Q: A friend of mine is planning a weeknight potluck party and has mailed me the recipe of the dish she wants me to make. I don’t mind pitching in, but the recipe is quite complex, and I don’t have the time-or, I fear, the cooking skills-to pull off this kind of dish. Can I ask to bring something else to the party without offending her?
A: Just as in cooking, timing is everything. It would have been okay to suggest another dish when you first received the invitation. You could have said you’re uncomfortable making something new for so many others, especially when you’re pressed for time, but you’d be happy to whip together a similar-yet simpler-dish. However, if the party is imminent, surprising the hostess at the last minute with an apple brown Betty when she was counting on creme brulee is poor potluck etiquette. (An important note: A thoughtful hostess shouldn’t dictate what to bring. Suggest a category, yes, but give guests a chance to pick their own contributions.)