A dish that keeps on giving

Finding the right dish for a potluck can be challenging – so she borrowed a recipe from a fellow potlucker, and it became an instant hit.

Ever since taking home economics in junior high school, I have enjoyed baking from scratch. Cakes and cookies are favorites.

The texture of my angel food cake, made with a dozen beaten fresh egg whites, is denser – yet smoother – and quite different from one made from a packaged mix.

And because I now use a flour sifter with a handle that turns rather than requiring me to squeeze back and forth with all my might, it makes the multiple (five!) siftings of dry ingredients faster and easier.

So the delicious cake won't be plain, I often cut it into three layers, adding homemade custard filling between them and then covering the outside of the cake, too.

In 1962, my landlady wrote her raisin-walnut cookie recipe on a lined index card for me, noting that the recipe came from McCall's magazine. Although I've made the original recipe many times, sometimes I substitute cranberries and pecans – batches of either combination are delicious.

But these two special treats do not mean that my culinary skills rival those of Martha Stewart.

To me, the amount of time required to fix an elaborate meal is disproportionate to the time that it takes to consume the delicacies. Therefore, I usually plan simple menus that take less time to concoct – although often about the same amount of time to eat – as more fancy fare.

For cooks who feel as I do, potlucks are an easy way to divide and conquer meal preparation. Each person or family brings an appetizer, a main course, salad, vegetable, or dessert, but can sample everything displayed on the table. Since everyone usually brings more than can be eaten individually or by the family, there is always more food than the "potluckers" can polish off.

Some choices – for whatever reason – turn out to be not very popular, and I recall how embarrassing it was for me when my contribution remained relatively untouched!

When our son was in high school, his swim team once had a potluck picnic. After filling my paper plate with a rainbow palette of food, I sat down on a park bench and started sampling the various dishes.

One salad was especially colorful and delicious, but I had no idea who had brought it. Fortunately, that mother happened to be sitting at my table, and she was happy to share her recipe.

Since then, this Popeye pleaser has been my offering at all potlucks – except I now make a minor timesaving change from the original. At the grocery store, I purchase packages of washed baby spinach instead of grabbing handfuls of large spinach leaves that require thorough washing.

Of course, you can also fix this festive salad for enjoying at home. But perhaps – like me – you may decide to take it to a potluck dinner.

Don't be surprised if the contents of your bowl are a big hit. I can almost guarantee there won't be many leftovers. But if there are, your family may enjoy them so much that they won't mind at all.

Strawberry and spinach salad

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons minced onion
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider or balsamic vinegar
1 pound fresh strawberries
2 bags (6 ounces each) baby spinach

Blend dressing ingredients (sugar through vinegar) and refrigerate.

Wash and slice strawberries. If not mixing the salad right away, you may store them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours in a covered container with a paper towel on the bottom to absorb excess moisture.

Just before serving, mix the spinach and the drained strawberries in a large salad bowl. Stir the dressing and drizzle over individual salads.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on the size of the portions.

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