Life Unexpected's Shiri Appleby: Bring Your Own Recipe Party

updated 11/17/2010 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/17/2010 AT 01:00 AM EST

Shiri Appleby's dinner parties are interactive events. "Cooking is like grown-up arts and crafts," explains the star of CW's Life Unexpected. "It's a happy activity and a real bonding experience." So whenever the actress finds herself back home in L.A. (the series films in Vancouver), she gathers a few friends for festive dinner parties, where the real fun takes place before sitting down at the table. "Everyone brings a different recipe and we make one big meal together," she explains.

Appleby, 31, admits that sometimes it's not easy to convince folks to join her at the cutting board. "There are girlfriends who get invited and don't want to come because they're afraid to cook," says Appleby, who simply reminds them that not every meal comes out delicious-or even edible. "In the beginning you're going to make mistakes and the food may turn out disgusting," she warns. To make her pals feel more comfortable, she assigns guests a responsibility that plays to their strengths. "Everyone knows different skills," says Appleby, who picked up most of her culinary expertise from watching her mom at the stove. Then "when you see your friends are able to do something, you don't feel as intimidated." While Appleby focuses on her own dish, she also checks in on everyone during the night. "As the hostess, you're kind of the director of the evening," she says. And once everything is cooked, she rolls out the red carpet for finished dishes. Says Appleby: "You put some music on, you have some wine, and it feels like a party!"

I ask each guest to:

• Pick a course to prepare

• Make extra copies of recipes to share

• Bring a bottle of their favorite wine

How Shiri Organizes the Party

PLAN AHEAD

"I organize the menu," says Appleby, who assigns friends an appetizer, main dish, sides and dessert a couple of days in advance.

DIVVY UP THE COST

So no one gets stuck footing the majority of the food bill, "we'll split the groceries evenly," says Appleby.

AVOID WORK DAYS

The actress likes to host these gatherings on the weekends so guests arrive at 5 p.m. and "you make it the whole night!"

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