tips & tricks

NOT YOUR GRANDMA'S POTLUCK
Chef-approved ideas for wowing guests at your next get-together.

WRITTEN BY CLAIRE MCARTHUR
PHOTOS BY TY O'NEIL

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Chef Amy Lynne Power presents her Chipotle Lime-Grilled Shrimp with Cilantro Avocado Cream Sauce dish

The two most loathed people at any potluck are Sally Store-Bought-Chips-and-Salsa and Charlie Can-I-Use-Your-Over-For-An Hour. Don't be those people - and while we're at it, don't be that person who brings the boring pasta or uninspired deviled eggs.

For Amy Lynne Power, the South Lake Tahoe private chef behind Fed & Full, cooking for a potluck does not have to be overly complicated or time consuming, but it should be thoughtful and creative. 

“The worst thing you can do is go to the store to buy something and not put thought into your dish,” Power says. “And you don’t want to arrive at someone’s house and start chopping vegetables or need to use their oven. The host probably does not need any more people in the kitchen.”

Power suggests dishes that have flair but transport well and can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus — drizzled with olive oil, then seasoned and roasted in the oven until crisp — is the perfect example of a dish that can be made ahead of time and served as is. Another is chipotle lime shrimp, which can be grilled at home and served up alongside a bowl of cilantro avocado cream sauce for dipping.

“You could also roast seasonal vegetables, chill them, and prepare a nice dip like a homemade buttermilk ranch or hummus or white bean dip with olive tapenade,” Power suggests.

Salads are a great option for potlucks since they can be plated ahead of time and dressed right before the food is served. Ditch the overdone Chinese chicken salad and come up with your own combination using flavors and textures that complement each other. Try a base of greens mixed with fresh herbs. Adding in fruit for sweetness, a nice cheese for creaminess, and a nut for crunch also can elevate a salad.

“I love to make a maple-roasted carrot salad with spicy arugula, Humboldt Fog (goat’s milk cheese), dried cranberries, caramelized shallots, and salted Marcona almonds with sherry vinaigrette,” Power says.

She transports the vinaigrette in a Mason jar and shakes it well to dress right before people start to dig into the food.

Chicken kebabs served cold with a Meyer lemon and herb feta dip or a roasted cauliflower steak with chimichurri are heavier main dishes that also are simple to prepare but aren’t standard potluck fare.

Be the host with the most

To ensure that the next potluck you host comes with a healthy mix of these sorts of recipes, Power recommends delegating dish types to guests.

“To make sure you have a good distribution of dishes, assign some people mains, sides, salads, desserts, or even a cocktail,” Power says.

Picking a theme for the potluck can go a long way in helping guests decide what to bring, too.

“You could do a Mexican fiesta, a kickoff to summer theme, or even something different like a potluck brunch on a Sunday morning,” she says. “The host could cook a large breakfast casserole, and guests could bring items such as a bagel and lox tray or a berry salad with crème fraîche.”

And when it comes down to preparing your potluck dish, Power’s advice is simple: “Have fun with it!”

Claire McArthur is a Zephyr Cove-based writer who can attest that Power’s chipotle lime grilled shrimp with accompanying sauce is absolutely delicious. If you invite McArthur to your next potluck, she will bring them. Send your invitation to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Chipotle Lime Grilled Shrimp with Cilantro Avocado Cream Sauce

(courtesy of Amy Lynne Power, private chef, Fed & Full in South Lake Tahoe. Serves 8)

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Juice of 1 lime

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons neutral, high-heat cooking oil*

16 shrimp, cleaned**

Cilantro, lime zest, and sliced limes, for garnish

In medium-sized mixing bowl, combine lime, garlic, chipotle, paprika, salt, and oil, then toss in shrimp. Let marinate in the refrigerator about 30 minutes. While it marinates, make dipping sauce (recipe below) and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Preheat grill on high for about 10 minutes. Once grill is hot, arrange shrimp on grates and cook on each side about 1 to 2 minutes. Once shrimp are cooked through, remove from heat and chill.

Before heading to your potluck, arrange shrimp on a platter, garnish with some lime zest, lime slices, and fresh cilantro. Serve with sauce on the side.

For cilantro avocado cream sauce

1 avocado

1 garlic clove

½ cup cilantro leaves

1 lime, zested and juiced

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

¼ teaspoon cumin

Place all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until combined. If sauce is too thick, add a little more cream as needed. Serve in a small bowl.

*”For a neutral, high-heat cooking oil, I recommend using avocado oil or grapeseed oil,” she adds. “They are great to use when grilling and sautéing because they are meant for heat, unlike olive oil, which should be used as a flavoring in dressings and sauces.”

**“I like to use U-10 shrimp from Overland Meat & Seafood in South Lake Tahoe,” Power says. “They are quite large and perfect to dip in the sauce. It’s important to remember to peel and devein the shrimp beforehand.”

This dish also can be a great appetizer served warm at a party, or serve it with shredded cabbage and warm tortillas for zesty shrimp tacos with cilantro lime cream sauce.

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