I sure wish I could FORCE each of my guests to follow these four simple rules...
- Be on time. ESPECIALLY if there is dinner involved. The idea of being fashionably late is rude and insulting to the host and the other guests. When I plan a dinner, I will be juggling 3 or 4 courses. Serving them all hot at the same time occasionally rivals NASA efforts. I build in a cushion of time (30 minutes if a party of 4, up to an hour if larger groups are coming) for greeting cocktails, but the difference between perfectly done and overcooked can be as little as 10 minutes. The difference between an ideal presentation of properly timed food and a struggle to make it appropriate at best can be another 10 minutes. If the invite is for 7 PM, and you can not get there until 8 PM, either let the host know in advance, or decline the invitation. A good guest will do his/her best to make the evening run smoothly.
- Offer to bring something IN ADVANCE. We all want to be nice, and to help out the difficult process of hosting a party. But, a dinner party is usually planned in advance. Courses and proportions are planned to meld. Wine is selected in advance to pair with the meal. I have had terrific, gooey chicken wings brought to a dinner party where white tablecloth and cloth napkins were part of the setting. I have also had an open bottle of (inexpensive) wine brought over that the neighbor's wanted to "use up" on the night I had carefully selected a flight of wines to pair with each course. Had I been contacted in advance, I could have easily guided the good intentions to match the evening planned. Help, food and liqueur are often appreciated. But a good guest will do his/her best to match the help, food or liqueur to the hosts planning.
- Be appropriate. Find out what kind of party you are attending in advance. How to dress, whether to bring the kids (or not), how "fancy" the event is to be, etc. Knowing what to expect helps you as a guest set your mind right. It would be inappropriate to have a fancy 4 course meal with wine (beer and scotch) paired for my poker buddies. It would be equally inappropriate to serve wings and cupcakes when my wife invites her money grubbing whore lawyer co-workers. As a host, it is important that I convey the type of evening to be had in advance. If it is unclear, a good guest will ask what is appropriate.
- Having said step 2, It is ALWAYS appropriate to bring a hostess (sexist term, host) gift. A STILL SEALED bottle of wine (if you know the hosts favorite, terrific, otherwise, one of yours) always works great. I like to hand the bottle to the host, and let them know that they are to enjoy this bottle after the party. It is a gift, it is not help with the liqueur bill for the party. If you are uncomfortable giving wine (or you know the hosts are not drinkers, a specialty food item works as well. A fancy bottle of Balsamic Vinegar, unique chocolates, homemade cookies in a pretty basket, those silly little soaps that are too good for my wife to let me use... All these would be very appropriate. All imply that the host will enjoy (and remember the positive experience of hosting the party) at another time. Don't go nuts, $10-$20 nominal gift is fine. But, a good guest brings a small gift.
But, imagine if you will that you have asked your host what you could bring. Even make a suggestion. If you are an expert bread maker, offer to bring a loaf of homemade bread. If you can't imagine yourself baking bread, offer to bring some chips and dip to enjoy before the dinner... If the host agrees... here's a great little simple recipe you can toss together in a heartbeat...
The specialty food stores have dozens of types of specialty jellies. These can be combined with a slab of softened cream cheese to make a quick, fabulous dip. The presentation for this is simple. About 4 tablespoons of jelly over the cream cheese. Gently fold (do not mix, you want the image of the jelly to remain) the cream cheese and jelly together. Put in a pleasing presentation piece, add crackers, and you are ready. just that fast, just that easy.
In the example I am showing, I used a Jalapeno Peach jelly to flavor the cream cheese. A perfect blend of HOT, SWEET and CHEESE tastes. It was very well received. But wait... One more suggestion. If you make something like this specialty dip and crackers (that obviously looks like you did better than just opening a container of french onion dip), why not combine this with a hostess gift. Find that jar of specialty jelly at a fancy foodie place (Dean and Dalucca, Better Cheddar, etc.), and buy a second that you can give as a hostess gift.
Which gives me a chance to remind you of my contest. The deadline is Friday midnight, October 16th, 2009. As I post this, you have a little over 24 hours to enter my contest to win a bottle of , The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce® which is the number one specialty condiment sold in Texas. This stuff makes an amazing combination dip with the cream cheese, or would make a perfect hostess gift.
Take a look at the contest page by clicking HERE. The odds are great, only a couple entrants so far. And I wish you all luck!