Our family does a Stress-Free Pot-Luck, so each family brings a few dishes (as opposed to just 1).  In order to keep my own cooking duties as stress-free as possible I make sure I don’t volunteer to bring too many “high maintenance” dishes.  My plan this year is to make one no-fuss dish I can throw in the slow cooker, a more complex dish (one of my personal favorites), and 1 dish Miss O can help with.

Do you struggle to figure out what to bring to parties and events? Here are 3 favorite take-along dishes that will make you the hit of the party!

Copycat Green Giant Niblets Corn in Butter Sauce

The sweet buttery corn is an adaptation of a recipe I found on food.com.  You can see the original recipe here.  This is a very simple recipe as is, but since I’ll be cooking a few things, I prefer to make it even easier by using my slow cooker.  Just dissolve the corn starch in the water and combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker.  I turn it on low in the morning, and it’s ready for dinner in a few hours.  You can even bring it in the slow cooker to keep it warm.

Martha Stewart’s Macaroni & Cheese

Okay, I’ll admit that Martha’s recipe is a bit fussy, but Oh. My. Gah…. It is so yummy.  It’s also closer to an old-school macaroni and cheese than a simpler recipe, and because you make it using the traditional white sauce it doesn’t separate!  Perfect.

We’re having 29 people at our Thanksgiving dinner so I’ll be doubling the recipe and bringing a batch and a half to dinner, and freezing the rest (1/2 batch) before baking.  You can also halve it quite easily.

Other than cooking the pasta, you can make the entire dish in a dutch oven.  It’s a great space- and time-saver, especially when you’re preparing multiple dishes, and burners and dishwasher space are at a premium.  I suppose you could also cook the pasta in there, but you’d have to transfer it to a separate dish to prepare the sauce anyway, so I don’t see the point.

I do make a few adjustments to Martha’s recipe.  I use all cheddar cheese, a mix of sharp and mild, and I add a teaspoon or 2 of Lawry’s Seasoning for some extra flavor.

photo from marthastewart.com

photo from marthastewart.com

Chocolate Trifle

This is one of those recipes that isn’t even a recipe.  It’s just something you make because you tasted it somewhere and thought, “Oh, this is really yummy, and looks super simple!”  You can make this dessert any number of ways, but I generally opt for simplicity, so I use boxed mixes.  The only thing I make fresh is the whipped cream, because it’s simple to make and fresh whipped cream makes a huge difference.

A trifle generally has 3 main components, plus toppings/mix-ins in a trifle dish (this one even has a cover, which makes it perfect for taking to a party).

So let’s start with the cake layer.  My trifle is chocolate, so I use either chocolate cake or brownies – I prefer brownies, though cake mixes with and soaks up the pudding better.  You can use whatever cake-y substance you’d like.  And there’s no judgement from me about using store-bought or brownies from a box.  Baking from scratch is a luxury I don’t have time for.  Whatever you use you may want to cut off the edges.  You don’t have throw them away – I personally like the edges – but their more well-done texture is noticeable in the finished product.

The next layer is a pudding/custard/mousse layer. Again, your options are wide open.  This time I’m using plain old Jell-O brand chocolate fudge pudding (2 4-serving boxes).  I prefer pudding over mousse because I love how it gets soaked up by the cake layers and makes it all mushy and delicious.  But to each her own.  You can also keep things fresh by flavoring your pudding with a little instant coffee, peanut butter, or Bailey’s.  Go crazy!

Last is the whipped cream.  I won’t judge you if you use something from a can or a tub, but if you’ve never tried fresh whipped cream before… it is worth the small amount of effort it takes.  Just grab a big bowl, pour in some whipping cream, throw in a teaspoon or sugar (more or less is also fine) and beat it on high until it’s stiff.  Here is another place you can personalize your trifle.  Dissolve some instant coffee in the cream, toss in some vanilla (or peppermint) extract, or a splash of brandy.

One of my favorite things about this dessert is that my 3-year-old can help make it.  She can help mix things, pick out toppings, and put everything together in the dish, which is the best part.  Warning: If you allow a child to help put together your trifle it will not look perfect.  But, really, who gives a crap how it looks?  Just layer cake, pudding, and cream until the dish is full.  It’s seriously that easy.

Throw some toppings or mix-ins in every now and then, too.  Heath bar crumbs, nuts, smashed up peanut butter cups, marshmallows, strawberries, and chocolate chips all work, but you can add pretty much anything.  I do find that there can never be too much of a good thing when it comes to toppings, so choose a couple and use the others another time.

Remember that just because this trifle is chocolate doesn’t mean yours has to be.  You can have a seasonally appropriate flavor like pumpkin, strawberry shortcake, or apple, or just experiment with some flavor combinations.  Another favorite combo of mine is a Pina Colada trifle – yummy!

Trifle 11

Do you struggle to figure out what to bring to parties and events? Here are 3 favorite take-along dishes that will make you the hit of the party!