consumable host gifts that aren’t wine

coffee

I love to have people over for dinner, and I try to make it happen as often as I can. One of my constant dinner party invitees recently asked me for a list of my favorite host gifts I’ve received that aren’t wine, because she wasn’t comfortable picking a wine for someone else’s taste. The following is my list of favorite not-wine gifts that I shared with her. For the most part, they’re something easy and inexpensive to keep on hand for last minute dinner invitations.

Cheese paper
Proper storage of cheese helps to preserve the purity of its flavor, and helps prevent bad molds from forming.

Fancy peppercorns
I didn’t really understand peppercorn differences until someone introduced me to green peppercorns, with their clean, mild flavors. Delicious!

– Quality olive oil
I love a delicious olive oil that I can enjoy with crusty bread or drizzled on arugula salad.

Pink salt block
Amazing to cook on, and at less than $30, a really fun surprise gift!

– Organic Honey
Sweet and earthy, and very versatile!

Quality Black Tea
I love using black tea in baked goods, to smoke chicken, or in a fruit glaze. The better the tea, the more special the flavor turns out!

– Chocolates
I don’t think i need to explain …

– Local Coffee (like Chicago’s own Intelligentsia)
Even if a host is not a coffee drinker, having coffee on hand for guests is a must.

– A hunk of good Parmesan
Parmesan will add life to any salad, grilled pizza or a simple pasta.

Non-food gifts
These two aren’t edible, and probably appropriate for a more special occasion.

Guest book
During dessert, having guests sign a guest book is a special way to end the night.

Cook’s Illustrated magazine
One part cooking geek, one part culinary school, this publication helps demystify basic and more complicated cooking techniques.

Enjoy! — Rebecca F.

Photo credit: Intelligentsia Coffee

From our partners
Stephanie

What fun ideas! I would have never thought of cheese paper, but it’s so creative I just might have to try it. One of my standbys is flowers and plants, potted or fresh cut. I also received a container of fancy sea salt once that I really enjoy.

Another non-food idea is a lomo camera or single-use camera that you (er, I mean the host/ess) can use to take pix of the party. You can find ones with cool effects (Oktomat! Image fusion!) online or at Urban Outfitters or similar, starting at around $20+.

JAH

love the cheese paper idea! (ps. where do you buy it from? i want some!). rebecca, can you share some salt block recipes? not used one before.

as well as your olive oil idea, you can give a great quality balsamic. who says no to that? :)

i love gifting spices. truffle salt is delicious over a fried egg, in soups or pasta sauces. or hickory smoke powder, which is amazing in soups or sprinkled over fish before grilling.

another idea: a nice coffee table book about something they’re interested in. even if they don’t end up reading it, it’s a personal gift and if nothing else, it’s a decorative addition to any living room.

stephanie – i always prefer potted plants over fresh flowers because it lasts so much longer.

Daffodil

I recently took a bottle of luxe hand soap and some microfiber towels to a dinner hostess. It was a family I don’t know that well — my husband knows the husband from the other family from grad school, before I came on the scene — but I figure everyone has to wash up. And even if the soap wasn’t to their liking, CERTAINLY the towels would be useful!

Although I’d just like to announce that if anyone comes to my house for dinner, you are welcome to bring any and all of the gifts on this list. :)

Lyn

How about tasty homemade preserves, salsas, butters and jellies? I like to take two or three of the nearly 300 jars I canned this summer and fall. I add a card with ideas for use and a recipe or two. Even without toast, jams and jellies made great bbq sauces, chicken simmers and crepe fillings. Or I add homemade granola and suggest the (peach/caramel apple/pear) butter and granola make a great topping for Greek yogurt — my go-to breakfast, lunch, dessert, snack!

I too, would like to know more about the salt block. My parents are foodies and I would be really interested in this as a potential gift. However, I want to know how in the world it works?

I guess I could always google :) but if you have any first-hand experience I would like to hear it.

Also, the honey is a great idea. I couple I know put local honey in small canning jars with decorate lids as wedding favors. I had totally forgotten I wanted to steal their idea until I saw this post.

Megan B

I’ve actually used a salt block once, in a cooking class (I was not teaching, just assisting), and it did not fare so well. They require a good amount of preheating (which didn’t happen) and can not be cleaned easily… the chef hadn’t really worked out the kinks on it before we used it. But I haven’t played around with it after that one negative experience.

Mike Johnson

Speaking of honey, it’s a little pricey but beeraw.com has a great gift selection. The 9-varietal flight is particularly cool — 9 types of honey. From the blonde honey of the star thistle, to the molasses black honey of buckwheat, you get an amazing sense of how honey can vary. Me, I don’t like clover honey at all, and orange blossom honey is okay. It wasn’t till I tried the other kinds of honey that I found I do like honey, just not all honey. My three favorites are cranberry, basswood, and wild raspberry.

Try it sometime. We bought buttermilk biscuits from KFC and had a tasting party. I can see now how certain varieties of honey could be the secret ingredient in recipes.

I have no relationship with beeraw.com, other than I’m a happy customer.

For chocolates, I like Fran’s.

David

Excellent ideas! I can’t wait to put them to good use. I always feel a kinda lame when everyone invited shows up with a bottle of wine- myself included. I know wine is the go-to standard, but it rapidly starts to lose it’s thoughtful touch when everyone does it by default.

while i haven’t used a salt block personally, one of my friends has one and uses it on the grill and in the oven a lot. she’s also served fruits and cheeses off it at smaller parties! i found these two sites to be pretty great at explaining how and when to use them: http://www.atthemeadow.com/shop/index.php?main_page=page&id=38 and
http://www.saltnews.com/

as for the cheese paper, i’ve only bought it online. BUT, if you live in a bigger city, you might be able to get it a specialty cheese shop or even whole foods …

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