Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ingredients: Spicing Up a Potluck

A few of our friends are traveling throughout Europe and Asia. Two, recently visited Istanbul, Turkey, and surprised fellow foodies with spice mixes. This surprise, along with the conclusion of Top Chef, got me thinking about spice-related indoor culinary adventures.
Indoor Adventure: Cooking with New Spices
Sometimes you can get into a rut when it comes to cooking, relying on comfort foods or signature dishes that you rarely if ever execute wrong. This means that you're not fully utilizing all of the spices in your pantry.
Jen and Burstein's unexpected gift of two spice blends made from unidentified spices is just the kick I needed to start thinking creatively in the kitchen again. Specifically, I'm thinking about how I can spice up an evening in with friends while keeping the hosting relatively effortless on my part. Anyone up for a potluck?
Tarhana Baharati (Soup Spice Mix)
There's a couple of ways to get started using spice to transform an age old tradition, the potluck, into a bold indoor adventure:
  • Purchase (or make) spice blends and distribute to confirmed guests. You decide whether you want to keep the identity of the included spices a mystery or not. (If you want to make your own blend, Newark Food Examiner writer Dave Hershorin has a good article with tips on getting your spice ratios right.)
  • As guests confirm their participation, randomly assign a spice they must cook with. You decide whether you want to randomize both the spices and the dish. For example, if you pull pepper and dessert, you'll need to think beyond baked apple pie.
Tips for Spicing up a Pot Luck
If you randomly assigned spices, on the night of the potluck, you can have a blind tasting. Guests test their tastebuds' memory by guessing the featured spice. You can have prizes for guest with highest number of correct guesses.
Guests can also vote on their favorite dish. For potlucks where everyone started with the same spice blend, you can also award "Most Creative" or "Most Innovative."
If, like us, your friends have a range of culinary skills, invite those who enjoy eating good food to preparing it, to serve as official "judges." Have them come up with a scoring system and set of standard comment cards that they use at the "judges table" after everyone has dined. For example, Fiery, Pungent, Smokey, and so on.
How do you keep potlucks fun?
Bon Appetit!
P.S. Based on visual examination, I have a couple of ideas of what individual spices I'm working with in the mixes Jen and Burstein sent: paprika, pepper, rosemary, sesame seeds. After I do some more research into Turkish cuisine, I'll be opening the mixes and tasting to determine the overall flavor profile. I'll share the entire process in a later post.
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.