One thing I forgot to mention previously is try to avoid going overboard! Anyone who has been to one of my parties knows that I can do very well! But I AM trying to reduce the amount of food that I make and choose items that will make a statement rather than having lots of stuff that just gets lost in the mix. I enjoy trying new recipes and usually get lucky finding many good ones, but I also want to make sure I have some old favorites just in case one of the new ones is a flop.
Another point...be flexible! My December issue of Food & Wine arrived a few days ago. While flipping through I noted a few recipes that I think I might like to add to my Cookie Exchange menu...Caesar Salad Spears, Artichoke and Fontina Pizza, Sausage Stuffed Peppadews and Tomato Tartlets. So what I will do is print out all my recipes, figure out what the best combinations are and narrow down the list.
Once I have decided on the menu items, I work on planning the details. Please note that I love to organize, and you don't have to go to this level of planning, but I'm sharing what works for me. These details help me get my head around everything that needs to be done in the days leading up to my party. I am definitely a list person. And I love crossing that last item off my list right before my first guest shows up!
I look at each recipe and determine the number of servings it makes. Do I need to half, double or triple it? I will mark it right on the recipe in bold so I remember when I’m making my grocery list. Next I make a grocery list. I make a long list including every item and then add the quantities before each item as I go through the recipes. I usually do this by hand and group by the layout of my store. Then I go through my kitchen and cross off what I have and write out a new clean list to take shopping. Depending on the ingredients and how many days ahead I will start cooking, I may buy all the dry goods/staples pretty far in advance and then make a shorter list of fresh ingredients I need to pick up at the last minute. More than once I’ve purchased fresh items that didn’t stay fresh long enough (raspberries do this to me all the time!)
Another thing I do ahead is read thoroughly through each recipe. I highlight the items or step in each recipe that can be or need to be made ahead of the party. Then I can tell at a glance how much I can do ahead and how much is left for the day of the party.
After that I make a timeline of items that need to be completed the day of the party. Complete with cooking or estimated prep times. This may sound a little “crazy” (read OCD) to some people. But when I get home from work at 4pm and people are arriving at 6pm I need to know what I am doing next. Plus I’ll know if I left myself enough time to get everything done.
Next I fill in the middle; I make a less detailed list of everything that needs to be done between now and the day of the party. I can then work at getting a few things done each night, leading up to the party. So I don’t overload myself, I actually include house cleaning items on this list too.
Now I have a complete picture of EVERYTHING I need to do for my party!
One of the last things I do is make sure I have any specialty cooking pans I’ll need, and enough serving utensils, platters, glasses, etc. for the number of people attending. Then I shop to fill in any gaps! Always a fun part of the process, although my closets are becoming quite full of entertaining and cake items!