05/20/2013 10:22 am ET Updated Mar 16, 2015

Cooking Together: Tips For Preparing A Meal With Friends


All those people offering to "help" won't stress you out ... if you follow these smart suggestions.

By Lynn Andriani

Give Them The Un-Screw-Up-Able Salad
It's hard to ruin a salad. A loaf of bread can really only be sliced a few different ways, and all of them are totally fine. Boiling potatoes until they're just tender, though, or searing pork chops without overcooking them may be a little trickier. Amanda Hesser, who cofounded the online food community Food52.com with Merrill Stubbs, says when she's hosting a dinner party, she decides in advance which tasks she'll handle (e.g., testing for doneness) and which she can assign (aside from tearing lettuce leaves and cutting a baguette, almost anyone can wash produce, arrange a cheese plate, set the table and put some flowers in a vase).

Don't Make Them Hunt For A Peeler
If guests are going to pitch in, make it easy for them, Hesser suggests. Show them where the tools and ingredients you're asking them to use are. Plus, if you've already put the knives, vegetable peeler, salad bowl and cutting board on the counter, you won't have to ask Aunt Mary to move out of your way so you can open up the drawer or cabinet she's standing in front of for the 800th time.

Suggest They Entertain You Instead
There are some guests who feel compelled to offer to help and then ask a question like, "What are these nuts?" in reference to the garlic cloves on the counter (true story). This is when you say, "Why don't you pour yourself a drink and tell me the latest gossip while I cook?" That way, you're not being abandoned in the kitchen, but you're also not putting yourself in the awkward and stressful situation of having to coach a culinary newbie through every single step (and eat dinner sometime around midnight).

Send Them Outside
In warm weather, jobs like shucking corn, snapping the ends off of green beans and peeling potatoes are better done outdoors, where stray bits of corn silk or potato peel can just blow away (and where assistants will be out of your way). And if you have an herb garden, ask a guest to go out and grab you a handful of basil, thyme or whatever you need.



The Anti-Freak-Out Entertaining Menu