Here's a plan for a soup-and-stew party that's fun, easy, and mighty good.
September 10, 2014
1 of 13Illustration: Alex Eben Meyer
The New Potluck Social Club
Now, while the weather calls for comfort food, invite friends over for a soup-and-stew potluck party. Add another layer of fun with a challenge to compete for the title of the best dish of the bunch. Encourage all, from the timid cook to the trendsetter, to join in. And feel free to dip into the recipes we've provided here, which cover all the style bases.
2 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
Provide Portion Perfect Bowls
Set out 4-ounce ramekins, or scout out a mix of inexpensive vintage teacups so folks can taste lots of samples without filling up. Provide a few full-size bowls for heartier appetites. Don't like to do dishes? Use tableware made from sustainable materials like wheat straw, sugar cane, and bamboo, such as Wasara's Choko 5-ounce bowls ($37 for 50, branchhome.com) or 6-ounce Plant Fiber Bowls ($3 for 50, worldcentric.org).
3 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
Keep Things Warm
Serve soups that need to stay hot from slow cookers, which have a WARM setting that will prevent scorching (borrow a couple if you need extras). You can also set up heatproof serving bowls on warming trays. Use a power strip to keep cords under control. Keep breads warm in a cloth-covered basket.
4 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
Serve Tip-Top Toppers
Garnishes will wilt, sink, or melt if added too early, so let guests help themselves. Squeeze bottles let you neatly drizzle cream or yogurt. Cut a wide or narrow opening in the tip, depending on the thickness of the topping. Fill small bowls with fresh herb garnishes—keep them covered with a damp cloth.
5 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
Label each soup and list any unexpected, exotic, or allergenic ingredients to help those with special dietary needs. At the end of the party, hand out flash drives with all of the recipes (or send in an e-mail).
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Provide simple ballots with categories like Best Overall, Most Creative, Most Surprising, and Best Presentation. Offer prizes, such as bottles of wine or cookbooks.
From the Traditional Cook: Chicken Stew and Dumplings
Using cake flour and nonfat buttermilk cuts the fat by half and puts a healthier spin on these ultralight dumplings.
8 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
From The Whole-Beast Cook: Braised Oxtail and Short Rib Stew
Oxtail is rich, and the gelatin in the bones is a natural thickener, so a little can go a long way. Look for small, leaner pieces (about 1 inch in diameter).
9 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
From the Vegetarian Cook: Curried Cauliflower Soup
Roasting the cauliflower and nuts deepens the flavor. The nuts also add body once the soup is pureed.
10 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
From the Novice Cook: Loaded Mashed Potato Soup
This is the perfect recipe for a novice, yielding delicious results with basic skills. If you aren't great with a knife, buy prechopped onion, grate or press the garlic, and snip the green onions and dill with kitchen shears.
11 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
From the Techie Cook: Beefy Pressure Cooker Borscht
The pressure cooker turns homemade stock from an hours-long affair into a 45-minute one, and cooks beets and celery root in just 7 minutes.
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For the Globe-Trotting Cook: West African Beef, Plantain, and Okra Stew
While not nearly as sweet as bananas, plantains do have a sweet flavor. In this soup we keep that sweetness at bay by using firm plantains with green skins rather than riper brown-skinned ones—the sugars will have not yet developed, so the fruit will add starchy body to the soup without too much sweetness.
13 of 13Photo: Jennifer Causey
With just a few pantry items and ready-to-bake bread dough, you can whip up company-ready rolls in about half an hour.