Before you dash out the door to this year's holiday parties, don't forget your host.
That is, remember to bring along something for the person who sent the invitations, set the table and swept off the front steps. Perennial hostess gifts are wine or flowers. And while nothing is wrong with these two universal tokens of appreciation, you can be a bit more creative.
Since it's fall, how about a loaf of wonderful bread for breakfast? In my new book, I've got recipes for Pumpkin Bread, Zucchini Walnut Bread, Sour Cream Cinnamon Streusel Loaves, and my holiday favorite, Mindy's Pound Cake. Or, pick up a loaf of good bread from your favorite bakery. Wrapped in parchment paper or presented in a handy foil pan ready to be reheated, loaves are a practical gift since they may be eaten at once or tucked in the freezer for a more convenient time.
Not a baker? What about a do-ahead chutney to serve alongside the roasted turkey and to spread on all kinds of weekend sandwiches? My Cranberry and Apple Chutney is quick to assemble on top of the stove and won't spend much time in your host's refrigerator. My aunt's recipe for Jezebel Sauce an apricot-hued sweet and tangy sauce just right to pour over goat cheese or cream cheese as an hors d'oeuvre is equally enticing. To top potluck salads or for just nibbling out of hand, why not try my easy Sweet and Spicy Pecans? Place them in cellophane bags and tie with a ribbon, or pile into one of those cute Chinese take-out boxes found at craft and gift shops.
Packaging does say something when you're presenting a gift, so to dress up your gifts, be on the lookout for containers and wrappings that make your food gift look great. Save department store jewelry and accessory boxes. Cover them in holiday paper, and line with waxed paper or parchment. Pack bars, candies and nuts into the boxes, then secure with a pretty bow. Or, buy small plastic organizing bins and trays. Line them with parchment or waxed paper and fill with loaves of bread, cookies or jars of preserves. Attach a bow and tag to the side. No time to cook? The supermarket has some nice grab-and-go food gifts for your host: ¥ Wander down the natural foods aisle to the bulk bins and you'll find one of my favorite candies chocolate covered almonds. Place in a gift sack and tie with a satin ribbon.
¥ Select a variety of citrus fruit clementines, grapefruit, tangelos and bring these in a pretty sack.
¥ Pick up a nice bottle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar and tie a ribbon around the top.
And when in doubt? Show up with a bottle of your favorite wine. You can't miss. Anne Byrn, best known as the Cake Mix Doctor for her best-selling books about spicing up packaged mixes, tackles potluck panic in her newest book, the What Can I Bring? Cookbook. A former newspaper food writer, she lives in Nashville with her husband and three children.