Saturday evening, a handful of us got together for our second potluck dinner. The usual suspects and some new faces. The menu, when Sahil posted it to his Instagram, was drool worthy. The end products, pretty good. But far from the gloriousness that Instagram picture had promised.
Sahil did a great job of posting several updates to his Instagram and Facebook accounts on the day of the potluck. Here are some pictures:
All in all, it was a successful potluck. But I did a lot of thinking after everyone left that night. And I think this blog post is going to be more about that. Along with the recipes we cooked, of course!
As a host, what does an event like this entail?
How do you make sure you have enough dinner ware? I knew what everyone was bringing. But I'd only seen my own recipe. So I had the requisite number of plates, one bowl each, a fork, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks for every person in attendance. I also had a handful of spoons and forks handy. The bowl was for dessert - a tapioca & taro pudding that Raunaq Gupta was bringing in. What I missed was that Kala Raju was bringing in a beef stew and that might need soup bowls. So, when it was time to serve dessert, I had to bring out mismatched bowls and scramble for spoons. Lesson learnt.
Do you want uniform serving bowls for pretty pictures? Or are you okay with serving your food in the bowls and containers that participants brought their food in? Does this also include certain dishes being served in a certain kind of vessel? I cooked and served my claypot rice in a, well, clay pot, for instance. Asking participants what they might need to serve their food in might come handy in the future.
Is there a quick way you can heat the food, especially when you have 4 appetizers that need heating all at the same time? Maybe you even need something to stay warm through the course of sitting around and eating. Crab cakes gone cold or pork gone a tad chewy because it's now at room temperature and not nice and warm can be a downer. I guess I'm going to keep my stove top free of things and my kitchen counter better organized to manage this more efficiently next time onwards.
Is there enough drinking water? Well, yes. But is all of it cold? Or enough of it cold?
What're the odds you're going to run out of ice, if you're drinking? Is there enough room in your fridge to put any food that might need refrigeration?
Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to talk about what cooking for a larger number of people was this time around. I've had guests over several times. I've fed parties of 15 and 20 people and things have been great. But a cookbook potluck puts a different kind of pressure on you, as it turns out.
All of us seemed eager to please and had some performance pressure riding on us.
One of us re-did her dish.
Another freaked out about his pork not defrosting in time.
One bailed out altogether.
And another brought in only 1 dish, instead of the two he originally thought he'd bring.
And all of us scuttled around from grocery store to grocery store hunting for that one ingredient we thought our dish just couldn't do without.
The key is to not over-promise, then, I guess. And plan better, perhaps?
Know what you'll need for the cook and where you can procure it from, fresh/frozen/however, at least 6 hours before hand?
Make sure you're done cooking at least 2 hours before the time you're scheduled to meet and plan backwards accordingly?
What quantity should one cook? Most recipes are made with 1 lb of meat or 450-500g of meat. For a potluck where 6-8 dishes are being brought in, using anything more than a half kilo of meat might leave you with leftovers. We discussed on Whatsapp, about quantities we should bring in and we decided 500-750g of the core ingredient would suffice. And we had A LOT of leftovers. While all starters and the stew were devoured, a considerable amount of the mains were left.
What accompaniments are needed with your dishes? Mains are typically served with rice or bread (Indian or otherwise) and most curry recipes end with suggestions for what to eat these curries with.
Is the the responsibility of the participant making the curry to make the rice/roti as well? Or should the host ensure someone takes this up voluntarily?We had two curries and no rice on our original menu, so Ana volunteered to do a simple chicken fried rice and I made some claypot chicken rice. While I only had enough to make sure my husband had his fair share of the rice as leftovers, Ana was left with about 2/3rds of her chicken fried rice uneaten. That's just disappointing. It takes effort to cook, more so if it's an extra dish you volunteered to make. I'm sure it hurts.
Does guesstimating when you're using a cookbook help? Or must you follow recipes to the tee?The recipe for the crab cakes asked that they be cooked for 3-4 minutes on each side. And my crab cakes ended up with charred tops. I was wary of straying away from the recipe because I'd had a tender coconut pudding disaster during the first pot luck, and didn't want to screw up again. Oh well! I guess this is another recipe I'm going to have to re-do and post with perfect results. A recipe might call for a broth to simmer 20 minutes until the meat is just done. And 20 minutes in, you don't think it feels quite right. So you push it by another 10 minutes, at 3 minute intervals. And bam! That last minute probably just overcooks the meat? Or those 10 minutes extra were the right thing to do. A baking recipe, on the other hand, might need you to follow instructions and measurements without any deviation.
Next. The most important part of the event. The book.
You MUST take a picture of the book you cooked from! But that makes me wonder whether we need to have things done in such an organized fashion. The evening/meal is about meeting new, like-minded people and having a good time over some interesting and fun recipes, right?Every book has a story. And everyone attending needs to know it. :)
Did you buy it on the streets second-hand?
Or did your grandmum give it to your mum when she got married and was moving to a new family? (Following which you stole it shamelessly because it looked so amazing!)
Did a friend send it to you from another country where he lives and because he knows you'd appreciate something like this?
Or did you pick it up on a whim when you were travelling?
Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave it to you.
Maybe you borrowed it from someone and never returned it (you horrible, you!)
What book will we cook from next?
Bring a book along. Three, if you really want to. Show it/them to everyone around. Ask them what they think. Have a handful of books around that evening.
If you can't arrive at a conclusive decision then, at least you've started a conversation about it. And thrown some ideas around. It should only get simpler.We might cook from Jerusalem: A Cookbook (by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi) next time... if we can't find a great book filled with all things mango, that is.
Pictures of the food?
While I'm all for live-tweeting or putting up an Instagram story and taking pictures during the event, how much is too much? As the host, I'm often too caught up to take pictures. Besides, I have this silly habit, where if I'm having a good time, I couldn't care less to know where my phone is (so that throws tweets and phone camera pictures out of the window altogether). When everybody comes in, get all the food together, mains, desserts everything and take one grand photo, possibly even with a good camera, perhaps?A designated social-media person in the group can keep taking pictures and posting them through the event/evening? No brainer, in our case, it'll just always be Sahil.
Just one last thing. Feedback. Constructive criticism. I really need some ideas and suggestions on how to go about doing this. How does one do this exactly?
Take turns critiquing every dish? Allow anonymous feedback forms after everyone's gone home? Make a little suggestion box and get everyone to write their thoughts out, if they're not comfortable sharing their views up front?