Perfect Potluck Party

Hosting a dinner party rich in family heritage is an ideal way to celebrate the holidays.

The Party

When the Child staff gathers for impromptu lunches and story meetings, two topics -- family and food -- inevitably crop up. Our editors and designers come from wonderfully diverse backgrounds, and during a recent conversation about favorite recipes, a delicious idea was born: Why not bring together parents and children representing five different culinary traditions for an international supper? Our Korean-born art director, Jae Han, inspired the Asian-theme decor for the party, and guests arrived with their children bearing hearty dishes from Italy, Korea, Russia, Hungary, and the American South.

"A bring-a-traditional-dish party is perfect for the holiday season, as it makes entertaining easier for the hosts," says Child food editor Laurie Goldrich-Wolf, who coordinated the menu. "It's also a terrific way to encourage kids to try new foods and learn about international cuisine." And at this time of year, when an attitude of gratitude echoes throughout celebrations, it's nice to pause and give thanks for your family's own special heritage.

Before dinner, the children -- including four boys ages 1 to 4 -- got to know each other by playing with globe beach balls, which reinforced the theme. Jae helped them put together an oversized map puzzle, and each parent pointed out the country his or her relatives were originally from. While adults set up the buffet table, the kids snacked on Asian wheat and seaweed crackers and sipped orange juice and seltzer.

With so many preschoolers at the party, service was made simple with a buffet table for the food and seating at a low table surrounded by cushions. Although the menu included dishes that even some of the adults had never tasted -- from chicken paprikash and saut?ed cellophane noodles to fresh gnocchi with tomato sauce, kasha varnishkas, and baked sweet corn pudding -- the informal atmosphere encouraged everyone to sample new foods and share stories about each recipe.

"All four of my grandparents were immigrants -- my mother's parents came from Italy and my father's parents came from Hungary -- and they brought their fabulous cooking skills with them," says executive editor Andrea Barbalich. Gnocchi is among the traditional dishes her maternal grandmother is famous for. "All her grandchildren would beg her to make it," recalls Andrea, mother of 4-year-old Truman Devitt, "and now her great-grandchildren do the same. My childhood taught me that cooking is a way to show your love." senior producer Shari Noland, mother of 16-month-old Caleb, shared a baked corn pudding recipe that originated with her African-American great-great-grandmother, a native of Virginia. Shari and her sister grew up in Chicago, and their mother, Carole Cartwright, continued to make Southern specialties such as sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, greens, and cornbread in addition to the corn pudding.

With a bowl of fresh fruit and a selection of Italian, Hungarian, and Russian pastries to choose from, everyone saved room for dessert. The kids took the beach balls home as favors, and the adults shared recipes with one another. It was an evening filled with great food, laughter, and cultural enrichment for all ages. "Let's stay longer!" one of the boys begged, the universal affirmation of a successful party.


Executive editor Andrea Barbalich remembers childhood afternoons spent spreading out individual pieces of her grandmother's homemade gnocchi so the dough wouldn't stick together. "I learned about my heritage by cooking at her side," Andrea says of Anna Misercola, now 90, who was born in Italy, came to America at age 12, and settled in upstate New York.

10 appetizer portions

Prep Time:
30 minutes

Cooking Time:
40 to 50 minutes


  • 2 large Russet baking potatoes
  • 2 Tbs. salt plus an additional teaspoon
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh white pepper to taste
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup grated Romano
  • cheese (optional)


Step 1: Place unpeeled potatoes in a large pot. Cover with water and add an additional 2" to 3" of water. Add 1 Tbs. salt; cook for 35 to 45 minutes until potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer. Don't overcook or the skins will pop and the potatoes will absorb water. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes.

Step 2: Peel potatoes and put them through a ricer or a coarse sieve. Spread riced potatoes on a flat surface to dry. (Potatoes should be dry before combining with the other ingredients or the gnocchi will absorb moisture during cooking.)

Step 3: In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water and 1 Tbs. salt to a boil. On a cool work surface, gather potatoes in a mound and form a well in the middle. In a small bowl, combine eggs, 1 tsp. salt, and white pepper; beat well. Pour mixture into the well.

Step 4: Mix potatoes and egg, adding flour to form a moist dough. Work quickly, scraping up any bits that stick to the surface. (Note: The less flour you add and the less you handle dough, the lighter the gnocchi will be.)

Step 5: Cut dough into 6 equal parts. Roll each piece into a rope 1/2" thick. Cut rope into 1/2" pieces. Sprinkle pieces with flour and place them on a lightly floured tablecloth, making sure they don't touch. Boil gnocchi for 1 minute or until they rise to the surface. (Alternatively, you can freeze uncooked gnocchi for up to 3 months.) Serve immediately with sauce and, if desired, grated cheese.

Nutritional Facts:

Each serving: 256 calories, 8 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 5 g fiber, 43 mg cholesterol, 15 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 695 mg sodium.

Cellophane Noodles With Vegetables

Executive editor Andrea Barbalich remembers childhood afternoons spent spreading out individual pieces of her grandmother's homemade gnocchi so the dough wouldn't stick together. "I learned about my heritage by cooking at her side," Andrea says of Anna Misercola, now 90, who was born in Italy, came to America at age 12, and settled in upstate New York.


Prep Time:
30 minutes

Cooking Time:
12 minutes


  • 2 lbs. cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and drained
  • 6 oz. scallions, cut in 1" pieces
  • 6 oz. carrots, julienned
  • 6 oz. onion, julienned
  • 6 oz. Asian dried mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and cut in slices
  • 14 oz. cleaned spinach, blanched with boiling water and cut in big pieces
  • 3 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 3 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 4 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 4 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. sesame seeds


Step 1: In a large skillet over medium heat, combine noodles with all vegetables except spinach; stir for 5 to 6 minutes. Add spinach, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and brown sugar; cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Top with sesame seeds and serve.

Nutritional Facts:

Each serving: 458 calories, 4 g protein, 102 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 5 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 89 mg calcium, 4 mg iron, 446 mg sodium.

Kasha Varnishkas

"This dish is known in Korean as 'Jab-chae,'" art director Jae Han says of these sautéed noodles and vegetables. "It's the Korean version of spaghetti," she adds with a laugh. Jae and her family moved to Indiana from Seoul when she was 15, and she speaks both Korean and English to her son, Becker. "I'd like for him to understand both languages and appreciate his heritage," says Jae, adding that Becker particularly enjoys cellophane noodles sautéed with carrots and other veggies. "It's a great dish for kids -- the noodles are a little sweet and not spicy."


Prep Time:
7 minutes

Cooking Time:
40 minutes


  • 4 cups canned low-sodium, reduced-fat chicken broth
  • 2 cups kasha (buckwheat groats)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb. bow-tie pasta, cooked according to package directions


Step 1: In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and continue boiling.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, combine kasha and eggs, stirring until kasha is coated.

Step 3: Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Add kasha and stir constantly for 2 minutes. The kasha will start to separate and will have a nutlike scent. Add boiling broth and stir; mix in 2 Tbs. butter, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

Step 4: In a medium frying pan, heat remaining butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Combine all ingredients in the kasha pot, stir to warm, and serve.

Nutritional Facts:

Each serving: 363 calories, 14 g protein, 63 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (4 g saturated), 5 g fiber, 55 mg cholesterol, 27 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 369 mg sodium.

Sweet Corn Pudding

For creative director Dan Josephs, a platter of kasha varnishkas is a heartwarming reminder of his late Polish-born grandmother, Sarah Brown. "She came to America as a young girl in 1914 and married my grandfather, who was from Kiev, Russia," says Dan. "Traditional dishes like this and borscht were her specialty." A mix of toasted buckwheat groats (kasha) and bow-tie pasta, hearty kasha varnishkas is a favorite of Dan's 3-year-old son, Gabriel. "Enjoying my grandmother's cooking was like eating history," says Dan. "But when we asked for recipes, she'd say, 'I don't have anything written down -- you'll just have to watch me make it.'"


Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
35 to 40 minutes


  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 14-oz. cans
  • nonfat condensed milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 12 ears fresh corn, cut from the cob, or 1? lbs. frozen corn, thawed and dried on paper towels
  • 1 tsp. butter


Heat oven to 375? F.

Step 3: Spray a 1 1/2-qt. casserole dish with vegetable oil; set aside.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk milk and eggs until frothy. Stir in brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and vanilla. Add corn; mix well. Pour mixture into prepared dish. The mixture should be thick. If the mixture seems thin, add additional corn. Dot pudding with butter and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon.

Step 3: Bake for at least 35 minutes, until set through the center. (Gently jiggle the dish to see if mixture is properly set.) Serve pudding hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Nutritional Facts:

Each serving: 399 calories, 13 g protein, 81 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 3 g fiber, 129 mg cholesterol, 228 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 140 mg sodium.

Chicken Paprikash

Although the name suggests dessert, senior producer Shari Noland explains that her family's sweet corn pudding is served as a side dish during holiday meals. "My mom calls it a 'feel good' dish because she makes it at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other days when our extended family comes together," Shari says. "It reminds her of happy times." Shari's son, Caleb, recently had his first taste of this yummy pudding, and he loved it too.


Prep Time:
20 minutes

Cooking Time:
70 minutes


  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 onions, thinly sliced
  • 10 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 5 slices each
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 to 4 Tbs. hot paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cooked for 10 minutes
  • 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 6 cups cooked egg noodles


Step 1: In a large nonstick skillet, saut? garlic over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes in 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the pan; set aside.

Step 2: Add remaining olive oil and cook chicken for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Return vegetables to the pan along with the water, paprika, salt, and green beans.

Step 3: Cover and cook over low heat for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat; after 10 minutes, stir in sour cream. Serve over egg noodles.

Nutritional Facts:

Each serving: 347 calories, 29 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat (5 g saturated), 4 g fiber, 92 mg cholesterol, 80 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 299 mg sodium.

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the November 2003 issue of Child Magazine.



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