Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

When Sous Chefs Crash Christmas

Tired of the same holiday party themes? If you are like me, you’ve done them all: the crazy Christmas sweater party; the winter white party (lots of cauliflower and mashed potatoes). Of course, there was the “everyone brings an ornament” for the tree party, and the ever-popular pirates Christmas party. (There was actually a scuffle during that one!) I have also themed my holiday parties around the Deep South, a cookie exchange, alfresco in December theme (that one was pretty chilly) and even a football tailgating Christmas! I was beginning to think I ran out of fresh ideas… until….. I came up with this one: The Interactive Holiday Party!

The new, hip trend in entertaining is to incorporate interactivity with your party theme. Ideas like painting parties, and guests getting involved with the more exciting aspects of hosting. Interactive food is a natural. Food stations evolve. The idea is to strike a balance between fussing over your guests, and letting them have fun cooking during the party. It’s kind of a new riff on the old-fashioned pot luck supper. Instead of your guests bringing a dish that they prepare at home, they come to YOU first, and help prepare your menu. An interactive pot luck supper invites your guests to double as “sous chefs”, which in French basically translates to the kitchen’s second in command.

Pulling this party off so everyone has a blast is all a matter of setting up the cooking stations in advance; the more organized the host, the more fun your guests have cooking up the meal. Here’s how you do it.

You, the hostess with the mostess, choose the menu.


Then you set up stations for each dish that includes all ingredients, cooking tools and serveware. Set up your dining table and invite your guests to have a seat. Take a couple friends at a time and start cooking. After each dish is prepared, return to the table, and savor the food together as a group. Then continue with more friends to create the next dish. Small plates are best for this idea, as the FUN and tasting go on…and on…and ON! Spread out the stations, so you don’t find yourself cleaning up one station to make room for another. If you have a small kitchen, you don’t have to do everything on your stovetop. Make use of plug-ins like slow cookers, panini makers, electric skillets, etc.

Le menu for your first Interactive Pot Luck

Get started using the following menu as a guideline for creating your interactive pot luck supper. I’m including the recipe for Grilled Guac. The others (and so many more) are available in my iBook Sunday Best Dishes. Did you know you can download the book onto your iPhone?  It is available through iTunes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Download it today, and start your holiday cooking off right!

Small Plate 1 – Grilled Guac

Pre-Set: Cut up your vegetables, so they are prepared for either your outdoor grill or your indoor grill pan. Ask your guests to grill the veggies until just done. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Take turns mashing and tasting. Have the basket of chips ready for scooping when you bring everything to the table.

Small Plate 2 – Warm Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad

Pre-Set: Buy pre-shaved Brussels sprouts in the bag and microwave to steam them until they are very soft. Cool to room temperature. Prepare a station with toasted bread crumbs (for the croutons), grated Parmesan cheese and Caesar salad dressing. Ask your guests to warm the sprouts in a sauté pan, and toss in the remaining salad ingredients. Serve on small plates with a garnish of cracked black pepper and a sliver of anchovy.

Small Plate 3 – Short Rib Panini Sandwiches

Pre-Set: Cook boneless short ribs in your slow cooker. Create a station with all the elements needed for super sandwiches: artisanal breads and cheeses and roasted tomatoes, flavored mustards and mayos, and crisp veggies like lettuce and cucumbers. Now ask your guests to assemble panini sandwiches “to order”, using a panini maker or good old fashioned waffle maker.

Small Plate 4 – Ice Cream Sundaes with Pizzelle Bowls

Pre-Set: Premix pizzelle batter. Create a station with all of the items needed for sugary ice cream sundaes: chopped candy and nuts, chocolate and caramel sauces, sprinkles, fruit and cookie crumbles. Invite guests to make the ice cream bowls by inverting warm pizzelle cookies over small cups or bowls, and then cooling to room temperature. Your pizzelle maker will be perfect for this. Spruce up the theme by topping with red and green sprinkles.

 ……. And to all a Good Party Night!!!!


Guac’n Around the Christmas Tree

Guac’n Around the Christmas Tree

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and weekend. As we head back to work and school tomorrow, it’s nice to have snacks in mind for the next time we get to kick back — maybe as early as next Saturday night! I’m hoping snackage like this will get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s a way to add a little fire side to your holiday — that is…if you’re willing to go whole hog on the jalapenos. This muy caliente guacamole is special for a couple of reasons. For one, the ingredients are grilled, which gives it the most incredible smokey flavor and two…you can recruit party guests into helping you make it.

Whatever mashing tools you have on hand will do, but giving someone one of those stone crucibles to grind the avocado in, is pretty fun, and makes a cool stocking stuffer. You can glue my recipe to the side of the gift! Most big box stores carry the mortar and pestle pictured.

Macy Macy’s carries these for around $20. You’ll use it constantly!


But now, a little background on this dish. Tex-Mex food is a staple in the southwest, one of my FAVORITE places to travel. I’m a fan of “Keeping Austin (Texas) Weird”, loving every aspect of their guac prepared tableside. This recipe, however, blows the doors off any guac I’ve ever had. Make it just for FUN, or impress your guests by grilling all of the ingredients, and asking them to mash the guac for you. Serve on nachos, as a condiment on fish or chicken, or…how about frying a tortilla in oil for just a couple of secs. Break off pieces and dip into the grilled guac for a communal appy? It doesn’t get any better!! Spread this guac on toast, enjoy it with cocktail shrimp, slap it on a sandwich — heck, even leave it for Santa instead of cookies. Cheers!

Grilled Guac

Serves a crowd

20 Minute Cuisine (plus an hour for roasting garlic)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large avocados, halved and pitted

4 medium plum tomatoes, halved

½ large red onion, peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds

2 large jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded

2 limes, cut in half

6 cloves roasted garlic (see Cook’s Tip at bottom of recipe for roasting instructions)

1 teaspoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place the avocado, onion, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and limes onto the grill pan, cut side down. Cook until you see grill marks on all the food, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the veggies and limes and cook on the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes more. You want the onions to be fork tender, and the rest of the food firm, but not mushy.

Remove the food to your work surface, and let cool so that you can handle each item. Scoop the flesh from the avocado into a bowl. Chop the tomatoes, onion and jalapenos. Add them to the bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the bowl. Add the roasted garlic. Season with chili powder, salt and pepper. Use a potato masher to mash all the ingredients to your desired consistency. Less mashing for chunky guac. More mashing for smoother guacamole. You can drizzle additional olive oil into the guac for added richness and more lime juice for extra smoothness.

Cook’s Tip

To roast garlic, cut the top third from the whole bulb. Place the bulbs (I do three or four at a time) onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Wrap the foil around the garlic leaving an opening at the top. Drizzle with salt and pepper and a bit of dried oregano leaves. Place the foil packet onto a rack in the oven. Roast in at 375° until the cloves are golden and are trying to escape their papery skin, about 1 hour. Remove the cloves by squeezing them away from the skin or by using a tiny fork to lift them free. You can refrigerate the cloves and use them in absolutely everything for up to one week…maybe more!



Company’s Comin’ Gumbo

Company’s Comin’ Gumbo

It’s almost Christmas Eve! If you’re looking for a dish that is perfect to serve while gathering around the tree, here is my Company’s Comin’ Gumbo recipe. You can prepare it in the morning and heat it up as the family arrives. This soup/stew has just enough spice to keep you warm and toasty so get out there a carol up a storm!!


This is a great make-ahead meal. You can put it together on the stove anytime of the day and warm it up when the guests arrive. The roux makes the dish… it’s rich, luscious and full of flavor!

Serves a 6 to 8
40 Minutes (or more) ‘til Dinnertime

Preheat the oven to 350°

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, 2 sticks
  • 1 red pepper, deveined and diced into ¼” pieces
  • 1 green pepper, deveined and diced into ¼” pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced into ¼-inch pieces
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (8 ounce) bottles clam juice
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 4 to 6 drops hot pepper sauce
  • 14 ounces andouille sausage, sliced and cut in half
  • 2 pounds uncooked jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled, deveined with tails removed
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen sliced okra, thawed
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked white rice

Spread the flour onto a baking sheet. Toast the flour in the oven for 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the toasted flour. Stir in the diced peppers. Cook the roux until it is amber brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pot. Add Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the liquid is incorporated. Stir in the chicken broth, clam juice, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Pour in the roux and cook for 5 minutes. Season with hot pepper sauce and additional salt and pepper. Stir in the sausage, shrimp and okra. Simmer until the shrimp is cooked through and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.

Serve the gumbo by placing a scoop of rice in the middle of a bowl. Surround the rice with gumbo. Serve additional hot pepper sauce on the side!

Nana Network Tip

Use thawed, frozen shrimp and frozen okra in this recipe. It’s perfect and way less expensive!