1. Storebought Appetizers: Are appetizers easy to make? Sure, but it usually involves the creation of lots of little things. Pick up some nice fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine — it's really as easy as it sounds. No prep (aside from washing and unwrapping) and your attention can be focused on your main meal.
2. Warm Water Bucket: If you don't have a dishwasher that you're able to load dirty dishes straight into, have a bucket or large plastic pan set aside with warm soapy water in it. Dishes go in and even if you don't get to them that night (gasp) they'll be ready to be washed when you do have a minute.
3. A Layered Table Is Nice But Not Necessary: When you flip through magazines and you see the beautiful dinner tables that have four layers of linens, placecards, cute little handmade crafts, flowers, candles... it's great. But when you're short on time, a few small bunches of simple flowers from the grocer's will do just fine. In fact, seasonal fruit is lovely too; grab a few branches from outside to go with it and you're done. Placecards are nice, double layer napkins folded into swans are nice, but really not required.
4. Easy Dessert: With fancy desserts taking center stage lately, it can be easy to get caught up in something complex or that requires an entire day to create. Your guests will be just as happy with a simple seasonal scoop of ice cream, a baked bar, or even just a good hunk of chocolate. Don't fuss and you'll keep your cool and look collected.
5. Prep Ahead: This isn't any real secret, but do what you can ahead of time. Until you've flexed your preparation muscle you won't know exactly how much can be done in advance. You'll be rather surprised to find out how much can be taken off your proverbial prep plate the day of your get together.
What saves you time in your own kitchen? Do you have someone come clean your house the day before? Have a family member bring you dishware so you're not worrying about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
(Image: Faith Durand)