In addition to kitchen basics like can openers, cutting boards, and corkscrews, keep a few of the following gadgets at the ready. Doing so will allow you to whip up quick party dishes and drinks that make you look like a culinary genius and won't take more than a quarter of an hour. If you don't have lots of kitchen storage, choose items that can do double duty (such as a heavy-duty food processor in place of a blender and a food processor).
Not only can you blend boozy concoctions, but a blender is also a quick way to whip up puree or quick soups, and if you've got a substantial blender you can even grind coffee beans or crush ice.
Lots of folks keep paper products on hand, but it's just as easy to invest in a set of durable, lightweight Corelle dishes -- pretty dishes that are unlikely to break and won't take up much space. Investing in a dozen or so Corelle plates will pay off in the long run, doing away with the need to continually buy paper plates and proving to be much better for the earth, since there's no waste! Corelle also offers everything from simple white dishes to bold geometric designs and everything in between.
- Food processor
A food processor can do most everything a blender can do, and more. Throw a handful of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and oil, for instance, and you've got yourself a delicious tapenade in about 2 minutes. Want to top dinner with freshly-shredded herbs or dessert with chopped nuts? Toss them into the food processor and let the machine work its magic. In less than five minutes you can prepare everything from hummus to salsa.
- Pepper grinder
A good pepper mill will only set you back about $20, and it's $20 well-spent. Grinding pepper not only looks pretty, but tastes better than the flaky pepper you buy in the grocery store. A pepper mill also allows you to use fancier peppercorns (like foodie-favorite pink peppercorns). You can do the same with a salt grinder, and can try a variety of sea salts. (This set from Amazon will get you both a pepper and salt grinder -- with refills! -- for less than $20.)
- Serving platters
Yes, you could throw food on dozens of mismatched plates when you're expecting guests, but why? Buy a few large platters and make them work for you. Rather than pulling out (and washing!) multiple dishes, choose large platters and use them to hold all aspects of a specific dish. Instead of using a bowl for dip and a few plates for veggies, grab a large platter and stick a bread bowl filled with dip right in the middle, surrounded with fresh veggies and crackers. Plate a dozen ingredients for antipasto on a single platter as well, by rolling up prosciutto and salami, popping piles of olives and artichoke hearts around, and stacking cubes of cheese. Keep a few lunch-tray-sized platters on hand and you'll be party-ready in minutes. Two the 15-Minute Party Planner likes? This adorable Peggy Karr Happy Hour Platter and this super-functional 18-Inch White Porcelain Platter.