What would you like me to bring for Thanksgiving?"
Even as you asked your host that question, you might have thought to yourself, "Oh, please, don't ask me to bring appetizers/salad/a casserole/dessert. Ask me to bring rolls. No one ever expects homemade rolls."
Too late you're committed. And you have no idea what to bring.
Because your host will likely have the turkey, gravy and stuffing parts covered, your job is to help fill in the bounty.
Here are some ideas and tips for the Thanksgiving potluck guest, culled from decades as a guest but never the host of Thanksgiving. Some recipes with uncomplicated ingredients are on Page D2. For a dessert idea, see my colleague Allen Pierleoni's pie recipe on Page D2.
What to bring
Contribute something you like to eat. That way, no matter what else is served, you'll have something familiar to enjoy. This is especially important for vegetarians or folks with food allergies. (You did tell your host about that, didn't you?)
For vegetables or salad, think color and texture. Turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes are soft, so add some crunch to the meal with a bell pepper- apple slaw, a broccoli salad or a vegetable tart.
This goes double for appetizers, since you don't want to fill up everyone ahead of the meal with something like melted cheese dip. You can't go wrong with raw sliced vegetables with herb-infused yogurt dip. To keep everyone's taste buds fresh, look for flavors that likely won't be duplicated in the meal: citrus (sticks of peeled jicama sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder), tomatoes (bruschetta or stuffed cherry tomatoes) or spicy peppers (salsa).
If you're bringing a side dish, plan to dress it up. This is a festive occasion. Just before serving, sprinkle some pomegranate seeds or toasted slivered almonds or pepitas over the vegetables or salad.
Transport and serving
Don't assume your host will have oven space available for your dish or even much refrigerator space. Bring something that can be served at room temperature or quickly reheated. If it's a cold item, such as a salad, carry it in a cooler with a cold pack or plenty of ice.
Bring a server (with your name on it) appropriate for your dish, so you don't have to raid your host's kitchen drawers. And don't forget to label the container, too but if you've baked something, wait until it has cooled.
A host gift such as gourmet coffee beans or a bottle of wine not intended to be served is an optional but gracious touch.
Don't assume you'll get leftovers to take home even from your own contribution. As "Dear Abby" columns make clear, nothing provokes bad feelings at Thanksgiving like conflicting expectations for leftovers.