We might think of potlucks happening in church basements or city parks, but nowadays, almost every dinner party can be a potluck, at least in Ali Rosen’s world. At 33, she’s a millennial mom and author of “Bring It!,” a book dedicated to modern potlucks.
“We used to have this idea that if you’re hosting people at your house, you have to cook everything that goes on the table,” she says. “But we don’t live in as formal of a society as we used to. When I throw a dinner party, if I have one thing off my plate, it makes my whole life easier.”
Rosen gets philosophical when she talks about potlucks and traditions. When everyone contributes a dish, it brings people together in a whole new way, and sharing the duties doesn’t make us less of a host.
In many ways, she says, potluck-style meals encourage more people to host gatherings in the first place, including Thanksgiving: “By being less formal, it’s more fun for everyone.”
“Thanksgiving is the ultimate potluck,” she says. “It’s such a giant meal to tackle. To have one stressed-out person doing everything doesn’t make any sense.”
In some families, the idea of a potluck-style Thanksgiving could hurt the feelings of the person who is used to serving everyone, and longstanding traditions give some people expectations that they might not even be aware of. But letting go of the idea of a “perfect meal” will make the day more enjoyable for everyone, Rosen says.
“There’s a lot of martyrdom around Thanksgiving,” Rosen says, and sometimes we hold onto traditions so tightly that they create a lot of pressure on the people who make them happen.
Take her late grandmother’s pearled onions. After her grandmother passed away, a friend who regularly attended their Thanksgiving insisted that the dinner needed those small onions that require so much peeling. “If you want it, bring it,” Rosen told him. “He got five onions in and said, ‘We don’t need this.’”RELATED: The 10 most popular Thanksgiving side dishes
Rosen grew up with holiday meals in which everyone contributed. If one person tackles the turkey, everyone else can bring the sides that they either love to make or love to eat on the holiday.
“Everybody has their thing,” she says. For Rosen’s aunt, for example, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a pea salad made with lettuce and mayonnaise that is as polarizing as it is beloved, Rosen says.
If you are hosting, write a list of the kinds of dishes (or plates/napkins/flowers/wine) that you would like for people to contribute so you don’t find yourself saying, “I don’t need anything.”
Asking for help is important, but so is knowing how to be helpful. Asking a host specific questions about what you can bring is better than an open-ended inquiry. If you’re bringing flowers, make sure they are already in a vase so the host doesn’t have to take care of that when you arrive. If you’re bringing olives, crudités or cheese, set them out on a platter and wrap it tightly in plastic so you don’t have to assemble the tray when you arrive.
As with any potluck, Thanksgiving is a good holiday to make dishes that can be easily transported and served at room temperature. If everyone shows up at the host’s house with dishes that have to be assembled on-site or casseroles that need to go in the oven, it will stress out the host and add difficulty to that pressure-filled hour before dinnertime.
Many roasted vegetables and hearty grain salads are delicious at room temperature, but anything with cream or cheese doesn’t hold up as well after it cools. Dishes such as scalloped potatoes or cheesy mashed potatoes can hold their heat if you pack them wrapped in towels inside a large cooler.
“Room temperature dishes have to have a lot more flavor to make up for the fact that it’s not hot,” Rosen says.
If you know oven space is going to be limited, make roasted or smashed potatoes instead and serve with an aioli instead of a butter-based sauce.
Crispy foods don’t hold up very well on a potluck table, but those store-bought crispy fried onions can be added at the last minute to casseroles, salads and other sides to add texture to dishes that might have gotten soggy or soft while waiting to be served.
Some wild rice, broccoli and kale salads benefit from adding the dressing an hour or two before you serve it, but if it has mixed greens, mesclun or arugula, don’t add the dressing until just before dinnertime.
Rosen says she doesn’t mind serving the turkey at room temperature, as long as the gravy is hot; just don't let the meat sit out for more than two hours total. Having scrambled to make gravy while guests are starting to circle the table, Rosen suggests asking one of your guests to bring the gravy already prepared.
Relish trays are an old-school holiday favorite that some hosts love to make while others would love for someone else to bring. Cranberry sauce is another great potluck dish. It’s good cold or hot, and you can customize it with nuts and fruits to your liking, such as walnuts, pistachios, figs or orange slices.
“I call cranberry sauce the foolproof dish,” Rosen says. “This is the dish I ask the person who says they can’t cook to make.”
Rosen points out that the most traditional Thanksgiving dishes — green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing — are easy and forgiving to make. “These are the perfect dishes for people who don’t cook often,” she says. “They are almost meant to be overcooked.”RELATED: Snoop Dogg's surprisingly solid tips for Thanksgiving dinner
Even the classic Thanksgiving desserts are relatively simple. “Pumpkin pie is an excellent dessert for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a baker,” she says. “It’s hard to overcook,” and “canned pumpkin is delicious.” Rosen adds goat cheese to her pumpkin pie to create an extra creamy texture in the filling.
Whatever you do, don’t apologize for using store-bought pie crust: “If you cook a little bit of it, then it belongs to you.”
Many hosts would be happy if you showed up with rolls, even if they're store-bought: Baking rolls from scratch does take a little more skill than pie.
“Your first time baking rolls should not be at Thanksgiving,” Rosen says, unless rolls are the only thing you’re slated to bring and you can swing by the store if they don’t turn out.
“Thanksgiving is supposed to be a rustic family holiday, and that's why so many people like Thanksgiving,” she says. “It's supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to be the fanciest food you eat all year. People remember one thing that's really great, but every single thing doesn't have to be perfect.”
Cornbread With Cheddar, Feta and Jalapeño
This is such a nice thing to bring to the table, served hot from the oven, out of the pan. It’s a stand-alone bread — delicious as it is — but also happy to share a plate with bacon and avocado salad. This bread is best eaten on the day it’s baked, but it’s still fine the next day; just warm it through in the oven. It also freezes well, for up to 1 month. If you don’t have any fresh corn, you can defrost frozen corn kernels to use instead. Nigella seeds are sometimes called black cumin and can be found in the spice section of an international market or upscale grocer.
— Yotam Ottolenghi
1 small ear corn, kernels cut off (about 1 mounded cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup light brown sugar
Salt and black pepper
1 1/3 cups instant polenta
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 large eggs
9 tablespoons olive oil
4 green onions, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
For the topping:
3 1/2 ounces feta, crumbled
1 1/4 cups aged cheddar, coarsely grated
1 jalapeño, cut into thin rounds
1/2 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put a large (10-inch) ovenproof cast-iron pan over high heat. Once hot, add the corn and dry-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until slightly blackened. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cumin and cayenne into a large bowl. Add the sugar, along with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a good grind of pepper. Stir and set aside.
Put the polenta, sour cream, eggs and 1/2 cup of the oil into a separate bowl and whisk lightly. Add to the dry ingredients, then fold in the green onions, cilantro, jalapeño and toasted corn until just combined.
Use the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to lightly grease the base and sides of the pan used to toast the corn, then pour in the cornbread mixture and scatter all the topping ingredients over it. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve the cornbread hot, straight from the oven, or let cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature the same day. If serving it the next day, warm it through in the oven just before you need it. Serves 10 to 12.
— From "Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, $35)
Just-Like-Artichoke-Dip Slab Pie With a Cream Cheese Crust
We all have our comfort foods, and artichoke dip is mine. It’s soothing and familiar and cheesy and goes with a rainy day and a Netflix binge. Next time, invite a few friends over, wrap that familiar combination in a tender cream cheese crust, and make a pie. Select artichokes packed in water, not marinated or in a vinegar brine. Chop the artichokes into small pieces, pressing the liquid out as you go. The drier the artichokes, the better the texture and flavor of the filling. Add a lattice or open-work crust that you dusted with cheese, cut the pie into tiny bite-size pieces, and you have a fancy pass-around for a swanky cocktail party. To add spice, you can add a small can of drained green chiles or small jar diced pimientos, drained. For a light crunch, top with crushed Bugles. You can combine the filling ingredients up to one day ahead.
— Cathy Barrow
For the cream cheese crust:
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 20 minutes
8 tablespoons cream cheese, cubed and refrigerated for 20 minutes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup ice water
For the filling:
2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise (not low-fat)
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
For the crust: In the food processor, pulse the flour, butter, cream cheese and salt until the fats are in small pieces coated with flour, about 15 times. Add the water all at once and process until the mixture almost forms a ball. Form the dough into a 6-inch-by-4-inch rectangle using plastic wrap and a bench scraper to firmly press the dough into a cohesive form. Wrap tightly and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm slightly. Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece to 11-inches-by-15-inches and place in a slab pie pan, pressing it into the corners of the pan and allowing the excess to drape over the sides. Refrigerate. Roll out the second piece of dough to 10-inches-by-14 inches, place it on a lightly floured sheet of parchment and refrigerate.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees; if you have one, place a baking stone, baking steel or inverted baking sheet on the center rack to heat.
For the filling: Combine the artichokes, mayonnaise, 1 cup Parmigiano, the parsley, chives, garlic, lemon juice and pepper and scoop into the chilled bottom crust. Cut lattice strips from the chilled top crust. Spread the filling evenly in the bottom crust and make a lattice on the top. Don't worry about weaving the strips to form the crosshatch pattern.
Combine the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Dip a pastry brush into the egg wash and lightly glaze the lattice. Scatter the 3 tablespoons Parmigiano over the surface of the pie. Slide the pie into the oven (on top of the steel, stone or baking sheet, if using) and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is browned and glossy, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Serves 15 to 24.
— From "Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies" by Cathy Barrow (Grand Central Life & Style, $28)
The Tasty brand of food content, from the editors of Buzzfeed, has likely crossed your Facebook feed. The recipe developers for the site released a cookbook this year called "Tasty Ultimate," which includes a scalloped potato recipe that, although it should be served hot, would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving table, even if there are already mashed potatoes.
— Addie Broyles
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 large), peeled
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it is just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until there are no more lumps, about 1 minute.
While whisking continuously to keep the mixture smooth, slowly drizzle in the milk. Season with the salt and pepper. Stirring steadily, bring the sauce to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat and let cool.
Using a knife or mandoline, cut the potatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch slices. Arrange them in the bottom of a small (1 1/12- to 2-quart) baking dish, overlapping them as needed to fit them all in. Pour the white sauce evenly over the potatoes, then sprinkle with Parmesan.
Bake until the sauce is bubbling, the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender, 1 hour. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let cool slightly. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if using. Serve hot. Serves 6.
— From "Tasty Ultimate: How to Cook Basically Anything" from the editors of Buzzfeed (Clarkson Potter, $29.99)
Sheet Pan Bread Stuffing With Sausage and Spinach
Since stuffing rarely appears separate from Thanksgiving, it’s an inherently nostalgic and meaningful dish. I bake my stuffing on a sheet pan so the crispy-to-soft ratio is basically 1-to-1. If you prefer it softer, bake it in a smaller vessel like a baking dish.
— Julia Turshen
1 1/4 pounds country bread or sourdough bread, torn into bite-size pieces (about 9 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian fennel sausages, casings removed
2 yellow onions, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
12 large fresh sage leaves, tough stems discarded, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, defrosted, squeezed dry and roughly chopped
2 large handfuls of fresh Italian parsley leaves (a little bit of stem is fine), finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, finely diced
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast, stirring now and then, until lightly browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Set the bread aside to cool. You can skip this step if you use stale bread.
Meanwhile, put the olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Crumble in the sausage and cook, stirring now and then, until all of the fat is rendered and the meat is crisp and browned, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, celery, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot and turn down the heat to medium. Cook the vegetables, stirring now and then, until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Add the sage and stock and turn the heat to high. Once it is at a boil, turn off the heat. Stir in the spinach, parsley and reserved bread. Taste the mixture and season with salt if more is needed. Add the eggs and give everything one good final stir.
Line the sheet pan you toasted the bread on with parchment paper. Transfer the stuffing mixture to the pan and spread it out in an even layer. Dot the top with the butter. Bake until the top is browned and the edges are nice and crispy, about 25 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 12.
— From "Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus and Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers" by Julia Turshen (Chronicle Books, $35)
Haricots Verts With Hazelnuts and Dill
Green bean casserole is a staple on many Thanksgiving tables, but for a lighter dish that still has a crunch, Ina Garten suggests haricots verts with hazelnuts and dill. To splurge, you could add a handful of the store-bought fried onions that usually go on top of the classic green bean casserole. Toast the hazelnuts for even more flavor.
— Addie Broyles
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds French string beans (haricots verts), stem ends removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Good olive oil
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
Place the hazelnuts in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, rolling them around occasionally, until they are heated through. Transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel, fold the towel over and roll them around until some of the skins fall off. (Don’t worry if they don’t all fall off.) Roughly chop the hazelnuts and set aside. Wipe out the pan with a kitchen towel.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts water, add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Plunge the string beans into the water and cook for 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain immediately, plunge into a large bowl of ice water and set aside.
When ready to serve, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in the large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the string beans, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook for 3 minutes, stirring with tongs, until heated through. Off the heat, stir in the dill and hazelnuts and taste for seasonings. Serve hot. Serves 6.
— From "Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks" by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35)