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Your answer to 'What can I bring?'

Do you have a go-to recipe for a salad or dessert you bring to dinner parties?

What would be an appreciated and complementary contribution that shows effort but not so much as to upstage the host's cooking. I'm done with bringing bagged salad and store-bought cakes...

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  1. I usually like to bring a 7-layer or tri color pasta salad. Both go well with just about anything and it shows you put some thought and effort into it (even though both are extremely easy).

    1. I like to bring, my orzo salad with dried cherries salad. It's full of interesting and tasty goodies. Pinon nuts, fresh basil, tiny sugar tomatoes, dried cherries, scallions, sometimes olives. The dressing is olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Refreshing and pretty.

      I also like to bring either a pineapple upside-dwon cake, or cream cheese brownies.

      1. What about a good rice pilaf, baked carrots, potato salad, a crockpot full of a good soup, homemade bread rolls, pudding, pie, etc. There is an array and to tell you the truth,what is wrong with your dish "upstages" the host's. One always wants to put their best effort forward and I recommend that you not intentionally degrade whatever you take.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Home2Cook

          It is poor form to purposely attempt to "one-up" the host. That can happen unintentionally, of course. If you know the host's tastes and ability, you should try to contribute something complementary.

          1. re: greygarious

            I said I would not purposely degrade anything I was preparing to take to a potluck. I have to say that I have been been a member of several dining groups throughout the years, and never heard anything from anyone about it being poor form to "one-up" the host. Maybe it is a regional thing. I totally agree that it is nice to know what the host is preparing so that what ever dish one contributes is complementary.

            1. re: Home2Cook

              Sorry, I concur with greygarious. It's bad form to try to one-up the host. Your goal should be to help lighten the load and contribute something that complements what he/she is serving. It should not involve ego-tripping or showing off.

              We all have more elaborate and simpler recipes in our repertoires. When you know the host's offerings may be more humble, I feel it's best to err on the conservative side. It's just good form.

              My social circle is pretty young, and at least among us, bringing a show-stopper to someone else's party might be taken as passive-aggressive one-upsmanship. Let the host shine and just be grateful for the hospitality. You don't have to degrade your own contribution, but there's no reason to show off, either.

              1. re: Home2Cook

                I concur with greygarious as well. I don't that that what's okay in the context of a "dining group" can be extrapolated to apply to a less specifically foodie occasion. There's also a difference between a gathering that is specifically identified as a potluck (go for it!) and one where the host(ess) asks if you might bring something to round out the meal s/he has planned (keep it simple).

                The fact that this is even an issue is a good example of why people should draw clear lines between potlucks (where everyone brings something) and a hosted meal (where the host provides the food). There's an awful lot of passive-aggression involved in both people who insist on bringing something to a hosted meal, even when not asked to, and people who claim to be "having people over for dinner" when in fact they are holding a potluck.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Agree, Ruth. Whenever invited, figuring out which one is the first task we usually do:) Sometimes, Nice flower works even when they strongly insist "Nothing" but on the venue you see someone else indeed bring something:) Just want to be well prepared!

                  1. re: hobbybaker

                    Ah, this drives me crazy! People say "but I was taught to bring something" and they're absolutely right, they should. It's called a "hostess gift" -- and it's a gift to the host(ess) that as a gift becomes the property of the recipient and may be handled as the recipient sees fit. What should not be brought, unless specifically requested, is something that is intended to be served at the event itself.

                2. re: Home2Cook

                  It's not regional. It's called good manners.

            2. Stuffed mushrooms, a salmon dip, roasted shrimp with a dipping sauce.

              1. Sadly there is less of a tradition of bringing dishes to dinner here in the UK, but I am always asked to bring dessert - usually brownies as I'm a bit famous for them amongst my friends. I also find that a good frangipane tart with seasonal fruit is always an excellent addition to the dessert course.

                Last year I made the ottolenghi apple cake and I thought this was a superb cake, fabulous frosting and a wonderful combination of textures and tastes. Much enjoyed by everyone else too!

                1. Home made bread, rolls, etc. but it depends on what is being served and the host/hostess. I would obviously not offer if the person loved baking bread. But, are you looking for salad and dessert ideas that are not store bought? I think a salad w/ a lot of components is well received, or a good fruit salad. I appreciate either. If you're looking for a good salad recipe, I love this roasted cauliflower and radicchio salad. I've used radicchio, as well as other greens, and have added roasted corn or whatever else goes w/ the season:


                  1. I like to ask what the menu is and suggest a few things I enjoy making to see if "anything compliments your menu"

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: lexpatti

                      I do the same, lexpatti. If the answer is "I am unsure" I will volunteer an appetizer or dessert.

                    2. if not a food request, i'll bring some good vinegar and oil, or some jams and various nut butters, or sometimes wine.

                      food-wise, i'm usually asked to bring my gingerbread, which I base off of the Gramercy Tavern gingerbread recipe, but have tweaked over the years.

                      sometimes, it's chocolate chip cookies, esp if my stepdad is doing the requesting.

                      for any sort of sporting event, or finger food based occasion, it's some variation on Bonnie's Buffalo Chicken Dip. or sometimes a pasta salad with sundried tomatoes, basil, oregano, parm, and seasoned rice wine vinegar.

                      most times, so as not to one-up or over-surprise, i'll offer a few different options of what to bring, and then allow my host to pick which one he or she would like added to the table. that said, last week, when i asked what she might like me to bring, my friend timidly said, "do you think you could bring a roast chicken? you know, the juicy one you served when you had us over last month?" of course, i laughed and obliged.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Emme

                        Hi Emme,

                        I think you may have posted a link to the gingerbread recipe once before, but I can't find it. I was wondering, could you share the recipe, including your tweaks and adaptations, here? Thanks.

                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                          here's the Epicurious link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                          As to adaptations and tweaks, this is tougher to quantify. I''m very much a bake-by-feel kind of a gal, and I tend to alter what I do based upon how the batter "feels" on any given day. That said... I omit the cardamom. I increase the beer and and molasses a tad, equally. As I measure the beer, I try to minimize foam, and I only pour it into the pot when the level of the beer reaches the top o f the measuring cup, and cast off the foam into the pot as I'm measuring. I *hard* pack the brown sugar, and increase it a bit if the mood strikes me, and go a little lighter on the white sugar, maybe a tablespoon less. I go a little lighter on the flour, maybe a tablespoon or so less, again depending upon how the batter feels and the weather. I use a full 2 tbsp of ginger, but use about 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/8 tsp of cloves. I bake them in 6 mini-loaf pans usually, to maximize top crust surface area, and to facilitate serving and gift presentations. I use PAM with Flour, rather than buttering and flouring my tins - I don't have the patience, and find that I have better results with the spray.I bake 'em for 25 minutes at 350, all at once; however, I have baked elsewhere and they required a bit more time in other ovens. My oven is very precise (as I so demand of it :) ) Err on the side of underbaking; I pull them out when the top is done (I don't ever stick a toothpick in, so I can't speak to that ), no jiggling. They firm as they cool. I let them set for 10-15 minutes, then invert them out of their pans, just to make sure they're not stuck, then i return them right back to their pans, and allow them to sit. Later in the day or the next morn, I will take them out of their pans, and wrap in saran wrap. They store that way for a really long time, and freeze wonderfully if necessary. They're even better after a few days. And if you're looking for sickening decadence, try using it as a base for a tart mascarpone cheesecake.

                          1. re: Emme

                            THANK YOU! That was a lot to write up. I really appreciate the advice...it's getting saved in my email now.

                            1. re: ChristinaMason

                              no trouble at all, just not sure how much i help could be... hope that it turns out well for you!

                      2. Depending on the season, I often bring chocolate-dipped strawberries or apricots. It's simple and impressive-looking, but can be easily served to the side of the host/hostess' main dessert.

                        1. I might bring deviled eggs or in the summer chicken or potato salad.
                          Pastries from a nice bakery or is that a '"store bought cake"?

                          1. I often bring chocolate chip cookies (CI's thick and chewy recipe) and a pint of ice cream. The cookies are totally portable and good either at room temperature or heated. I have upstaged the host once or twice this way, though, but never had any complaints..

                            1. In my circle of friends, it's understood that the main meal and dessert are all provided by the host. (Not trying to make this an etiquette debate, BTW.)

                              To that end, I'll offer to bring something to enjoy with drinks beforehand. And if I'm given the go-ahead on that one, I usually do caponata or something else fairly light in texture but pungent.

                              If the host specifies a salad, I often take roasted sweet potato salad: Roast small cubes of sweet potatoes and make a warm vinaigrette with lots of scallions and fruity olive oil. Dress while still warm.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                yum, love roasted everything. I haven't done a sweet potato salad. thanks

                              2. When someone asks me what they can bring to my house for a dinner party, it depends upon who the asker is, but in general, my answer is "flowers."

                                I have already planned the meal, including the salad dressing, so each course complements the next, and I don't want anyone to bring green bean casserole.
                                (or bagged salad and store-bought cakes.)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ChefJune

                                  i agree completely. when i'm on the cooking side, i don't want guests tracking mud on my menu. a potluck is a different matter--tho i much prefer "pot-plans" to "potlucks." unless i am asked to bring a specific dish to a host, i generally default to a household gift--or flowers. i simply assume most folks don't want my favorite foods intruding on their menu any more than i want theirs plastered onto mine.

                                2. I love to bake and everyone I know is well aware of that. I bring cookies, sometimes a pie, whatever the host would like. I give them in a pretty dish and let the host know that I'm OK if they don't serve them but would rather save them for themselves, and don't worry about the dish it's yours. (I buy cute, inexpensive dishes at Christmas Tree Shops or the dollar store for this reason)

                                  So far, no one has kept them off the table.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: iluvcookies

                                    iluvcookies. I am the same as you are! Sweets are always good as you usually do not directly compete with host. A variety of deserts available on the talbe is always nice to have but host might not have enough time to do so by themselves. I ask them their plan for desserts and if they bake something with chocolate/cream, I bake something with fruits, and vice versa etc, to help them add a variety and my dessert will harmonize/not compete with theirs. Nice desserts from good bakeries are expensive, and home-made usually alway beats mediocre ready-made desserts, in my opinion:)

                                    I also do the exact same thing about a plate!! I have no problem to find a cute but a good quality plate made in Portugal etc as cheap at TjMaxx/Marshalls/homegoods anytime.

                                    If not foods, a good wine, olive oil, or champaign vinegars, etc.

                                  2. If they don't have anything in mind for me, I make a few suggestions. If they say they have it covered I bake them something to have for breakfast the following morning (it is an idea I got here on CH, and it has gone over really well!).

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Foodie in Friedberg

                                      Foodie: I have never thought of that! What a wonderful idea. I would also add mimosa ingredients to that idea as a thank you. Thanks for the suggestion! I have a dinner party this coming weekend and was told to bring "nothing - we have it covered". I will definitely use your suggestion!

                                      1. re: boyzoma

                                        I am extremely uncomfortable showing up empty handed to someone's house. I want to thank them for the effort they put into the evening, but I don't want my gift to end up a burden. So when I saw that suggestion on one of these boards it really stood out... and now I can add your mimosa idea to it!

                                    2. I usually ask to bring a green salad or appetizer. That way I know there will be something healthy to eat. If asked to bring an appetizer, I often bring thai shrimp salad rolls with dipping sauce. Its healthy, not spicy and looks gorgeous.

                                      If people really want to brigg something to my invite (and I have many friends who do not invite people to their house) I ask them to bring a dessert. Invariably if I ask them to bring an appetizer they arrive late ..with their appetizer in hand just as the rest of us are ready to sit down at the table.

                                      I also ask them in advance to take the dessert leftovers home with them if they bring dessert. One pet peeve is people bringing unhealthy food for others that they wouldn't dream of eating themselves.

                                      At a pot luck at my house one woman bought grocery store macaroni salad. When I gave it to her to take home after no one touched it, she looked insulted and said she doesn't eat that kind of food. My other favorite is a woman bringing ice cream for dessert at a picnic in the park. She handed the half gallon to me, clearly happy her obligation was fulfilled.

                                      1. If it's a potluck, I most often take my modified version of Lakewind's Pasta Salad. I don't make it just like their posted recipe, but it's delicious and people tend to want the recipe:


                                        I also like to bring mixed fresh fruit salads with different berries, mangos, bananas, papaya, kiwis, etc. That is always pretty.

                                        For regular dinner parties I am not usually asked to bring any food. For those occasions I take either a bottle of wine for the hosts to have later or something for them for breakfast the next morning. It depends on who they are and what their tastes are.

                                        A few years ago we had a 4th of July party out at our farm. The food, drinks and flowers were all covered and so for the people who asked what to bring, I said fireworks. (Fireworks are not illegal there.) OMG, people shot off fireworks for three hours and still didn't use them all up. It was a huge hit with all the party goers and the people all over the area who could see them. We wound up with quite a crowd. But I don't think I'll ever tell people to bring fireworks again. The people who were doing the lighting and launching got a bit tired. I'll just think of something else to tell those who insist on bringing something. LOL.

                                        1. salad of roasted green beans (I think they have more flavor if a bit overcooked), toasted pecans, blue cheese, grated green apple, grated celery root. Dressing: lots of mustard, pecan vinegar, walnut oil, olive oil.

                                          1. My friends know I'm a foodie, so sometimes do ask me to bring something congruent with their menu. If not, then I, too, am culturally unable to arrive empty-handed. So it's wine or such if they drink alcohol, or flowers IN A VASE or otherwise already in water, so the host(ess) doesn't have to drop everything to cope with my gift.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: rcallner

                                              "culturally unable to arrive empty-handed"

                                              LOL! This is awesome. :)