Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Do you often find yourself wondering what to take along for hostess gifts? Well, Sarah has all the answers and then some regarding hostess gifting etiquette, plus lots of ideas for different occasions. Someone invite me to a party so I can use all this new-found knowledge. Sarah, teach us all how to be the best guests!

By this point, we’ve basically mastered the art of throwing a good party. But how do we become the best, most thoughtful guests? Host/hostess gifts are a great way to make a good impression on new acquaintances or show a friend your appreciation for throwing and inviting you to a great party. Parties can be expensive, from elaborately decorated Halloween parties to rare wine tasting get-togethers — between offering food, beverages, and entertainment, the costs can add up! Even if everything is already on-hand, the effort of cleaning and preparing to have people over carries a cost as well, an investment of time and effort into providing a great experience for friends and family.

Today, let’s talk about hostess gifts, and when it’s ok to bring something home with you after the party is over.

I grew up in a tight-knit family that often holds parties, and I noticed that my mom and dad usually had something extra packed in the car to bring to the host as a way to say thanks. An extra bottle of wine, a bar sign for the basement, a stack of printed photos, really anything that could be extended with the words, “I thought you might like this.” I internalized the gesture to the point where I almost always have an extra “something” on-hand when I hit the door of a party.

What to Bring

Hostess gifts can fall into two categories. One is something you bring with the intention to share it with everyone at the party (separate from a dish if you’re attending a potluck). The other type of hostess gift is something you select with your host in mind, something they’ll enjoy but that might not be used at that party. It’s important to know your host while selecting a gift — if he’s not a whiskey aficionado, whiskey stones may not be a perfect choice. I belong to a few subscription box clubs, and when I receive something that’s not to my taste – blush, Dr. Who jewelry – I save it without opening it to be used as a gift in the future. Some of these become hostess gifts.

A great many of my friends enjoy wine, so when I see decorated wine glasses in colors or patterns that make me think of them, I pick those up to be used as hostess gifts. My brother and his fiancé recently brought me a functional Underwood typewriter they had picked up at an antique shop because they know I collect old typewriters. I was delighted at something so thoughtful to show they’d been thinking of me. A guest at a party I recently threw brought a box of Keurig coffee, which I thought was particularly thoughtful. He a) knew I owned a Keurig and b) knew people would be drinking coffee the morning after. Even if we didn’t open his box of coffee, it would help replenish what we provided.

  • If you want to be extra thoughtful, bringing a bottle of Irish whiskey to a St. Patrick’s Day party, or another themed gift is a great idea.
  • Gift ideas for the barflies can be wine glasses, whiskey stones, a new flavor of bitters to experiment with, a bottle of something you think they’d enjoy, fancy cherries, a drinking game with any necessary equipment.
  • Cheese boards makes great hostess gifts for your friends who loves to entertain.
  • Gift ideas for bookworms are new journals, pretty pens, fandom-themed accessories or decorations, a book by an author you know they enjoy.
  • Gift ideas for almost anyone include a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, fancy candy, a framed photo or new picture frame, scented candles, Girl Scout cookies.

When to Take It Home/What About Consumables?

So you brought your host/hostess a nice, consumable gift and the party is over. What now? There are a few ways to go from here when it comes to the territory of do you take the rest home? I tend to fall on the side of leaving everything I brought besides my own belongings and whatever cookware was used to transport my dish. I know these things belong to me; I selected and brought them with the intention of taking them home again.

Unless pressed by the host, anything that has been opened stays at the party house. Several things are going to be inconvenient to transport back home anyway (ice cream, half a bottle of wine), and the point of a gift is that it’s given for keeps. Anything unopened depends on how well you know your host, and sometimes, the size of the party. If I bring Girl Scout cookies to a dinner with friends and there is half a box left, I’ll insist on leaving them unless my hostess tells me to take them home. If I bring a nice bottle of port to my best friend’s house and we don’t end up opening it, I’m probably going to take it home. If I bring bags of chips to a big house party that don’t end up opened, I’ll leave them there. I’ll also leave leftover beer in the fridge, and the rest of the bottle of wine. I’ll take home the bottle of gin I brought to make myself (and my friends) cocktails.

As you can see, this leaves a somewhat grey area. Generally, if you don’t know the host very well, bring absolutely nothing that you have designs on taking home. If you know the host very well, don’t just take your unopened whatever and leave — mention that you’ll bring it back next time, or offer to leave it if you don’t mind parting with it. Having a brief discussion can remove any residual guilt of, should I have taken that home?

Presentation also has a lot to do with what’s ok to take home with you. If you wrap a hostess gift in a bag, or hand it to your hostess upon arrival, it’s officially a gift you’re not taking home. If you bring out a bottle of something in the middle of the party for everyone to share, it leans more toward the area of something you take home at the end of the night. These are social cues, and every circle of friends and family is different. Learn to read the parties you attend, as well as the people you’re partying with, to best navigate these situations in the future. Remember that a thoughtful, fun guest is one who gets invited back!

What are your go-to hostess gifts? What are the most thoughtful hostess gifts you’ve received? Who wouldn’t like whiskey stones, right?

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Eve is the day on which a lot of us let loose a collective sigh of relief. The holidays are coming to a close and it’s time to party away all the stress that has built up. Do yourself a favor and follow in Claire’s footsteps on this one: make easy, prep-ahead, spectacular party food that will satisfy the crowd without causing you even the smallest amount of stress. We all know and trust Claire’s ability to feed people, but this menu is above and beyond the call of duty! She makes it all sound so easy, and assures me that it is. Claire, help us ring in the New Year!

I love holiday cocktail parties! I love dressing up, I love champagne, and I love finger foods. Christmas and Thanksgiving are great for dinner parties, but a New Year’s Eve party is like the cherry on top of the holiday party sundae. Everyone has been through the holiday wringer by then, and they’re all ready to just throw down.

If you find yourself hosting on New Year’s Eve, the best thing to do is stock up on the booze and put out lots of irresistible food to keep everyone grounded.

My parents and my sister and her family are all going to be here for Christmas, and they are staying on through New Year’s. I get along really well with my family, and we are all really close. Even still, I think it’s safe to expect one or two flare-ups over the course of their stay, and I predict that by the end of it, we’ll all be ready for a little break, so I’m throwing a party to lighten our spirits. I’ve decided that I am going to go easy-route on everything for this thing. I’ve skipped party invitations in favor of a Facebook event invite, and I have a menu planned out that I can do almost entirely ahead of time, so I won’t have to miss out on any actual partying. The name of the game here is to keep everyone… not sober, necessarily, but sober enough that they will still be upright by the time that ball drops. That is why our menu will consist of rich and flavorful meats, cheeses, and breads. The more carbs and lipids your friends and family ingest, the more cushion there is to absorb all that Champagne. So let’s get into it!

This year, I am serving toasted open-face prosciutto sandwiches, spiced lamb in puff pastry, and, of course, a cheese board. With the sandwiches, I think it’s better to keep it simple. You want people to feel comfortable walking around with these, so keep the ingredient list down, and the quality high. Just a thin smear of whole grain mustard, some Gruyère, and a slice of prosciutto on some very good bread is all it takes to have your guests coming back for more.

New Year

The lamb puffs are a recipe of my own invention, and hot damn, am I ever proud of this one.

Lamb Puffs

  • One pound ground lamb
  • One sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • Three tablespoons panko
  • Three tablespoons milk
  • One shallot, diced small
  • One egg, beaten
  • Fresh ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • White pepper
  • Ground coriander seed
  • One teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine your panko breadcrumbs and milk. In a medium bowl, combine lamb with the shallot, a couple of shakes each of your dried spices, salt, and the milk mixture. As with many of my own recipes, I didn’t pay very close attention to how much of each spice went into the bowl, but I’d say approximately 1/8 tsp each. Then grate about an inch of peeled ginger into the bowl, and mix it all together until just combined. You can use a fork, but I think you get a better mix if you just go in with your hands.

Roll the puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 10 inches across and 14 inches long, and then cut it length-wise into three evenly-sized strips. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the pastry out on the sheet. Portion your meat mixture into thirds, and spread each one out in about an inch-wide stripe down the middle of each piece of pastry. Fold the sides over the meat and use the beaten egg to help seal it. With the pastries seam-side down on the baking sheet, cut small diagonal slits at one inch intervals along the top of each one and brush the tops and sides with the egg. If you are going to serve them right away, set the pan in the freezer to chill for thirty minutes before baking. If you are making them ahead of time, tightly wrap the entire sheet in plastic wrap before freezing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the freezer, and there is no need to thaw them before baking.

New YearsWhen you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425°. Bake the chilled or frozen pastries until they start to puff up, about 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350°. Continue baking until the meat is cooked through and the pastry is golden and completely puffed up, about another 25-35 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board and let them cool slightly, and then use your cuts as a guide to slice the pastries into one-inch pieces. Eat the ends yourself, because you want to keep a uniform look on your serving platter, and anyway, let’s face it, you just deserve it.

New YearsFor dessert, I am going super simple with a classic icebox cake and Champagne Jell-O shots. The Jello-O shots are so easy to make, and the wow-effect to work ratio is definitely in your favor. I used this recipe but there are actually dozens of recipes out there, and I’m sure they all work just fine.

New YearsI will say one thing about these, though; don’t scrimp on the Champagne. Since it’s basically just Champagne and gelatin, you absolutely need to use a Champagne (or prosecco or any sparkling wine) that you would enjoy drinking on its own.

New YearsThe real dessert star here is the icebox cake. If you’ve never made one, get ready for your new favorite cake to make. The ingredients are as follows: Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers and homemade whipped cream. That’s it. I like to kick mine up a notch, and I fold some booze into the cream. It really elevates this simple dessert to a new level, and it’s so easy.

Icebox Cake

  • One or two boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • Two pints heavy whipping cream
  • Two tablespoons powdered sugar
  • One to two tablespoons vanilla or liqueur of your choice

In a large bowl, combine cream, sugar, and vanilla or liquor. I used Boulard Calvados, which is a really lovely apple brandy, but limoncello, Irish cream, Drambuie, or really any liqueur you prefer will work here. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Carefully stack the wafers using layers of cream to bind them. I made mine in a ring shape for a round platter, but you can shape it any way you like, even including that ultimate holiday dessert classic, a yule log. When you’re done stacking and shaping, use the whipped cream to cover the outside of the cookie log.

New Year

There should be a little bit of leftover cream, which you should cover and reserve. Loosely cover your cake in plastic wrap and set in the fridge to chill for at least four hours, and up to 24. The wafer cookies absorb moisture from the cream and puff up, so when you are ready to serve, use the reserved cream to cover up any cracks in the cream or places where the chocolate has bled through. To get the layered effect, cut the cake at a deep angle so that the knife goes through several cookies. I like to serve my icebox cake with some kind of topping, like some Luxardo cherries or this incredible homemade cranberry ginger jelly.

New Year

Happy New Year, from my kitchen to yours! This holiday season, let’s remember that the real reason we get together is not to get lit and embarrass ourselves in front of everyone we know. Enjoy your drinks responsibly, and when your family is about to push you over the edge, try to focus on the love. If that fails, just remember that you can always shut them up with a big mouthful of cheese!

Printer-friendly recipes: New Year’s Party Dishes

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving is just a week away! Are you ready? I’m always ready for my favorite holiday, and this last week of anticipation can be brutal. This year I’m trying to focus that energy into making some awesome side dishes to share with my family, and I know just the place to find the perfect recipes – our very own blog! I am thankful for our extremely talented guest bloggers who have shared so many amazing dishes over the past year. Everything I’m bringing to the table this Thanksgiving comes from one of our posts. I bet you can find some inspiration here, too!

Here is a collection of some of our most favorite recipes and tutorials for Thanksgiving. You’re sure to find something to be thankful for in this roundup of delightful dishes!

So, what are you bringing to the table this Thanksgiving? Did we inspire some great ideas? Let us know what you are thankful for this season and share with us your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

All of us at Butcher Block Co. are thankful for you, our wonderfully supportive customers. Have a happy, relaxing Thanksgiving!

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

It’s Back to School season! That means hectic mornings for parents and kids as we all adjust to the new schedule. Thankfully, Sarah W. is here with the perfect on-the-go breakfast cookies. That’s right – BREAKFAST COOKIES! We’re not much for morning eating in my house, but I bet I could convince my kid to eat a cookie before school! I love that these are easily and endlessly customizable – add nuts, seeds, dried fruit, whatever!  So, Sarah, tell us how to make these back to school morning miracles!

Ah, September. Even though I don’t have children of my own, it’s hard to miss the displays in every retail outlet right now. New backpacks, new clothing, new shoes, and new time management schedules. After a summer with a more relaxed schedule, families with kids heading back to school must start to feel the pinch of getting everyone ready and out the door on time. Leisurely breakfasts are a thing of the past when the kids are headed back to school!

I think my favorite part of going back to school as a kid was getting new notebooks. I always preferred three-subject spiral-bounds with college-ruled pages that I could cram a million notes in. Something about fresh white pages, and knowing that I’d get to fill them with my own words was addicting about starting up the school year. At the end of the year, I always made cases to keep my old notebooks for a while – I didn’t really care about keeping old handouts or book covers, but my notebooks filled with my words, representing my thoughts and work… that was something special to see on the bookshelf in my room.

My least favorite thing about going back to school was definitely waking up early. I am a habitual night owl and would rather stay up late at night reading and making popcorn and watching movies than go to bed early in order to rise and shine or greet the new day, or whatever it is that holds appeal for you morning people. Eating early in the morning usually upset my stomach, so I’d end up skipping breakfast until my mom started forcing breakfast shakes and granola bars on me to eat en route to school.

With such a time crunch in the mornings, having something prepared ahead of time that can be eaten on the go in the car or on the bus can make all the difference in getting places on time. Managing the back to school rush by prepping breakfast for the whole week ahead of time can make a big difference.

That’s where these On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies come in – the perfect solution to you back to school chaos!

I like something sweet in the morning, and these cookies do the trick. Subbing applesauce for eggs, and using chickpeas as the base may sound like a weird hummus, but these taste like no-bake cookies. Adding chocolate chips makes them extra special. These do have a tendency to fall apart, so be extra careful when transferring them to your cooling rack. Any crumbles can be saved to sprinkle on yogurt, too, if that’s more your speed in the morning.

The hardest part of this recipe is getting the consistency right. First, you need to grind your chickpeas in a food processor. I’ve done this without a food processor, and it’s much harder since chickpeas have a translucent husk or outer layer that needs to be totally pulverized in order to give you a smooth consistency. Stand mixers and hand mixers just won’t do it. Be careful to pulse your food processor, as opposed to holding down the button for long spurts of time – I burned out a Ninja motor doing this, and now am more careful with my little red Cuisinart. I ended up using 4 cups of oats to make the batter hold together – you really just want a dough that will hold its shape on the cookie sheet. Oh, and applesauce! If you buy those little individual-sized containers, fear not on measuring – they’re each half a cup!

I modified this recipe from a great blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, by adding enough oats to beat this batter into submission, allowing it to be formed into balls to bake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 3 T oil
  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • About 4 cups oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (hahaha, I used almost a whole bag – add these to taste)

-Preheat oven to 350°F.

-Rinse chickpeas thoroughly. Blend in the food processor until you have a hummus-like consistency. I found it helpful to add the oil and some of the applesauce to make this easier, and to switch back and forth between the Chop and Grind settings on my machine if things got stuck.

-Put your hummus in a large mixing bowl and add everything but the oats and chocolate chips. Mix well. You should have a sort of runny batter.

Back to School

-Add your oats about a cup at a time until your dough will form a ball.

-Add your chocolate chips. Then add a few more.

-Drop by rounded tablespoon (I use a melon baller) onto a greased cookie sheet or a sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Use the back of your spoon to flatten slightly. Bake for 20 minutes.

Back to School

-As each batch of cookies comes out of the oven, very carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack. These will be ready to be handled when the next batch is out (about 20 minutes cooling time). Don’t try to move them before they’ve cooled (unless you want extra crumbles for yogurt). Store in an airtight container.

Back to School

These are great with a glass of milk, and since chickpeas have a decent amount of protein (7g per ½ cup), these make a great morning boost to get a jump start on your day – both for you and your back-to-schoolers. My husband has been sneaking them after dinner for a treat, too.

What’s the best part of going back to school? What shortcuts in your morning routine help get you out the door on time?

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day is just around the corner, bringing with it backyard barbecues and time with friends and family. Are you preparing to host this year’s BBQ? If you want your Labor Day BBQ to be a smashing success, check out this round-up of some of our best BBQ posts!

Before you get your grill going, read up on our tips for making delicious BBQ plus the coolest new grill tool, the Scrapesation.

Labor Day BBQ

While watermelon is still in season, try these unique Watermelon Ricotta Starters as an appetizer.

Let your guests create their own masterpieces by setting up a Build-Your-Own Kabob station. It’s a great way to keep your Labor Day guests entertained and satisfied while they’re waiting for your perfectly smoked ribs to finish up!

Don’t forget to pick up a good selection of local brews to go with all your BBQ delights. You’ll need something frosty if you’re going to be standing over a hot grill all day, after all!

To finish off your feast, surprise your Labor Day crowd with a tart dessert that will help cut through all that smoky, meaty goodness. Key Lime Pie is the perfect way to end your Labor Day party and say farewell to the summer.

Key Lime Pie

Summer Fun – Remembering the Good Times

Summer Fun – Remembering the Good Times

Oh, Summer… I know I complain about you a lot, but I’m trying to remember the days when I looked forward to seeing you. See, I used to not notice the heat here; I was a clueless kid with a pool and a bunch of siblings. The lazy summer days of my childhood were filled with swimming, running through sprinklers, neighborhood-wide games of Darkness Hide and Seek (my polls tell me this is not an actual thing, so for those who didn’t grow up with me, this is just Hide and Seek, but outside at night), and playing Super Mario Brothers until our eyes bled. My sister was the only one of us kids who had a domestic streak, so she would bring us out trays of microwaved burritos that we would eat in the pool. The theory was that if you ate it in the pool, you didn’t have to wait 30 minutes to start swimming again. Ah, childhood…

My favorite summer game was called “Popsicle.” In Popsicle, which is a night-time game, everyone was a popsicle and we all hung out in the front yard running around, wrestling, etc. There was a large blanket spread out in the middle of the yard, and if a car drove by, all the popsicles had to run to get under the blanket so the headlights wouldn’t “melt” us. If you got melted, you were out; if you got under the blanket but the car didn’t turn down our street, you were out. I don’t know how often we actually played Popsicle, but it feels like it was every summer night for years and years of my childhood. I perfectly remember the big, itchy yellow blanket we hid under, with its excessive pilling and vague campfire scent. It’s funny the things we hold onto from childhood.

The reason I’ve been trying to recall happy summer memories is that I’ve got my son here with me all summer, and he’s decided he doesn’t want to go to day camp this year, so he really is here with me. What is he going to remember from this summer? He somehow managed to not get that normal kid quality of being able to ignore the heat, so he doesn’t play outside much during the day; it’s like he inherited my adult intolerance of heat without the bonus 13 years of blissful ignorance. He probably won’t ever have to experience the pain of playing Lava Monster and falling into actual lava (aka the asphalt during the Arizona summer), so that’s a bonus. I just don’t want him to think back to his childhood summers and only remember video games and cartoons.

It has occurred to me that I might just be overthinking this; there isSummer a very real possibility that my summers growing up were nowhere near as fun-filled as I remember them. What if we only ever played Popsicle once and it was just SO FUN that I’ve let that memory cover up the boring days? Maybe all my son will carry with him are the memories of staying up late for days on end to finish all eight of the Harry Potter DVDs. Or maybe he’ll store up enough fun memories on our trip to visit Claire (of Key Lime Pie fame) next month that he’ll look back fondly on this summer as one of the best ever; five days of beaches and Redwoods and amazing food will definitely help me forget this awful heat, so I’m hopeful my kid will hang onto the good stuff, too.

What are your favorite summer memories from childhood? Do you remember the boring days or just the fun ones? I want to hear all about the games you made up as a kid!