Dinner parties always seem like a great idea. Good food, good company, no corkage fees, no need to even leave your home… but if you’re the host, they can also be super stressful. Often, you spend half of the day prepping, things get delayed, and you inevitably have to hide in the kitchen when guests arrive. Not to mention sometimes that beautiful recipe you found on Pinterest ends up looking anything but, and tasting mediocre at best. And just like that, going out to dinner feels well worth the splurge—financially and sanity-wise.
But there’s no need to throw in the towel for good. Hosting a dinner party can be a blast. These 19 fancy-looking but super-simple dinner recipes are proof.
Slow cookers are the secret ingredient—or rather, tool—to a seamless and successful dinner party. The magic happens in the pot, and you don’t even have to be home while it happens. Prep the meat in the morning, let it simmer for six to 10 hours (leaving plenty of time for a workout, massage, and more), and the rest can be prepped in less than 10 minutes. Your house will smell like heaven, you’ll hardly have to hide in the kitchen, and the end result will taste anything but effortless.
A few high-quality ingredients can go a long way. Though you only need to marinade the salmon for 15 minutes, we recommend opting for at least a few hours to maximize the flavor and minimize the amount of prep work before guests arrive. The marinade is as simple as dropping a few ingredients in a blender, and the salsa requires minimal slicing and dicing. The beautiful colors make it an eye-catching dish, and the bright flavors make it memorable. Bonus points for getting ingredients from the farmer’s market.
This vegetarian dish gets its robust flavor from the homemade garlic dressing and is filled with beautiful, fresh ingredients like lightly dressed arugula, red onion, and roasted sweet potato. The dressing can be made ahead to shave off extra prep time, and the rest is a matter of roasting followed by quick, easy assembly. They’re perfect for vegetarians or meat eaters, and friendly on both the waist and the wallet. Heat the pita right before serving for a freshly baked texture and extra-nice touch.
It doesn’t get simpler, or more beautiful, than roasted cauliflower steaks. The salsa can be made well in advance—the more time it gets to marry, the more flavor it yields—and the steaks are done in two steps: slice then roast. Pair with a simple side salad and farro or quinoa topped with a touch of truffle oil.
We’re all about anything with garlic butter. We’re also all about dishes that can be thrown together in 15 minutes flat. To cut down cook time, prep the tomato mix (sans basil) the morning of and leave in the fridge to lightly marinade. Serve with an equally easy-to-prep Caesar salad and fresh bread—trust us, you’ll want it to soak up the excess garlic butter.
Don’t let the cook time fool you: This recipe is a breeze. A majority of time is dedicated to simmering the onions in butter (hello, savory house scent) and roasting shortly before serving. Aim to add things to the oven right before guests arrive so you have time for a glass of wine and a chat before it’s time to assemble and serve the meal. We’ll never turn down melted cheese, but feel free to opt out of the gruyere topping to keep things cheese free.
Nothing says impressive like a highly piled plate of veggie noodles. Throw in some chorizo, hearty veggies such as spinach and red pepper, and a slew of herbs and spices, and you’ve got a real crowd-pleaser on your hands. Feel free to swap in Italian sausage if chorizo isn’t for you, and experiment with alternative greens like broccoli rabe. Baking the noodles gives the squash the perfect al dente texture and makes us tempted to never go back to non-veggie pasta.
Recipes that require soaking cashews may seem anything but easy, but it merely requires some thought the night before. (And it yields the best result, so don’t skip it!). Plus, if you plan two days ahead, you can prep the entire filling in advance. Another favorite trick: going with store-bought tomato sauce. That way, all you have to is roast or grill the eggplant, fill ’em with the pre-made filling, top with sauce, and bake right as guests arrive. Nearly effortless.
Nothing, and we mean nothing, is as simple as searing. The arugula and chimichurri can be prepped in no time, and the fish is ready even faster. This is a great dish for dinner parties that start with a few apps, as it’s easy to leave the crowd and come back minutes later with the main dish. (You likely won’t even miss your turn if playing games.) Just make sure the fish is of the highest quality possible, as the inner layer remains mostly raw, and the last thing you want is unhappy (read: sick) house guests.
A great way to liven up a dinner party is to have guests help in the kitchen. And what guests wouldn’t want to help dress up their own pizza? Keep this recipe in your back pocket and consider having it prepped before guests arrive, then let them go wild with other ingredients. Using store-bought dough keeps things simple, and topping the outer rim with Everything Bagel Spice makes it taste mind-blowing. How’s that for a pizza party?
One of the easiest ways to wow guests is to cook something that smells as good (if not better) than it tastes. This simple curry creates such an amazing aroma, guests will be drooling upon arrival. Begin cooking the chicken about 20 minutes before guests are set to arrive and prep the yogurt in advance to ensure you can entertain before putting on final touches. Pro tip: Do all your prep work in advance of cooking. That way all you have to do is toss things in the dish and give an occasional stir.
Za’atar is one of our favorite crowd-pleasing spices—or rather, mix of spices. It adds to depth to even the mildest of flavors (think: hummus) and also makes the simplest of recipes look and smell like oodles of effort. We also love that this indulgent-tasting dish is packed with nutritious ingredients such as chickpeas, kale, and quinoa. It means you’ll enjoy dessert that much more. (We highly recommend pairing with a berry crumble.)
It’s hard to beat a bubbling pot of melted cheese—especially when that cheese covers healthy veggies and nutty whole grains. This recipe requires minimal effort in the kitchen, but it’s important to start cooking well in advance as the recipe takes about an hour, start to finish. And don’t skip the toasting step: Heating the dry farro gives it an unforgettable flavor that pairs perfectly with the delicate taste of ricotta, squash, and basil.
We’re fans of anything you can make in one pot. We’re even bigger fans of the genius soup hack used in this recipe: adding cheese to the broth to make it extra savory and just a hint creamy. This soup is the perfect dish to make for a big group, as it makes a big batch and is filling as can be—meaning you can go light on the portions. Pair with Caesar salad or veggies and dip.
Homemade meatballs in less than 30 minutes? ‘Tis true. Simply combine chicken, panko bread crumbs, garlic, onion, herbs, and spices; roll the mixture into bite-size balls; and bake. While we’d usually tell you to prep the sauce in advance, this one can be made while the meatballs are in the oven. We love topping this dish on zucchini noodles or serving with warm pita bread.
It doesn’t get much easier, or tastier, than pasta. It doesn’t get much fancier than burrata, roasted tomatoes, and crispy prosciutto. This recipe combines the best of both culinary worlds—easy and delectable—and looks like it belongs in a food mag photo shoot. To make it vegetarian-friendly, leave out the prosciutto. Not a fan of prosciutto? Opt for bacon. Want to step it up a notch? Use fresh pasta.
Grills are a dinner party host’s best friend—at least they should be. Once the steak marinades, it requires only a few minutes on the grill, a few more minutes to cool, and is ready to eat. Make the marinade in the morning for the best flavor, and get arugula and cheese from a farmer’s market for that fresh touch (and even more taste).
Comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. And soup made from scratch doesn’t have to be a pain. The biggest lift in this recipe is grilling (or broiling) the red peppers, which only takes five to 15 minutes and requires a mere rotation of the pepper. Everything else happens in the pot, and most of the magic happens while it simmers—meaning you can drink that much-deserved glass of wine and even set the table. To keep things simple, opt for an immersion blender, as transferring the ingredients to a standing blender means extra labor, and likely a lot of spilling.
Broccoli, bell pepper, and spinach may not be your average enchilada filling, but sometimes the tastiest meals come from the least expected combos. Plus, you’ll get bonus points for surprising your guests. Double the recipe for a big group (or for leftovers), and make the sauce in advance to keep things easy the night of.For those who love a little meat, use rotisserie chicken in place of the black beans. For those looking for even more veg, add mushrooms to the veggie mix. Serve with extra napkins and don’t be shy about licking your plate.