It’s potluck season. Depending on your tolerance for your roommates’ drunk friends and slices of desiccated turkey breast, that may be a good or a bad thing. But like it or not, the next week or so holds the sure promise of a Friendsgiving Facebook invite rudely interrupting the Tasty video you’re watching in class.
Such death-and-taxes–esque inevitability calls for a column devoted to helping you survive these underfed, over-liquored gatherings. As a decorated veteran of Friendsgivings both as an overzealous host and an unfairly judgemental guest, I’m confident in my authority when it comes to the epic highs and lows, the triumphs and defeats of the college holiday potluck. Heed my creed to make the most of your pre-break dinner parties this year.
1. Know Your Strengths (and Your Limits)
Be honest with yourself and with your kitchen. If you’re working with a tiny oven and barely functioning burners, roast a small bird and fix up a couple essential sides. You don’t want to find yourself (as I have) struggling to get a dozen sides and an extra-thicc turkey on the table at the last minute.
Also, play your hits. If the pecan-topped sweet potatoes you made last year barely landed on the table before your friends inhaled them, double the recipe and reprise your breakout role. There’s no shame in being a one-trick pony if that trick is absolutely sick and involves some kind of savory-sweet apple cider reduction.
2. Give Your Cuisine-Challenged Friend an Out
If someone scans the Google Doc and offers to bring a box of Oreos, let them. You don’t want to know what happens if you say no.
3. Stick to the Beer
Let’s face it, your friends probably don’t know how to buy wine any better than you know how to drink it. If you’ve got a budding sommelier in your crew, consider yourself lucky, but it’s far more likely that you’ll find yourself confronting a choice between a magnum of white Zinfandel and a fridge full of beer. For two principal reasons, my advice is to err on the side of caution and take down a couple cans over the course of the evening.
First, whoever picked up the beverages might actually know a thing or two about beer. In my experience, Hopkins students can make solid choices from the even more solid selection at Eddie’s, so if you spot a few cans of Union Craft’s Duckpin Ale or Peabody Heights’ Mr. Trash Wheel IPA in the cooler, seize the opportunity to enjoy some great Baltimore brews.
Second, the cheap beer you’re more likely to encounter actually pairs pretty well with Thanksgiving fare. Stuff like Natty Boh and Tecate has a gentle acidic touch and no strong hop character, which helps balance out those rich, fatty sides.
4. Frozen Food is Your Friend
If you’re pressed for time, it’s important to observe Joe’s law: The quality of an hors d’oeuvre is inversely proportional to the time and effort you put into making it. By Joe, of course, I mean Trader Joe.
I’ve only voluntarily entered these harbingers of gentrification on three occasions: when I forgot to get my eighth-grade girlfriend V-Day roses before the florist closed; this summer, when I subletted a glorified closet and cold brew concentrate was the most affordable way to feed my caffeine habit; and literally every time I’ve hosted any food-focused evening. They carry an absurdly wide selection of frozen finger foods that require little more than a toaster oven to get your party started on the right foot.
5. Bring Your Favorites, for You and Your Friends Both
You want to be sure that there’s at least one dish on the Friendsgiving table that you can and will eat, so it’s a good idea to bring it yourself. Make it something you know you’ll crush both in the kitchen and at the party — that way you can avoid going home either voraciously hungry or bloated with Ruffles and Boh.
I inherited my go-to potluck contribution from my mom’s Aunt Carol, who totes a few batches of this spinach pie to each and every family gathering. It’s beyond foolproof and even better out of the fridge the next morning, so make sure to double the recipe (at least) and leave one at home for yourself.
Aunt Carol’s Spinach Pie
1 hour 15 minutes
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer;
3-4 as a main course
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
1 pound Polly-O ricotta
¾ cup Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
2 packages frozen leaf spinach, thawed and drained
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the eggs to homogenize them before adding the ricotta and parmesan. Add the spinach and mix well. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 1 hour. Serve cold, at room
temperature, or slightly warm from the oven.