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

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delish gift: tiny gingerbread men in chocolate pants

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My new friend Marja recently gifted us with some homemade gingerbread men that were devoured almost as soon as I opened the container. (I actually had to hide the one you see above to ensure that I’d be able to get a photo.) Not only was the tininess of the cookies adorable, because they were so small, they were softer and chewier than gingerbread men usually are. Marja said that she decided to make tiny gingerbread men when it was just plain tiring to make the larger version — she and her husband kept running out of dipping chocolate and dough trying to make enough to give as gifts. She says that she increased the ginger spices in the cookies slightly because it tastes better with the chocolate. I can attest, they are all gone — this one was eaten as soon as I hit “save.” — Mary T.

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etsy find: all jarred up

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Yes, the holiday season is the appointed time for feel-good gifts and our credit cards remind us of this daily. But, for a “just because” moment throughout the year, look no further than etsy seller All Jarred Up, who has capitalized on the notion that the only happy-maker better than a mason jar or homemade pie is, well, homemade pie baked into a mason jar! Stop by her shop to browse an ever-changing array of pies, cookies and dessert sauces all packaged in adorable jars perfect for personal portions, starting at just $6. –Sarah C.

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gift guides 2010: the hostess

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Christmas and New Year’s Eve are almost here. Will you be the person who pops a bottle of convenience-store wine into a gift bag, or will you take things to the next level of greatness? — Mary T.

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Floppy Basket — This nifty basket by Josh Jakus ships flat, is available in recycled rubber and a rainbow of wool felt versions, and would look lovely holding bread, utensils or party napkins.

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Women of Mad Men Ornaments
— Joan and Betty throw great parties, no doubt, and even Peggy could pull off a bohemian get-together.

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Santa Lucia Snowflake Ornaments — I first spotted these at West Seattle’s Click! Design That Fits, and have since seen them in other places around town. And no wonder — this is high style for a low price (A little under $20 for a set of 12 in a great looking birch box.) Look for them in your local home decor store or art museum gift shop.

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Gourmet Sea Salt
— I like the varieties from local favorite Secret Stash Sea Salts, but I’m betting you can find varieties infused with great flavor in the gourmet shop or natural foods store near you. A sweet (or, rather, salty) little luxury.

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NotNeutral City Plates — I adore these plates by NotNeutral with graphic maps of cities from Las Vegas to Dubai. I found some at Design Public for $50, or you can find a retail store in your city at the NotNeutral site.

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Umbra Wine Perch — Wine charms are so ten years ago. In fact, they’re probably downright unnecessary, but I find it hard to resist the, um, charms of the Umbra Wine Perch. So cute, so colorful, and just $4.88 for six! I found mine at a local paper and party supply store.

stag candle

Patch NYC Stag Candle — Our friend Christen of Knows Perfume recommends the Stag candle from Patch NYC (You can find it online here or check a specialty perfume or candle store). Christen says, “Stag from Patch NYC comes in a votive for $14, and a full size candle for $32. It’s the holiday fir tree scent, and it’s gorgeous! People are snapping them up.” Looks and smells good, too. And so will you!

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gift guides 2010: the workaholic

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If you can’t get her to spend less time at work, at least you can help infuse her day with a little fun. — Mary T.

Anthony Burrill print — Okay, I’ll be honest: there’s no way you’ll get this in time for Christmas. So print out a photo from Burrill’s website with an “it’s on it’s way” note, and have it shipped to her office for a near-future day brightener.

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Clients from Hell Invoices
— Does someone complain about her clients? These Clients from Hell invoices for “day ruiners” might make her feel better.

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Old School Stickies Set — Argh! Huh? We all need sticky notes to get us through the workday, and few express our feelings as succinctly as this set.

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Graphic Lap Desk — Working in bed? Guilty as charged. Take away the sting with a graphic “desk” from the Container Store.

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Magazine Files — Piles of magazines and papers get gussied up fast with simple magazine files. If you can brave IKEA this time of year, you can get a pretty set like these Lingo files, just $2.99 for four. Or check the stationery section at a big box store.

bento

Bento Box — A stackable lunch box can add interest to your day even if you can’t get away from your desk. I love this super-colorful version from PLASTICA. Find more at your local Asian supermarket.

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