We all need a stable of make-ahead meals to pull out on a weeknight that feel fresh but don't require any work. And there's no reason you can't apply the same philosophy to entertaining; with these dishes, you can get home from work and be ready for guests in 15 minutes (perfect if you're entertaining on the new trendy night of the week).Before you start protesting about the fact that there are no slow-cooker recipes here... Our reasoning was this: Slow-cookers can be bulky and unsightly on the kitchen counter. Plus, they take time to clean, so even if you transferred your dish to a serving platter, you still have a hulking, dirty appliance on the counter. Not a huge deal, but these dishes can go straight from oven (to fridge, to oven) to table in their cooking vessels.
Make any one of these the day before and store in the refrigerator. When you get home from work, reheat in the oven or on the stovetop while you make a salad and slice some bread.
• 1. Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta. Ok, instead of making a salad, make some polenta. Or both. Polenta is super quick. And p.s., if you haven't tried Rancho Gordo beans yet, you should. They're not that expensive and make any bean meal spectacular.
• 2. Big-Hearted Macaroni and Cheese with Artichokes. Mac n cheese can be frozen before it's baked, or you can bake and cool it. Just save any breadcrumbs for the last minute.
• 3. Oven-Braised Short Ribs. These taste better the second day anyway! And you can reheat them on the stovetop if you want to use your oven for a quick side dish.
• 4. Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Pork. Bonus of this dish: It looks incredibly impressive and really isn't much work.
• 5. Simplest Lamb Stew. You can make rice if you have time, or just serve this in a big bowl with some crusty bread.
Related: Do You Make Dessert Ahead of Time? 5 Recipes to Make and Freeze Now
(Images: Faith Durand; Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)