides of the meat and rub it in to minimize fallout (falloff?). It’s called rub for a reason!
There are two schools of thought on high-temp cooking for lean cuts of meat: sear and move to the cooler side or cook on the cooler side, then move to the hot side, ending with a sear, known as a reverse-sear. I have done it both ways and it’s a matter of personal preference, though the reverse-sear will look less charred. Either way, your gas or charcoal grill will need a hot side, as well as a cooler side where you will cook with the lid closed, using the convection created by the grill’s lid. If you opt for the reverse-sear, cook until your meat is about 20 degrees below your desired temperature (goal of 130oF for medium rare), turning periodically. When the meat reaches 110oF, move it to the hot side where you can get your perfect grill marks, or at least a nice, dark, caramel-colored finish. This reverse-sear technique has the added benefit of giving you some crust but without a full-on carcinogenic char. ?
The most important thing EVER for meat is to let it rest before carving – for a big slamming hunk like this, at least 10, more like 15, minutes. This allows the juices to retract back into the muscle, resulting in pink juicy meat. I want to cry every time I see someone pull a $100 tenderloin from the oven and cut immediately as the juices run rampant, leaving a grey blob back on the board. Just say no! And don’t forget to cut across the grain as you would with any piece of meat.
What’s in that spice rub?
I love to play around with spices in the pantry to come up with some unique combos that are easy to grab when headed to the grill. I do have a robust collection of components from which to mix, but truthfully you could make the spice rub below without all the bits and pieces. There are two salts – one would do. There are two peppers – ditto. I like a bit of sugar (remember the sugar steak?) to help with creating a crust on the steak, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado. The main marker of this spice rub is that everything is chunky. That’s a good sign of a rub. If you just used iodized or fine sea salt, it would over-absorb into the meat. The chunkiness has the added benefit of providing pops of flavor, a concept that may be my life’s mantra.
I’m using a black sea salt from Iceland in this mix. (There’s one in my shop if you are curious). It’s no surprise that the island is full of salt options, but I was dazzled by the endless assortment of flavors, many of which start with a black lava salt. I came home loaded with blueberry, grey lava, crowberry with chili, black lava and about 10 more. The one in my shop is not Icelandic, but it’s also not the one that promises to be anti-Wiccan and claims to reverse spells, remove jinxes and keep away bad neighbors. Buy that at your own risk. 🙂
This spice rub is great for so much more than just the Tomahawk. I hope you will make up a batch and let me know how you plan to use it.
Summer Harvest Bounty Menu
Now that we are set on the main, what else sounds good? As a petitPot Lucky, my fearless guests hit the market and came out swinging. We started with these yummy Goat Cheese Tarts with Fresh Herbs and Heirloom Tomatoes.
And speaking of tomatoes, how about this Caprese Antipasti? Caperberries can be a challenge to source, but fear not, they too are in my shop.
And how about this wonderful combo of shaved cauliflower and radicchio? It’s packed with fresh herbs and doused with a smoked whitefish mayo. Look for the recipe in a wonderful new A to Z vegetable cookbook Ruffage, penned by a southwest Michigan chef and farmer Abra Berens. It’s all about farm to table – to be exact, Granor Farm to table, a journey of a mere 50 feet.
Shaved cauliflower salad with smoked whitefish mayo, lemon, radicchio and herbs (Recipe from Ruffage).
While the meat rested, we started with that trio, then moved on to the Tomahawk with the Green Machine Salsa Verde and Ina Garten’s Potato Fennel Gratin. Luckily that woman is not afraid of heavy cream and Gruyere. It was wonderful to have such a decadent side and yes, happily, there were some leftovers. Yahoo! There was plenty of yummy pinot to go around and I pulled out a couple bottles of Cherry Pie, a California favorite. Yum.
One of my favorites on the table was a duo of stuffed vegetables – zucchini and eggplants, one stuffed with ground bison and the other with ground lamb. Both were filled to overflowing with delicious grains, tomatoes, corn, plenty of herbs, and smothered with zesty tomato sauce and shredded cheese. Heaven on a platter!!
I know – the mind reels that there could be more, but nobody was going away hungry. Two salads crowned the buffet. Both have been here on the blog before and are about to come out with a fresh face very soon. The Everything but the Farmer Farmers’ Market Salad – a perfect summer harvest chopped salad of corn, so tender it took only a minute or two on the grill, grilled tomatillos, tomatoes, arugula, sprouts, arugula flowers, bacon and avo. And Roasted Yellow and Garnet Beets with Peaches and Goat Cheese and topped with a cascade of fresh basil. Sometimes I use nectarines. Sometimes I use fresh mint. But choose whatever is available locally and plenty ripe. I love to give it a drizzle with a fruity balsamic like raspberry, but an aged Balsamico is also delish.
And for the crowning glory – drum roll please – a peach and blueberry tart. I mean, could you die?? The sun was setting fast………on the evening, the season and the markets, fading with every last bite. But with the end of one season, a new one begins. And so, it goes. Circle of life.
I hope you too will circle up the friends and family, and pull together a meal as epic as this feast. Every morsel was perfectly seasoned, and every crumb gobbled up. I can’t think of a more respectable way to pay homage to the bounty that summer brings. Breaking bread with those you love is indeed a privilege. Amen to that!
All you need to know about Tomahawk Steaks and how to cook them, plus a zesty spice rub good for so much more. This chunky rub has the added benefit of providing pops of flavor, and its black lava salt helps keep jinxes at bay.
Place the coriander seeds in a mini chopper or spice grinder and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Repeat with the Tellicherry peppercorns.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.
Store in an airtight container.
1/2 cup makes enough for 4 Tomahawk Steaks or 12 single portion steaks.
Also good on other cuts of beef, lamb, poultry and more.
See post for details on how to cook Tomahawk Steaks!
Prep Time:5 minutes
Method:Dump & Stir
Keywords: spice rub, Tomahawk Steaks
Thanks to all my Pot Lucky-ers for continuing on this journey and being intrepid voyagers. Are you game to try your hand at a Pot Lucky? Let me know how it goes. Tag me with #PotLucky & #PalatePassionPurpose. And as always, I love to get your comments below.
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It isn’t summer without a Pot Lucky or two….or three. And just in time for Labor Day, here’s some inspo for the All American BBQ! I rounded up the troops – you must subscribe to the blog and you MUST be game to try something new – and as usual, they did not disappoint! Let’s kick it off with just three of the meats………..are you hungry yet?
Meat, meat and more meat: Hickory smoked chicken with Alabama white BBQ sauce, Asian pork popsicles, ribs with Gilligan sauce (a lot of Ginger and a little Mary Ann).
It was a perfect storm. Beautiful house, beautiful hosts, amazing food and a fun group of Pot Lucky-ers with overactive imaginations. Culinary A game. A+!!
What’s a Pot Lucky?
If you are new to this, a Pot Lucky is my take on what I fear might be a culinary wasteland – the dreaded pot luck. Let’s put the LUCKY in Pot Luck, I say. I create a theme – All American BBQ this time – and ask guests to curate their dishes around it, avoiding the store-bought. Now, with a number of these under my belt, I’m finding more and more dishes that require an alarm set for 1 am to get the chicken out of the brine. Or one that gets started on Monday with sous vide so the ribs are smoked by Thursday. We are talking commitment here! I am not saying you can’t have a super simple Pot Lucky, but no matter your preference – simplicity or extravaganza – having your guests help with the heavy lifting can result in a stunning spread.
We’ve done about a dozen or more Pot Luckys so far with a good list of more to come. Some of my favorites include the salad palooza, fajitas, sliders, and a nautical theme. For details on how to host your own, link here. Depending on the party (8 kinds of meatloaf or 6 flavors of soup), you can plan on leftovers for your freezer. But for other themes, like the tropical-styled Swish Kabobs aka Food on a Stick, it’s more likely that the last pineapple will be licked right off the plate. The All American BBQ could have gone either way. Lots of food, lots of leftovers…..or A+ menu, A++ appetites. It was closer to the latter.
Atmosphere was easy to come by. Between the hosts’ Lake Michigan views and a smattering of red, white & blue on the tables, all was set. Add some killer BBQ, and you have yourself a party.
As is now my tradition, I use this app to track the menu and help guests decide on a dish not already claimed. The categories for this were Meat, Meat, & Meat; Sassy Sides, All about the Sauce, and Blue Ribbon Desserts. Since there are always last minute changes, I let guests create their own signage on arrival. This time I found some little chalkboards on a stand………..and I think they will be showing up again in the future.
Stuffed Pesto Tomatoes and Roasted Shrimp with Orzo
Also new to this round was a Best of Show Award. Who’d a thunk a salad could win this meat extravaganza? But that’s what happened! I let people decide what the category was they were voting for – presentation, use of theme, taste, all of the above – and aside from some sassy and irreverent votes (see the bottom of this post), the clear winner was the Grilled Peach, Blueberry, & Goat Cheese Salad. I think the red, white & blue ribbons tied around the bowl’s pedestal helped tipped the balance. While I say it was a clear winner, truth be told, there were three tied for a very close second. They were all winners in my book.
A special thank you to those that brought the meat. There is no shortage of ideas here and we are always long on laughs. Brett’s Butt! For real?? I loved the presentation on the lemon chicken tenders, and huge props to the four-day sous vide and smoking St. Louis (you are reading that as St. Louie, right?) ribs prep. That was some real commitment. At the top of this post, I shared a snap of the hickory smoked chicken (with 1am alarm to remove from the brine), the Asian pork popsicles, and the Gilligan sauce on the classic ribs – lots and lots of Ginger, with a dash of Mary Ann and the Professor.
All about the Sauce
I thought this feast would be all about the sauce, but things have a way of morphing. There were some really delicious offerings, says the woman who brought two. 🙂 If you had the Mango Habanero BBQ that I brought to the party, don’t judge. I have completely redone it since then. In my haste to pull this together, I didn’t quite get what I wanted. But that is the way it is in cooking. You learn from your mistakes, or improve your near misses. Nobody will complain about the one listed below. Just the right amount of heat and sweet. Brush that on anything – toward the end of your cooking, though, so the sugar doesn’t burn. The other sauce I brought was the Green Machine Salsa Verde. It’s officially my most requested recipe and it will be in a second post later this week. Stay tuned. The Alabama White BBQ Sauce came with the smoked chicken, and there was also an Asian Orange Sesame Sauce, that was marked Agent Orange by some ne’er do well.
All about the Sauce: Green Machine, Alabama White BBQ & Mango Habanero BBQ
Bringing people together to break bread like this is one of the great joys of entertaining, perhaps life. Spirits are high and friendships are forged. How amazing when you get a chance to meet someone new. In fact at this very party, I made a new friend from SF that I had long known about through NY friends, who was also a friend of a Michigan Pot Lucky charter member. Funny how that all comes full circle. Nobody is stealing our joy!
Save Room for Dessert
Even with the bountiful meat feast and all those sides, save room for dessert. And, since it’s summer in Michigan, berries are the….”super stah”.
Blueberry Creme Brulee, Becca’s Famous Cheesecake and Peach & Blueberry Cobbler. Yum!
And the Grand Prize – a bottle of “saucy” BBQ Sauce, the coveted blue ribbon and bragging rights – goes to Gayle for that lovely salad. Who will win the title next time???
There’s one (or two, judging by the handwriting) in every crowd!!!!! And we are so grateful for them!
Having an All American BBQ? Give this Mango Habanero BBQ Sauce a whirl. The char of deep molasses is a perfect counter to the sweet mango and the heat of Ancho and Habanero. Slather it on your meat, chicken, fish or veg toward the end of the grilling time so as not to burn the sugars. It’s a real crowd pleaser!
1 cup ketchup
8-ounce pack chile spiced mangos (At Trader Joe’s, they are called Sweetened Dried Mango with Chile Seasoning)
8 ounces chopped frozen mango (fresh, if ripe)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons molasses
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon Mango Habanero spice
2 teaspoons Ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic, or four cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Add all ingredients, except lime juice, to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring.
Set aside. When cool enough, transfer to the work bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Add the lime juice and puree until incorporated and smooth.
Store in an airtight container, refrigerated.
I used the chili spiced mangoes from Trader Joe’s, but you can use any dried mangoes. They are similar in texture to a dried apricot, not a freeze-dried or dehydrated fruit. If you can’t find the chili mangoes, consider adding a bit more (to taste) Ancho powder to make up for plain dried mangoes.
The Spice Hunter makes a terrific Global Fusion Rub in Mango Habanero. Just be sure to take a deep breath and hold before opening the jar. It’s wonderfully potent. Avoid sniffing!!
Keywords: BBQ sauce
BBQ Final Planning Note
Some Pot Luckys, like the one for pizzas or burgers, get cooked at the party. This time, since it wasn’t my house, I asked for the food to be ready-to-serve. Either way you need to be clear about expectations. Be sure to let your guests know that quantity is not a concern, because there are so many dishes from which to choose. I try not to focus on head count as a guideline, because I know with all that food, not all guests will try each dish, especially when you have 20+ items. I just ask that they fill their serving dish. But then again, there are those who will try every single one. Why are you looking at ME? It’s my job.
Thanks to all my Pot Lucky-ers for continuing on this journey and being intrepid voyagers. Are you game to try your hand at a Pot Lucky? Let me know how it goes. Tag me with #PotLucky & #PalatePassionPurpose. And as always, I love to get your comments below.
I probably say this every Pot Lucky – but the stick party was the best ever. Food on a stick! Skewered anything! Skewered everything! Kicked up Shish Kabobs……Swish Kabobs! It was the perfect storm of a late summer night with stunning weather, a beautiful pool patio with gorgeous gardens, amazing guests ready to have fun, and a commitment from people to bring their culinary A-game to the table. Literally – to the table.
Special cocktail: Limoncello Sparkler. Add lemon seltzer and Prosecco to Limoncello and garnish with mint and lemon slices.
Pot Luckys, for the uninformed, are my spin on the dreaded (to me at least) pot luck. The emphasis is on the Lucky. Menus are curated around a theme and the goal is to avoid supermarket fare stored in the office desk drawer all the damn day. Don’t think you are fooling anyone by using a frilly pick. That does NOT make it special. I’m on to you. I know, I know. Not everyone that you want to invite is game for this, but there are so many ways for all to participate. Pot Luckys are always about the food, in this case the Swish Kabob, but since there was a lovely pool patio I layered luau onto the theme. That left room for people who don’t cook to get excited about leis. I mean who doesn’t love that? The order went out to don trop frocks and the crew did not disappoint. From banana slippers to tiki attire, it was a colorful group.
Atmosphere was easy to come by. Between the host’s inflatable shark raft and my 4 zillion floating flip flop candles the pool was set. Lights in trees, colorful cloths, lots of flowers and a few banana leaves and you have yourself a party.
I always supply “placecards” to let guests write their own title on the dish. While I use this app to track the menu and help guests decide on a dish not already claimed, there are always last minute changes. Best to let guests create their own card on arrival. This time I slapped on a few stickers from a crazy stash that I had apparently hoarded. Who knew I was long in tropical stickers? I also ordered an inexpensive photo booth kit of tiki props from Amazon, which made taking photos a lot of fun.
We’ve done about a dozen Pot Luckys so far with a good list of more to come. Some of my favorites include the salad palooza, fajitas, sliders, and a nautical theme. For details on how to host your own, link here. Depending on the party (8 kinds of meatloaf or 6 flavors of soup), you can plan on leftovers for your freezer. But for other themes, like Swish Kabobs, you can expect the pineapple to get licked right off the dish, with nothing but amazing memories (and possibly a few compromising photos) to take away.
Food on a Stick
Tropical Shrimp on a stick; Chicken Satay on a stick with peanut sauce; Watermelon, Feta & Mint on a stick with a Balsamic glaze.
There are no rules on how to put food on a stick and though I provided a few menu ideas for each category (apps, sides, mains, desserts), I also sent people off to google food on a stick. Pinterest has its share of ideas. If it looks tricky, it might not hurt to give it a test run. I find that the online photos that have their subject carefully laying down might be displayed this way due to precarious skewerability. That’s a word, right? If the photo shows the skewers upright and poked into a watermelon or pineapple or someone holding them, that’s a safe bet. I hope my guests know by now that I appreciate the effort as much as the success. Not all things turn out, but they are always tasty…A+ for effort, and I love their enthusiasm for trying something new. I had an Italian cooking teacher who always said, “That’s the way we like it!” in reference to any dish and any outcome. Applause. Applause.
Greek Salad on a stick; Chicken & Waffles on a stick.
Some dishes were cooked or prepared separately and then assembled and some were cooked on the skewers. Don’t forget to soak your skewers if you are going to grill them. Also some had a single portion with a lot of skewer showing, appetizer-style, and some were loaded end to end, entree-style. Variety is the spice of life.
Antipasti on a stick; Hatch Chili Brats & Spiced Potatoes on a stick; Corn Cobbettes on a stick.
I often have Pot Luckys where the cooking happens on the scene, like pizzas or burgers. This time I asked for the food to be ready-to-serve since it wasn’t my house. Either way you need to be clear about expectations. Let your guests know that quantity is not a concern, because there are so many dishes from which to choose. I try to give a head count as a guideline, but know that not all guests will try each dish, especially when you have 20 items. And then there are those who will try every single one and then some. Why are you looking at me? It’s my job.
Caprese Salad on a stick; Grilled Peaches with Basil & Fresh Mozzarella on a stick; Pineapple Coconut Lime Shrimp on a stick.
Flank Steak on a stick; Summer Squash & Red Skins on a stick; Pork Wings on a stick: Pork Belly, Pineapple, and Avo on a stick.
One brave guest rolled his own sushi and popped that on a stick. Kind of perfect! And what you see below is not any old fruit kabob. Oh, no! This fruit – mango, pineapple, fresh cherries and Moon Drop grapes – has had a little boozy bath before being skewered.
Sushi on a stick; Boozy Fruit on a stick.
Special props to the ladies who went the extra mile to fill the challenging dessert category. I wasn’t sure if we would get any takers on dessert, but two brave souls stepped up to the challenge with tremendous success! Three flavors of ice cream pops and mini blueberry pies on a stick. So creative, so beautiful, and so tasty. A real crowd-pleaser!!
Ice Cream Pops on a stick: Pineapple/Kiwi/Coconut; Brownie/Pecan; Strawberry/Blueberry.
I love that some of the blueberry pie-ettes were made using a Michigan-shaped pastry cutter. We call ourselves the Mitten State. So, these are officially “Hand” Pies!! Yum!
Blueberry Hand Pies on a stick – get it? Michigan mitten-shaped, aka “Hand”, pies!
Greek salad on a stick is a quick and easy solution when you need an hors d’oeuvre to go. Prep the ingredients ahead, and marinate the Feta up to overnight. About 20 minutes before you are ready to assemble, marinate the vegetables. Once assembled, these will keep in the fridge for several hours.
8-ounce package of Feta (chunk or block, not crumbles or cubes)
4 mini cucumbers (8 ounces)
32 cherry tomatoes, assorted colors
32 oil-cured, pitted olives
32 bamboo skewers
Fresh herbs: chives, thyme, oregano
Red pepper flakes
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Marinate the Feta:
Slice the block of Feta in half, creating a top half and bottom half. Cut each section in 4 x 4 sections, resulting in 32 pieces of Feta. Transfer to a mixing bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Season with chopped chives and red pepper flakes, to taste. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes, up to overnight.
Marinate the vegetables:
Trim off the ends of the mini cucumbers, and slice each one into 8 slices. Slice the stem end off each cherry tomato and using a small knife or spoon (I like to use a strawberry huller), cut out the ribs and seeds from the tomatoes. The tomatoes will serve as a cup to keep the Feta intact. Place the cucumbers and tomatoes in a small bowl and drizzle with olive oil, enough to coat, and a squeeze of lemon. Season with fresh thyme, chopped oregano, sea salt and black pepper. Marinate for 20 to 30 minutes only.
Assemble the skewers:
Skewer the cucumber slice (lollipop-style), a tomato (open end up), a piece of Feta (pressed down into the tomato), and an olive. Repeat using up all the ingredients. Refrigerate until serving and sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving.
Prep Time:30 minutes
Keywords: Greek Salad, Food on a Stick, Kabobs
Food on a Stick Finale
Thanks to all my Pot Lucky-ers for continuing on this journey and being intrepid voyagers. Are you game to try your hand at a Pot Lucky? Let me know how it goes, tag me with #PotLucky & #PalatePassionPurpose and as always, I love to get your comments below.
Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! The Salad Palooza is the mother of all Pot Luckys! What a feast! What a gathering! What fierce women bound together by emulsified vinaigrettes! Ok, there were other things to unite over and celebrate. And this GNO (Girls Night Out) took things to a whole next level. My pal and blog bestie Stacie pulled out all the stops gathering up the gals for a gorgeous summer night at her lakeside cottage. The only call to action was salads – home-made, of course – and to try and not bring duplicates. Sign Up Genius makes it easy to keep track of choices made and helps weed out repeats. Above is Amey’s yumster Charred Peaches & Onions, with watercress, candied bacon and chevre. So good!
Avocado & Tomato Salad with Almonds and a Tarragon Balsamic; Gourmet Mexican Street Corn Salad.
Pot Luckys, for those readers that are new, are my answer to the dreaded pot luck. The emphasis is on the Lucky. Menus are curated around a theme and the goal is to avoid the Velveeta cube with frilly pick. Don’t think you are fooling anyone by topping that cube with a chunk of Slim Jim. That does NOT make it special. I’m on to you. I know, I know not everyone that you want (HAVE?) to invite cooks, so there are definitely jobs for them, too….How much wine CAN you carry? Do my dishes – yes, please. Set up? Break Down? Keep my drink cold? Yes, Yes, and Yes.
In addition to the main theme – salads this time – there is always room for an app or two, a signature drink and of course dessert. How much do you love these cheese wafers below? Someone does:) They remind me of Christmas parties, warm from the oven. I have a real soft spot for them.
We’ve done about a dozen Pot Luckys so far with a good list of more to come. Some of my favorites include fajitas, soup exchange, sliders, and a nautical theme. For details on how to host your own, link here. Depending on the party (8 kinds of meatloaf and 6 flavors of soup), you can plan on leftovers for your freezer. But for other themes, like salad palooza, you can expect the flowers to get licked right off the dish, with nothing but amazing memories to take away.
That middle salad in the large wooden bowl is mine. In case you missed the curried avocado dressing, I’m sharing it again below. This dressing can do just about anything – it’s a real workhorse. But keep scrolling – there are alot more great salad ideas below the recipe!
This is the kind of dressing you can slather on anything and everything. It is a game changer for a quiet romaine and it balances out the earthiness of a strong bitter green like kale. Slap it on a sammy, add it to a salad jar, or dunk your veggies in it.
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, cut into chunks
3/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water, or as needed
In a small sauté pan, toast the cumin, coriander and turmeric for about one minute, until fragrant.
With the motor running, drop the garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Turn off and add the avocados, pulsing a few times to a chunky puree. Add the vinegar, toasted spices, salt and peppers and pulse several times until combined.
With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until smooth, adding water as needed to desired consistency.
Makes 2 1/2 cups. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container.
This dressing is designed for a hearty green and grain salad, so is aggressively seasoned. If you want to use this creamy green goodness in a more delicate dish, cut back on the spices and garlic a bit.
If you don’t have white balsamic, use another mildly flavored and light colored vinegar, like rice vinegar.
Prep Time:5 minutes
Keywords: salad, salad dressing
Meanwhile back at the party, the fun continues….
Word must have gotten out that Cobb is one of my favorites – avocado, bacon, blue cheese, cucumbers, eggs, tomatoes, chicken, spinach – what could be bad?
You will be amazed how creative guests can be when challenged to pull out all the stops. At least I was – once again! I have been to many a party where there were three or four versions of crunchy pea salad or watermelon & feta, but nothing close to overlap occurred here. In lieu of Sign Up Genius, Stacie set up a private facebook page and made a few suggestions, and then guests weighed in on what they had in mind. It really sparked the imagination. Farmers’ Market finds reigned supreme.
Penne with Chicken, Zucchini, Tomatoes and Corn; Red Skin Potato Salad with Prosciutto; 7 layer Salad.
And bacon – you can never go wrong with bacon. Lest you think these were some girly spa salads, look again. While my salad was vegan, it was hearty and robust and chock-full of plant-based protein, while still feeling indulgent. The variety of colors, textures, flavors and aromas across the buffet was extraordinary.
Go ahead and admit it: you are just a little jealous that the egss in the salad below were just laid. AmIRite?
Apple Cole Slaw; Farm Fresh (no really – straight from the hen house) Egg Salad; Grapes & Pecans.
Thanks to Stacie for hosting and recruiting so many wonderful women who know how to spin a salad.
Chicken Salad with Grapes & Pecans; Greek Zoodle Salad; Mediterranean Shrimp Salad with Artichoke Hearts.
Did you see a salad here that you’d like to try? If so, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to bring more of these recipes to life. Did you know I used to create recipes for CNN and Burt Wolf interviewing chefs around the globe? I’d watch the 60-second edited video and create a tasty recipe that matched all the action. Shhh – top secret. I’ve already said too much.
With pretty much all 19 bowls licked clean, blueberry pie sent us out and on our merry way. I’ll be dreaming about this feast for summers to come. Many thanks to all that made this night so special.
That glow is just a reflection from this sunset. I swear it!
If it’s summer, it’s grilling time and what better way to get a little entertaining help than a Pot Lucky. After the success of last year’s Slider Grill-a-thon, I picked Fajita Fiesta for a theme. I also had a brand new jar of Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread land on my doorstep and immediately thought of chipotle. To be specific, Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken Thighs! Are you feeling me? On a grilled tortilla with some refried beans, maybe a little guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro sprigs and perhaps a grilled veg or two? Well don’t stop there! We got so many wonderful contributions that the pairings and combos of flavors were virtually endless.
But let’s get this party started properly. Normally my potlucks are a BYO event (leaving me time to focus energy on coordinating culinary contributions, trying to weed out duplicates). But this time one couple decided to bring her dad’s signature and award-winning margarita in lieu of food. Score! They also brought that darling baby that appears further down this post. The cocktail recipe itself is a secret, but I have it on good authority that there is a certain blue collar beer in the mix. Nobody seemed to remember Hop Skip & Go Naked, but that was one of my earliest (college) blender memories. Starting with frozen lemon or limeade, all other “liquids” added used the juice-can-as-measure technique. Beer was definitely in the mix. Anybody?
Readers have asked how to host a Pot Lucky, as I have taken to calling the Curated Pot Luck. ICYMI, I have a deep-seeded fear of pot lucks. Shivvvvvvvvvvver. One too many frilly picks atop Velveeta cubes atop Slim Jims. True fact: I ate that last summer. I was THAT hungry. So it occurred to me a couple years ago to help people help themselves. By creating a theme (which makes it easier for guests to focus on their contribution to the menu), suggesting categories, and having a Sign Up for Your Dish List, you can create an amazing feast. We’re pushing our tenth Pot Lucky, all covered in this blog, but a few of my favorites are sliders, pizza, meatloaf, and nautical style. Like any good mother, I can’t really choose.
Here’s the 101 Crash Course on how to host a Pot Lucky. Doubtless there will be additional thoughts coming in subsequent posts, but let’s start with the basics.
The 411 on Pot Lucky 101
Like most things in life, the devil is in the details, and I am a firm believer in plan, plan, planning. Make a master list for any gathering and create sections for who is coming, what they are bringing, your shopping, prep, and set up.
Create a Theme
Creating a theme to curate your Pot Luck around is step one to giving menu directions. This is the best possible insurance against Velveeta with a frilly pick on a Slim Jim. Because unless your theme is Junk Food (I actually did that theme for a Chefs’ Night Out after the James Beard Awards, because let’s get real – that’s what chefs crave) or White Trash, there is a high likelihood you can avoid this culinary treasure. I have done sausage making, pizza toppings, soup swaps, sliders, nautically themed, Thanksgiving family treasures, meat loaf and more. What about a clam bake? Salad Palooza (my next Pot Lucky), American BBQ classics, fondue, Chinese New Year’s, Indian street food? So many possibilities.
Who is Game?
Most times when you entertain, the cast of characters is pre-ordained. An office party? Family gathering? School reunion? But if this is just a time to pull folks together around this menu, consider who would enjoy it. I’m all about being inclusive and fully believe everyone can whip together something using ready-made components – I have offered to give tutorials to those that might feel a teeny twinge of stress over this – but what you don’t want is take-out. That is a whole other party. Calvin Trillin used to host an annual dinner in NYC to benefit the NY Public Library and he had minions scattered all over Chinatown to scoop up and swoop in with military precision, delivering NY’s Best Chinese Take Out.
Look for people that think this is fun. It might not be everyone you know, but you might be surprised how many people jump on the bandwagon and show up with papier mâché marionettes wearing sombreros. Be prepared to yield a wide berth for exceptions and provide a hall pass to anyone happy to pitch in in other ways. Do you do dishes? You are absolutely most welcome!
I always provide detailed descriptions of the evening’s flow from arrival time to what to bring (already plated with serving spoon). I also like to include a list of everything I am providing. And then I plan for contingencies for that one person that shows up with the bowl, the ice, the cocktail sauce and no shrimp. I might not have shrimp to make that dish whole, but I will have a backup appetizer to fill the void. A day or two before, I provide a general head count for everyone so they know how much to bring. Nobody has to make enough to feed the total crowd because there will be so much food. 2 or 3 cups of a salsa goes a long way when sprinkled on a fajita. But I usually specify quantity on proteins (2-3 pounds each for the fajita mains; 2 dozen 2-ounce sliders for the burger party) and ask the people bringing lower priced or less time-intensive items to bring 2 or 3 items. And, some Pot Luckys are geared toward sharing the food beyond the night. So make sure folks bring containers to nab portions of the many meatloaves that were sampled, but not finished.
Provide Sample Menu with Categories
I put some time into coming up with categories and then list a smattering of ideas under each category. Don’t assign particular dishes to guests, unless it’s their signature and you must have it (Deb’s shrimp burger as a slider is an example.) Everyone comes from different places – work, home, yet another soccer game – so let them figure out what they are comfortable with making that fits their skills, palate, schedule, and budget.
Track the Menu
As much as I would like to say your job is done, I want you to avoid the all-pork-tenderloin dinner party. Every Pot Lucky has one item that is the highly coveted I MUST MAKE THAT. For fajitas, it was pork tenderloin. By asking guests to reply to you directly (no need to clog everyone’s inbox), you can track what is already taken. And if you got this email and want to bring one particular thing, reply ASAP!! You can also set up a private event page online and let people sift through all the comments to see what is already nabbed, or better yet, use an app that tracks commitments by whatever categories you specify.
Set the Table
Whether the event is at my house, on a boat, or at the park, I always pack extra serving spoons and forks, some condiments and seasonings, and plates, silverware, and napkins. For smaller groups, it may be a sit down with linens and table décor. For portable events, I try to consolidate, but still throw in a tablecloth and a pot of herbs for décor. Sometimes people show up with their own decor ideas, and you might turn around to find a prayer candle for the Virgin of Guadalupe and a big sombrero right where you left your chip basket. Get creative, but be organized with a master list of what you will need.
Organize Arriving Food
Once the food starts arriving, try to categorize it by how it will be used. For pizzas, that means putting all the sauces in one area, the cheeses in another, the scattering-type toppings in yet a third. For fajitas, put the tortillas at one end of the table and the cilantro sprigs at the other. This is your chance to be restaurateur for the day, so make a plan to lay out all contributions in a logical order. There may be some things that are for noshing now, so you can stage them in a separate area to clear space for working and setting up your buffet.
This is like point number 7 on every Girl Scout badge – after Be Prepared, there is Be Flexible. Even the best planning will go off the rails at some point or in some way, but just roll with it. Extra people? No problem because I have extra plates! Forgot your spoon? Got it handled – because I pulled out extras. Didn’t read the part about having the soups to swap in individual containers for take away? Done and done! We will wash all the containers from the tasting portion and repackage with the soup that needs to be portioned. At the end of the day, this is a party and the only rule is to have fun. Be inclusive. Be gracious. Share! Generosity of spirit covers a multitude of mistakes (that nobody but you needs know about).
Let’s leave this place better than we found it. That goes for the host and also the participants. Whether the party is in your own home, someone else’s or at the park, enlist help to return to pre-party conditions. Too often we don’t want to break the spell by doing the mundane, but many hands make light work. Don’t be a martyr – this is a community party so it’s a great time to get some extra hands to hand back platters and serving utensils, pack up the dirty things and make a trip to the recycle bin. That leaves you free to wake up tomorrow and bask in the memory of a great party, not to face a mound o’ mess!
Meanwhile back at the fiesta….
here are some of the amazing dishes that arrived for the Fajita Fiesta. One section of the table was reserved for the more app-type contributions to nosh on while the grill was firing up – chips & salsas: pineapple, pico and mango, and guacamole.
And there were so many toppings, among them grilled onions, squashes, and peppers. Pickled and fresh jalapenos, cilantro & lime, tomatoes, scallions, lettuce & arugula, sautéed mushrooms. Oh my! Cheeses ranged from goat to queso fresco, and Monterey Jack to habanero cheddar. Corn and flour tortillas were given a quick pass on the grill to warm up and slightly char. Dan brought his legendary refried beans and there was a tomatillo cilantro rice.
I kind of left Sauces & Salsas open, with only a few ideas offered, and the range of things that came in did not disappoint. A red chili sauce, the roasted Hatch chili salsa verde, a yogurt cumin sauce and several chunky salsas, including black bean & corn, mango coconut and pineapple. Lots and lots of guacamole.
What I love is that everyone is into working the theme into the décor. Props showed up by the boat load (literally – across the lake by boat with a serape and maracas). Look how great these sauces are in the Mexican terracotta.
Next up the mains: In addition to the chipotle fig glazed chicken thighs, the main event included pork tenderloin, fish, shrimp, sirloin, chorizo, pulled brisket and shredded pork.
Chipotle Fig Chicken Fajitas
My contribution was this sweet heat chipotle and fig glazed chicken thighs. The chipotle fig marriage lands this chicken dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé! Throw some tortillas on the grill, stuff with chicken, avocado, cilantro and a big squeeze of lime and you are on your way to a party in your mouth.
The marriage of figs and chipotle lands this dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé!
10 ounce jar Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread
1/2 cup olive oil
3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
Juice of two limes
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
Make the marinade:
Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Makes 1 2/3 cups.
Using about 1/4 of the marinade, combine with chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, up to overnight. The remaining marinade will keep, refrigerated and covered, for several weeks.
Remove the thighs from the marinade, shaking off any excess marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire (or bake the chicken at 350oF) until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Internal temperature should reach 165oF.
Let the chicken rest for ten minutes, then cut in strips if making fajitas.
Prep Time:5 minutes (plus marinating time)
Cook Time:15 minutes
At first I thought this little doll was eyeing the margaritas, but I realize now she was on to the cake. The cake on the left – Feliz Cumpleaños – was brought because, yes!, there has been yet another spin around the sun, and the other lovely was a wonderful Tres Leches.
Considering having a Pot Lucky of your own? Let me know in the comments or pick my brain at [email protected].
If you are not already hip-deep in cabbage and corned beef for this weekend while slogging green beer, permit me to suggest a deep dive into the land of meatloaf. I have wanted to take the Pot Lucky into meatloaf territory for some time and finally got the chance. For a while now, I have been hosting a curated and themed potluck where guests bring their version or contribution to the theme du jour. Instead of different sides to complement a meatloaf, everyone brought a meatloaf. Crazy, right? Or luuuuuuuucky?? Where potlucks have random cubes of Velveeta with frilly picks, the meatloaf Pot Lucky has meatloaf, meatloaf, and more meatloaf. Bring containers because you will feast for the week.
Not only did guests show up with some creative styles – chorizo/beef with queso and fresh cilantro – but also different shapes – spam & ham muffins, dosed with caramelized pineapple, Hawaiian-style. Despite a few common ingredients, there was virtually no overlap with the Maui Wowie Meatloaf. It was great to see different spins on a theme. Both were unique and both delicious. The Maui Wowie was beef and pork, with a secret ingredient ….”the stale remnants of mostly gone cracker boxes lurking in the pantry”. When you think about it, kind of brilliant – using all those random odds and ends in a recipe that calls for stale crumbs anyway. That’s Pot Lucky. We also had an old timey meatloaf with mostly beef and a little piggy, and I brought a Blue Plate Special with a healthy dose of shiitake mushrooms to add that unctuous umami.
Truth be told that was my safety loaf. I created a lamb and veal loaf….My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf….but it was a maiden voyage. I couldn’t be loaf-shamed at my own gathering, so had to have a tried and true as a backup. I have now made the MBFG loaf several times and it does not disappoint. Chock-full of herbs and a healthy dose of feta and Pecorino, this loaf is kept moist with grated zucchini and a combo of ground lamb and ground veal.
If you can’t get your butcher to freshly grind the meat, be sure to combine the two meats well and work in all the ingredients evenly. I find that the vacuum-packed meat tends to be a bit harder to break up. The loaf won’t hang together fully if the ingredients are not well dispersed which can make the end result a bit crumbly. Basic meatloaf recipes will most likely use meats that are easy to source fresh ground – beef, pork, etc., but I realize that veal and lamb can be harder to come by fresh ground. There is nothing wrong with the Cryovac packages, but just use a little elbow grease when blending by hand.
The best tip I got came with the Maui Wowie: put slices of bread under the loaf – whether in a loaf pan or on a sheet pan or shallow roaster – to absorb all the juices. That is one issue I have always had with loaf pans – the juices bubble up the sides and keep the meat poaching in the juice and fat. Not only do you not shed all the unnecessary fat, you don’t get a crust because the sides are submerged in liquid. When I made My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf again, I tried a roaster with the slices of bread underneath and it got a nice crust on the sides (the top is covered with a chunky tomato glaze) and the cheeses get a lovely toasted flavor. Simply leave the slices behind when ready to serve. Or sneak a bite of crust, just to make sure you aren’t missing anything. No one is looking.
This and a big salad are all you will need for a feast. I use a lot of herbs including dill, cilantro, mint and parsley. Adding fresh herbs to any salad really elevates the profile. Okay – I lied. You can’t have meatloaf without a big batch of my goat cheese and thyme mashed potatoes. Oh, and a big pot of green beans tossed with shallot butter. This is a meal worthy of 4 face plants. Yum. Yum. Yum and yum!
I hope you are dabbling in the Pot Lucky. Potlucks are so yesterday. Why have one meatloaf when you can have six? Are you with me? In case you missed it, past Pot Luckys are linked below.
My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf is a new spin on an American Classic! Packed full of herbs and flavorful cheeses, this entree is the perfect foil to creamy mashed potatoes and shallot green beans. Sunday dinner will never be the same.
3 slices whole wheat bread, torn into pieces + 2 slices to line the pan
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground veal
1 small zucchini, grated
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped oregano
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Zest of one lemon
1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilis, with juices
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped mint
Preheat oven to 375oF. Pulse the bread in the work bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. You should have about 2 cups of crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
Put two pieces of bread side by side in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan.
Make the topping:
In a small saucepan, heat the tomatoes, brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 4 – 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in mint and set aside.
Make the meatloaf:
Add the lamb, veal, zucchini, Pecorino, feta, parsley, oregano, garlic, lemon zest, and egg to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Mix well by hand. Transfer to a cutting board and pat firmly into a loaf shape, about 9 x 5 inches, pinching together any cracks. Transfer to the roasting pan and place atop the bread slices. Make a slight indentation down the middle of the loaf.
Spoon the tomato mixture down the middle of the meatloaf and brush the juices across the top. Place in preheated oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Cool slightly, then transfer to a cutting board, leaving the bread behind. To serve, slice.
I find that the vacuum-packed meat tends to be a bit harder to break up. Basic meatloaf recipes will most likely use meats that are easy to source fresh ground – beef, pork, etc., but I realize that veal and lamb can be harder to come by fresh ground. There is nothing wrong with the Cryovac packages, but just use a little elbow grease when blending by hand. If the ingredients are not evenly dispersed, the end result can be a bit crumbly. Mix well and firmly shape the loaf.
Placing two pieces of bread side by side in the loaf pan or on a sheet pan helps sop all those liquids cooking off of the ground lamb and veal.
I’ve cooked this in both a loaf pan and on a sheet pan or shallow roaster, and prefer the latter two choices which gives more airflow and toasts up the cheeses creating a nice crust on the sides.
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:1 hour 15 minutes
Missed previous Pot Luckys, or don’t even know what a Pot Lucky is?