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Pot pluck

Smart cooks know how to turn out a tempting casserole, salad or dessert that stands the test of time and the taste buds of many. Long live the old-fashioned potluck dinner!

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Food Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000

[Times photo: John Pendygraft; cookware from the Straw Goat, St. Petersburg ]
Want to know the way to a cook's heart? Invite her to a potluck party and then ask her to make that beefy cheesy noodley thing she brought to the last gathering.

She'll melt in a puddle of pride, cook two batches and then pass out copies of the recipe. A winning take-along recipe is like gold.

In response to invitations for Fourth of July potluck parties, many cooks will be dusting off favorites or scouring magazines and Internet recipe sites for new ideas. Independence Day is a good time to plan an easy potluck gathering, where everyone brings a dish to share and no one goes home with an empty stomach.

The beauty of potluck is that the offerings can be elaborate, simple or even store-bought appetizers, side dishes, main dishes or desserts. Don't cook at all? Offer to bring the drinks, the ice or the paper products. The idea is to have lots of choices on the table, a little of something for everyone.

Nancy Redd knows potluck. She's part of a core of members of the Episcopal Church Women of Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin who regularly take part in potluck festivities. She gathered some of the group's best recipes to share with St. Petersburg Times readers.

Potlucks make for easy entertaining, she says. The host doesn't have to do all the work, and the guests get to sample a variety of foods.

"Everyone has a recipe that people like," Redd says. Hers is Baked Corn Souffle, a concoction so rich and delicious (and easy!) it would be wise to bring two.

Signora Terenzi's Eggplant Casserole is a favorite from Ethel Hall's recipe box. This dish, which is similar to eggplant Parmesan, is better served at room temperature -- just right for potluck where it's imperative that food hold up without refrigeration or heat for several hours. The signora is no relation to Hall. The recipe came from a booklet picked up 50 years ago at an A&P grocery store in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hall's hometown.

Another of the group's top cooks, Hilda Myers, has a long list of time-tested crowd-pleasers. With names such as Hot Chicken Salad and Busy Day Easy Casserole, you just know each bite will taste like old-fashioned comfort.

Still another member, Joan Crook, doesn't follow recipes and doesn't have much use for exact amounts. She tosses drained, cooled pasta with defrosted frozen vegetables, cheese and salami cubes and then dresses with vinaigrette. Keep in mind that pasta salad soaks up dressing like a thirsty camel. Take an extra bottle in case some diners want more oomph.

Crook's fruit salad is equally simple. Two cans and the juice of pineapple chunks, two cans and juice of mandarin oranges, green grapes and shredded coconut are the basis of the salad. To that mix, she adds one or two fresh fruits -- blueberries, cantaloupe, strawberries, bananas, watermelon, whatever looks good at the store.

In the really quick and easy category, Ethel Hall beats the clock by buying a large bag of frozen fruit at Sam's Club and offering it up as dessert for folks who are watching calories and/or sugar intake.

While there are many, many potluck-friendly dishes, there are a few no-nos, Redd says. Nothing too soupy, Redd says, or it will splash in the car. The food must be easy to transport. Corningware, among other kitchenware manufacturers, has a line of products specifically designed for take-along foods. Some containers come in fabric cases with handles and have hot and cold inserts to keep the food at the correct temperature.

Foods not kept at the right temperature can spoil. A salad dressed with mayonnaise isn't a good choice for an outdoor picnic where there is no refrigeration. Likewise, something that needs to be served hot, chili for instance, isn't appropriate unless there's an electrical outlet for a Crock-Pot. Ask the host in advance about what sort of amenities will be available.

Send us your potluck recipes

Do you have a potluck recipe you'd like to share? If so, please send it to Potluck, Taste section, Newsfeatures, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Please include your name, address and phone number. The recipe may be included in upcoming stories.

Think about who will be at the party and tailor your offering to fit the group. Kids love cookies and cupcakes, and never discount the power of chicken strips, which can be homemade or bought frozen. For an adults-only party, you might want to be more adventurous and bring egg rolls or artichoke dip.

Redd isn't a fan of those sign-up sheets that dictate who should bring what. She prefers to take her chances and be surprised by what's on the table.

"That only backfired for us once," she says, "when 12 people brought baked beans."

Another guideline: don't plan on using the host's equipment. If you need a mixer, blender or oven, you're defeating the purpose of making the party easy. Bring your own serving utensils and if you're nervous about losing them, write your name on tape and strap it to the handle.

If you think you might leave before the party is over, make something you can bring in a disposable aluminum container or buy an inexpensive dish or bowl from a discount store such as TJ Maxx or Marshall's and leave it for the host. She can recycle it for the next party.

* * *

Signora Terenzi's Eggplant Casserole

    Eggplant Casserole:

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Flour for coating
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

    Eggplant Sauce:

  • 1 small onion
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • A few basil leaves
  • 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Peel eggplants, slice in 1/2-inch slices and sprinkle with salt. Be sure to save out 2 slices to use in the sauce. Coat slices in flour and dip them in beaten eggs (slightly different from the American method, you'll notice). Heat olive oil in a large skillet and brown the eggplant slices on both sides. Since all eggplant won't fit in the skillet, fry as many slices as will fit comfortably at one time. Set aside until sauce is made.

To prepare the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in saucepan. Chop onion coarsely and remaining two slices of eggplant into cubes. Fry onion and eggplant in oil until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in tomato paste and 3 tomato-paste cans of water. Season with salt, pepper and crumbled-up basil leaves. Cook about 20 minutes over a low heat or until sauce looks rather thick and dense.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a large baking dish or casserole with a little of the remaining oil. Put a layer of fried eggplant slices in bottom of casserole; cover with layer of mozzarella cheese slices, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and some of the sauce. Add more layers until all ingredients are used.

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking for 15-20 minutes or until much of the sauce has been absorbed. Signora Terenzi, interestingly enough, serves this lovely tasting casserole on the coolish side and has learned through experience that it serves 6 generously.

Note: This recipe was taken from a magazine, probably one from an A&P grocery store in Brooklyn, N.Y., about 50 years ago.

Source: Ethel Hall, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin

* * *

Noodle Pudding

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 16 ounces cottage cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • No-stick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup margarine, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked and drained

Spray 11- by 7-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In medium bowl stir cream cheese, cottage cheese, eggs and sugar until well blended. Stir in raisins, margarine, vanilla and cinnamon. Add egg noodles; mix well. Pour into prepared baking dish.

Bake in 350-degree oven 35-40 minutes. Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Note: This recipe was given to me several years ago by Lorinda Bower, also a member of Good Shepherd Church.

Source: Ethel Hall, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Baked Corn Souffle

  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 can (16 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can (16 ounces) cream-style corn
  • 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix

Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl. Add each of the other ingredients, whisking them in as you go. Place in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until set and golden brown. Makes 12 servings.

This recipe can be easily doubled for a potluck supper. Increase baking time to about an hour.

Source: Nancy Redd, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Biscuit Pizza

  • 1/3 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/3 cup black olives, sliced
  • 1 medium size jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 3 large packages refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine vegetables and spaghetti sauce in bowl. Press in garlic cloves and mix well.

Cut each biscuit into quarters with kitchen scissors. Arrange evenly in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Spread sauce on biscuits and top with cheese. Bake at 375 for 23-28 minutes or until golden brown. Serves 6-8.

Source: Nancy Redd, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Lemonade Mousse Pie

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 small can frozen lemonade, thawed
  • 1 8-ounce container of Cool Whip
  • 1 graham cracker pie crust

Blend the first three ingredients, pour into pie shell and chill.

Source: Nancy Redd, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Potluck Rice Pilaf

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 4 cups uncooked long grain rice
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 10 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

In Dutch oven, melt butter. Add rice and saute for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned. Add water and bouillon. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender.

Remove from heat; stir in onions and soy sauce. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in almonds. Serve 20-22.

Source: Ruth Koehn, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Bacon 'n' Egg Lasagna

  • 1 pound sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 cups milk
  • 12 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 12 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to towel to drain. Reserve 1/3 cup of drippings. In the drippings, saute onion until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup white sauce in greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Layer with four noodles, a third of eggs, bacon, Swiss cheese and white sauce. Repeat layers twice. Sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top and let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 12.

Source: Ruth Koehn, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Hot Chicken Salad

  • 2 cups diced, cooked chicken
  • 2 cups finely chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
  • Topping:
  • 2/3 cup crumbled potato chips
  • 1 cup grated cheese

Mix all ingredients except those for the topping and put in a casserole dish. Combine crumbled potato chips and grated cheese and sprinkle on top. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes. Serves 6.

Source: Hilda Myers, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Busy Day Easy Casserole

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green peppers
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 large package of potato nuggets

Combine ground beef, onions, green peppers, salt and pepper in bowl. Press mixture into 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Cover with soup. Sprinkle cheese on top and then spread potato nuggets evenly over cheese. Bake in a 350-degree degree oven for 1 hour.

Source: Hilda Myers, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

  • 2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and deboned (or use boneless, skinless breasts), chopped
  • 1 box frozen broccoli spears, defrosted and cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

Place broccoli in a greased 8- by 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle chicken over broccoli. Mix soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, lime or lemon juice and cheese. Pour over chicken and broccoli. Cover with bread crumbs. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Source: Hilda Myers, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

* * *

Strawberry Cake

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1 package strawberry gelatin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup salad oil (minus 1 tablespoon)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries, drained
  • Frosting:
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 stick margarine, melted
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries with juice

Thaw berries until they separate. Empty cake mix into bowl and add gelatin and water. Stir until blended. Add oil and beat for 1 minute. Add eggs and beat for another minute. Add berries at beat at low speed until thoroughly mixed. Bake in a 9- by 13-inch pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Mix together frosting ingredients, but wait until cake has cooled to ice it.

Source: Hilda Myers, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin.

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