Host/ess gifts to keep on hand?
December 13, 2017 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I have friends who sometimes invite me to dinner with short notice. I don't like showing up empty-handed, but I don't always have time to pick up or make something. And anything I do pick up for the meal is likely to be a duplicate item - a second dessert, for example.

Wine will work for some folks, and I'm planning to buy a few extra bottles to keep on hand, but not all my friends drink. I have also thought of baking bread and keeping small loaves in the freezer (I do have limited freezer space). They might not thaw in time for dinner but my friends could enjoy it later. Fresh fruit would be great but ... it spoils. The stores near me don't have small inexpensive flower bouquets or I'd do that.

What simple things can I make or buy to keep on hand for informal dinner invites?
posted by bunderful to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
How much space do you have? Can you purchase reed diffusers, candles, chocolates, would those items work?
posted by kellyblah at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nice chocolates? They keep for quite a while. I also have a local place that has fancy flavored olive oils, that would also be a nice shelf-stable non-wine alternative.

For homemade, I like making jam and often use it for pretty much exactly this thing, even if it doesn't quite go with the theme of the meal.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Chocolate gift boxes won't store for as long as wine, but will be fine for quite a while.
posted by demiurge at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Good chocolates in a small bag or box. Doesn't double up on dessert, can be greatly enjoyed later.
posted by lydhre at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hard cheeses, jams or tapenades, chocolates, nice bottles of olive oil.
posted by greta simone at 7:14 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have a little stash of nice handmade soaps/body scrubs I keep on hand for Tiny Gift Emergencies. I have a few of these mini-soap 'paintboxes' and two of these mini gift sets from Paintbox Soapworks. They're under $10 (you can even purchase in bulk!). They keep for a while and don't take up much space. They travel well, too, so they're also great as little thank-you gifts when you stay at someone's house. They're not edible, admittedly (although some of the scents smell like they could be!) but people seem to enjoy them.
posted by halation at 7:14 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


For non-drinkers, sparkling cider comes in a champagne-like bottle but is non alcoholic.
posted by The Deej at 7:16 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Obviously I don't know what your friend group is like, but I would find it very strange if the kind of friend my wife and I informally invite to dinner at the last minute showed up with a gift every time. It's certainly delightful if they happen to see something they think we might like, or want to try out a new recipe, but I'd hate to know they went to the trouble and expense of having an array of things on hand just to bring with them because they felt obligated.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:23 AM on December 13, 2017 [11 favorites]


I don't know about your friends, but my expectations when I am inviting friends for dinner or brunch is that I am cooking all the food. Unless I've asked for something to be brought (such as a potluck, or where I don't have an item), often too much bread or a second dessert is a hassle and is something I'll send back home with a guest as we don't want 2 pies around the house during the week as we only have dessert on occasion.

The way the social contract works is - friends who are received for dinner or brunch are expected at some point to host or to invite out for dinner somewhere and pick up the bill (something like 1 out meal for every 4 hosted is a fair ratio cost-wise.) There's no need to quid pro quo each meal.

The way to handle this is - ask if you can bring something. If they identify something, great, if they say "don't worry about it, I have it covered" then listen to them and don't bring anything. Friends have brought ice for parties which has been inexpensive but a lifesaver when we're in the kitchen and can't run out for it but a bag of ice that wasn't expected is a hassle.
posted by notorious medium at 7:32 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


Fancy salt, olive oil, honey, vinegars or other stable shelf goods.
posted by slipthought at 7:41 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Someone brought me a nicely wrapped candle the other day, I thought it was a very nice gift.

Nice soaps would be lovely too.

Right now is a great time to stock up on this stuff as stores are full of gifty things. Trader Joe's has adorable samplers of honey and maple syrups... super cute.

People who don't drink tend to like cocoa; there are lots of nice gifty cocoa things in the stores now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:49 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


The way the social contract works is - friends who are received for dinner or brunch are expected at some point to host or to invite out for dinner somewhere and pick up the bill

I hear what you're saying and in a general sense agree. For those friends I can feasibly host I am less concerned. However when invited over regularly by a large family you don't have space to host, or can't afford to take out, or when illness and stress make it hard to host at all for a long period of time, I think it's nice to show up with a little something now and then if not always. It's less about obligation and more about gratitude and acknowledgement of the effort it takes to put together a meal and open your home to others.

I have people I host for whom it would be burdensome to return the favor because of their current circumstances. They usually show up with wine or chocolates (they have advance notice) and I'm always grateful.
posted by bunderful at 7:49 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ice cream. It’s a good add-on for desserts, a good stand-alone dessert and keeps well in your or the host’s freezer (OK maybe not really ‘keeps’, because somebody WILL eat it but then you just need to restash it constantly because you might need it as a gift...I mean, it’s ice cream. You’re welcome.)
posted by The Toad at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I will one up the ice cream suggestion with ice cream SUNDAE fixings.
It's not such a big thing that the person would feel awkward accepting it if it's a very casual dinner, but it is thoroughly delightful. Ice cream, chocolate sauce and roasted peanuts - they all keep for a long time and are quite unexpected.
posted by dotparker at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


This:

The way to handle this is - ask if you can bring something. If they identify something, great, if they say "don't worry about it, I have it covered" then listen to them and don't bring anything. Friends have brought ice for parties which has been inexpensive but a lifesaver when we're in the kitchen and can't run out for it but a bag of ice that wasn't expected is a hassle.

is exactly what I was going to say. If you really, really feel like you must bring something because you enjoy doing so, maybe think of unusual, non-food things you can keep around indefinitely. Wine charms, occasion-specific hostess napkins tied with ribbon, wine stoppers, little bathroom soaps, packages of stationery, etc.
posted by cooker girl at 8:10 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


Per Miss Manners, hostess gifts of food are not meant to be part of the meal, but are for the host/hostess to enjoy later.
posted by FencingGal at 8:53 AM on December 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


Following on FencingGal -- I like having dinner parties, and a good whack of friends enjoy bringing something. (I prefer drink or longer-lasting edibles -- I rarely use scented candles, am allergic to bar soaps, etc, etc. OTOH, a quality brand of any of those is very very easily re-gifted, so...)

People who bring something like a pie are effusively thanked and the pie is set aside and not served. It is fine to bring edibles, so long as they last a while/are easily frozen.

My favourite is good liqueur; bonus points if it is a bit of a rarity, a favourite of yours, and you include a little card with your preferred recipe -- or a nicely potted, hard-to-kill plant. (A big thing of assorted herbs is nice.) The worst are things the people clearly think will be trotted out to spoil my menu -- breads/baked goods (yeah, a pie isn't a big deal, but I don't like rushing to slice something and wrap it for the freezer when I've just done a lot of work).

Fancy whatnot in jars, anything for the wine rack, or stuff that will last in the freezer, is great. I am partial to booze because if the party is a success and goes on longer than planned, I can break it out with thanks -- "bunderful was nice enough to show up with this; shall we break it out now?" (Nobody ever says no unless they are driving, but anyone willing to drink a bit has a designated driver, Uber, use of the guest room, etc.)

I am not much of a Godiva fan but in re. the mention of hot chocolate, their milk (hot) chocolate is so good it beats my homemade, and I usually eat it with a spoon or use it as a dip for bananas, etc. Delicious, easy to quickly hide away with thanks or bust out at the end of the meal as a coffee alternative.
posted by kmennie at 9:53 AM on December 13, 2017


Amy Sedaris says "A pound of butter". YMMV
posted by achrise at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


Can you pick up a nice bouquet of flowers on your way?
posted by ananci at 10:30 AM on December 13, 2017


Flavored salts. Homemade vanilla extract. Spiced candied nuts (I think you would want to store nuts in freezer.)
posted by vunder at 11:06 AM on December 13, 2017


Amy Sedaris says "A pound of butter". YMMV

Holy cow, that's brilliant! Of course, Amy's brilliant, so this makes sense. This would also make sense as a gift for people who like to cook. To build on this, maybe you could keep some of that fancy high-butterfat stuff (like Plugra or Kerrygold) in your freezer, and put a stick in a cute bag or wrap it like Amy suggests. You could also sneakily find out if the hosts would use salted or unsalted beforehand.
posted by JulesER at 12:38 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


For this sort of situation, I rotate between jam, chocolates, and flowers. I think it's especially nice to use a small taste of the thing, so that other guests don't feel awkward if they didn't bring gifts and the host doesn't wind up with a surplus of a thing to deal with.

I make jam, so I always put some in 4 oz jars, that's three or four servings tops. Fancy chocolates that come in a box of 4. A small bouquet of a 3-6 blooms so that they can drop them in a large water glass or jar rather than having to look for a real vase.
posted by desuetude at 12:46 PM on December 13, 2017


Per Miss Manners, hostess gifts of food are not meant to be part of the meal, but are for the host/hostess to enjoy later.

This is a good point. I think some folks I hang out with probably haven't read much Miss Manners, because they always add whatever I bring to the meal, whether it fits or not. I usually go along with it thinking it's more polite than pointing out a lapse of knowledge on the writings of Miss Manners, but maybe it's better to nicely let them know I meant for them to enjoy it on their own time.
posted by bunderful at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2017


> but maybe it's better to nicely let them know I meant for them to enjoy it on their own time.

I do this by wrapping tissue paper around it and saying "and this is just something small for you, for later."
posted by desuetude at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


It takes a bit of work, but once you have a decent stockpile, lactofermented hot sauce doesn't go off (at least not for months and months, if you do it properly) and you will be hard-pressed to find anybody who won't appreciate and enjoy it. It doesn't even have to be hot: use the mildest chillies you can find (e.g. jalapeno) and bulk the ferment out with garlic and onions. DELICIOUS! HERE IS A GOOD WALKTHROUGH!
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


What about cookies?...either boxed fancy Italian style or your own homemade frozen ones. They might thaw faster than bread.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2017


Many ACE hardware stores carry local honey if you want to go the honey route. I brought some jars of cat claw honey home from Arizona as gifts recently. Apparently you can't get it every year, it depends on if it's a good season for the plant or not. I got it at ACE.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:56 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have a lot of dinner parties. Wine and booze are always good. I've also been delighted by coffee/tea.

But I have one friend that brings me weird tea towels and she is absolutely the best.
posted by thivaia at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I like to buy smoked almonds or other "fancy" nuts, nice cookies, and nice crackers when they are on sale and keep them in the gift closet (which also houses the wine rack) for an easy and unpretentious hostess gift. It doesn't fit with most of my social circle due to dietary restrictions but you might have some crackers and a small block of pate (which freezes well) on hand. If you get invited to a lot of potlucks I like to keep quiche in the freezer. You could also keep frozen pie crusts, and a pie filling of your choice around.

As for my gift closet it's rare that I won't also bring a bottle of wine so housing these things together makes sense, and I am easily able to see when I'm running low on gift items. The only shortcoming in my plan is that other members of my household have discovered that I usually have a stash of yummy snacks in that closet and they will raid it if I don't keep the regular snack shelf well stocked. Ymmv of course.

A friend of mine visited me shortly after traveling in Canada and brought a really good (small) bottle of maple syrup. It's not something we normally buy for ourselves but we really enjoyed it. I also like the jam idea, we would enjoy receiving it as a hostess gift.
posted by vignettist at 11:24 PM on December 14, 2017


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