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Call it potluck, but for Christmas and holiday dinners you really need a plan


For Jean Pare of Edmonton, a potluck Christmas dinner is not about luck at all.

"It's more of a planned potluck," says author and co-founder of Company's Coming, an Alberta-based cookbook publishing company. She is very familiar with large meal gatherings having hosted as many as 30 people at her yuletide dinner table.

That is good reason enough to welcome contributions from guests, whether it be appetizers, salads, side dishes, dessert or a beverage, such as wine.

"I don't want everyone to bring a salad," she says with a chuckle. "So usually I'll do the meat and dessert and let the others fill in the other items."

She is not alone. Cookbook author Rose Murray of Cambridge, Ont., doesn't want surprises in her Christmas Day kitchen.

"Who brings what should be planned if that is the direction you are going," she suggests. "If you have a planned potluck, it doesn't put the onus on one person and then everyone can enjoy it."

And Murray adds: Many hands are helpful for putting out the meal.

"Have each person who brings a dish make sure it's heated and served. It adds to the conviviality and visiting in the kitchen."

Also important, she says, is to make sure those bringing food know how many people are attending the occasion.

"Tell everyone the number so you don't have them bringing enough for 10 when there are 12 attending."

Pare says anyone bringing a salad should bring dressing separately so that it can be added before serving and, just as important, "bring a big enough bowl with the salad in it so you can toss it easily.''

If stove and counter space are at a premium in your host's kitchen, she suggests warming prepared dishes in their containers in a slow cooker upon arrival.

"I have even gone so far as taking an extension cord with me in case there is no room near an electrical outlet in the kitchen," Pare says.

Two headaches that hosts can do without are guests who arrive with a dish that has to be heated in another container or those who don't show up with the item they volunteered to or were asked to bring.

Both she and Murray agree that asking family members like aunts and in-laws to bring the dish they are renowned for can be a welcome gesture.

"And if there is someone who is unable to bake or cook for the dinner, they could bring pickles, buns or cranberry sauce," Pare says.

Even out-of-towners could participate in the meal, she suggests. "They could contribute to the cost of the turkey, which can be very expensive these days."

And Murray adds, that on this occasion, the younger family members, teenagers and 20-somethings should be prepared to help pass appetizers, work as bartenders or to assist with kitchen tasks to further ease the burden on the hosts.

"Potluck should remind us that everyone is involved in helping and enjoying. I believe there are more potlucks now because everyone is busy but would still like to get together more often."

Tips on making Christmas or other festive season potluck a success

  • If, as a host for Christmas dinner, you want a guest to bring appetizers, don't choose someone who is chronically late for gatherings.

  • As a guest who agrees to bring a dish for the meal, also bring a container and utensils to serve it.

  • Always retrieve your containers and utensils before leaving the party.

  • Take a dish that you have made before rather than trying something that might not work.

  • Hosts should stock up on plastic single-serving containers so they can invite guests to take leftovers home.

  • If you aren't taking a dish for the meal, arrive with a bottle of wine and be part of the potluck.

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