One of my long-held theories about life is that most people fall into one of two entertaining camps. You are either dinner party people or potluck people. If you’re a dinner party person, the nights when you have friends over are well-orchestrated. You make the entire meal or if you delegate parts of it, you give specific recipe assignments. Wine and beer is planned, purchased in advance and appropriately chilled. Tables are set sometime in the afternoon and there’s always a carefully arranged cheeseboard.
Potluck people are less concerned with the details. They issue an invitation to gather without carefully balancing the numbers of couples and singles. They don’t make the whole meal but instead announce the main dish they’ll be providing and then ask guests to fill in the blanks as they see them. If asked to comment on whether a dish might go well with the planned menu, the answer is always a happy-go-lucky “Sure!”
I have long been a potluck person. I love eating with friends, but rarely can I be bothered with the worry of formal guest lists or long hours of prep time. I am married to someone, however, who is more comfortable when the details are firmly nailed down and so I found myself throwing a very uncharacteristic dinner party last Saturday night.
It was a lovely evening and the food came out well. I found that I enjoyed being in control over the entirety of the menu (maybe this potluck person is morphing into a dinner partier!), but by the time the evening was over, I was exhausted. I’d like to do more of this kind of entertaining, but there must be some serious menu streamlining (I baked two chickens, had two salads, roasted three pounds of Brussels sprouts and made a loaf of bread). I’m thinking that the ticket is a one-pot dish, paired with a salad and a loaf of bread.
One recipe I think might work really well for my dinner party of the future is Rachael Ray’s Pork Goulash With Apple and Onion. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, it can simmer indefinitely. It calls for a number of toppings, which allows for some fun personalization. And it would cozy up nicely with some crusty bread, a salad of hearty winter greens and The Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— This recipe begins by having you cook some bacon on the bottom of the pan. Once it has rendered its fat, you scoop the bacon out and cook the pork in the bacon fat. I found that I had a great deal more fat than was necessary to brown the meat and so spooned out quite a bit before adding more ingredients. I recommend you do the same.
— Because this dish likes to simmer for a good long time, make sure to use a heavy-bottomed pot. That way, you lessen your chances of its burning.
— Rachael suggests that you serve it over egg noodles. Though it’s great that way, I ate my leftovers over some warm polenta and it was ridiculously good. Whether you’re trying to increase your whole grains or you need to eat gluten-free, it’s a delicious way to go.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.