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Monday, October 10, 2016

Potluck Season is Upon Us

Despite the fact it's still 85 degrees in Knoxville during the day, calendrically speaking autumn is here. It is my favorite time of year for a number of reasons: the onset of cooler nights means we can start using our firepit again, the decline in the mosquito population means we can host bocce and croquet parties without itchy reprisal, the start of college football means regular tailgating events with friends, and my favorite holidays of the year are approaching.

Of course, these all mean an upswing in socialization and that means FOOD! That's right. Potluck season is upon us! As a person with dietary restrictions I fully believe it is my own responsibility to ensure I have something to eat at potluck style gatherings. I do not expect everyone else to be conscientious about that sort of thing (as opposed to hosted dinners which are an entirely different story). Plus, I know "allergen-free" can sound intimidating and complicated if you aren't used to cooking that way. That being said, our friend group includes several vegetarian, vegan, gluten-, dairy-, and/or soy-free folks. As someone who has spent a lot of time collecting recipes that meet David's vegetarian needs as well as my own multitude of dietary restrictions, I really enjoy making things I know everyone (or almost everyone) can eat.

So here are my go-to vegetarian and vegan appetizer, main dish, and side dish recipes for fall gatherings. They are also all gluten-, soy- and nut-free. Each dish is a tried and true crowd favorite that rarely produces leftovers.

Before you even ask: I am not including any dessert recipes here. There is always a preponderance of desserts at our potlucks so I prefer to bring savory offerings instead. I'll leave allergen-free desserts for another post!

Appetizer

Grand Aïoli
Yes, I know aïoli is basically flavored homemade mayonnaise but do not attempt to use store bought mayonnaise here instead. You will be missing the entire point of the recipe. In this instance, the difference between homemade and store bought is like the difference between the New York Symphony and your sixth grade orchestra concert. Homemade mayonnaise is a Tahitian beach. Store bought mayonnaise is a kiddie pool and inflatable palm tree in your back yard.

The beauty of a grand aïoli is that you can pair the sauce with whatever dipping materials you want. My favorites include boiled eggs, boiled new or fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, radishes, grilled asparagus or avocado, baked golden beets, grilled okra, steamed broccoli, steamed or pickled artichoke hearts, steamed or pickled cauliflower, fresh green beans, and grilled or pickled carrots.

Vegan variation: keep the vegetables but instead of the aïoli use this lemony white bean mash instead. I add an extra spritz of lemon and yes, fresh parsley versus dried makes all the difference here.

Main Dish

Tomato and Cheddar Pie
This is the perfect combination of fresh, creamy, flaky goodness. You can use a pre-made pie crust to save time, but I love this crust recipe so much that it is the only one I make anymore. For my needs I leave out the bacon and substitute-in gluten-free flour. Tip: do not leave out the dusting of cornmeal on the crust before adding the filling! It prevents the crust from getting soggy.

This recipe also holds up well with creative variations. Adding caramelized onions to the layers is delicious. I've also made a version with green tomatoes, fresh rosemary, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses instead of cheddar. Or you can divide up the pie crust to make individual tomato-cheese tarts rather than a full pie.

Vegan variation: use your favorite vegan pie crust recipe and for the filling ditch the mayonnaise, egg, and cheese for an 8 oz package vegan cream cheese and 1 c. vegan mozzarella cheese shreds (Daiya makes soy-free versions of both).

Side Dish

Two Potato Gratin
Next to macaroni and cheese, this is my favorite comfort food. It is adapted from a 2001 Williams
Sonoma Thanksgiving recipe. While many gratin recipes call for heavy cream or all half and half, with the velvety texture of the sweet potatoes and the amount of cheese involved in this recipe I've personally never found that to be necessary.

Makes 1 9"x13" gratin

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 c. whole milk (or 1/2 c. half and half and 1 c. 2% milk)
1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
2 1/2 lb red potatoes, unpeeled and sliced 1/4" thick (or russets if you want more starchiness)
1/2 lb gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 lb Parmesan or manchego cheese, grated
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. fresh tarragon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
Butter

Directions: 1) Preheat over to 325°F. Grease your baking dish. 2) In a bowl, toss your manchego and gruyere cheese together until evenly blended. 3) In a large bowl stir together milk, vegetable broth, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and tarragon. Toss potato slices in mixture until evenly coated. 4) In a pan, caramelize the shallots in a little butter. 5) Layer half of the red potato slices in the baking dish then sprinkle with 1/4 of your cheese mixture and 1/4 of the shallots. 6) Repeat process with sweet potatoes, then red potatoes, then sweet potatoes again. 7) Before sprinkling the last of the cheese over the final layer, pour remainder of milk mixture over potatoes. Then add the final cheese layer. 8) Bake about 80 minutes or until top is browned, sauce is bubbling and thickened, and potatoes are tender.


Vegan variation: For this version, chop your potatoes into chucks instead of slices and slice your shallots thickly. 1) Preheat oven to 425°F. 2) In a large bowl, stir together 1/4 c. olive oil, salt, pepper, tarragon, and nutmeg. 2) Toss potatoes and shallots in olive oil mixture until evenly coated. 3) Transfer potatoes into baking dish and bake for 60 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and tender.

This recipe works with any root vegetable: parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, and yucca can all be used alongside or in place of the potatoes, so get creative!

Now go forth and socialize! Happy eating everyone!