Ask Chef Emily: Timing a Potluck Party Dish

I am happy to have been invited to a potluck dinner party, and I’m in charge of the main course. I plan to make a lasagna and am curious about when to make it so it is hot at dinnertime. Should I assemble at home, then bring to bake? Bake it at home, but then how do I transport it and keep it warm? Thanks for the help. — Joe from Southampton

I love a dinner party and predict a big resurgence in popularity, particularly when hosts smartly divvy up the cooking responsibilities and kudos to you for taking on the entrée!

Here’s what I would do: assemble and bake the lasagna at home and time it so that the dish comes out of the oven about 30 minutes before you’re ready to walk out the door. I wouldn’t want to bake the lasagna at the hosts’ home because what if the person in charge of bringing the hors d’oeuvres gets the flu and can’t come and we decide to jump right into dinner? If the lasagna has an hour in the oven, there will 8-12 hungry party guests.

Wrap a double layer, all the way around, in both directions so that, heaven forbid, if you slam on your brakes to avoid a deer.

So remove chance and bake it at home. Before you put it in the oven, cater-wrap the plate in foil. To cater-wrap means to wrap a double layer, all the way around, in both directions so that, heaven forbid, if you slam on your brakes to avoid a deer and the tray goes sliding off the passenger’s seat, it will stay contained in the foil job, and not sloshed down into your footwell.

Once its done, remove from the oven and let it cool slightly, for about a half hour, on the stovetop. This way you aren’t transporting something that’s screaming hot. I collect up wooden crates wherever I can for just this type of conveyance. Line the crate with a quilt or a heavy towel, add the foil-wrapped lasagna, fold over the quilt to keep in the heat, and depart for the party.

Click here to see Chef Emily’s answers to all your questions.

Call ahead and ask the hosts to crank the oven up to 375ºF and upon arrival remove the foil and warm the lasagna back up to an internal temperature of 165ºF. You can use an instant read thermometer that you cleverly packed, or a metal skewer inserted into the food for a moment then touched to the skin just below your lower lip. Hot? Then its ready to serve.

I also want to put a plug in for the humble warming tray. If you are a frequent dinner party host, these devices hold food at a nice warm serving temperature allowing guests to come back for seconds or thirds. I used one for my New Year’s Day open house and it didn’t matter when folks came to the buffet, the food was still warm and appealing to look at.