My husband and I threw a small dinner party (for 6 people) this past Saturday night. As usual, I got a little carried away. I had originally planned to do a very simple roast chicken/asparagus risotto/salad/chocolate raspberry tart/cheese plate. All of which I have cooked successfully many times before (and am rather bored with). But then I, unfortunately, got fancy. I made several dishes I'd never tried before that night, including gazpacho, Moroccan Cornish game hens (recipe from Epicurious) and couscous. Everything turned out... okay. Nothing spectacular, most of it pretty bland. One of the sauces was a disaster because I got my timing wrong and it was still reducing when we sat down to eat. The only thing that worked was the dessert, which I've made roughly 5,000 times before.
So, my question is this: how many of you practice what you are going to prepare for a dinner party before the actual event?
I haven't thrown many dinner parties (I fell like I'm just now entering the "grown-up" stage of being able to cook for people, instead of inviting folks over for pizza and beer), and I'd like to learn the elements of timing, poise, and how to cook good food for good friends. Any advice gratefully accepted!