First, read or think through all of the dishes you’re planning to prepare.  I actually write a timeline on a 3 x 5 card that I keep handy while cooking (so I don’t have to fumble around with cookbooks or an open laptop; I can also hide it from my guests and look like I really know what I’m doing). This forces me to think through everything in advance, plan what will happen when, identify things that I can do in advance, and have the best possible shot at serving dinner when I want.

Second, identify every possible step you can complete in advance and do so.  Recipe call for garnishing with mived chives? Mince them in the afternoon before you have guests over, put them in a ramekin, cover it with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge until you’re ready for them.  Same for the shallots, garlic, vegetables, etc.  Better still to mostly prepare a dish that can simply be heated and finished when you’re ready for dinner.  The people preparing food in professional kitchens always have their mise-en-place (French for “put in place”) well stocked before the shift begins.  You should do the same.

Minced parsley, ready for later

This has several benefits.  First, it will allow you to spend your time either socializing or focusing on the essential cooking tasks once your guests arrive.  Second, it will allow you to keep the kitchen as clean as possible (since you can do the work, clean-up, and start fresh when it’s time for the meal).  Third, it will give you the best possible chance to have everything ready at the same time.  The last thing you want is some steaks cooking right past your target temperature while you’re messing around mincing garnishes.  Finally, for many people, this is the enjoyable part of cooking – turning a pile of fresh produce into usable ingredients.  Put on some music, open some wine, and spend part of your afternoon enjoying it.


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