Sunday, November 22, 2009

Potluck Grocery Night

The way Molly Wizenberg wrote about mayonnaise in Bon Appetit was mesmerizing. So mesmerizing in fact that I went out and got her book, A Homemade Life, for some good subway reading. Her book may be as delightful as her articles, but I was left with one major life annoyance trying to relate to her life. Over the course of her book she cooks through several stints through Paris with chums, discusses friends bringing over adventurous new dishes and has a bi-coastal romance inspired by food. In short - she seems to have spent her life as nearly a member of a foodie gang.

I am not a foodie among foodies. Quite the opposite in fact. I may be the only one of my friends who is passionate about the flavors, smells, textures and ambrosia of food. I once went through a phase where I came home from work and set a loaf of bread to rise every day before I even changed into more comfortable clothes. The roommate that lived with me through that period famously informed me that no matter what I made for her it would never taste as good as Chicken A'La King from a can. Needless to say, I never cooked for her again. Our friendship, however, remarkably remained in tact.

The most collaboration I get is the random vegetarian recipes my sister sends me from another city. Though her spinach and tortellini soup is a revelation, I would love to find people to share in my joy with me. Rather than being a small mecca for the lovers of food, my house has become a safe haven for my bachelor friends seeking home cooked meals. It's not all bad, they know having to wash the dishes is a part of the deal, but they don't exactly inspire me to start experimenting with souffles.

Really, I can't complain - because my boys helped make a great success out of my favorite dinner party: Potluck Grocery Night.

As a freelancer, I'm not always in a position to host elaborate dinner parties. Over this past winter my ability to make dinners large enough to feed the friends that habitually showed up became challenged. Being one of their only regular sources of homemade meals, however, my guys rose to the defense of their stomachs. Each of them was given a list of groceries to bring and I would do the cooking. It seemed simple enough, but I never expected the elaborate sucess that it would turn out to be.

As it turns out, most of my guys would have been happy to pay for my dinner had we gone out to eat. So, as none of them actually knew how to grocery shop effectively, they ended up spending the equivalent amounts for dinner for two at the grocery store. At the time I couldn't afford more groceries until my next paycheck, but for our first Potluck Grocery Night I served lamb loins with a red wine sauce and roasted asparagus. Even as the guys were doing the dishes they were asking if I would cook for them the next day if they could show up with groceries. Talk about a win-win. It became a weekly event for our group and for the next year even larger dinner parties carried the shared burden of buying the food. Recession-proofing the dinner party saved my kitchen habit and created a new circle of friends whom I'll keep for life.

Rules to a successful Potluck Grocery Night

1. Assign each guest a category of food and rotate each week new responcibilities
For example, one person will bring the meat ($$), another the vegetables/sides ($), another the beer/wine ($$) - make sure everyone takes a turn at buying the more expensive items

2. Be specific with your grocery list
I've ended up with lime cactus beer at an Italian dinner party - don't let this happen to you

3. Plan meals that don't take long to cook
Inevitably the person with the most key ingredient will show up last and everyone will eat late - so think 30-minute meals and you're golden

4. Have a kitchen hang out zone
I generally don't let people in my kitchen while I'm cooking, but the party starts before any cooking's been done so you need to let people hang out during the process - give them a safe place out of the range of hot pans of oil

5. Don't get fancy
This is about family meals and celebrating the company - enjoy yourself and your friends

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