Do not buy cheap balsamic vinegar -- it's not worth it! Invest in a quality bottle and then use it to drizzle over everything from caprese salads to strawberries for a sweet/tart taste that wows.
Cannellini beans and garbanzo beans (chick peas) are easily transformed into bean spread or hummus with the help of a couple of spices and a few minutes in a food processor.
To insure that you always have something crunchy on hand, pick up a box of fancy crackers whenever you go shopping. To save money, check out stores like the Christmas Tree Shops and Ocean State Job Lot, which sell gourmet crackers cheap.
Whether you keep a large bar of chocolate on hand to grate over desserts or few bags of M&M for easy snacks, keeping chocolate in stock is a must for any 15-minute party planner.
Put out nuts as a snack or add them to salads or desserts for a crunchy element.
Olives are a wonderful snack and add tang to tapenades and spreads, while olive oil transforms into quick salad dressings and -- when combined with roasted garlic and spices -- the perfect dip for rustic bread.
With a stash of pastas and sauces (tomato, alfredo, etc.) you can whip up a main course for an impromptu dinner party in 15 minutes or less.
Combined with garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers make a delicious hummus, and arranged artfully on a plate with olives, cheese, and prosciutto they supplement an antipasto platter.
With a selection of tapenades, salsas, and dip mixes at the ready, you'll be prepared to put out quick appetizers, snacks for the big game, or even marinades and dressings for pasta, meats, or fish.
Like roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes add a pop of flavor to a variety of dishes, and will keep in the pantry (unopened) without going bad.
Refrigerated & Frozen Foods
A good Parmesan is perfect for grating into pesto, over pasta, or as a fancy garnish on dips and spreads. Blocks of cheddar and rounds of brie make for delicious appetizers when served with crackers.
Keep these two on hand for easy dip and spread creation.
You can find frozen meatballs made of ground turkey or beef, seasoned or unseasoned. Throw a bag in a Crockpot with chili sauce and grape jelly for an appetizer or cook the meatballs for use in meatball subs or spaghetti with meatballs.
Thaw frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water and you've got instant shrimp cocktail or an easy protein to toss in with dinner.
You could make potstickers, mozzarella sticks, and stuffed mushrooms by hand, but when you're trying to get ready in 15 minutes or less, grab some pre-made appetizers from the freezer and pop them in the oven.