A successful dinner party is undoubtedly one of the greatest culinary feats, and a worthy venture for those up to the challenge. With a lot of thought and a little luck, your guests will leave astonished by your talent, creativity, and skillful entertaining. For the unlucky. well, you can always rely on booze.

Knowing that throwing a dinner party is not the easiest task, I enlisted the help of Pamela Horowitz, the Executive Chef of Provence Catering and former Executive Chef of Penn's own Museum of Anthropology. Having dealt with the challenges of dinner parties on a grand scale, she has some astute tips that can help even the most novice host or hostess. First and foremost, "Plan ahead as much as you can. Really try to think through the entirety of the party."

Beyond planning (and more planning), Horowitz provides some extra tips that'll help your party run smoothly. "There are really only four main rules that you should follow," says Horowitz. "First, make sure that your menu isn't too esoteric. Second, try your recipe beforehand." Horowitz also advises that the host make sure proper refrigeration is available for food in both its raw and completed state. "Lastly, you've got to make sure that you've got the right tools to complete the job. You don't want to use a fork when you need an ice scoop - it's as easy as going to Macy's or Ikea to find the proper cooking ware you need."

On top of these basics, it's best to add a little something extra to each event you host. Nothing shows off your creativity and forethought as well as a masterfully executed dinner party theme. Here are some good ideas to get you started:

Tea Time

What says classy and sophisticated better than your own version of high tea? Horowitz cautions that "dishes such as tea sandwiches are artsy and beautiful, but extremely labor-intensive. Every dish must be precisely made - tea sandwiches aren't pieces of Wonder Bread cut into cute triangles." Still, if tea is your prerogative, consider making dishes such as scones, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and other decadent fare. For the centerpiece of your party - the tea - check out the Premium Steap downtown for a great selection (111 S. 18th Street, (215) 568-2920).

Fiesta Mexicana

This Latin-inspired event promises good times, if for no other reason than the drink options (think super-sized margaritas). Dishes like fresh guacamole and black bean soup make for perfect starters and do-it-yourself tacos are a sure winner. For those who want to splurge, Horowitz reminisces, "We once brought in a whole roast suckling pig for a wedding, but don't even think about making it yourself." Instead, pre-order the pig at Pico de Gallo, which runs for about $140 (1501 South Street, (215) 772-3003).

Philadelphia Haute

Show some city pride by highlighting traditional Philly foods. Rather than trying to make the famous Philly pretzels yourself, opt for the real thing at the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory (1532 Sansom Street, (215) 569-3988). "There's no use in reinventing the wheel when people expect authentic Philly pretzels," says Horowitz. "And make sure to bring Tastykakes too!" Besides these Philly snackfoods, Italian-American dishes such as eggplant parmesan will easily satisfy any guests who hail from the area. Top off the meal with homemade "wooder" ice, and you'll win over even the grouchiest Philadelphia native.


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