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We have all been to graceful and chaotic dinner parties: what separates the two? Throwing a dinner party starts with a mound of work that must be whittled down into the perfect spread.  From appetizers to dessert, the easy flow of a dinner party starts with the solid base of a complete and efficient grocery list.   By building the dinner menu around low-prep or pre-prep dishes, time and effort spent in the kitchen will be cut in half, so you can focus on the much harder work of entertaining your guests!
Part of a great dinner party is keeping everyone’s hands full.  Have a drink station set up with ice and glasses for light and easy cocktails and a couple of corked bottles of crisp whites.  Set out hors d’oeuvres that give the guests something to munch on while they wait for everyone to arrive, but don’t fill them up before dinner!  Provide them with an assortment of artisan cheeses, crackers, bowls of spiced or candied nuts and/or olives and a tray of bite sized assorted fruits such as grapes, sliced apples and pears.  All of these can be taken straight from the grocery bag, washed and/or sliced, and then served.  Â
Main dishes that can cook while you work on other things are the best use of your time.  Roasting, baking or slow-cooking dishes can free your hands to welcome guests, top off drinks and get the salad course ready without having to juggle too many pots and pans.  Make the dressing in advance so you can sprinkle in a few chopped veggies, cheese and possibly nuts. Then toss with dressing to serve. Make it easy on yourself with a simple French vinaigrette, or play with adding a little local flavor to enhance seasonal ingredients.Â
For the main course, roast pork tenderloin with seasonal vegetables can be put in the oven and left unattended till the buzzer dings.  Chili, stew, or roasted winter root veggies in a leek broth can be prepped hours ahead and left to cook on their own till serving time.
After the dinner dishes have been scraped clean, to wind down the evening it is time to serve dessert and coffee or a digestif.  Here is where it is acceptable to cheat on preparation. If you don’t have time to bake a cake or other yummy treats, head to the bakery and pre-order or pick up a lovely in-house tart to share with your guests.  Brew a pot of coffee, slice and serve. Another course accomplished in under 10 minutes!
Don’t let dinner parties seem daunting; even larger groups are quite manageable if you’re armed with the right grocery list.  Lower the work to a minimum with easy to prepare foods that look fancy and taste great, keep the food and drinks coming, and the evening is sure to be a hit!

Sarah W. is a guest writer from the Blog Content Guild who writes on the subject of healthy eating, living, and lifestyles.Â

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