Can We Still Have Fun in These Trying Economic Times? You Betcha! (wink)

Hosting a dinner party can be daunting, but entertaining shouldn’t instill the same trepidation you feel when thinking about your stock portfolio. Let’s take a step back and review these best practices for stress-free entertaining, as concocted by the experts here at Parties That Cook.

From a BBQ with the neighbors to formal holiday celebrations, our simple step-by-step party prep timeline never fails!

First Themes First

Decide on a theme. It will help you determine how many people and whom you should invite. A cocktail party means a larger guest list with people from various social circles. A themed dinner party calls for a more intimate guest list with people you know will get along. Here are some of our favorite international dinner party themes.

Prep Time: One Week
Develop a specific timeline at least one week out from your party’s date:

7 Days Before
Plan your menu. Choose dishes that have related origins, but don’t hesitate to add a new twist. Going with a Mexican theme? Update a classic crowd-pleaser– why not a Mexican chocolate bread pudding?

Choose three key pieces. Include one starch, one protein and one vegetable in your menu. These can be combined into a one-dish meal, like classic lasagna, or three separate components. If you start your meal with a salad, your main course should contain a starch and a cut of meat. Starting with a fresh bread crostini? Move your vegetable to accompany your meat.

5 Days Before
Create your shopping list. Doing this in advance allows you to focus on cooking on the day of the party. You can always add small items that you may have forgotten or alter the menu based on your guest list.

3 Days Before
Choose the music. Select a few CDs or build a playlist to correspond with your party’s theme. Listening to it a few times over the next few days will help get you in the party mindset.

2 Days Before
Research farmer’s markets. Local specialty shops or farmer’s markets are the best way to ensure that the freshest, highest-quality ingredients are in your meal. Using high-quality ingredients is an important part of creating a delicious meal.

Set the table. This lets you focus on cooking the day of the party. Remember that you eat with your eyes first, so serve your meal on white plates. This sets off the colors in the food and makes them the star of the table.

1 Day Before
Freshen up. Purchase fresh flowers and place them on your table and around your home. This will give the buds a day to blossom. If they haven’t bloomed completely by the day of your party, add warm water to the vase to encourage them to open up.

Day Of
Make final purchases. Pick up any ingredients you didn’t purchase in your first trip to the store.

Prepare for the party. No matter the theme, purchase two or three cheeses from a region that complements your menu and leave them out with a combination of crackers, almonds, grapes and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s an elegant appetizer that only requires plating before it’s ready to be served.

Consider the easiest way to serve your meal. If it’s a small group, plate everything before you bring it to the table. Larger groups are best served through a buffet or from family-style dishes on the tabletop.

Remember, the party planning process doesn’t have to be tedious! It can be just as fun as the evening’s events.

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