Inviting friends over for dinner always seems like a good idea – until you actually have to cook the thing. Don't panic! Here's what to do:

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Image: pomegranate pavlova

Photograph: Seven

For dessert: 'outsourced' pomegranate pavlova

Don't cook. Do as the French do, and ‘outsource’ your dessert. That means buy it. Grab an apple tart or chocolate torte from the bakery section, put it on a pretty plate and voilà! One course done.


Drink up. No one needs three courses midweek: what they really want is more to drink and food on the table when they arrive. Put out olives or nuts for people to pick at early on, and serve with a strong G&T.


Cover up. A sprinkling of coriander can turn brown mush into a three-star feast – so let garnishes do all the work for you! Pull a stew or casserole out of the freezer, chop up fresh herbs (or even some spring onions and toasted nuts if you're feeling fancy), and scatter over your reheated stew in generous quantities before serving.


Make them work for it. Ask your guests to bring some food and call it a 'pot luck'. It's very big in the States – just say Gwyneth does it in California. But be specific: don’t ask for ‘something to go with chicken’. If you’ve got your heart set on greens, say "could you bring a green salad, please".


Phone a friend. If all else fails and you really don’t have time to cook – order a takeaway! Be blasé about it: your guests are here to enjoy your company, not your cooking.


Try one of our 30-minute meals for a quick fix, or cook a little something from our food for friends scrapbook if you really want to show off.