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Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's make-ahead dinner party tips and recipes

Ina Garten shares her secrets for a make-ahead dinner party, plus 4 easy recipes
/ Source: TODAY

Planning a party but have no time to cook the day of the shindig? Find yourself in the same bind with family dinners? Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa, can relate.

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"When I had a specialty food store, people would take our dishes home and serve them later or the next day. So, I had to make dishes ahead, and I learned to make many things that were even better when they were made ahead."

Garten added that the question she's most frequently asked about her recipes is "Can I make it ahead?" Her cookbook, "Make It Ahead," answers yes to that question every time. "I wanted to share what I learned with home cooks, who often have to cook ahead to accommodate their families' busy schedules," Garten explains.

Here, Garten shares tips on planning impressive make-ahead meals, plus her recipes for herbed pork tenderloin with apple chutney, mashed potatoes and cornbread. The savory dishes can all be prepared a day to several days in advance of serving (yes, even the mashed potatoes!).

"I've learned that my dinner parties are more fun when I'm not in the kitchen cooking!" says Garten. "It's hard for me to imagine a recipe that can't in some way be prepared in advance so cooking is less stressful and more fun."

Ina Garten's make-ahead dinner party tips

1. If it can't be made ahead, don't make it

"After writing this book and using all the recipes for my own dinner parties, I've really become a believer!" says Garten. "Now I make a menu for a dinner and look at it and say, can I make this entire dinner ahead? If I can't, I start substituting dishes that I can! It doesn't mean the entire thing is made in advance and simply reheated. It means that the majority of the dishes can be prepared before guests arrive and the only last-minute cooking instructions can fit on a single Post-it note!"

2. Make a game-plan — and write it down

"I think my dinner guests are always surprised to learn that I have a very specific 'game plan' for the meal written on a pad of paper," says Garten. "It starts with 5:00 p.m.: 'Turn oven to 500 degrees; 5:30 p.m.: filet of beef in oven, cut brussels sprouts, etc.' I take each recipe I'm serving and put all the steps for the recipe in the game-plan, working backward from the time that I want to serve dinner. That way I know two important things — first, that everything will be ready at the same time when I want people to sit down to eat, and second, that before 5:00 p.m. I have nothing to do!"

Ina Garten's Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

3. Take notes on your recipes

Whether you're planning a dinner party or a family dinner, go through your recipes and identify steps you can do ahead, suggests Garten. "I have gone over many of my old recipes and noted what steps in the recipe I can do ahead," the Contessa says. "Butternut squash and brussels sprouts can be prepped days in advance and stored in plastic bags in the fridge to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper before dinner. Potatoes can be cut and allowed to sit in water in the fridge so they're ready to go whenever you need them. Muffin batters can be made the night before and refrigerated, then scooped into muffin cups in the morning and baked. Pie crust can be prepared, rolled out, and refrigerated for a day or two, ready to be made into pies at any time."

Ina Garten's Sour Cream Cornbread

4. Plan for the unexpected

Garten likes to keep homemade frozen lasagnas and stews on hand so she can bake them when unexpected guests arrive. A well-stocked freezer and pantry are a boon when it comes to dessert, too: "If all else fails, I almost always have vanilla ice cream and espresso on hand for affogato sundaes."

This article was originally published on October 28, 2014.