Jul 1, 2009

Party Planning

By Ellen Wilson

It's summer and everyone's schedule has relaxed a little. Now that you have some free evenings, it's time to invite over those friends you haven't seen all semester. Here are some helpful hints on how to prepare for, set-up, and execute a dinner party.

Look through coupons for foods that are on sale. Try to base your dishes on what you can buy inexpensively. Buy your groceries two days ahead and then check the day before to confirm you have everything you need. Plan the order of cooking dishes so you don't get halfway through the casserole and realize that the cake can't go in the oven at that temperature.

Be sure to run the dishwasher the morning of, unless you want to be doing dishes quickly beforehand. If you don't have matching plates-who cares? Set up an odd of assortment of flowered dishes with the big yellow one-match glasses with plates or do napkins/nametags that match. If the emphasis of your party planning is easy clean up, get some paper plates and either decorate the edges with markers or have markers on hand for your guests to create their own artwork.

Incorporate the theme of your party into your centerpiece. If there is no theme, keep it simple and inexpensive with flowers, photos, or candles. If you'd like to do a centerpiece that can double as your guests' dessert or take-home gift, arrange a group of large suckers or other types of candy. You can also use the centerpiece as a drink bucket, with a colorful assortment of sodas.

Give yourself some buffer time when preparing your meal. Don't start so early that you'll be struggling to keep your food warm but you want to be done before your guests start to arrive. Since it's summer, it's a good idea to do some cool dishes that don't require a lot of cooking. If you are using the stove and oven, be sure to open windows so that your dining area is cool and not sweltering. When planning, plan a dessert you can make ahead of time (tarts, cakes, cookies) or one that doesn't take any cooking (sundaes, pudding). Be sure to have smaller plates and extra forks or spoons set aside for dessert.

Try to clean as you go but if you can't, don't let your dishes sit around after your last guest leaves. Rinse and put dishes into the dishwasher, or crank up some music and just get down to cleaning. The faster you get it done, the faster you can relax and relish the success of your party!

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