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Solutions: Get ready for a festive potluck season

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

As we gather with family and friends during the holidays and beyond, a potluck party lets the host focus on the guests instead of the food. Annette Mulcahy, party planning and concierge manager for Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace in Troy, provides some pointers for this type of setup.

“A potluck can be for anything, like a tailgate party, which is truly a potluck scenario,” she says. For one such gathering, everyone was asked to bring soup or pie to be judged in a contest.

Mulcahy suggests making specific requests in order to avoid duplication or do without something essential. “Make a list of things that you want and have people sign up,” she says.

Specify the amount of food needed to feed the crowd. “If you ask for a bowl of corn salad, you might only get enough for three or four people. Ask for 3 to 4 pounds instead,” she says.

Some will go overboard with an aluminum pan of Caesar salad. “I’m that person,” Mulcahy says.

The host can supply the main dish, like hamburgers and hot dogs, and ask everyone else to bring a side.

Just in case someone cancels, it’s good to have a backup plan. Still, Mulcahy says, “Life goes on if you don’t have mashed potatoes.”

Besides, she says you can always run out and get some prepared foods.

If your event is offsite, plates and forks are important. Have someone bring them the day before just to be safe. Stock up on the basics when hosting at home.

For a big crowd, double up on requests for items like dessert, so you know you’ll have at least one.

Cooked meats like chicken and beef shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours without some sort of temperature control like ice or heat.

Sliced grilled chicken and tossed green salad is great for a potluck. Serve the dressing on the side and offer rolls for those who’d rather make a sandwich.

Nino Salvaggio makes a grilled and chilled vegetable platter with a balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce that can sit out all day. Fruits, cheeses and caprese salad can be displayed on platters or skewered.

Chafing dishes and crock pots are ideal for hot foods. For cold dishes, Mulcahy fills aluminum pans with ice (in Ziploc bags for easy disposal) and tops with a tablecloth as a pretty platform for the food.

Drape boxes and crates with fabric to make disparate bowls work together.

Get creative with your serving pieces, especially when you’re in a pinch. “A trifle bowl can be a bread basket,” Mulcahy says. Ask people to bring serving pieces, like tongs, if you don’t have enough to go around.

Themes are a perfect fit for a potluck party. “They’re more successful, like Mexican food with chicken fajitas,” Mulcahy says.

“It’s fun to see what someone will bring to the table,” she says. “Don’t forget to get the recipes. A home cooked meal is so comforting.”

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Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at