Restoring the luck to potluck dinners

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Potluck is an honest word. It does not promise potdelicious, nor potscorched. Simply potluck. It's remarkably forthright, much like foolproof.

Once, the potluck suited the times. It was the sort of big-group get-together that was inexpensive (everyone pitch in), easy (just make one dish) and casual (help yourself).

Quality control was maintained by luck's sidekick: competition. "Just make one dish" insinuated, silently, "and we'll see whose is best." One-upmanship kept the lucklorn up late, crafting the cunning casserole.

Those days, like the casserole, are gone. These days the potluck lacks even pot. In the brief pause between the workday and the work night, the frantic among us rush the supermarket for a cold carton of prefab. The goals of inexpensive, easy and casual are more readily met by pizza.

At the last potluck I attended, I counted 23 kinds of packaged cookies. The under-10 set found it enchanting. Mid-Malomar, I wondered how to restore luck to the potluck. Obviously: Turn French, demand a shorter workweek and chuck the smart phone. Less obviously: Seek the simple recipe.

The potluck calls for a dish that's quick, sturdy and appealing. Not to mention hot. Which is to say, corn pudding. The creamy, steamy side dish calls for ingredients that are always on hand. It takes five minutes to prepare. And it pleases the whole buffet line — tough-cookie to the cookie-happy. In a word, it's foolproof.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

Corn pudding

Prep: 5 minutes

Bake: 50 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

This dish is amenable to all sorts of additions, including slivered fresh basil, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sauteed onions and roasted poblano peppers.

1 pound frozen corn kernels, thawed

4 eggs

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup half-and-half

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch ground red pepper

1. Swirl: Set aside 1 cup corn. Blend all other ingredients, using the food processor or blender. Mixture will look lumpy. Stir in reserved corn.

2. Bake: Scrape into a buttered 8-inch-square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until top is brown and center is just set, 50-60 minutes.

Provenance: Variation on the standard Southern side (not to be confused with dessert).
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