I watch plenty of shows that help cooks have quick-fix solutions for their holiday hostessing. No Sandra Lee shortcuts for me, but there is one guaranteed easy way to entertain even during the busy holiday season - potluck!! Everyone has minimal cooking (1 - 2 dishes per couple/person) and yet there is a plethora of food and options for every taste. In our circle of friends, perhaps there's an overabundance of porky goodness, but hey, we're not complaining!
The key I've found to a holiday potluck (or any potluck) is to coordinate what food people are bringing. Don't leave it up to chance that you'll have a good mix of entrees, appetizers, sides, and desserts. Take the time to ask and coordinate. As the hosts, IceDaddy and I chose to provide a main-dish meat (the quick fix option of a Honeybaked Ham) and round out the menu holes with an appetizer dip and a dessert. I contacted the guests to find out what they planned to bring and where there were gaps, made requests. Our group of friends were more than happy to bring whatever was needed and I would guess most potlucks are much the same. We had a plethora of items and more than enough food (leftovers for DAYS) from that.
With that, here are the helpful hints that we found made a huge difference in the success of our potluck:
1. Make sure there are 1 - 2 main dishes (meats or hearty fare) and a variety of side dishes. Unless you want a specific theme (such as Italian food), let people bring what they want. That way, people know there's at least one thing they will eat and generally people make items they enjoy creating (signature items). We had kick-butt banana pudding, an Italian pasta dish, and sweet potato casserole, to name a few. Random? Perhaps, but VERY tasty. Note: if people have special dietary needs, it's especially important to be aware of what people bring. If someone has a food concern, suggest they bring a dish they can eat.
2. Don't overcomplicate the drinks offered. Besides water and a non-alcoholic beverage, we supplied beer and one signature drink - limoncello. Additionally, plenty of ice and coolers were available to chill down beer and drinks brought by others.
3. Goodie bags - 'Tis the season, so have your guests leave with some goodies. I make some candies and nuts and put some gift bags together for guests to take with them.
4. Have a theme and decorate - our food theme was a general dinner potluck, but you can do one with just drinks and desserts, appetizers, or anything in between. To decorate, I took a tablecloth and bunched it up in the center of our island. I decorated around that with vases filled with ornaments, candles, and decorative platters. Nothing fancy or complicated, but I did have platters available to transfer food from the guests onto. That way, it fit on decorative plates and allowed for clean-up of guest items before the party was over (where practical).
6. Party games or activites - Keep everyone busy! Whether it's a cookie swap, ugly sweater exchange, or white elephant, it's a good way to incorporate everyone into the festivities. We had a white elephant gift exchange and set up the Kinect to play party games. Even the worst dancer or least competitive person can get in on the fun with a Wii or a Kinect. Good times....
Here's to your own holiday fiesta!