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Guys…Cara is back and we are excited because she is like our Fairy Cooking Godmother.  She makes magic happen in the kitchen, and if you are not reading her blog, you’re only hurting yourself.  Take it away, Cara! Bibbity…bobbity…BOO!

I think the main reason I got into cooking, besides that I love to eat, is that I love to cook for others. Sure, I like to devour a plate of brownies in front of the TV by myself every now and then, but isn’t food and eating so much more enjoyable (and less shameful) when doing so with others? We all need to eat to live, so we might as well savor it and eat together, right?

Cooking for others can be stressful though! Pressure to impress, trying to be social while you’ve got 4 pots boiling over on the stove, timing everything so it’s ready at the same time – what a headache! Well, fear no more, today I’m sharing some of my tips to make cooking for others as stress-free and low maintenance as possible, whether it’s for 2 or 20.

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Always Be Prepared

The key to any successful meal, whether it’s Kraft mac & cheese or Thanksgiving dinner, is to prepare ahead of time. Always read through the recipe first. Check that you have all of the ingredients before you start cooking. Do you need any special pans or tools? This will help you avoid any mishaps halfway through a recipe. In the same vein, prep as much of the dish as you can beforehand. Chop your vegetables, measure out your spices, season your proteins first, then fire away!

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Mix & Match

This one I got from my culinary (and general life) idol, Ina Garten. Don’t kill yourself cooking five different dishes from scratch. Mix and match with some store-bought and some homemade dishes. For example, serve only store-bought appetizers (olives, cheese, nuts) or dessert, and give yourself the time and attention you need to focus on a stellar main course. As long as it’s tasty, no one’s going to judge if that hummus and pita chips came from Trader Joe’s or your own kitchen.

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One Pot Wonders

I love, love, love one pot meals. Easy prep, easy clean-up, and they’re almost always delicious, comforting meals. The options are endless here: lasagna, chili, soup, grandma’s famous tuna casserole (just kidding! But if you do have a delicious tuna casserole, please let me know – I’d love to try it!). One pot means you only have to focus on getting one hot dish on the table, and clean-up will be a breeze.

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Cool Down

Take advantage of dishes that can be served at room temperature, like pasta salads, frittatas, or even gourmet sandwiches! Timing dishes so that they’re all hot and ready at the same time is a pain in the rear – especially if you’re limited on kitchen space in NYC. Room temperature dishes will give you some wiggle room, without having to sacrifice flavor or taste.

If You’re Stuck, Potluck!

If you’ve got friends coming over and just haven’t had time to grocery shop or just feel overwhelmed by the idea, make it a potluck! Pressure is off, it’s super casual, and now you can just savor the meal together instead of worrying if your soufflé is burning in the oven.

Thank you, Cara!  Hmmm, Potluck? Maybe we could combine our skills and throw a great party!  What do you say?

All photos taken by Cara of Cooking with Cara, © 2013.
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