A while back I wrote about my new potluck group, the Global Gourmet Gathering. In case you missed the last post, there are four couples in the group and we take turns hosting a potluck at our home, each time with a different food theme. Last week our friends Andrew and Nivale hosted and the cuisine was Indian.

It’s hard to say what was the best dish of the night. Steph made her own poppadums [insert standing ovation here] which she served with homemade raita and a cilantro chutney. She was concerned that her poppadums, usually paper thin, were too thick. But they were gone in minutes. She wins the award for most difficult dish tackled. And we came up with a new name for her dish: thickadums.

I made Palak Paneer…in my slow cooker! The palak (spinach) part of the dish was perfection (but it’s hard to mess up slow cooker recipes). I loved the flavor and the gentle heat that slowly crept up on your palate. My homemade paneer was going well until I cut it into cubes and tried to fry it. It stuck to the pan and ended up a bit of a mess, but we picked at it and then plunked the rest of it into the spinach. Next time I would just put the paneer straight into the palak.

While I love chickpeas (and adore hummus), they can be dry and bland in whole form, but Anna made the most flavorful and moist Chana Masala. After seeing that Steph had made poppadums and I had made paneer, Anna worried that her dish wasn’t challenging enough, but we all delighted in this perfect side dish.

Nivale, a newlywed, who claims she is “just learning to cook,” made a melt-in-your-mouth pork vindaloo. But it wasn’t in-your-face flavor—or even heat. It was subtle. Nivale thought perhaps the sauce was too watery (it was not) and that the meat was too dry (also not).

Of course we are our own worst critics, especially when cooking outside our comfort zone. Despite each of us having reservations, our dishes were strong on their own and a triumph together.

But Nivale literally took the cake. Before that evening she and I had learned that both Steph and Anna had birthdays the coming week, so we planned a special celebratory dessert. She would make the cake, and I would arrive early and frost it while she took care of last minute preparations. Sometimes cake is just cake. Boring. This was not.

She made a pistachio cake with honey butter cream frosting. We tasted and went mute. It can’t be written about. You simply must make it.