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Potluck saviors

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Well, that was fun while it lasted.

I'm referring to summer, when Missoula collectively kicks up its feet, hits the river and works on its sandal tan. That's all over now, as the nonthreatening waves of pastel-shirted tourists are replaced by a tsunami of Chive On-studded students. I suppose Pita Pit is stoked, but not me.

If there's one good thing to come from this difficult change of seasons—and altered town psyche—it's that fall usually means the return of potlucks. Lots of potlucks. Back-to-school potlucks. Welcome to the neighborhood potlucks. Pre-concert potlucks. Football Sunday potlucks. It's Tuesday, why the hell not? potlucks. And so on. Missoula loves potlucks almost as much as it loves craft beer. (Which, incidentally, is always a must-bring for a potluck.)

You know what else Missoula loves? Judging guests by what they provide the potluck. Oh, be honest: You scope out the table to see who cut corners by swinging past Albertsons en route to the backyard. You've noticed when a neighbor or coworker tried to cover her tracks by dumping some Good Food Store deli counter item into a large bowl and passed it off as their own. And you've certainly sidled up to the gourmet who always seems to bring the most delicious platter—the one that's been scraped bare by the first wave of eaters, those greedy hogs—and asked for a few recipe tips.

Hey, why don't you be that gourmet this potluck season? The key is to win the potluck without wasting precious hours in the kitchen. Nobody wants that. These recipes take very little prep time, look good enough to make a strong impression and taste even better. Most importantly, they help you stay sane as additional potluck invites keep rolling in.

Summer pasta

What you need: 1 box of linguine (16.5 ounces), 1 wedge of brie, 6 cloves of chopped garlic, 1 bunch of fresh basil, 6 Roma tomatoes, 1/2 cup olive oil (you can go down to 1/4 cup, if you prefer), parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

How to make it: Chop tomatoes and slice basil. Peel rind off brie and tear into bite-sized pieces. Put tomatoes, basil, brie and garlic into large serving bowl. Top with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate; the longer the better. Cook pasta. Combine and stir to help brie melt. Top with parm and serve.

Why you make it: Fresh, foolproof and something that appeals to a range of tastes (kids, vegetarians, etc.). The hardest part is leaving enough time to effectively marinate—and then waiting until the potluck to dig in.

Kale salad

What you need: 2 tablespoons dried currants, 7 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 bunches dinosaur kale (center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced), 2 tablespoons pine nuts (lightly toasted) and parmesan.

PHOTO COURTESY OF RIK PANGANIBAN
  • photo courtesy of Rik Panganiban

How to make it: Place currants in small bowl with 5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar. Let soak overnight.

Drain currants. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, honey, oil and salt in large bowl. Add kale, currants and pine nuts; toss to coat. Let marinate 20 minutes at room temperature, tossing occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese shavings over salad and serve.

Why you make it: I know those currants are a bitch, and I know we covered salads in last month's column, but this fall/winter concoction knocks off socks at neighborhood soirees.

Ye ol' devils

What you need: 20 dates (pits removed), 10 strips of bacon, 1/2 cup of blue cheese and 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar.

How to make it: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stuff each date with about 1 teaspoon of blue cheese. Close the date and wrap it with 1/2 slice of bacon. Stab the dates with a toothpick and roast for 10 minutes or until bacon is crisp. While dates are cooking, pour balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce it until it's like a syrup (or 5-10 minutes). Serve dates with a drizzle of balsamic.

Why you make it: Classic cocktails never go out of style, and neither does a classic appetizer. Plus, bacon.

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