I always encourage cooking but I'm a realist. Some hate to cook, others don't have time. Here's how to impress w/o cooking. Buy some prepared food at an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods & add...
  1. Fresh chopped herbs
    Soup, pasta, stews, pretty much anything you serve in a bowl. Just buy some flat leaf parsley, basil or oregano and chop it up. Sprinkle it over the warmed up dish and it will look impressive. Not sure what herb to pick? Read the ingredients or ask the people at the grocery store what herbs are in the dish and just use those. Don't sprinkle too much just enough to garnish and make it look pretty. BTW - easy way chop herbs: stick them in a wide mouth glass and just snip them with scissors!
  2. Fresh fruit on ice cream or dessert
    Fresh fruit sprinkled over any dessert makes it look fancy. If you want to get fancy you ca supreme a citrus fruit like blood oranges (YouTube it) but otherwise stick to berries. They require minimal to no cutting! If you've thought ahead, place some fresh berries in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of sugar before the meal, and toss to coat/bruise a bit. By the time you're ready to serve dessert, the sugar will have made the berries release some juice...making an instant berry sauce! Ooh la la!
  3. Fresh grated or shaved cheese
    If your serving pasta or a salad, just get some hard cheese like Parmesan and either grate some on top or shave some over the salad with a potato peeler. It'll look like you spent all day laboring over that dish and it took you 30 seconds.
  4. Fresh squeeze of citrus on dish
    This is more of taste than visual thing, but a squeeze of lemon or lime or even orange will perk up a flat dish. The acidity will brighten up a salad, a roasted chicken or most meat dishes. It's also a great trick to help balance a dish that is too salty or too sweet. Don't drench the food, just a simple wedge with a single squeeze works wonders.
  5. Fancy salt
    Do yourself a favor and buy a box of Maldon salt for $8 or a jar of "pyramid salt" at Trader Joes for $5. Then buy a cute tiny bowl (I'm talking 1-inch in diameter) and pour some into it. Serve your meal with the bowl in the center of the table and right as you place the plate in front of your guest say "oh wait! I forgot to season!" Them grab a little bit of the salt and sprinkle it in an insouciant manner high above the plate. Pretentious? Hell yeah. Impressive? Most definitely.
  6. BONUS: Cheese Course!
    Just go to the cheese section of a high end grocery store and tell them you need a selection of cheeses for a party. Have them help you find a good selection of three or four cheeses to serve. I usually go with a soft cheese (Brie or Camembert), a hard cheese (Parmesan or Gouda) and a wildcard cheese (Blue like Stilon, Goat like Chèvre or washed rind like Tallegio). Plate on a fancy platter. Stick a few grapes on there and maybe a tiny cute jar of honey and you're golden.