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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — Everyone!

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When it comes to family dinner parties, it seems like people usually fall into one of two camps: hosts and guests.

We’re guests. And it’s all because my sister, Susan, grabbed the spotlight one year. She pulled out all the stops — and a tradition was born.

But not this year. Susan and I had a little sit-down. I told her that as much as I love her dinner parties, the thing that would make me happiest would be to get my own turn. That I wanted my daughters to have the experience of creating a special evening. Really, I think that’s what made her give in.

The next day, my heart raced with excitement. This was the year when everyone would find out that I, too, am a great cook; that I can throw a great dinner party. For planning I turned to trusted experts whose recipes have always inspired me: Julia, Jacques and James — as in Child, Pepin and Beard. Hunkered down at my dining-room table, barricaded behind their cookbooks, I began making lists.

I’ll confess now that my initial plan would have worked just fine … for a formal dinner at Downton Abbey. Visions of Beef Wellington, Coq au Vin, Potatoes au Gratin and flaming plum pudding danced in my head. Naturally, I would have to upgrade our table linens, candleholders and china. But then a trip to a few stores and some quick calculations brought me right back to reality. My budget was no match for my imagination.

So I turned to the people who consistently get me through everyday meals: Rachel, Betty and Ina — as in Ray, Crocker and Garten (or, as you know her, the Barefoot Contessa). Turns out, their recipes are perfect for feeding a crowd without breaking the bank — or collapsing from exhaustion.

Once I changed my focus, I realized that entertaining is about warming hearts and welcoming guests with open arms. It’s not a competition — how the table looks matters much less than how people at the table feel.

Fore more entertaining tips, read here.

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