Last night, over girls night at our local haunt Cheese Bar, over a lot of booze and cheese (OBVS), my good friends Katie and Morgan were discussing what you could bring to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was off to their in-laws, and I was about to have a houseful of guests. It brought up a few really good points about being a good guest and answering the age old question: what to bring to dinner?
1. Above all, ask your host.
Ask if you can bring something specific, whether ingredients, or wine or dessert or an appetizer. Respect that the person putting dinner together has chosen to do so, she/he might well want to control the whole dinner and would rather you just come and be a guest. Or bring booze. If its me, I want you to bring booze. Let your host know what you ARE going to bring, so they can cross it off.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, bring something that requires the oven, prep room, or the stovetop. Thanksgiving is a ballet of the kitchen. The turkey. The sides. The oven, the stove. It's almost insane how the timing works, and your host has a schedule of these things. If you bring something that requires accommodation then you’re really not helping your host at all.
3. Consider the service. This is a special occasion. If you bring something in Tupperware, you better have a nice plate or platter for it to go on once you arrive. Your host probably has already accounted for her serving pieces.
4. Don’t bring something so fussy it won’t get eaten and/or you’ll be offended when it does not. Basically, “know your audience”. Foie gras is a phenomenal food, but I accept that many people don’t enjoy it. Or pate. Or tofu. So vegans/veggies… bring something everyone can eat. This is not the time to introduce seitan to a large group.
5. Don’t compete with your host. Unless they authorize pie, don’t bring pie. Don’t bring cranberry sauce. Allow your host their moment. Don’t bring a heavy appetizer so that people fill up before the big show.
So, what DO you bring?
1. Crudite is a perfect example of a dish to bring. It requires no accommodation, no cooking and everyone eats it. It's a legitimately great appetizer that alleviates stress on the hostess. Also, it's not going to fill people up. In this variation, I say bring 2 dips because as much as I love some blue cheese, its nice to have a lighter option to play off of and offer some variety.
Crudite with Blue Cheese Dressing and Sesame Soy Vinagrette
Blue Cheese Dressing
Sesame Soy Vinagrette
First of all, it's OK to just buy good dressing and bring it with you. Annie's Original Shiitake Soy is so good I could bathe in it happily, and a great blue cheese from the fresh section of your market is perfect.
If you want to DIY it, mix 1 part soy sauce with 2 parts tahini, and then drizzle in sesame oil as you mix furiously. For the blue cheese dressing, mix 1 part blue cheese, 1 part sour cream and 2 parts buttermilk. You're not mixing it beyond recognition, you still want to recognize bits of blue cheese. Pre-cut everything, throw it into ziplocs, and bring the serving dish with you. Once you arrive, you can arrange everything out of the way and place it on the table easily. I think Martha Stewart is the QUEEN of crudite.
2. Ice cream or real whipped cream is a perfect addition to the pies people will serve for dessert. Even better if you have the ability to make the ice cream. Whipped cream is easy and holds until serving time.
Amanda’s Salted Balsalmic Vanilla with Honey Ice Cream
(OK, it's really just a super awesome vanilla that kinda knocks your socks off)
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
¾ cups white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp balsalmic vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp honey
In a mixer, add your eggs and sugar and whip together. While on low, add in your cream and vanilla, and then the milk and your balsalmic. Once incorporated, add the salt and brown sugar.
Add the mixture to your ice cream maker. When ice cream is almost done, pour honey in a very small stream into the ice cream mixer while on. Allow it to get to a semi hard state, then pack into containers and freeze for at least 6 hours. To travel with it, either pack in ice and get into the freezer as soon as possible, or drop a bit of dry ice (available at Baskin Robbins or a surprising number of super markets) into a cooler with the ice cream.
3. You can almost never go wrong with booze. Wine, beer, even champagne goes well with turkey. Consider a bottle of champagne and creme de cassis, or if more appropriate, a six pack of pumpkin brew. Again, don’t ingratiate yourself to fridgerator space, bring the beer cold as possible.
Pour ½ shot of Creme de Cassis into a glass, and then add champagne to fill. For an added bit of awesome, add a floating cranberry or blackberry.
4. Warm Nuts. Chex mix aside, there is something delightfully seasonal about warm nuts. Also, iIjust like saying “warm nuts.” It literally cannot get old. It's as easy as throwing together any mix of nuts that suits you (I love pecans, walnuts, filberts, almonds and macadamias) with spices.
Sweet and Spicy Nut Mix
You choice of nuts (see? NEVER OLD)
ancho chili pepper powder
I mix one egg white with ¼ water. I add just enough of this to the bowl with the nuts to coat all the nuts very lightly. You’re not trying to drown them.
Now toss in your spice mix. I use 2 parts brown sugar, 1 part ancho chili pepper and one part sea salt. Toss it all together with your hands and then lay out onto a baking sheet. Turn the oven to 200 degrees and go to sleep. In the morning, dump it all into a lovely bowl and off you go to Thanksgiving. Once there, place in microwave for 1 minutes. Resist the temptation to eat all on the way over to your host’s house.
5. Chocolates. A simple box of chocolates to go with coffee and the desserts or just for your host to hold onto and enjoy post-dishes is a great thank you.
It's chocolate. You don’t need instructions on how to buy a box.
General Politeness Reminders Regarding Thanksgiving (but probably all other dates as well)
1. Be on time. Really. There is a 30 minute window that begins the moment your host asks you to arrive. Don't be fashionably late. Don't be late late. And do not be early because 7 minutes before you arrive, I am still running around in my underwear trying to find the dress I laid out, with sopping wet hair from the shower. Early guests, no matter how well intentioned, are just as annoying as late ones. if you're early, take a lap.
2. RSVP. Honor the RSVP. Don't be lackadasical about letting people know if you're coming or not. "Maybe, I'll let you know," means "if I don't get a better offer." It also means I don't think you're important enough to deserve a response. If you can't attend, say so. If you can, do NOT PUNK OUT ON THE RSVP. I cannot stress this enough. You could have a legit reason, in which case advance notice (not a text message, but a phone call, an apologetic one) is polite. But do not, under any circumstances just "not show up." It's pretty much why the word "rude" was invented.
3. Don't criticize or make fun of food that someone has made or is eating. I don't care if it's oysters or mountain potato (a particularly vom inducing dish) do not go "ewwww" or comment on something's grossness. "I just always feel so bad for the turkeys, I can just see their little beaks" -- NO. Stop. Its not cute, its not acceptable, it's rude. Smile, find something else to focus on. This is also true of traditions. If the group is going around saying things they're thankful for, or saying a prayer... participate and don't rag on the tradition.
4. Don't be the sloppy drunk. My house is where people come to get trashed on Sunday nights and holidays. We have a ball, everyone has a safe way to get home or stays overnight, and we've never had a problem because no one has ever gotten sloppy drunk. You shouldn't either. It's a long day, make sure that you have a safe way to get home and no one needs to tell you to shut up or put you to bed.
5. Say thank you. You don't have to eat everything on your plate, or write a thank you letter... these are old ideas. But "thank you" is timeless. Say it on your way in, say it on your way out.
I love having people over for Thanksgiving and you know... shit happens. Part of being a good host is rolling with it and knowing things can't be perfect. But learning how to be a good guest will serve you your whole life and set you up for a return invite.