A proper guest brings something to the party. A small, scrumptious present for your hosts is the perfect way to thank them for their hospitality. The gifts we present here are not expensive or elaborate—they’re just good. So we suggest you put in a little time in the kitchen and treat the folks who are treating you. Best of all? Because you’ve shown such holiday decorum, they just might let you have a bite.
Orange Ginger Pound Cake / Wrapped in pretty paper or plain parchment, this spin on the traditional holiday pound cake is a loaf of sweet versatility: it deliciously suffices as breakfast, afternoon snack, and/or evening dessert. Adding a generous dose of orange zest and a little orange juice give a kick of citrus, while the ginger ensures an aromatic kitchen while baking. Before adding the glaze, poke some holes in the top of the cake with a toothpick; the more holes, the more the sweet glaze seeps down inside, keeping your loaf moist and flavorful.
Salted Honey, Benton’s Bacon, and Toasted Pecan Popcorn / Forget those tins of caramel corn you give and get every Christmas; this homemade snack trumps it by a mile. The honey envelops the popcorn and provides the sweetness, the bacon gives it some smoke and salt, and the pecans add a little crunch. You can use any brand of bacon, but Benton’s bacon transforms this tasty treat into a little bag of heaven.
Vanilla Extract / Vanilla extract is wildly easy to make (hello, 2 ingredients!), but in a beautiful antique bottle, it looks fancy enough to impress even the most high falutin’ of hosts. Yes, there are only two ingredients, but don’t be fooled by the simplicity: when combined in the right ratio, the result is a vanilla extract that supersedes any on a commercial shelf, one that will give all baked goods that extra nuance of flavor. If you have a host who loves to bake, this is the gift to give.
Lavash and Pimento Cheese / Lavash—a thin, soft flatbread—is the perfect vehicle for eating pimento cheese. With its light texture and salty finish, it puts your average cracker to shame. Package the pimento in a decorative cocotte (Le Creuset makes them in beautiful bold colors) and place the lavash in a plain paper bag for a treat that’s both rustic and refined. This gift perfectly finds it place in any appetizer spread immediately, and the hosts will appreciate the useful gift of spreader and cocotte for the next time they entertain.
Caponata / This classic Italian eggplant dish delivers both sweet and savory flavors, and is rather pretty to boot. The red wine vinegar and the sugar soak into the eggplant, and pimentos, capers, and pine nuts bring complementary flavors and textures, making for quite a memorable mouthful. Place the caponata in a little glass jar, pick up a baguette or some crostini to go with it, and your hosts’ reaction? Molto bene.
Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Biscuits / The tart onions and the salty-sweet cheese means these biscuits truly rise to any holiday occasion. Take these nuggets of fluffy perfection already baked for instant gratification or offer a batch of frozen biscuits for future good times. Many a host loves having a freezer full of fool-proof last minute bites, so this “thinking ahead” gift just might earn you a follow-up invitation. Bonus if you bring the cast iron pan.
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