Preparing dinner in under an hour seems to be the story of my life, even if I'm entertaining. Since I cook for a living, family and friends expect grand feasts when they come to my house. To live up to their expectations, I use a few tricks to elevate an easily prepared meal to a higher level.

First, I splurge on best-quality ingredients, which require little embellishment. It's worth indulging in boneless veal loin, which is lean, tender, and delicious and needs only its meaty pan juices as a sauce. Fresh ricotta and beautiful juicy strawberries on their stems, two more deluxe items, are simply drizzled with honey for a heavenly dessert.

Serving a first course is another method for turning dinner into an event. Some menus that include an appetizer make it impossible for the cook to sit down and enjoy it. This meal, however, allows you to eat the sautéed asparagus starter with your guests while the pasta sauce simmers on the stovetop and the steaks finish in the oven. Last-minute tossing and plating are all that remain.