April 18, 2014 at 1:36 PM ET
“Oh, thanks for the wine.”
As much as we all appreciate a bottle of vino from dinner guests, doesn’t it seem like dragging a bottle to every dinner party is getting a little ho-hum?
Plus, chances are, your host already specially picked out wine to pair with the menu, creating that awkward “which bottle should we open?” situation.
But you want to bring something, right? Unless you’re specifically put on drink duty, surprise your host or hostess with a different sign of gratitude—and ensure you’ll be invited back.
Great wines come from Napa Valley, but great olive oils do, too. You can’t go wrong treating your host to a fruity, peppery bottle of California olive oil like this Arbequina variety from Stonehouse Olive Oil ($20 for 500 mL)
—the kind of thing home cooks go crazy for, but don’t always treat themselves to.
Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about plunking a canister of Morton’s on the table.
Unlike a $10 bottle of wine, which can be hit-or-miss quality-wise, a $10 jar of salt, like those from Jacobsen Salt Co., harvested off the West Coast, is going to be top-of-the-line.
Pot of herbs
Yes, flowers are lovely—but they also send your busy host scrambling for a vase. Instead, stop at a local nursery and pick up a pot of herbs. Some grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s, even occasionally carry potted mixed herbs designed for gift-giving.
Dish towels get grungy, quickly—no one can ever have enough. And you can get some pretty cute ones for $5 or $6, like this new popsicle-clad one for summer from Crate & Barrel .
Most entertainers devour cookbooks. Look for one on a sure-fire crowd-pleasing topic—like this May’s upcoming book, "Fried & True" ($22.50, Clarkson Potter), which includes more than 50 fried chicken recipes from the country’s top chefs. (Of course, do your homework to make sure your host isn’t a vegetarian, but you get the idea.)
After you go home, your poor guests will be up late, cleaning up the mess you left behind. So leave them with one less thing to do, and make their breakfast for the next day. Bring over a mason jar of homemade granola, some good yogurt and throw in a citrusy pound cake for good measure, and they’ll fondly remember you in the morning.
It takes some pre-planning, but if you are about a week out from your event, consider making your party-throwers a bottle of homemade liqueur. Cocktail fans will love this springy mint liqueur from Andrew Schloss’ cookbook Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits ($19, Storey Publishing) in Bloody Marys or cucumber martinis. (See recipe below.)
Garden Mint Liqueur
Excerpted from "Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits" © by Andrew Schloss, used with permission from Storey Publishing
Makes about 1 quart
1. Combine the vodka, vermouth, cucumbers, mint, and lemon zest in a half-gallon jar. Stir to moisten everything.
2. Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of mint, 3 to 5 days.
3. Strain the mixture with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid.
4. Stir in the simple syrup.
5. Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year.