On a Tuesday no less, but never mind, I’m running a bit behind.  I never experienced the Potluck Lunch in England, the only time food was ever brought into work was on on your birthday and it was your responsibility to provide a cake for the office, home baked, store bought, it mattered not as long as you brought something in to share.  An evening Christmas meal was usually booked up at a local pub or carvery, and maybe, depending on where you worked, a few snacks might have been brought into work on the last day before the Christmas break.  But that was about it, then I moved to America and discovered the pot luck.

We have them where I work at least a couple of times a year, quite often as many as four times in one year.  The concept is very simple, you make something, bring it to work, set it out in the designated area, and then at lunch time everyone gathers, helps themselves to a plateful of food and sits down together for a chat and a jolly good feast!  A complete pot luck, you never know what people are going to bring in.  We always end up with a good range of food, from appetizers, mains, veggies and salad, bread, deserts, pies and cakes and soft drinks.  We put a sign up sheet out in the weeks before the event so we can make sure that 10 people all don’t turn up with cake and that we have a decent spread across all food groups and categories!

You don’t go hungry that’s for sure, and you can always tell the folks that participated in the lunch, right around 3 o’clock they become very easy to spot with their drooping eyelids and “out of it” expression that comes from eating too many different types of food at one sitting topped off with chocolate cake and all washed down with some pop!!  The 3 o’clock crash is a notorious side affect of pot lucks!!

My favourite thing about the pot lucks where I work is the sheer ethnic diversity of my colleagues.  The company itself is Japanese, and a number of people I work with are from India, China and the Middle East, so we’re always guaranteed a very diverse lunch.  Other folks are very aware of their family origins and often cook a traditional dish from their ancestral homeland…. for example, Jims ancestors came to America from Poland, Craigs from Sweden, Rolands ancestors are from Cuba, we also have German representation, and of course, English.

The other great thing about pot lucks has to be the invention of the slow cooker!  I love slow cookers and have three of them that do get quite a bit of use at home, but they’re fantastic for cooking something up for a large group, transporting it to work and plugging it in to keep warm, we usually have four or five of them lined up, all plugged in, keeping food warm.  The aroma is delicious and I often find myself wandering into the designated conference room, stirring this up, tweaking that, getting more and more hungry by the minute, watching the clock tick slowly to mid-day when everyone arrives and we start tucking in.

Our spread of scrummy food yesterday included, hummus and bread, homemade crab dip and spinach and artichoke dip in a hollowed out bread bowl.  For the mains, we had white bean chicken chilli, Swedish meatballs, baked chicken, Japanese noodles with shrimp, baked manicotti pasta, Indian samosas, a middle eastern meat dish that i didn’t get the name of, Indian mixed vegetables, cheesy potatoes, sweet potato and veggie casserole plus a couple of other items.  Dessert was a huge chocolate cake in the shape of a giant oreo cookie!, mango pies from my Indian colleague Sri (they’re delish, a bit like a baked custard but made with mango puree and served cold), apple and cherry pies, cookies and fresh fruit.  There were also things like potato chips and tortilla chips and fresh bread, pasta salad, potato salad, my God the list was endless!  I’m still full a whole day later, although Sri put a whole mango pie in the fridge for us to have in our immediate area with coffee this morning, and I do have to admit to finding the room for another slice earlier!  I’m bad, now I don’t want my lunch!

My contribution to this culinary extravaganza was the Spinach and Cheese Baked Manicotti, a really simple recipe that I used the slow cooker for.  Manicotti pasta is just tubes, like canelloni, about and inch in diameter and three inches long.  I made the filling with a container of ricotta cheese, mixed with freshly grated parmesan, a bag of washed and chopped baby spinach, some dried herbs, salt, pepper and 2 eggs.  The time consuming part was stuffing the mix into the pasta tubes with a teaspoon!  Took me an hour and a half to fill all 28 tubes!  After that, I made a tomato sauce, put the tubes into the slow cooker, poured over the sauce and cooked the whole concoction on high for 4 hours.  It turned out really well and most of it went at the lunch.  I couldn’t get all the pasta tubes in the slow cooker, so I’ve put a few (about 8 I think) into a dish with some extra sauce for a meal for A and I this week.  It will just need about 20 minutes in the oven and maybe some garlic bread or a small salad to go with it. Let me know if anyone wants the correct quantities and cooking times, it’s a nice tasty recipe and the spinach flavour isn’t strong at all.

So for your viewing pleasure today, here I am holding up a freshly stuffed pasta tube!!  Yes, I know, really scraping the bottom of the photo barrel!  The photo is a little dark because of the snow on the ground outside, makes the contrast bad.

And here are the stuffed tubes sitting in the dish that then went in the fridge for us to have later in the week.

I also read on the pasta box, that after stuffing the tubes with the filling they freeze really well, so you could always make extra and pop a few in the freezer for another time, thaw them out, throw over some sauce and bake them for 20 – 30 minutes.  Simple.

It’s going to be a culinary week I fear.  This Friday we have the company provided Thanksgiving Feast in the cafeteria…. roast turkey with all the trimmings and pecan pie or pumpkin pie for dessert.  Next Thursday (27th November) is Thanksgiving itself, so we’ll be preparing a nice meal at home, this is the American Turkey day, but being English we like to keep all that for Christmas.  A is thinking about roast goose!  I’ve only had goose once before and it really is yummy.  We get both next Thursday and Friday off work too, a nice four day weekend, I can’t believe it’s coming up so quickly, Christmas will be here before you know it.  So lots of good eating going on in the next couple of weeks, I can see I’m going to have to make friends with the treadmill again!!

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