Dinner Party Planning Guide

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Cooking Lessons - Cooking 101    Dinner Party Menu & Recipes   


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Ten Simple Rules for Planning a Dinner Party


Dinner Party Planning Guide


Plan Details In Advance:

This easy step-by-step dinner party planning guide will help you keep your sanity and also enjoy your own dinner party!  Organization is the key to make hosting a dinner party a breeze!  Plan in advance and prepare as much as you can in advance.  

Also check out What’s Cooking America’s Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Guide for a stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner.  The Thanksgiving dinner is a simple meal to prepare.  All it takes to pull it off is some advance planning.  The best advice is to write down everything you need to do and then prioritize.


1.  Decide on you guest list – Invite your guests far enough in advance to make sure everyone will attend.  Either call or send invitations.

Ask you guests if they have any food allergies or preferences.

If you want a dress code, specify this in the invitation.


2.  Create your menu  Make sure the menu is compatible with each course.  Check out What’s Cooking America’s Dinner Party Menus (includes recipes and photos) for lots of great dinner party ideas.

Vary dishes.  Change the texture, temperature, spiciness and/or color of what you serve to interest the eye and the palate.  Feature flavors that contrast but don’t clash.  Balance a spicy dish with a mild dish, a sweet dish with a savory dish.  Try to use local foods that are in season.

Choose recipes you have already tried and tested.  This is not a good time to try something new if you are cooking yourself.  This will help to avoid any disasters and turn your dinner party into a “hit.”  If you are making a new dish, please do a trial-run and try the recipe out in advance.

Try to plan as many make-ahead dishes as your can.  Keep the number of recipes that involve last-minute preparation to a minimum unless you have lots of help getting everything on the table.  Keep the meal manageable and within your comfort level.  When planning a menu, keep in mind three things: (1) price, (2) seasonality, and (3) time.

Make a timeline for your menu.  Once you determine the order of your menu, write it down.  Review each recipe and write down how long it will take to cook, at what temperature, how long the prep time will take (estimate if needed), and what, if anything, can be done in advance.


3.  Equipment – Verify that you have the appropriate equipment to prepare each dish at the right time, as well as, storage containers for any ingredients made ahead.


4.  Recipe Ingredients – List every ingredient needed for each dish and check to pantry to see what you already have and what you need to purchase.


5. Grocery List – Make a grocery list of ingredients your need to purchase.  Shop ahead of time for the ingredients needed to make the dishes you choose to serve.


6.  Clean House – Clean the house a couple of days in advance and just do touch ups the morning of your party.


7.  Set Table – Set the table in advance of your party, even a day ahead of time.

Presentation is as important for the table as it is for the food. Choose a centerpiece low enough that everyone can see over and does not block anyone view.


8.  Mise en Place – A French term for preparing all the ingredients for a dish in advance, such as washing, trimming, chopping vegetables, setting out your spices and herbs, etc.  Mise en place makes the actual process of cooking more efficient and helps prevent the cook from making mistakes or discovering missing ingredients at a crucial moment.

Prepare your workspace by starting with a clean kitchen.  There is also time to clean the mixing area as you go along rather than face a counter full of mixing equipment when you’re done.

Have every ingredient measured and ready to be used in separate bowls or cups (or combined if the ingredients are being cooked at the same time).

Clean and dry salad greens, and store in a resealable plastic bag.


9.  Alcohol – Decide if you are serving alcohol or not.  Decide and purchase the wine you will be serving in advance of the dinner.  If you are not sure on what types of wine to serve, ask a wine steward or sommelier.  Sometimes I even ask my guest to bring wine.
10.  Seat yourself and your helper close to the kitchen where it is convenient for you.


Most of all relax and enjoy the process!



Food Safety Pages:

Buffet and Party Safety – Also includes what to do if your guests have been delayed at least an hour

Golden Rules of Food Safety
IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!  If you have any question in your mind about the freshness or safety of eating a food product, throw it out. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Internal Temperature Cooking Charts – meat, poultry, seafood, breads, baked goods, and casseroles.
Great cooks use a Cooking Thermometer as their guide – NOT A Clock.  Always follow internal cooking temperatures to be safe!

Picnic Safety Tips
There is nothing more American than the picnic.  Picnics can take on many forms, such as the community picnic, friends and neighbors, tailgate parties, or ball games.  There is also one sure thing at every picnic-lots of good food. The important point is to have safe and healthy food, not food that can cause food borne illness.  Always prepare and store food properly.

Summer Safety Tips
Summer is the time for barbecues and picnics.  The biggest party crasher at summer picnic and buffets is food borne bacteria.  You ca no’t see them and you can not taste them, but you sure can feel them if illness occurs hours or days later.


Check out all of What’s Cooking America’s wonderful Dinner Party Menus (includes recipes)

Appetizer Recipes (Hors d’ oeuvres, Starters, Amuse-Bouche,& Snacks)

Appetizer Hints – How many appetizers to make for your party?



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