when do we eat?!

plate of food

You really can't call it a dinner party without it. Food. Whether you're a gourmet chef or a cooking novice, deciding what to make can be the hardest part of planning a dinner. Be sure to take your guests' food allergies, and vegan/vegetarian preferences into account before planning a menu. And if you're making something spicy or daring, be sure to warn your guests, and have a few "safe" staples on hand for timid eaters. Whatever you decide to make, there is one great thing about food at dinner parties. It's free, and it's made with love, so there shouldn't be too many complaints. Don't be too hard on yourself.

quick and simple recipes.

The possibilities are endless, and of course the menu depends on the theme and the occaison, but here are a few simple recipes my friends and I have tried out with considerable success. Make them all together for a fast, easy meal, combine them with some of your own specialties or visit cooks.com for more great recipes.

Ashley's Spinach and Artichoke Dip a classic favorite.

Jessica's Balsamic Chicken looks and tastes a lot more difficult than it is.

Dara's Squash Medley a colorful addition to any plate.

Avanti's Mini Cookie Cupcakes a fun crowd pleaser.

staying organized.

The best way to avoid stress is to be as organized as possible. Plan ahead and prepare as much as you can the night before. Clean out your refrigerator a few days before the party, so there is room for casserole dishes and serving platters of pre-made food. Assemble salads and entrees the night before, so all you have to do the next day is pour on dressing and put dishes in the oven. Another thing to consider is portion sizes. Think about how much of each dish you're going to make when you're food shopping. Here is what Betty Crocker suggests in her book Entertaining Basics:

Appetizers 4-5
Fruits/Vegetables 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup
Meat/Poultry/Fish
boneless 4-6 ounces
bone-in 6-8 ounces
Pasta/Grains
main 1 cup
side 1/2 cup
Salad 1-1/2 cups
Sauces/Dressings 2-3 tablespoons
Soups 3/4 cup to 1 cup
*amounts are per person

Also, be sure to make enough for at least two or three extra people, in case someone brings an unannounced guest or a hearty appetite. Even if they don't, it can't hurt to have leftovers. Betty also suggests making your menu a mixture of hot and cold foods for variety, and so you don't have to coordinate when multiple dishes need to be in the oven at different temperatures.

dirty dishes

dealing with the aftermath.

Cleaning up after a party is never fun, and it will probably stress you out, but try not to think about it until after everyone leaves. Make things easier on yourself by putting the garbage can in plain sight so people can throw away their own garbage easily. Also make sure the dishwasher is completely empty the day before. Load the dishwasher in between courses, but otherwise leave everything alone. Make sure you have plenty of empty Tupperware for leftovers, and consider buying disposable containers to send home doggy bags with friends. Once your guests leave, divide and conquer. Make sure your roommate or significant other pitches in. Use the golden rule: He or she who did not cook does dishes.