There’s still time to lend an ear, grab an ear, shuck an ear, do what you must…to make this peak-of-the-season fresh corn salad that was on the menu at last week’s Summer Harvest Bounty feast. I have shared this recipe before and while it’s a no-recipe recipe, I’ve been ask to fill in some blanks.
Nothing is better than late summer tomatoes and corn. Local farmers here in west Michigan know that I am a bit of a fiend when it comes to sourcing products. I have been known to hit four different markets and source my meal from half a dozen farmers in any given week. So much for reducing the carbon footprint from eating local. Gotta have corn from Ham Family Farm. Arugula only from Grandson’s Garden. (Don’t miss the world’s best $2 pot scrubber from 9-year-old weaver Liam!) Bacon from Creswick Farms (THEY have zero carbon footprint). Organic salad mix with nasturtium blossoms from Summer Blend Gardens. And don’t get me started on Laughing Tree Bakery breads. For the love of all that’s sacred, Charlie and Hilde, make more Elbridge Parmesan Olive bread!! It gets a little competitive most Saturdays. With all that commitment to sourcing ingredients, who has time to follow a recipe? Truthfully I am a bit ambivalent about recipes. I think there is nothing sweeter than a well-tested recipe that works every time. They are worth their weight in culinary gold. (I’m talking about salt, people!) However, this time of year and with perfect ingredients, they can get in the way. There are no right or wrong ingredients for this dish. And no right or wrong amounts. What’s in season? What’s picked at the peak of perfection? What sounds good today?? But for those that prefer it, I have updated this recipe to show how I make it. You do you; I’ll do me.
Fresh Corn Salad – Yes, Please!
My go-to must-haves for this corn salad are always the basics – obvs corn and tomatoes. And I almost always include tomatillos. The grilled or roasted tomatillos provide the acid, and the bacon and avocados provide the fat, thereby eliminating the need for a dressing. It’s a self dressing salad – pure genius!!! The rest of the ingredients always vary and the proportions are flexible to taste. You can assemble all the ingredients except for greens and bacon well in advance. Just toss the more fragile ingredients in at serving time and don’t overmix – I love the big chunky pieces of corn cut from the cob. It tells everyone you got your hands dirty. That makes it taste so much better. What are you waiting for?
As always, check the seasonings. If anything, I usually grab a generous sprinkle of smoked serrano salt. That’s salt and pepper in one-stop shopping – almost as brilliant as the self-dressing salad. Or Maldon salt – my flaky favorite. Fresh cracked pepper. Done.
IF by some miracle you have leftover corn salad, it makes a fabulous addition to a quesadilla. But more than likely, you too will have a guest that grabbed the serving bowl and polished it off using a giant serving spoon. 🙂
Hey hey hey – I said everything BUT the farmer. But anyway here’s my corn guy from Ham Family Farm – always good for a recipe or produce update.
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’s no secret that Cobb Salad is a personal fave. But how to turn up the flavors, yet keep the bacon, egg, and cheese goodness? Enter Sriracha Grilled Shrimp and Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing. Say hello to your new best friend – the Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Cobb Salad. Perfection!
If you only need to know one thing about me, know this. I am mad for late summer farmers’ markets. I will probably go to five this week. Okay, I agree…..a little obsessive. But, I have a favorite farmer (plus The Cheese Lady) for every ingredient in this salad. I’m not saying you have to do the same – or that you can’t just go to the supermarket for all this – but I AM SAYING you have to make this NOW. Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Cobb Salad is all about the season at hand! Fresh sweet corn. Heirloom tomatoes. Sprouts. Flowers. Herbs. Oh my!
The Classic Cobb Salad
Instead of debating where this salad came from and why it is so called (almost certainly a 20s- or 30s-era salad from Hollywood’s Brown Derby, owned by Robert Cobb), what do you say we just dive in? The classic has greens – often iceberg or romaine, chicken, tomatoes, avocado, hard boiled egg, Roquefort and bacon. In other words, what could be bad? You may find it already tossed, as well as deconstructed with tidy little rows of ingredients. While it barely needs a dressing, the rich cheese and bacon beg for a quiet whisper of shallot vinaigrette.
The Shrimp Cobb Salad
I’m not gonna lie. I am a bit conflicted here. I have a passion for spins and tweaks and making the old new again. But the Classic Cobb is pretty much as good as it gets. I was having a party and wanted a make-ahead all-in-one salad-entree and I thought this would fit the bill….a real crowd-pleaser. But I decided as long as I keep all the favorite components, I could give it a global palate spin. Enter shrimp, corn, and chipotle. Some of the ingredients were direct swaps – chicken for shrimp, roasted for marinated and grilled, Roquefort for Hatch Gouda, and shallot vinaigrette for Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing. Others were too good to mess with – bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and avocado. Then there were a few things I decided to slide in because I could.
Look at these stunningly gorgeous plums. What a perfect sweet and juicy foil to all that buttermilk tang and chipotle smoke! Michigan produces a wide range of both Japanese and European varieties. Those yellow/green beauties are Shiros; the golden/orange-ish rounds are Bubblegum; the small red orbs are Methley; and the violet-blue ovals are Vibrants. I also added some corn which brought some more lovely sweetness, but bonus……….a nice crunch and texture contrast, as well.
I think deconstructed salads are among the few places where more is more. Most often in food, less is more. But if you are going to let people decide what to add to their plate, why not give them a variety to chose from?
Marinating the Shrimp
Shrimp is an-oh-so simple thing to throw on the grill, and of course is good grilled and chilled, making this the perfect make-ahead entree. The marinade is dead easy – lime juice, olive oil, Sriracha, Tabasco and some spices. If you haven’t tried the Chipotle Tabasco, give it a whirl. It adds a nice smokiness to the marinade. I never like to marinate any seafood or fish for too long, because the acid will start to “cook” it. If you prep the marinade first, and add the shrimp while prepping the rest of the salad and getting the grill ready, you will time it just right. Then only a few minutes on the fire for each side, and you and your shrimp will be ready to chill.
Composing the Salad
The directions for the marinade and creamy dressing are sufficiently detailed, but I am leaving the quantities for the fixin’s – or even whether or not to add them at all – up to you. How big is your platter? How many are you serving? How much do you love/hate sprouts?
Just keep in mind colors and textures as you go to arrange your platter. It’s a bounty of beautiful ingredients so this should be the fun part once your chopping is done. If you need to prep things further ahead than when you want to compose it, just bag each ingredient separately and arrange closer to serving time. Your guests will be dazzled! Enjoy!!
This Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Cobb Salad is a kicked up spin on an old classic. A few simple ingredient swaps, along with a zesty marinade for the shrimp and a creamy Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing, and this one-platter-is-a-meal comes together quickly. What a great way to celebrate with the bounty of late summer!
Marinade (makes enough for two pounds of shrimp):
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon Sriracha
1 teaspoon Chipotle Tabasco
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing (makes 2 1/2 cups):
1 cup Greek non-fat plain yogurt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
chipotles in adobo – one big and one small, more or less to taste
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
Salad fixin’s (mains):
shrimp, raw, deveined, peeled and tail on
Little Gems, baby Romaine lettuce, trimmed and halved
heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes, halved
eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and halved
bacon, crispy and crumbled
avocado, peeled and chopped
Southwestern cheese, grated (I found Hatch Chili Gouda)
corn, shucked, boiled, and cut from the cob
plums (or other stone fruit), pitted and sliced
Salad fixin’s (garnishes):
limes, cut in wedges or halved, if small
edible flowers, like Nasturtium
fresh sprouts, like radish, watercress and sunflower
crunchy topper (see note)
Prepare the marinade: Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate, up to one hour, while you prepare the other ingredients.
Prepare the Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing: Place all ingredients except the cilantro in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop, then process until creamy. Add the cilantro and pulse several times to chop roughly. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Grill the shrimp: Drain any excess marinade from the shrimp and grill over high heat for 2 – 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and reserve until cooled.
Assemble the salad: Once the shrimp is cool enough to not wilt your salad, compose the salad using all the main ingredients, with an eye toward color and textures. Arrange the garnishes on top. If you are serving later, reserve the bacon and crispy topping until serving time. Cover and refrigerate.
To serve: Add the bacon and crispy topping and serve with the Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing.
Crunchy toppers: there are a lot of different crunchy toppers available in the crouton section these days. I used the fried jalapeno slices, but you will also find the basic fried onion rings, as well as red peppers, tortillas and more. Chef’s choice.
Marinade is enough for two pounds of shrimp and Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing makes 2 1/2 cups.
Prep Time:1 hour
Cook Time:30 minutes
Keywords: Cobb Salad, Shrimp, Chipotle Dressing
I want to take a moment to send a heartfelt note of gratitude for all those that supported me spiritually, morally and physically in my Ration Challenge journey earlier this summer. Your generous financial support of this campaign put us at the very top of the fundraising leaderboard among the 40,000 challengers from around the world. Together we raised enough to feed 35 refugees for an entire year. Globally, that number is 16,829! Way to go!! With deep gratitude. xoxo, kk
So many plums, so little time. The countdown is on for the end of the stone fruit season, but right now you can find perhaps a dozen plum varieties at both your local farmers’ market or supermarket. A recent stroll down the grocery aisle revealed Pluots of the red, green, and dinosaur varieties, as well as Sunrise Reds, Midnight Moons, Damson, Greengage, Mirabelle and Stanley Rubies. The colors both outside and in reflect the rainbow. I love buying a few of each so that chopped and mixed you can create a colorful salsa with tastes that run from tart to sweet, then pump that flavor further with fresh lime, crystallized ginger and loads of fresh mint.
Plums are an essential flavor in many Asian cuisines, but especially Japanese and Chinese. While neither the salsa nor the pork marinade are authentic, they reflect my modern update on classic cuisines using the palate of flavors and pantry staples that represent their birth regions. I first traveled to both Japan and China shortly after my year-long stint in four kitchens in France, where I drilled down on classic techniques. That travel, more than anything else in my life, transformed both my palate and thoughts toward technique, opting for less reliance on fat-first flavor and relying more heavily on quick cooking techniques and bold aromatics, like ginger. It has been said I am a fiend for ginger. That is no lie.
I found this bamboo ginger grater on one of my trips, and it is much easier to clean and gives a higher yield of grated ginger than a microplane. If you ever see one, snag it. The two recipes in this post rely on crystallized ginger for the salsa (love the little texture contrast that crystallized gives when mixed with fruit) and fresh for the marinade. Fresh ginger is also a terrific meat tenderizer, so this marinade works well with less primo cuts of meat.
Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin
This marinade recipe in its first iteration came about from a bet with the great Josh Wesson, lord of all things food and wine pairing. Once during Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic, he smugly dared me to serve up blue fish in any possible way that would EVER pair with a wine. Once thought to be too oily to be wine-friendly, the pesky poisson was handily tamed by this robust marinade. I WON. I don’t remember where we landed for the wine, but believe it was a Gewurztraminer or something in the Alsatian family. The marinade went on to earn me a spot in the Gourmet Magazine Healthy Menu Awards final round, and in yet another reboot it was featured in Great Women Chefs. Until I saw the parade of plums this week, I had not thought of the marinade in quite a while, but dusted it off and tweaked a few ratios and ingredients, and it’s just as full of flavor (and simple to prepare) as I remember. And as is required to qualify for my list of favorite “dump and stir” recipes, this Asian marinated pork lets some of the store-bought ingredients like black bean garlic paste and hoisin do the heavy lifting, flavor-wise.
With all the plums in season right now, it’s the perfect time to whip up a little Asian-inspired Ginger Plum Salsa. And what could be better than serving that with this flavor-rich and a snap to prepare Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin?
Ginger Plum Salsa
2 cups pitted and diced plums (assorted varieties, about 4 or 5 plums)
1/2 cup diced, peeled cucumber
2 Tablespoons minced red onion or 1 scallion, thinly sliced
Juice of one lime (about 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice)
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons chiffonade (thin ribbons) of fresh mint
2 1-pound pork tenderloins, trimmed of silver skin and fat
Make Ginger Plum Salsa
Combine the plums, cucumber and red onion (or scallions) in a small bowl.
In another small bowl, whisk together the fresh lime juice, honey, crystallized ginger and red pepper flakes. Pour over the fruit and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Add the mint just before serving.
Makes 2 1/2 cups
Make Asian Marinade
Combine all marinade ingredients and marinate the pork at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. If you are marinating for more than 1 hour, refrigerate, covered.
Grill Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Start over a hot grill to mark, then cook on a cooler part of the grill (with the lid down) about 20-30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 145oF. Alternatively cook in a 425oF until meat reaches temperature, 20-35 minutes.
Remove from the grill or oven and let rest 10 minutes before carving.
Serve alongside ginger plum salsa.
Prep Time:20 minutes (plus marinating time)
Cook Time:25 minutes
Fresh mint and lime juice really elevate the flavors in the salsa and brighten the whole plate.
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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].