My blogging friends have been extolling The Big Summer Potluck event for the past four years. “You must go” they kept saying, telling me that it was unlike any other food conference I have ever attended. I was intrigued and it turned out to be all they promised and more!
The potluck was conceived by Pam Anderson with her daughters Maggie and Sharon of Three Many Cooks and Erika of Ivory Hut. They wanted to create a supportive environment where food bloggers could gather, meet online friends in person, share food, and learn from one another. A place where people could be themselves and help each other to grow, become inspired, and reignite their passion for blogging.
On the back of each name tag was a beautiful quote “… Food, inspiration, and big time community. An open door, a seat at the table, a voice in the discussion. Come hungry, leave full – in every way. Welcome to our Table.” This is my kind of gathering! In the same way a family bonds around the dinner table, sharing stories, laughter and tears, the potluck provides us with a virtual family of bloggers from all walks of life. New friends just waiting to be met.
The concept is deceptively simple, “food, inspiration, and above all, community.” But the logistics take months of planning and a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make this remarkable event take place. Initially they held this potluck during the summer on their property in Pennsylvania, in the rustic beauty of a converted barn. It sold out within weeks and was so popular that they decided to come across the country and host a similar event in Southern California. They packed up all their equipment and shipped it to Temecula and transformed a glorious retreat location into a paradise of great food, inspiring speakers, and camaraderie.
I couldn’t make last year’s event but thanks to the good folks at Gourmet Garden, I was able to go this year as both an attendee and brand ambassador, doing a little work behind the scenes, having unique access to both sides of the event. I was able to experience both sides of the conference – as an attendees and as a worker bee, helping create a little of the experience we all enjoyed.
The food preparation was a true collaboration between Chef Shannon Kinsella of Gourmet Garden and Pam Anderson and her team. With these two ladies at the helm, everything got done, tasted delicious, and each dish was served piping hot to the crowd of hungry attendees. From the welcoming reception and dinner on Friday night, to the farewell breakfast on Sunday morning, they coordinated all of our meals and anticipated our every need. With upwards of 100 people to feed three meals a day, you can imagine what an immense undertaking this was.
Pam, Shannon, and their team of helpers made everything we ate from scratch with the same precision you would find in any top restaurant – and they did it in home kitchens without the benefit of staffs of trained chefs and professional equipment. From the breakfast buffets, salad dressing and marinades, appetizers, to smoked lamb, roasted and grilled vegetables, and homemade ice cream, every item was created with love – and it showed in every bite.
Each recipe was carefully chosen to be healthy, delicious, and wherever possible, gluten-free. It was one of the few events where I could eat without worry. It is hard to believe, but most food conferences are a real challenge for those of us with dietary limitations. This group took care of us, watching out so that no speck of flour or other gluten-ingredients touched the gluten-free foods served. A special thanks to Sabrina and Debra for managing this process!
We had a wonderful array of sponsors who generously provided items for our welcome bags, products, ingredients, equipment and many raffle prizes. Gourmet Garden, Sabra, Earthbound Farm Organic, California Ripe Olives, Kerrygold, Fork In The Road Foods, OXO, and KitchenAid all contributed to the fun and made this a very special event.
Today I want to share a few of the recipes that helped make this weekend so remarkable – created by Chef Shannon and executed by many helping hands. With these recipes you can host a delicious luncheon or dinner salad bar just like we had. I hope that they will help create a touch of the magic we found on the Santa Rosa Plateau!
There will be another post soon with more fun from the Potluck. Keep an eye out for it!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
A salad bar is the perfect menu for dinner parties or luncheons. Everyone can make their own meals, to suit their own desires. A little prep in advance and then you can sit back and let your guests do the rest of the work! For an even easier option, hit the salad bar at your local grocery store and buy pre-cut vegetables to save you time.
All of these recipes were intentionally created to be naturally gluten-free. Thank you Chef Shannon!
Kitchen Skill: Emulsifying Salad Dressings
The traditional method of emulsifying dressings is to make them in a blender or whisking them by hand until everything comes together and the oil and other ingredients are smooth.
The faster way, and the one I use most often, is to use a jar with a tight fitting lid. I put all the ingredients in the jar, screw on the top and shake the heck out of it. When it is thoroughly blended, I quickly pour it over my salad and it is perfect. A quick toss and the salad is done. Leftover dressing can be stored in the jar in the refrigerator.
- 1 shallot, peeled
- 3 tbsp Gourmet Garden Parsley, divided
- 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Dill
- 1/2 cup blue cheese or feta, crumbled
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chili Pepper
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Basil
- 1/2 lb asparagus, roasted and cut in bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 lb blanched or roasted green beans, cut in bite-sizes pieces
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses
- In a food processor, combine the shallots, 2 tbsp of the parsley, and dill, processing until finely chopped. Add the cream cheese and blue cheese or feta; process until thoroughly blended. Spread in the bottom of a pie plate or square dish.
- In a bowl, combine the yogurt with the Chili Pepper. Spread this mixture over the cheese layer.
- Toss tomatoes with the basil until evenly coated. Arrange tomatoes and roasted vegetables on top of the yogurt layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses.
- Serve at room temperature with crackers.
- Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
- 1 can (15 oz) corn, drained
- 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 4 tbsp Gourmet Garden Cilantro paste
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Garlic
- 1 cup chopped baby spinach, rinsed thoroughly & patted dry
- 1 avocado, peeled & chopped
- 1 lime, juiced
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- In a large mixing bowl combine the corn, black beans, jalapeno, and bell peppers. Stir in the cilantro and garlic. Toss to evenly coat vegetables.
- Add the spinach and avocado. Toss with the lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
- 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Garlic or Chunky Garlic
- 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Cilantro
- 1 to 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chili Pepper, optional
- Add all ingredients to a blender except the Chili Pepper; cover and blend until emulsified. Add chili pepper if using; blend. If too thick add water to get to desired consistency. Serve. Can be served with any tossed greens, grains, or as a marinade for meats.
- 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Basil
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Garlic
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/3 cup White Balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the basil, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, beating until fully emulsified. Can be served with any tossed greens, grains, or as a marinade for meats.
- 2-1/2 quarts water, divided
- 2 cups (2 oz) dried Hibiscus flowers
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Ginger
- 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Cilantro
- Bring 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the Hibiscus flowers, sugar, and ginger; stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat; cover and let steep for 1 hour.
- Pour the Hibiscus mixture through a strainer, press flowers to extract as much liquid as possible. Add remaining 1 quart of water. Chill.
- Serve over ice.
- Yield: about 3 quarts
Create a New Tradition Today!
Disclosure: My travel expenses and conference fees were paid for by Gourmet Garden.
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