The potluck supper. It means trotting out our covered casseroles – a Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup concoction with a golden potato-chip crust bubbling inside – stomping the snow off our boots and heading into the warmth of our grange halls, town halls and church basements. The true sense of community of these no-frills dinners shared in our small Northern towns translates perfectly to home: Entertaining potluck-style is still the easiest way to welcome friends and family to your table.

A potluck’s beauty lies in the simple division of labor and the joy of sampling someone else’s treasured recipes. They can be classic comfort foods or eye-popping ethnic dishes. That’s the fun – and the luck – of potluck. In the following pages, we give you our very best potluck fare: a classic Caesar, a homespun onion pie, a surprisingly simple Vietnamese spring roll, a moist pistachio cake like Mom used to make, and more. Try these at your next winter’s eve potluck. Because we all want to bask in oohs and ahhs when we peel back the foil. Because bringing a marvelous dish is easy when you have only one dish to make. And when we each bring a labor of love to the table, everyone leaves happy and restored.

Potluck Pleasers

Pistachio Cake
Lemon-Lime Chicken
Vidalia Onion Pie
Black Bean Corn Salad
Chocolate-dipped StrawberriesCeasar Salad

7 Simple Etiquette Guidelines for a Praiseworthy Potluck.

1. Potlucks aren’t meant to be an overly controlled atmosphere – a thoughtful hostess shouldn’t dictate what to bring. Suggest a category, like salad, side dish or dessert, but give guests a chance to be creative. Leaving the potluck menu to chance can be fun too; if they all bring dessert, then let them eat cake.

2. Have an empty countertop or table so guests can set down their dishes the minute they hit the door. This will eliminate the awkwardness of people standing around with hot green-bean casserole or taking off a coat while balancing a three-tiered coconut cake.

3. As a host or hostess, be sure you provide a main course: grilled shrimp, a hearty lasagna, even takeout fried chicken. Don’t forget beverages, i.e. wine, iced tea, or cranberry juice and soda.

4. A table with place settings is not necessary, but real (not paper) plates and cups are. Make sure everyone has a chair to sit in. It’s practical and festive to give each guest a colorful dishtowel to drape over his or her lap while eating.

5. As a guest, make what you like, but make sure your food can sit out at the party without spoiling. Bring your own serving utensils, and if it’s a hot dish, you may want to bring a trivet to set it on.

6. Take your dish home with you. Never stick your hostess with a platter to wash and to return to you later. It’s polite to offer her your leftovers, but it’s fine to take them, too.

7. Have fun with potluck themes. To spice up a winter weeknight, try Greek, Mexican, comfort food or Thai takeout.

Emily Betz Tyra is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s