Dinner Party Game Plan + Recipes

Planning a dinner party should be as fun as attending one. Follow this game plan for a seamless menu (we'll leave the guest list up to you). 
Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Food Network's Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2012, Television Food Network, GP. All Rights Reserved.

Matt Armendariz, 2012, Television Food Network, GP. All Rights Reserved.

Food Network's Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables.

While you might have tons of menu ideas you've been wanting to whip up for your friends, kick off dinner party planning by narrowing down your menu to three simple courses: a soup, an all-in-one main dish and a dessert. Since the focus is on the feast, a pared-down beverage selection will work best. Select one red wine and one white wine, or if guests ask what they can bring, suggest a pitcher of cocktails. 

Soup is a great starter because it can be made ahead of time and frozen, or it can be made the day of and simply reheated right before serving. Choose seasonal ingredients and an easy recipe and simmer away. A little garnish goes a long way for color and taste; try a drizzle of yogurt, toasted pumpkin seeds or homemade croutons.

Instead of keeping track of numerous side dishes, choose a satisfying main that fits a whole meal into just one dish.

Hearty baked pastas will allow to you fit lots of layers and flavors into each bite.

Get your meat and potatoes (or vegetables) cooked all at once with a roast.

If you're hoping to try something new, borrow a recipe from a cuisine you don't usually cook.

For dessert, it's best to choose something that won't have you running around at the last minute. No matter which choice you go with, don't forget that dessert almost always tastes better with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of soft whipped cream.

Trifle is a natural make-ahead dish that gets even better when it sits overnight; no cooking or reheating necessary. Use one of these ideas or get creative and invent your own — just layer cake, fruit, pudding and whipped cream, and chill.

For something warm and comforting, go with an easy fruit crumble. It can be baked a day ahead and reheated, or assembled ahead and baked at the last minute.

If you love baking and are looking for a grand finish, impress your guests with a layer cake. While it requires you to put in a little extra time, the good news is it can be made a day ahead — and the "wow" factor will be worth it.

If your guests have any room left, a cheese course can provide a sophisticated finish to the meal. Paired with jam, nuts or fruit, a cheese course can be served before, after or even instead of dessert. The only preparation required is a run to the store — after that, unwrap your cheese, assemble and serve at room temperature.

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