"You will be most successful . . . if you carefully read the recipe all the way through before you start cooking or baking," advises Ben and Karen Barker, chefs and co-owners of Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. They also suggest that you have all of your equipment and ingredients organized and in place before putting the heat to your pan.
This doesn't necessarily mean slaving all day in a hot kitchen. At the Magnolia Grill, most prep work is done the day before the dish is cooked and served, but you can start mentally preparing even earlier than that. Familiarize yourself with the steps involved in your recipes and estimate a time schedule for the main entrée and each of the side dishes. Figure out when you'll need to start cooking each dish so that they're all ready at the same time. And make sure you have the cooking tools and cooking space you'll need for each offering.
For physical preparation, peel and chop vegetables, marinate meat, separate eggs, et cetera the day before your event. Before you cook, go ahead and pre-measure ingredients and line them up in the order you'll be adding them into your dishes. This approach streamlines the cooking process and eliminates the crisis that occurs when you suddenly realize you don't have enough of some critical ingredient.