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Anybody Almost Always Overdo & Drive Self Insane Cooking For Dinner Party?

I just cooked for guests last night and, once again, overdid it. I seem to have a mania that consists of convincing myself that I have planned correctly, have plenty of time, and chosen a menu that won't drive me nuts. This RARELY works out.

Last night was a not-exactly typical type of example, but these dinner guests are invited quite often - one meat and nothing much else eater and one non-meat eater (the rest are all omnivores). I actually posted about it and then decided to ignore all the advice and once again delude myself into a corner.

It ended up working out pretty much okay, but it did seriously wear me down.

I made 3 types of fritters - onion and yam pakoras, eggplant fritters and potato fritters (the basic recipes all came from Bittman - either How to Cook Ev or Best Recipes in the World). They were all very good, but of course needed to be cooked at the last possible minute. I also made a sort of raita/chutney of yoghurt, mint, garlic, green onions and jalapenos.

Then, convincing myself that the fritters were not enough... I made three salads - one was various types of cukes and sweet peppers marinated in vinegar and salt; the 2nd was lots of tomatoes chopped up with onions and marinated in oil and vin. The third was just a plain green salad with arugula.

I also made a large vat of sort of tajinesque North African chicken. I thought the fritters could be the starch for the chicken dish and so did not serve bread or rice or couscous. A mistake. The sauce was the best part and the fritters got soggy on the same plate.

A smart, non-raging maniac would have served ice cream or sorbet and fruit salad for dessert. But, as Steve Martin so eloquently put it years ago ... Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I decided to make a complicated plum tart with a home made cake-like crust and a streusl topping.

So there you have it. How do I stop myself from do this over and over again? Will I ever learn my lesson? Doesn't look promising.

I'm sure there are others like me out there or else there wouldn't be so many articles about how not to drive yourself nuts when entertaining.

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    1. re: Bostonbob3

      Ah yes, I'll have my sous chef take care of that.

      1. re: oakjoan

        Exactly! I know mis en place makes sense in a restaurant, and I like the idea conceptually, but I'm always wanting to get one dish started, then move on to the next one. If I did mis en place, I'd run out of dishes and room to put them, have more to wash up, and get confused about what ingredients were for what dishes. Sometimes, if I'm cooking Spanish food, for example, I'll chop up a slew of garlic, knowing that it will get used up, but that's about as far as I get with mis en place.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I still usually end up being a really unpleaseant person in the 20 minutes before dinner parties, but one thing that has helped in my small kitchen is liberal use of paper cups for mis en place. I can even write on them what it is, or an indication of which dish it's for. Then I use it, toss the cup -- no clutter or cleanup. I wouldn't want to use up the paper for everyday, but for dinner parties it's been great.

          1. re: mary shaposhnik

            What a great idea! I have to have my mise en place or I get flustered and unbearable to be near... but I'm going right to the store and get some paper cups for mise en place!

              1. re: Foodrat

                I learned on this board to use coffee filters too, very inexpensive. After I chop vegis I stack one filter onto of the others for more room.

      2. I believe we are twins that were separated at birth. I know exactly how you feel. It's not a dinner party unless I've spent 3 days shopping/prepping, and I can't walk by the end of the meal. And the older I get, the more complicated and exhausting it becomes.

        I wish I had discussed this with my analyst. Oh wait, I did. I just didn't like his answer. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Let me know if you figure it out.

        1. I throw two 50-plus-person blowout birthday parties every year for my son and daughter. I get 90-percent of the menu done 2-3 days before. The day of the party, I just get everything out to room temperature, torque up the Kamado grill in the backyard, and start throwing appetizers down as guests arrive: margherita pizzas for the kids, bbq chicken wings, mini burgers, hotdogs. The most labor intensive effort was the crab stuffed prawns wrapped in bacon and soaked in bourbon, but that took about an hour, and they were ready long beforehand. Main course is usually some low-and-slow meal I get done the morning of the party and put in a cooler: Texas brisket, smoked beef ribs, pulled pork shoulder, St. Louis pork ribs, stuffed pork loin. Or something simple like a crab or shrimp or crawfish boil: just throw everthing into a pot. Sides are usually something I just need to heat up in the oven and do buffet style: jambalaya, red beans and rice, bbq beans. Prep it before, throw in the oven, let them have what they want when they want.

          I used to fret a lot about cooking for friends, but I came to appreciate that it's far more important spending quality time with them and not slaving away on some maniac meal during the party.

          It also helps that the wife is responsible for dessert.

          1. Print out the original post above. Laminate it and affix it to your refrigerator so you will remember it next time.

            My problem is that my husband, the wonderful jackp, is a very good cook and he always wants to make more stuff. His menu additions are almost invariably last-minute stuff, too. I've learned my lesson over the years and can plan a pretty good do-ahead menu, but it's very hard to stop my husband without a tranquilizer gun.

            1. I USED to do this, drive myself nuts, end up exhausted. Then I remembered KISS! Keep It Simple, Stupid! Now I grill a steak, a butterflied leg of lamb, some kebobs, etc, make a rice & veg and/or salad side which I can do ahead. Serve with LOTS of wine (that's the key, to tell you the truth) and a purchased dessert. Now my guests & I all have a great time!

              After all, who was I trying to impress? I'm inviting friends, not chichi "gourmets" & even they, I've noticed, appreciate a decent, simple home cooked meal. Don't forget: all anyone really wants is a good time ...

              1 Reply
              1. re: fauchon

                Steaks, etc. won't satisfy the veggie guy and only one person drinks wine. I can only have about a half-glass a week due to evil meds. We did end up having a good time, and I am not TOTALLY wiped out by these experiences. This time it wasn't too bad.

              2. I likely need to go to another Board or a 12 step program...as DH does most of the cooking, my obsession when entertaining is the table..I get CRAZY.. Can't tell u how many tablecloths I have trashed because of the ( invisible to anyone else) errant stain. Napkin ironing is a half day event..then there is the butter plate,salad plate, silverware, water glass, wine glass(es), candles , flowers And by the time I am done there is no room for people nevermind food . And if a B Day celebration or Holiday some Hat , Horn, miniature wreath or pumpkin comes out of nowhere . Every damn dinner party we start by moving the crap to the buffet or back into the kitchen. But do I learn ? Well ( to quote the OP ) NOOOOOOOOO

                1. i HATE this problem. it's absolutely exhausting and makes me want to not have people over b/c i get so crazy about it.

                  also - i don't know if anyone else has this problem - but i ALWAYS make WAY too much food! it's like - how much do i think people can eat?

                  i get caught up in - well, one person might not like one thing - so i want them to have a lot of the other and i always have double the amount of food i need. it's nuts and dumb. and everyone always leaves way too full. they are so stuffed b/c there's so much food.

                  are there portions that are rule of thumb?

                  1. I find that too much food actually turns alot of people off. I might have some backup stuff hidden away just in case, especially if I don't the guests that well, but I don't put it out all at once. I play it by ear. I swear, it intimidates some people when they see too much food. It becomes the main topic of conversation, which can be obnoxious. As others are telling you, it's much more important to be a relaxed host: no matter what, you know they're not going to go home hungry. If you don't get to the "hidden" stuff, so much the better: you don't have to cook the next night!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: coll

                      ditto the above. also, when serving people, i usually keep in mind advice heard at some point: the less food on the plate, the more appetizing it is. i.e. something will taste even better when it's in short supply. i'm not saying starve your guests, but use smaller portions to your advantage.

                      1. re: coll

                        I *always* have "just-in-case" food hidden away, sometimes par-cooked... and I've needed it oftener than I thought, but there's something great about having someone apologetically say, "I'm so sorry, I'm terribly allergic to _____, but it looks great," and being able to whip out something else and say, "Well, how about some of this then?"

                        I hate to admit it... but I *like* it when my guests think I'm psychic.

                      2. I can completely relate. And after three days of shopping, prepping, cooking...and the cleaning...then there is the serving (although I do buffet style these days) and the cleaning again, and putting it all away. I finally gave up. I bring in lots...most. I set a beautiful table, set a gorgeous buffet, use mostly garden flowers and I order, order, order. Even with this style, still lots of work getting it all together. Love it, like it or not..Clementines in west LA is one of my go to places. Many fabulous bakeries around, but try to keep it to one or two. I can easily put together salads or grill. I will no longer make myself physically or emotionally ill to entertain.

                        1. I don't mean to be snippy, but I stated in my post that I'd read loads of articles about how to do it right. It's not as if I'm doing this just because I don't know any better.

                          I don't get frazzled every time I entertain, it's just that I seem to get into a mode where I can't correctly figure the time it'll take to shop, prepare, etc. I usually figure I can get, say, shopping done in x hours, when actually (if I were seeing clearly) I'd see it would take xx hours.

                          My main problems come with the meat guest who won't eat anything "weird", like salad; and non-meat guests (about once every 4 mos or so) together at dinner. Next time I'm going to make, as an earlier poster suggested in response to my earlier thread, that I should make meat and non-meat lasagne - a great suggestion that I didn't see until too late.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: oakjoan

                            I know what you mean. No amount of pre-planning, make-in-advance, mis en place, blah, blah, blah is going to make me not stress out when I'm having a party. For 50 or 6, same approximate chicken-minus-head behavior. I think I must enjoy it, so I just go with it, but I try not to let husband or guests know I'm spazzed out.

                            THis in spinte of being a list freak. I have a menu, an advance to-do list (for shopping , decorating, cleaning, etc.), an advance grocery list, a last minute grocery list, a specialty purveyor list, and a day-of timed list that does include getting dressed and a contingency half hour (I'm an accountant).

                            If I get ahead of schedule, I invariably think up something else to do...an extra app, a garnish, a braided rosemary napkin ring, you name it...that will bring me back into deadline-panic mode.

                          2. I totally sympathize with your plight. I can tell that you know what you are doing, that you are a good cook and hostess, but that you get infected with the "Wouldn't-that-be-cool-to-cook" bug, which tends to strike at the last minute and make you doubt everything you know from experience.

                            I've worked out a few rules that work for me:

                            1. Absolutely no frying, unless I can do it days in advance and freeze it.

                            2. I try to always make sauces and vinaigrettes the day before. If the sauce won't hold in the fridge, I scrap it. I have been known to drive myself crazy with last-minute sauces, and I refuse to do it anymore.

                            3. I do the shopping one or two days in advance.

                            4. I limit myself to two or three "complicated" dishes, including the dessert. If there's dessert in the freezer (and in my house, there is almost always dessert in the freezer), all the better. Complicated dishes include home-baked bread, lasagna, beef wellington -- anything that is time-consuming to put together.

                            5. For the not-complicated dishes, I do simple steamed vegetables, edamame tossed into a pot of boiling water, pre-washed salad greens from Whole Foods. I also buy good bread if I don't have time to bake it, plus some good cheese and grapes.

                            6. I keep notes on what has and has not worked in the past. Okay, this sounds anal, I know. But it has saved my sanity and it has kept me from repeating fatal mistakes, especially for big holiday parties such as Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

                            7. I take time to really think about the menu, and then I write it down. I frequently have guests with opposite dietary requirements, so I try to kill two or three birds with one stone, (for example, a pizza that satisfies the vegetarians, picky kids and mainstream-food-loving crowd)

                            8. I remind myself that most people who come to my house are not comparing my cooking to that of Alice Waters. They probably just ate at Subway yesterday, so I anything I serve is going to be marvellous. And if they don't think so, there's obviously something wrong with their taste buds ;)

                            9. I have learned to put on my make up at least a half-hour before the party starts. There were one or two parties where I skipped this step altogether, and I looked more frazzled than I felt. Several guests commented: "You look so tired."

                            Anyway, these rules have helped me. Good luck on your next party.

                            1. My very first dinner party (18 course for 20 people) had me shopping a week in advance as well as the day of, cooking for three solid days, and ultimately breaking out in hives a few hours before the meal.

                              That was almost 20 years ago. It is much easier now and I sort of relish the insanity of huge dinner party; the planning, the shopping, the preparation, etc. Sadly, the consumption of the dinner is almost a let-down because it happens so quickly...

                              1. I do this every time. But you know? It doesn't drive me crazy, because in the end, I get a high from being crazy right at the end and then getting a great meal n the table that everyone loves. Some things that I've learned that help my blood pressure a little though: 1) I sit down with my menu, my recipes, figure out what time the meal is going to be on the table, and make a list of what time I have to do each step of every thing. This is a HUGE help, because I see right there what issues there are (I also add temperatures and cooking times to the master list, so that if there are three things that need to go in two ovens at the same time at different temperatures, I know something has to change), and sometimes leads to me cutting a dish or changing plans; 2) I usually force someone into the role of sous chef; 3) I just recognize that something is always going to go wrong, I'm going to forget to buy some ingredient, I'm going to be a little frazzled at the end, etc, and learn to roll with the punches.

                                I also build in time to shower and change.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: JasmineG

                                  "I sit down with my menu, my recipes, figure out what time the meal is going to be on the table, and make a list of what time I have to do each step of every thing."

                                  Way, way . . . waaaay . . . back in the days when I knew I might be under the influence of controlled substances soon after my guests arrived, I would tape a sheet to the inside of the kitchen cabinet that listed the exact time the next step needed to be done. That way I could relax with my guests with only one thing on my mind: what time I had to go to the kitchen and do something. I might not remember what it was that I had to do, but I knew it was time to go check the list. And since absolutely everything was on that list (remove whatever from fridge; reduce oven temp to X; plate Y), I never left a dish on the counter or forgot a garnish. This system worked so well for me, I continue to do it in at least some form for any dinner party--although certainly not for the reason I initiated the system in the first place.

                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                    Thank you Jasmine! The advice about sitting down and doing a sort-of chart of the entire process is wonderful.

                                    Also, I really feel puny because my dinner party was for only 6 people! All the posts about meals prepared for 50 guests put me to shame!!! Wow, you people are amazing.

                                    I used to do catering (about 300 years ago) and we never got really good at all the prep stuff. Luckily, we didn't have any gigs bigger than one 60 person wedding dinner. I wouldn't be here if that were the case.

                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                      I always do a "timing chart", so that I can figure out what to do when - it always elicits possible problem areas, so that if need be, I can then rearrrange things or change a menu item. Also, I photocopy the recipes and use masking tape to put them on the kitchen cupboards so that they are all handy and visible at once - no going from cookbook to cookbook - and keeps the cookbooks cleaner too.

                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                        Glad to be of help! This is especially useful for Thanksgiving (and other big family dinners) where it's been a total lifesaver in the past (though, my family sometimes shows up late and throws the whole schedule out of wack, but I can change times on the fly). Also, sitting down to write it all out sort of helps me mentally prepare for everything, and it really helps me to recognize when I've planned a little too much. I think I started this because I love being able to check things off of to do lists, it's fun to check off as I go.

                                    2. Never...I have a few simple rules:
                                      Plan a menu so that I can eat with the guests and not be in and out of the kitchen.
                                      Clear the kitchen of all clutter before guests arrive so I have room for dirty dishes, etc.
                                      For any gathering of more than 6, it has to be a buffet or serve family style...no individual plating. People are more at ease if they participate.
                                      Other than a few finger food, never more than 3 courses.
                                      I always cook simple tasty food...roasts, braises, fish stews, etc. The first course can be fancy because I have time at the beginning of the meal. I find guests like eating comfort food rather than frou frou stuff.
                                      Have plenty of dessert...that way, nobody leaves hungry.
                                      Of course lots of good wine.

                                      1. It all sounds so familiar. Even as a student I would invite people round "just for a spaghetti bolognese", and end up doing a three course meal. Now I've graduated to way more complicated stuff - and I know it'll make me frazzled, but I still go ahead anyway.

                                        My best example was when I decided to do a Korean and Vietnamese banquet for 8 people - 6 meat eaters, one veggie and a vegan thrown in for good measure. I decided to make a far eastern amuse bouche - but not content with one, I made three different types. We had five different starters, and eight main courses - including salmon in coconut, complicated beef kebabs, another meat one, an aubergine dish and other vegetable side dishes. Of course, as with most vietnamese food, they required all sorts of fiddley bits to go with them - like crispy fried shallots, roasted chopped peanuts, chilli and fish sauce dips etc etc. As for pudding, I think I made two different ones, but I can't remember what I did.

                                        I did try to be organised - and cooked several dishes days in advance - but it was still eight hours solid in the kitchen on the day and a further four hours the night before. I also forgot about a couple of them, and found them the next day where I'd left them to defrost!

                                        I think that sometimes my friends probably wish I'd just do a spaghetti bolognese, as the stress (and dramatic screams...) in the kitchen can permeate into the dining room - but I do generally enjoy myself! I agree that it's probably a therapy issue though. Thanks to La Dolce Vita for the tips - they are very useful - I hope I can implement them and change my ways for the sake of my sanity and that of my husband and guests.

                                        1. I thought "but noooooooooooooooooooooooo" was John Belushi!

                                          I feel your pain. I also tend to overcompensate when cooking for guests. But you didn't say how the food went over! I usually find that my fatigue is instantly cured by a couple of "Hey this is delicious!"es. When people appreciate your effort, it seems more worthwhile.

                                          Two tips: First, buy a really good dessert from a really fancy shop. After all that work, you deserve it. Second, and most important, your guests want to spend time with YOU. For their sake, if not your own, don't be chained to your kitchen.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Kagey

                                            The food went down a storm - I usually manage to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, despite the chaos and completely trashed kitchen... I use every pan and every surface in the kitchen, with things perched in all sorts of precarious places. My husband tries to keep it in check by clearing up around me from time to time, but it's often a losing battle.

                                          2. I used to have the same problem, but have been forced by my tiny open kitchen to rein myself in. If I'm cooking something complicated, it has to be something that can be done ahead of time - and that is generally my rule now - pretty much everything is done ahead - ie, minimal actual cooking when people arrive. Then I make sure the kitchen is clean before they arrive - and I'm usually reluctant to mess it up again by adding some last minute item.

                                            Also, after I plan the menu, I often cut something out - after all - no one will know. Often it is the complicated dessert that gets changed to something else. So that might work for you - and not adding something at the last minute unless it is really easy or really necessary.

                                            I like to serve cheese after a formal meal, and so I keep dessert simple - some fruit and a fancy cookie I've made ahead, maybe.

                                            I also try to remind myself that many people just enjoy a good home cooked meal, and that it doesn't have to be the banquet to end all banquets.

                                            Unless I'm having very close friends over, I don't cook something complicated that I've not done before - thereby preventing problems arising by cooking something unfamiliar to me.

                                            At one time, it got to the point where my husband was reluctant for me to invite people over, because I got so worked up and we'd get into some tiff just before guests were arriving. As a result, I've started reminding myself that I'm supposed to be enjoying this - both the cooking and the being with friends/guests - so I've kept things simpler.

                                            1. of course we all get to passionate about what we're to cook;
                                              the pictures in our minds;
                                              then - the down side;
                                              time's running out
                                              and the final reesult is tasty enough
                                              but the presentation falls short of expectation

                                              that's the trouble with Cantonese and wokking

                                              1. I make a dessert that can be frozen and do that a week ahead. I always serve soup (in small mugs, in the living room, after appetizers) that can be made two days ahead. I do a little bit of housework every day in the week before the dinner. My DH helps out a lot with serving/cleaning. I plan the menu two weeks ahead, and do as much shopping as I can a week ahead. If it's fairly casual, I set the food up buffet-style in the kitchen. I think people like to be able to serve themselves what they want, and not feel obliged to clean their plates of food that someone else has served them.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  Soup is a great first course idea - I'd forgotten that I often serve it b/c of the make ahead/ease of presentation factors.

                                                2. It seems like it was those damn fritters that put you over the edge.
                                                  I made the same mistake once with serving veal scallopini-something that had to be grilled only a few at a time because I was serving 8 friends. Everyone just felt guilty because I was slaving like a line cook.
                                                  Home cooking is home cooking because it's prepared family style, not restaurant cook-to-order style.

                                                  1. Welcome to my world. I go mental when it comes to cooking for other people. And what compounds the problem is I have quite a reputation as a cook so there are high expectations when people come over to eat. Here are some of things I've learned, mostly the hard way:

                                                    - I don't make anything that requires a lot of last minute preparations. NO EXCEPTIONS! Otherwise, you ignore your guests, they sense how tense you are, and it does not make for a good time.

                                                    - I do lots of stuff way in advance like setting the table the day before.

                                                    - Just assume you've underestimated the work effort and leave plenty of time to do each dish.

                                                    - Push! Push! Push! Screw these recipes that say just before serving, blah blah blah. I do the blah blah blah way in advance and seldom does it effect the results and your guests won't even notice.

                                                    - Don't experiment with new recipes that you haven't made before, it only adds more anxiety.

                                                    - Draft help at service time. Ask a person to fill the water glasses, open the wine, plate the bread, etc.

                                                    - Unless you have to buy fresh baked goods, DON'T SHOP on cooking day! An absolute energy sapper and timewaster.

                                                    - When the majority of the work has been done, have a glass of wine and relax knowing you've made a meal most of guests wouldn't even have a clue how to make.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Scagnetti

                                                      You and I are on the same page--everything in advance.

                                                      What gets me into trouble is CLEANING the house! I love to cook, but I'm not big on cleaning, which seems to take for--ever for me (esp w/2 sm kids).

                                                      In the summer I had a big backyard BBQ (some CHs attended :), so not only did I have to clean the house, but had to get the garden in tip-top shape too! This all gets harder and harder the older I get...

                                                      1. re: Funwithfood

                                                        Entertaining is a major ordeal and that is the reason we don't do it more often and our kids are grown and we no longer live in one of those sprawling suburban houses.

                                                        People ooh and aah over what I serve and ask me how I made a dish. When they hear phrases like "deboned the chickens", "skinned and seeded the tomatoes", etc., they invariably say, "That's a lot of work!". I tell people all the time that COOKING IS WORK! I absolutely love to cook but all told, it is a lot of work and I would loathe it if I had to do it EVERY day like most mothers\wives have to do.

                                                    2. nope,

                                                      as a former cook at very high volume restaurants, there is very little that can stress me out in my own kitchen. Especially since I designed it from scratch, and have top of the line appliances, and the skills to utilize them.

                                                      1. Not me, I'm just HYPER organized though... SO laughs because I do a TOTAL battle plan a week before the event and put together an excel sheet of ingredients, equiptment and timing... LOL!! :)


                                                        1. Yup. And I stress out just cooking for family! A couple of weeks ago I have my immediate family (parents, sister and BIL, plus my 8-month-old niece, who Mom provided food for at a place I set) over to christen my new dining table. I thought I had everything under control: I bought a stuffed pork loin that only had to go into the oven, along with some roast potatoes; I prepped the green beans the night before so they only had to be steamed; did a cheese plate for a first course, and a dessert I can make with my eyes closed, etc.

                                                          I thought I'd done pretty well. And then, as I was getting everything ready to serve, I realized I'd forgotten to put the blasted potatoes in the oven! I was going to skip them entirely, but then decided to nuke them. They actually turned out fine and were done fairly quickly (I cut them in half, tossed them in some melted butter, and nuked four halves at a time in two batches, which turned out to be plenty with all the other food I had).

                                                          One thing I usually forget to do that helps: figure out in advance what serving dishes and utensils I'm going to need for each dish and have them ready. I always end up rummaging around the kitchen at the last minute for the right serveware, which often needs to be washed....

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            serving dishes are my downfall also...partially because my kitchen is small and well, not the best organized....

                                                            Hyper-organization does help compensate. Indeed, I have already figured out what serving dish I am going to carry my dish to the CH picnic in! :-)


                                                          2. What a great post. I don't stress out, but I do always run out of time and sometimes forget to shower and look nice. I don't have very fancy friends or parties, but I do never manage to leave the kitchen no matter how many lists I do, advance prep, or what. And dinner is always at least 1/2 hour after stated "eating time". Not that anyone cares. And I have vastly improved on at least having the kitchen clean-ish when people show up so when they come to talk to me while I'm cooking, it's not a disaster zone!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: celeste

                                                              Yeah, I've done the "run out of time to shower" thing, too. I try to keep the kitchen tidy, but then at the last minute it looks like a disaster again. That's what happens when you clear the appetizer plates and serving dishes to the kitchen and at the same time you've transferred the dishes for the next course to serveware and have empty cooking vessels and no time to deal with it all. I've often thought the only real solution is to hire a handy teenager to help.

                                                              At least my kitchen is big enough that there's room for everything and half a dozen guests, although my father has developed a really annoying habit of following me around trying to talk to me and standing in just the wrong place while I'm trying to work.

                                                              I've actually done better with big events (a picnic for 150, a hospitality suite for 200 people for three days) because it forces me to bring all my organizational skills to bear -- I can make lists and schedules with the best of them if I have to.

                                                            2. Oh yes! I just get into the mode of how cool to make all these people's tummy's happy. Since I love to do it I have come to just accept that I will probably overcook. I write out the menu and scrutinize several times. Then I eliminate the totally non-seasonal stuff, or the stuff that only I or one other would adore. Then (and this has taken YEARS cuz I know Ican make it better..) I figure what can be purchased versus make myself where the majority would not know the diff- stuff like potsticker appetizers I can get quite good frozen, or chapchae I can get "hand-made" from the Korean deli section. I also make sure I have lots of the cheapo plastic storage containers from a discount store so that I can ask the folks who enjoyed certain items if they want to take some. I also try to minimize the non-reheatable stuff like fritters or if I really want to make it I insert it early on in the menu when everyoone is very hungry & more likely to finish it(most recently fried zucchini flowers)

                                                              1. My friends run the gamut from a wheatfree vegan to an old school 'no ethnic food' carnivore. It is easy to get stressed, you have different temperaments in combination with food preferences to please. The three things I've learned are:

                                                                Compromise: most vegetarians I know don't expect their own four course meal, however they do appreciate a couple of well thought out dishes that can be made into a nice meal.

                                                                Bargain: If I really want to make fried apps then I need learn to be ok with dessert from a bakery.

                                                                It's never to soon to start planning: my vegan wheatfree friend is really hard to cook for (aside from the wheat and vegan thing, she doesn't like many vegetables), fortunately she comes over for dinner a couple times a year. In between visits I collect recipes that she might like. I even have another vegan friend who is on the lookout for vegan wheatfree recipes. After a years period of time I accumulated enough recipes for about 3 different dinner parties. By the time she comes for her next visit I choose one or two great recipes and the pressure is off.

                                                                This is what works for me, I still get stressed but not as much as I used to, as the saying goes your mileage may vary.

                                                                1. I have made it my mission to fool my meat and no weird foods friend, and I've succeeded. He wolfed down those eggplant fritters (luckily I'd made enough so that Mr. Veggie could have as many as he wanted, too) and the pakoras with yam and onion.

                                                                  These 4 friends come over for dinner often. They love my cooking and always clean their plates.

                                                                  I never do anything but put all the food on the table at once and let them help themselves.

                                                                  But, as I said above, I'm going to make a meat and a no-meat lasagne next time.

                                                                  PS: To Kagey - I think it was Steve Martin and there are several Google references to SM saying "but nooooooooooooo"

                                                                  1. This is a great post. One more suggestion, do like Ina Garten does. Make a detailed list, working backwards from the time you will sit down to eat, of what needs to be done at the precise time it needs to get done so you can serve on time. For example: 8 a.m.: bake tart crust for dessert, noon: wash/steam haricot verts, 2 p.m.: take a Xanax, etc. It's the only thing that helps me.

                                                                    1. You are scaring me! My parents are throwing a party in a week and a half (I posted asking for suggestions a lil' while ago) and I have been running around like mad getting prepped for this thing. There was a little voice in the back of my head saying, "You're overdoing it, lady!" and it just got louder.

                                                                      1. We just invited DH's family over for dinner in a couple of weeks. I only agreed to this AFTER I made up the menu which will be simple (braised short ribs, vegetarian lasagna, roast root vegetables, apple pie). We're in the middle of painting the outside of the house which has to take precedence before cold weather arrives.

                                                                        I also tend to overdo my meals, planning lots of options in case someone doesn't like X or Y. It slowly dawned on me that when we're invited to family get-togethers (1) the food is pretty mediocre because no-one cooks, and (2) no one cares. They all enjoy our dinners but they're never going to reciprocate.

                                                                        So this will be all do-ahead, nothing fancy eating. Some may be disappointed but I'm not going to burn myself out cooking up a frenzy.

                                                                        1. LOL! I have the same symptoms except I have learned to no longer drive myself crazy. Here is my secrets:

                                                                          Your guest have no clue what the menu *should* be, just cook until they are ready and/or you need to get to the final prepping stages. You will always have too much for them anyway. If you were to find yourself on the skimpy side, just keep some cheese and nuts handy for a pre-dessert.

                                                                          You are obviously a skilled and inspired cook since you are posting here, so they will surely adore whatever you prepared for them (especially since most of them could probably not come close to your skillz)

                                                                          Also make sure what you do prepare can be used on the following days or better yet frozen so you won't have the waste guilt (and be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour!)

                                                                          I like to skip on the plating part and have my guest serve themselves fomr a large table dish. It looks fantastic.

                                                                          Finally, cook for yourself don't try to pander to everyone individual tastes for every course unless your guest have severe allergies or cultural challenges like serving pork as the main course to muslims or jews. Using the serving dish method vegetarians will be able to take more of your vegetable plates and finish off with cheese and/nuts.

                                                                          1. oakjoan, when it comes to dinner parties, you and I are on the same page! So I was happy to read all the tips. I always run myself ragged till the guests arrive, cook too much of too many dishes... usually just saving time to put on a clean shirt! I guess the truth is that I love the chaos and challenges and ultimately the success. I want to follow the tips mainly for the comfort of my guests. I don't want them to know I've run myself ragged.

                                                                            My biggest problem is that I give dinner parties on the weekends I spend at my dh's house, which is in another city. Therefore all the shopping and cooking has to be done the same day. And though it's probably best to only do tested recipes, weekends are my only opportunity for no-holds-barred cooking... so I can't resist!

                                                                            One thing I've learned the hard way is NOT to tell the guests the menu in advance. Once I told everyone I was going to make duck with fresh black truffles. The week before, truffles were fresh in the market... but that weekend there were NONE. I spent an extra hour scouring the specialty shops and having them call other purveyors before I gave in and bought expensive preserved truffles which added almost nothing to the finished dish!

                                                                            And if the dinner party is small and casual, I’ve found that guest-participation makes things easier and fun. For example, I’ve made dessert crepe batter in advance and had guests make their own. It’s always good fun when the adventurous ones want to show off their no-spatula flipping style. The mess is always worth it!

                                                                            1. Someone may have mentioned this (I don't have time to read everything) but you may want to find a cookbook featuring high -end picnic food. I have a cookbook leftover from a walking tour of Italy, in which they'd greet the walkers for lunch with an array of great Italian dishes. The trick is that they were all picnicky, so they had to be served at room temperature and stand a lot of time sans refrigeration or cooking.

                                                                              When I made Easter dinner last spring for about fifteen people (buffet style) I made three veggie dishes from the cookbook the day before, and then set them out so they'd reach room temp. Presto--three fewer dishes to cook. (Alas, I think that particular cookbook is only available to walkers, but you get the idea.)

                                                                              I agree with the mise en place, too. I have a teensy kitchen--smaller than anyone else I know in SF--but I still manage to stack bowls with onions, carrots, celery, broccoli, anything I need so when the time comes, I can just dump it in.

                                                                              Lastly, only make eggplant parmesan if you're trying to avoid your guests. It's a great way to hide from the in-laws for two hours or so.

                                                                              1. I can drive myself in circles too. Sometimes I feel like I'm always trying to meet certain requirements (picky, allergic, veg, meat but not red or pork, won't eat veggies/fruit, etc). It's certainly doable, but sometimes I go overboard trying to satisfy everyone with everything.

                                                                                1. I do this all the time, oakjoan. The first time I hosted Thanksgiving for my wife's family, it was vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters, plus kosher(-ish, they were OK as long as the big things weren't missed, like no pork and no mixing of meat and dairy) people.

                                                                                  I took the entire week off of work. I made my wife clean. I cooked for five days straight, and ended up with so much food that I had to do dishes to free counter space to make the buffet line longer.

                                                                                  What cured me was a cousin who poked the beautifully-done, brined, succulent turkey and said, "It doesn't look done. Are you sure it's done? I thought you were the big cook!" and went ON and ON and ON until I threw her -- G-d, I'm so ashamed of myself -- bodily from the kitchen.

                                                                                  I still drive myself nuts -- but I have some things that help:

                                                                                  1. Hire someone to clean. Really. If it's a big to-do and you're having 25 people over, hire somebody for $10 an hour to do dishes. I usually ask our housekeeper to come and bring someone with. They do dishes, they clean the kitchen, and you can usually send them home with the leftovers.

                                                                                  2. Buy tons of Gladware. You WILL need it, because if you're posting on Chowhound Home Cooking, you overcook, it's practically guaranteed.

                                                                                  3. Damn the "last-minute" torpedoes, full speed ahead. If it doesn't have to be piping hot, it can be done ahead of time. If it does, it can still be done ahead of time and reheated.

                                                                                  4. Absolutely no fussy sauces or anything that's going to keep me in the kitchen. My rule is that I need to be available enough to pour wine when guests' glasses are empty.

                                                                                  5. Mise en place. I know it's a pain and it's things to clean, but if you follow #1 you won't have to clean them, and the sanity restoration is hard to argue with.

                                                                                  6. For a large, elaborate thing, make a schedule. The second time I cooked Thanksgiving, I had it down to the minute. Being a geek as well as a cook, I sent delayed-delivery e-mails to my cell phone that arrived as text messages, so that the phone would buzz once, I'd look at the screen and it would say "11.32: Boil water for potatoes"

                                                                                  7. If you have a bunch of picky people and a decent cookbook library, sit yourself down and have a shufti at the cookbooks as part of meal planning -- there's ALWAYS something I see where I go, "Hey, wait, that's PERFECT!"

                                                                                  8. For G-d's sake, don't shop the day of your dinner unless you absolutely have to -- and if you do, see if you can't coerce someone else to go get exactly what you want (brand, size, location). I have a limited pool of obsession, and I want it to be on cooking, not on sourcing ingredients.

                                                                                  9. Ignore the phone. Or make someone else answer it. Or let the machine get it. Put the dog out. Lock the cats in the bedroom with their litter box and food and water. Fend off your SO's amorous advances ("mmmm, you smell so good, rawr!"). Don't get out of your rhythm.

                                                                                  1. I totally agree with some of the other posters but I'll throw you my list of things that make life easier.
                                                                                    1. Hire someone to clean! A lot of people poo-poo this but it just makes things way easier. As a single guy I have my lady come the day before and the day after a party just to get things done. It takes a huge load off of you're mind in the days and hours before a dinner party.
                                                                                    2. Plan your flight and fly your plan: This old axiom works especially for a dinner or event (e.g. super bowl) party. With the power of the Internets it is really easy to cross reference ingredients and figure out how much of X needs to go into Y and Z. Make your menu with compatible ingredients and you've halved your work load.
                                                                                    3. The Six Ps: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. If you've manipulated your menu to use the same ingredients you'll have the ability to get your mis en place set and do all of your prep the night/days before. I do all of my prep the day before and keep large volumes of stuff in zip lock bags (they aren't rigid so you can stack'em, squish'em, or whatever). A mandolin is a great tool for prep if you have the attachments for the cut you need (the basics are covered) and it's a great way to throw some work onto the teenager or buddy's wife that doesn't have any knife skills. The mis works because the pros have a prep to keep it full, just do it ahead of time.
                                                                                    4. Event parties and longer dinners plan the main course to be done at half time. Football is the main context of my event parties but this works for regular dinner parties as well. Light appetizers or a cheese/veggie and tapenade plate will hold folks over until the real deal is done and let everyone chat or watch the game. I like slow roast meat (anything on the spit) or a lasagna it lets you focus on other things and maybe even sneak a cocktail before you sit down to eat. Especially if you can start it hours before people even arrive, then you can focus on aps and sides.
                                                                                    5. When the Veggies show up. If you have mixed diets, make one main dish. A vegan lasagna, chili, enchilada, or stew can be great and really the meat eaters can do without for one night. Just make sure you throw them an appetizer (Carnivores read sausage) or two and if they don't know the "diet" people make it known that everyone doesn't eat the same. I love meat and I respect the desires/wishes of my friends, but I make a bad a$$ squash enchilada that everyone likes. One dish= Wicked easy.
                                                                                    6. RELAX!!! You have people over to enjoy their company and have fun. Don't lose sight of that and you'll do much better.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: drinkandrun

                                                                                      I haven't read carefully through each response so I hope I'm not repeating what someone else has already suggested.

                                                                                      I love to entertain, and I do it often. I've come to the conclusion that I want to join the party and not be slaving away in the kitchen while my friends are having fun without me, so nowadays I create menus that can be done almost completely in advance, and set everything out buffet-style. For my last get-together, I hosted a "pesto party." I made seven different types of pesto, all the day before. I grilled some fish, chicken, and pork (they re-warmed well in the oven), an assortment of veggies, and plated some fresh sliced tomatoes, blanched green beans, and buffalo mozzarella. All that was left to do right before the guests arrived was to grill some bread. It was all on the table when my friends starting coming through the door. I didn't have to worry about people's likes and dislikes, as they could choose what and how much they wanted to eat. Best of all, I got to relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the party.

                                                                                    2. Mom?!?! Is that you??

                                                                                      I lOVE salad, but even I think 2 would have been quite enough.
                                                                                      Seriously though after a few years of throwing parties and eating the leftovers four days straight or until I thought they would be 'bad". And spending the whole evening in the kitchen vs. with my guests I have learned a few essential things.

                                                                                      1. If we run out of something, as long as it's not the main course, the world will not end.

                                                                                      2. Some guests always seem to bring food, even when you tell them not to, usually it's dessert. Dessert is always the last place I put my energies, I make sure I have something chocolate and something fruity and if it's store bought, so be it. And no one ever eats as much dessert as I think they will In fact in my crowd most barely touch dessert!

                                                                                      3. Old habits do die hard and it took me quite a while to find an eqilibrium. Now, I tend to buy some "back-ups". Frozen apps from Costco or Trader Joe's just something so that if run out of food I know I can put it out quickly. To this day I have never needed to use them, but I feel better knowing they are an option. Then they come in handy on nights I don't feel like cooking. DH gets salad and apps for dinner :-)

                                                                                      4. Agree with PP's that suggest you shoul do as much as possible before hand and hire someone to clean up!

                                                                                      As I alluded to, you cook the way my mother does, in regards to quantity anyway.
                                                                                      After years of having way too much of everything, adding last minute dishes because "there may not be enough" and then spending 2 hours cleaning up because you can't even find enough room in the fridge for all the leftovers I just can't do it anymore!

                                                                                      The other thing I do is really plan out my schedule of what gets made when. This way I can't fool myself into thinking it "won't be a big deal".
                                                                                      Sounds like you had a great party though, I hope you were able to enjoy it!

                                                                                      1. For dinners of 15 or more I always seem to have enough friends who want me to order them around as if I were the exec and they were on the line. Not S-M because I usually don't like telling anyone else what to do. In any case, it seems to work. I just have to not drink too much and loose the thread of coordination of everything.

                                                                                        1. I do sympathize!!! I know better than to get overly carried away but it is soooooo tempting! I tend too get excited thinking about what mind-blowing meal I am going to dazzle my friends with (probably something I saw on the food network) and next thing you know; I have turned myself into a manic servant of sorts. I am trying to simplify. My husband, friends and family end up stressed as well if I go "over the top"! These days, I really try to either do either "mostly made ahead" menu like enchiladas with super fresh ingredients or keep it simple with marinated lamb, flank steak or fish on the grill. If I grill I prepare a creamy polenta or risotto accompaniment as the only real time dish. Fresh grilled asparagus or tomatoes is easy as well and this keeps most of the action on the grill and not messing up my kitchen! I have found good wine, olives, cheese, grapes and great bread (purchased at a bakery or whole foods as mentioned above) though a bit typical, takes the pressure off and really relaxes everyone, including me, as they enevitably stand around the kitchen visiting with me and the other guests. Whilst everyone snacks, my husband fires up the grill and I prepare one thing - the side. Now, this allows me to enjoy my guests and not make them feel guilty while I slave over a hot stove all evening for them. I do try to add a special ingredient to make things a little unusual---like a bit of lobster or fresh herbs to the side dish. Another easy add in is roasted pine nuts and sliced pears in your salad with a basalmic dressing. Ready in seconds - really! I know it is hard to scale back when you are trying to create the perfect evening, but you deserve to enjoy the dinner as much, if not more, than anyone! (Now if I can just try to remember my own advice). I always overdo on the holidays - I REALLY can not help myself!!!!! Anyway, I hope this inspires you to set an inviting table with flickering candles and take it a little more easy on yourself in the kitchen - try to kick back and enjoy your next gathering!!!