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Ina Garten's Entertaining & Party Tips

Living legend Ina Garten's tips for no-stress entertaining
Get the recipe for Garten's make-ahead roast chicken. | Photo: Tasting Table

To say I'm an Ina Garten fan would be an understatement: She's more like my entertaining guru. I first learned how to throw a dinner party by reading her 2001 book, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (Clarkson Potter, $35), and I've since read and cooked from nearly all of her books. I love her simple, foolproof recipes, and whenever I entertain, I (try to) live by her wisdom: do as much in advance as possible, so you can actually enjoy your own party.

Despite my best attempts to channel Ina in the kitchen, there have been many occasions where I have done the exact opposite: I put off cooking until the last minute and end up frantically chopping and sautéing when guests arrive. Given my proclivity toward procrastination, I was particularly excited when I heard the title of Garten's newest book: Make It Ahead (Clarkson Potter, $35). In her (ninth!) book, Garten shares her secrets on how to prep, assemble and/or cook every single dish ahead of time.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Garten recently about the book, and got all of the nitty-gritty on how to throw a no-stress fall dinner party. I confess: I was relieved to hear that even the unflappable Barefoot Contessa gets flustered occasionally: "Jeffrey knows he can't talk to me 20 minutes before guests arrive," Garten says with a laugh. Here are her words of wisdom.

Start by creating a balanced menu. "I try and include a dish that's cooked in the oven, something on the stove top and easy-to-assemble things like a cheese course or a salad," Garten says. "One of my favorite make-ahead fall menus is slow-roasted spiced pork with sour cream cornbread, winter slaw and maple baked beans," Garten says. "It's great for a crowd, and people go crazy for it."

For peace of mind, plan it out. "Create a time line for cooking—if you plan it out carefully, you'll be able to address problems in advance," Garten advises. For the spiced pork menu above, Garten rubs the pork 24 hours ahead of time, then cooks it all day before guests arrive. "The slaw and the vinaigrette can be prepped up to a day in advance, and then tossed together with Parmesan shavings a few hours before serving. The cornbread can be baked earlier in the day. Before guests arrive, I literally have nothing to do!"

Post-it notes are your new best friend. Garten challenges herself to make almost everything in advance and to fit any last-minute instructions onto one Post-it note. "The key is not to look at any recipes the hour before the party," Garten says. "By that point, everything should be either made or assembled, and you just consult the Post-it note for last steps. For example, for my Provençal fish stew, you make the soup base a day in advance, then just reheat and stir in the fish and mussels."

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Make it better by making it ahead. "Some dishes, like lamb tagine, actually taste better when made ahead," Garten says. Other dishes, like zabaglione and roast chicken, are traditionally made right before serving, but Garten recreates even tastier make-ahead versions in her new book. "Zabaglione is usually made just before serving and eaten warm," Garten explains. "My version is made with whipped cream and served cold with crunchy amaretti. I just spoon it into decorative glasses and put them in the refrigerator until I'm ready to serve them."

Her make-ahead roast chicken—served on an arugula salad with crisp croutons—is particularly ingenious (see the recipe). "On the show, I cooked with a chef from The Standard Grill in New York who roasted a chicken over high heat on a bed of bread. The bread absorbed all of the wonderful chicken juices," Garten recalls. "I was also inspired by Judy Rodgers's iconic arugula and bread salad from Zuni Café in San Francisco."

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She combined the two dishes to create a recipe that can be prepped up to two days in advance. Before serving, simply roast the (already-marinated) chicken and the bread, and assemble the salad. "You have an entire meal in one dish," Garten says.

Don't let cooking flops derail you. "One time, I made a dessert for a dinner party that didn't work out," Garten says. "I rummaged around in the refrigerator to find something else to serve instead. I ended up just serving bowls of fresh raspberries with crème fraîche touched up with a little honey and vanilla. It was so delicious that I added it to my repertoire!"

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