How to Make Your Own Game Plans

We've found that the easiest way to stay on top of the details is to jot them down in order on 3-by-5 cards. After you've plotted out a couple of game plans, it's likely you'll start thinking the steps through without writing them down. That's great--but why not record them anyway? Even though we've been drawing up game plans for years, when we're really desperate, having them in writing makes entertaining mindlessly easy. For us, that's the goal.

Think Flowchart

1. Select a menu, then write down everything you want to serve and whether you?ll buy it ready-made or prepare it.

2. Flag the recipes in the book so you can flip to them easily.

3. Check the preparation time for each recipe and add it to your game plan. Review each recipe's do-ahead instructions.

4. Make a note of the dishes you can prepare completely ahead of time or begin assembling a day or more in advance. For example, you can boil the eggs and make the dressing for our spinach salad four days before the date of your dinner. 5. Pick a day to prepare things that can be frozen.

6. Now take a careful look at the preparation times for each of the remaining recipes. If several need last-minute attention that can raise a red flag. You may want to rethink your choice of recipes.

7. Do you want to serve Hot Chicken Salad and peach cobbler? Since these both go in the oven, check to be sure they bake at the same temperature.

8. Once you've decided on a menu, make a detailed shopping list. Be sure to include nonfood items, such as paper napkins, disposable plates, or candles.

9. Reserve time for shopping.

Set the Clock

1. Refine the game plan by filling in the timing. Most likely some of the recipes on your menu can be prepared in stages throughout the day you'l serve them or can be completed earlier that day. Suppose you want to serve a dinner of paella, spinach salad, and key lime pie starting at 7 o'clock. Make a note to move the pie, which you baked several weeks earlier, from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw before you go to bed the night before your dinner.

2. Plan to finish the first phase of the paella when you get up in the morning, since it can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours.

3. The spinach salad can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 4 hours before serving, so note on the game plan that any time between 3:00 and 7:00 you can fix the salad.

4. The paella takes about 15 minutes to get ready for the oven and bakes for 75 minutes, but it can rest once it's baked. If you finish putting it together between 5:00 and 5:30, it will be done when you want to serve it.

5. Last but not least, you'll need to dress the salad. If you plan on taking a couple of minutes to do this at 6:45, you'll have time to wash your hands before setting dinner on the table.

6. Once you've mapped out the time frame of each recipe, you'll notice that the order in which to prepare them falls into place.

7. Look back over your menu. Add any steps not accounted for in the recipe times, tasks like preheating the oven or warming the bread. Don't forget to add thawing and reheating times for frozen dishes.

8. Double check that none of your work times overlap and that no activities are duplicated. Make adjustments where necessary.

9. Before making the schedule final, factor in your personal needs on the day you entertain. For example, you'll want to allow yourself time to change clothes before your guests arrive.

10. Think the plan through step by step one last time. Did you forget anything?

11. Now that you've drawn up your game plan, implementing it will be a cinch.

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