The true test of becoming a pro in the kitchen? Cooking for other people. The pressure is on to impress, and there’s a million things to think about that you normally wouldn’t—planning a menu, getting the timing right, accommodating different dietary needs and figuring out where to seat everyone, to name a few. Follow this guide to help you get everything organized and ready for your event, so by the time your meal rolls around, you won’t be worried about a thing.
Make sure to catch up on our other Cook Like a Pro articles, which highlight cooking techniques and recipes that every home chef should know.
Get the guest list in order
Figure out who you’d like to invite to your event. Send your invitations, whether by text, evite or through the mail for more formal occasions. Getting a guest count early on will help you make decisions about seating and the menu.
Plan the menu
Whether it’s a birthday celebration, game night or baby shower, thinking about what you’re gathering for will help you hone in on your menu. Will it be an intimate sit-down event, with multiple courses? Will guests be milling about while they watch the big game—in which case finger foods may make more sense? Use the occasion as your guide.
Other considerations when choosing a menu:
- If you’re limited on seating, heavy hors d’oeuvres or finger foods may be the best way to go.
- Consider the dietary restrictions of your guests and be sure there is a little something for everyone.
- Make sure your recipes don’t all have to be prepared in the last hour before the meal. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of leaving something in the oven or on the stovetop a little too long.
- Choose recipes that can be made with different appliances so you don’t run out of space in the oven. This glazed pork tenderloin is perfect for serving 2 to 4 people, and it can be done in your Hamilton Beach Professional Digital Countertop Oven. That frees up your regular oven for pies, breads and other side dishes.
- Think about incorporating dishes that can be made ahead of time, like breads and salads.
Create a schedule
Make a schedule in advance of everything that needs to happen before your event. You may need to map things out up to a week ahead of time for bigger parties. Carve out time for when you’ll go grocery shopping, when you will make the dishes that can be done in advance, when you’ll set up the space, and so on, so nothing slips through the cracks.
Prep everything the day before
Do everything in advance that you can—and trust us, there’s plenty that can be achieved early! For example:
- Use your food processor to chop onions or cut any veggies the day before. This pro model can hold up to 14 cups, enough for multiple recipes at once.
- If you are having a salad, you can go ahead and prepare it, just be sure not to dress it until right before the meal. This Brussels sprouts and berries salad not only tastes delicious, but looks fantastic, too—your guests might even think you had it catered. Best of all, it’s easy to prep with the slicing blade of your food processor.
- If you are having any reheatable dishes, like mashed potatoes, go ahead and get them out of the way now.
- Desserts are a great item to do a day in advance. This lemon meringue pie is a favorite of ours here at Hamilton Beach and can be prepped and refrigerated a day ahead of time.
In addition to the food, you can set the space up early. Do these things on the day before:
- Make sure you have enough serving sets to feed all of your guests.
- Run a quick iron over your tablecloth and napkins.
- Set out all the serving dishes and utensils you need and determine what’s going where. Label each dish with a sticky note so you can quickly put everything out on the table or buffet and you won’t accidentally use the dishes for something else.
- Chill your wine and drinks. If you are going to have a large group, set up a coffee and drink station so that people can serve themselves when they arrive.
More last-minute tips
- Don’t serve cold food, unless it was meant to be eaten that way. Keep food warm in your digital countertop oven using the Keep Warm setting.
- Clean as you go. Run the dishwasher as soon as it’s full to maximize clean silverware, glasses and plates.
- And after all the work is complete, don’t forget to have a little fun!
Entertaining like a pro begins with pro tools. Shop the Hamilton Beach Professional line of countertop kitchen appliances, designed for the serious home cook. Features like precise speed control, pre-programmed settings and powerful motors to push through any job will make your time in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable.