Get Invited Back
Impress the party hostess with a gift from your kitchen

By Sally Sampson

The last time I went to a dinner party and took a gift for the hostess, I decided to forgo the usual bottle of wine and instead brought a bowl of spiced nuts I’d made myself. My hostess seemed practically flabbergasted. Not only had I brought something unique and wonderful, she was flattered I had taken the care and time to do it. Instead of sending it off to the pantry, she immediately served some to the other guests, who oohed and aahed.

Last-minute Gift Ideas

If the party is tonight Exotic oils (try flavored olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, or grapeseed oil) and carved wooden salad servers.
Pure maple syrup or honey attached to your family’s favorite oatmeal pancake recipe.
A basket of fresh pears packed with wedges of artisan cheese and a cutting board.
Fresh pasta accompanied by organic marinara sauce, arranged in a big pasta bowl.
Assorted spices and dried fruits with directions for making mulled wine or sangria.
Chocolate-covered espresso beans or almonds, dried strawberries or blueberries, or crisp biscotti, accompanied by a tin of loose-leaf tea. This year, whatever your cooking skill, free time, or budget, you can give a spectacular gift from your kitchen, thus avoiding the well-meaning pitfalls that linger in your own refrigerator or pantry (you know the ones: jars of strangely flavored mustard, boxes of mediocre chocolates, bottles of unpronounceable liqueurs). Go for food gifts you would want to make doubles of, one for yourself and one for your hostess: special, simple, quick, delicious foods that are sure to be enjoyed even after the season is over—that is, if they last that long. With these recipes, packaged festively and given with your good wishes, you’ll soon be a regular on everyone’s holiday party list.

Chocolate-Banana Mini-Breads

Makes 4 / Make these light yet luscious loaves with superripe bananas. To give, slip a loaf into a cellophane bag or tightly wrap with aluminum foil or waxed paper, tie with ribbon, and pack in a festive box. For a more elaborate gift, pair with bread tins or a small bread knife.

4 very ripe bananas (about 2 cups mashed) 1 cup sugar 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled 1 large egg, room temperature 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 cup cocoa powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly coat four mini-loaf (2-cup) pans with cooking spray.

2. Place bananas and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat for 2–3 minutes. Add butter, egg, and vanilla extract, mixing well. Scrape down bowl sides and add flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and nuts, if using. Mix to combine.

3. Fill pans about half full with batter. Bake until firm in the center and a toothpick inserted comes out with a bit of crumb on it, 35–40 minutes. (Or use 16 muffin tins and bake 15–18 minutes, or a full-size loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.) Cool completely. To freeze, wrap in plastic and then in foil; freeze up to one month.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/4 mini-loaf): Calories: 181 calories % fat calories: 32 Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 29mg Carbohydrate: 29g Protein: 2g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 116mg

Cranberry-Apricot Chutney

Makes 2 cups / I make this every single year and serve it not only with turkey, but slathered on roast beef sandwiches, steak, and chicken. Or try it swirled into chicken or tuna salad. It’s sweet, tangy, and spicy, just like chutney should be. When giving as a gift, I package it in a glass jelly jar and accompany it with my favorite brand of curry powder.

1 12-ounce bag cranberries
(about 3 cups)
3/4 cup dried apricots, diced small
1/4 cup apricot nectar
1-2 jalapeño or chipotle chilies, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of 1 lime
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

1. Place cranberries, apricots, apricot nectar, chilies, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, until cranberries are soft and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Add salt, lime and orange zests, and nuts. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 tbs): Calories: 92 calories % fat calories: 33 Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 15g Protein: 1g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 71mg

Citrus-Marinated Olives

Makes about 4 cups / These are best eaten after they’ve marinated at least two days, but are equally delicious after two months. Just remember to turn the jar upside down every now and then to distribute the marinade. Wrap a raffia ribbon around the jar with a recipe card attached, or present with an inexpensive olive tray for serving.

4 cups assorted olives, such as niçoise, kalamata, picholine, and Sicilian green
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to an attractive jar with a tight lid. Cover and refrigerate up to three months.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/4 cup): Calories: 66 calories % fat calories: 83 Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 3g Protein: 0g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 248mg

Spicy Orange Pecans

Makes 4 cups / Although often eaten the day they’re made, these also have a shelf life of six months. Serve with sweet and spicy dishes, especially Chinese or Indian food; or add to chocolate ice cream and drizzle with Grand Marnier, both of which you can give as accompaniments.

4 cups raw pecan halves
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 large egg white
Zest of two oranges
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
Pinch black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 225º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine pecans, juice, and egg white and toss until nuts are well coated. Add remaining items and toss again.

3. Spread pecans on baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until pecans appear dry, about 1 hour. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/4 cup): Calories: 212 calories % fat calories: 74 Fat: 19g Saturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 13mg Carbohydrate: 12g Protein: 3g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 207mg

Caesar Salad Dressing

Makes about 2 cups / Caesar salad is ubiquitous in restaurants, but how many people take the time to make their own at home? Give this gift either solo, with a big hunk of top-quality Parmesan cheese and a rotary grater, or with your favorite homemade croutons.

4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
3-4 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place garlic and anchovy, if using, in a blender or food processor. Process until well chopped. Add remaining ingredients and blend until emulsified. Refrigerate up to two weeks.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 tbs): Calories: 65 calories % fat calories: 93 Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 1mg Carbohydrate: 1g Protein: 0g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 149mg

Artichoke Dip

Makes about 2-1/2 cups / Scoop this into a beautiful bowl for the hostess to keep. Serve with pita chips or endive leaves.

2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 small lemon
1 cup yogurt or low-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Parsley sprigs, for garnish

1. Place artichoke hearts, parsley or basil, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until chopped.

2. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until combined. Cover and refrigerate up to three days or serve immediately, garnished with additional parsley.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/4 cup): Calories: 93 calories % fat calories: 39 Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 5mg Carbohydrate: 1g Protein: 4g Fiber: 5g Sodium: 390mg

Burnt Caramel Sauce

Makes 2 1/2 cups / While teaching my brother how to make caramel sauce, I walked away from the stove too long and returned to smoky sugar. I found I much preferred the taste to the classic version, as did all my guests. Accompany this gift with a pint of vanilla or coffee ice cream—or both.

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Continue boiling, without stirring, until it begins to color on the edges, 2-3 minutes. Cook, whisking constantly, until it turns a deep brown and just begins to smell burnt, about 2 more minutes. (The darker the syrup the deeper the burn, so cook accordingly.)

2. Slowly add cream, continuing to whisk, until it is completely incorporated. Remove from heat; add vanilla and salt. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate up to two weeks.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 tbs): Calories: 70 calories % fat calories: 55 Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 16mg Carbohydrate: 8g Protein: 0g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 31mg Sally Sampson is the author of 12 cookbooks. She and her husband, Mark, own Sampson’s Nuts, based in Watertown, Massachusetts.