When planning for a dinner party or big meal, one of the most important things to consider is timing. Looking at recipe guidelines is crucial, but don't forget to factor yourself in, too. Knowing how long it takes you to prepare certain foods – and accounting for the unique quirks of your kitchen – will make your workflow that much smoother.
We are big proponents of scheduling backwards and including everything from the time it takes you to chop vegetables to how long it takes to boil water. Consider your own cooking history, skills, and equipment. Are you really good at knowing when bread dough is sufficiently kneaded? Does it take you forever to julienne a carrot? How long does it take for your oven to preheat? All of these little things can affect the time you need (no matter what a recipe author may state).
It's usually best to serve dishes you've cooked before, so you can draw upon actual experience. If you haven't made the dish before, do as much prep as you can well in advance, and visualize yourself going through the steps beforehand. You can't eliminate all surprises in the kitchen (where's the fun in that?!) but smart time management can lead to a more enjoyable, less stressful dinner party experience.