The 60-minute dinner party

Preparing gourmet food doesn’t have to take all day – here’s a three-course menu for four that you can whip up between putting the kids to bed and pouring your guests their first glass of bubbly.

Entrée: Fig and ricotta toasties

These little toasties taste great and look pretty too.

Thickly slice four pieces of ciabatta or sourdough bread and toast until light golden and crisp, then spread over fresh ricotta. Top each with a thin slice of prosciutto and two fresh fig halves, then drizzle with honey and grind fresh pepper over the top. If figs are unavailable, replace with pieces of nectarine or honeydew melon.

Main: Lemon and olive chicken marylands

This delicious main is a sure-fire way to impress. And let’s face it – who doesn’t like chicken?

Season 4 large chicken marylands then sear in a pan in a few tbsp of olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes each side. Transfer chicken to a plate. Add another tbsp of olive oil to the same pan and cook 2 chopped onions and a few cloves of crushed garlic until soft. Finely slice 1 lemon and add to pan with a good handful of halved green olives, 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat then simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Place chicken over top of vegies in pan, along with juices from plate, and sprinkle thyme over the top. Cover pan and simmer until chicken is cooked through, probably about 10 minutes. To make this dish go further, serve with steamed rice, couscous or the hot new ingredient quinoa. (hyperlink to article on quinoa)

Dessert: Pear and chocolate meringue mess

This dessert is a twist on the standard Eton mess, with all the ingredients available ready-made, so there’s no cooking required! Use store-bought meringues or make your own in advance.

Into four bowls place broken pieces of meringue , a dollop of mascarpone or sweetened ricotta, a few pear halves in syrup and drizzle over chocolate sauce. Scatter over a handful of toasted hazelnuts and you have a gorgeous no-cook dessert.

It’s easy to be the hostess with the mostess, even if you’re a busy mum. Just plan ahead and look for no-fuss recipes that can be pulled together in a flash.