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25 Dishes for Hosting a Fancy Gay Dinner Party That Are Low Effort and Cost

feature image photo by Maskot via Getty Images

I am hoping to have more dinner parties in 2024, and what I really mean by that is I am hoping to feed my friends more in 2024. In recent years, I’ve been really lucky to make some new friends in a new place who really understand the meaning and fun of a really good dinner party and just cooking for each other. It’s hard to live in Florida as a queer person right now. But the ways my chosen family here show up for each other and take care of each other have blown me away and made me realize how important it is to come together for meals. It’s what really makes our group feel like family, and it’s when we’re all at our happiest and most relaxed!

So instead of continually telling myself I don’t have enough space for dinner parties, I’m going to make that space. I’m going to get creative with folding chairs and outdoor seating. And as much as I live for an ambitious food moment, they’re definitely best accomplished when I’m cooking just for my partner and me. This year, I want to embrace dinner parties that ultimately do feel fancy and extravagant but are, in actuality, low budget and low-ish effort. We’re focusing on the friends and the fun and trying to keep the prep and cook time streamlined! But of course it’s still fun to feel fancy. So I’ve rounded up some recipes for every course — apps, soups/salads, mains, sides, and desserts — where the final product looks and tastes complex or luxe even though you didn’t have to break the bank or your back to make them.


French Tuna Rillettes

It doesn’t get cheaper or easier than canned tuna! And while there are a few extra ingredients in the linked recipe, you can really simplify this tuna-based dip by just using sour cream and tuna. Serve it with sliced baguette or even Ritz crackers. Fish spreads just always feel fancy!

Blue Cheese and Pear Tartlets

Pro Tip: Keep a package of mini phyllo tart shells in your freezer for last minute hosting! But they’re also great for a fancy dinner party moment. You can fill them with sweet or savory things or a combination, such as these blue cheese and pear ones. In a pinch, you can also just fill them with jam!

Goat Cheese Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

You can simplify these, too, by just stuffing the peppers with an herbed goat cheese and calling it a day! The bright red color of the peppers makes them feel fancy no matter what. Tuna stuffed piquillos are one of my favorite pintxos, and once again you can use canned tuna.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prep time is very minimal for these, and while prosciutto can cost you a little more than other sliced meats, you can buy a mix pack of charcuterie meats from the deli section at your grocery store and get multiple appetizers/pre-dinner bites out of it. Make these and then some salami wrapped pepperoncinis! Arranging a bunch of different little bites on a platter definitely feels fancy.

Stuffed Mushrooms

The best thing about stuffed mushrooms is that there’s so much room for improvisation and customization. They’re easy to make vegan, gluten free, etc. And then a little drizzle on top of sauce like a balsamic glaze or a spicy olive oil really kicks the fancy level up a notch!

Soups and Salads

Drop Dumplings for Soup

Drop dumplings are a perfect low effort, high reward bonus addition to any broth-based soup. Throw them in a classic chicken noodle or a spicy mushroom and shrimp soup. I like to add a bunch of herbs like parsley, chives, or cilantro to the dough while mixing it for a little pop of flavor and color in the drop dumplings. They’ll make a brothy soup a little heartier, so keep that in mind when planning the rest of your courses.

Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I like a soup where it feels like you’re just throwing in a bunch of stuff you already have in your pantry/fridge, and this is definitely one of those!

Japanese Corn Soup

Corn and heavy whipping cream are doing a lot of the work here. This soup can be served chilled or hot! It’d be easy to make ahead, and in a pinch you could use canned corn.

Really Good Caesar Salad

It’s hard to go wrong with a classic Caesar, and it’s easy to make it look a little fancier by leaving the lettuce leaves whole or throwing some pink radicchio in. Also if you don’t have the time or ingredients, you can skip making the dressing and just use a bottle. Cardini’s is a favorite grocery store Caesar dressing for me!

Citrus Segment Salad

A citrus segment salad is so beautiful! You can really shake up the additional toppings, too. I like to do mine with whatever crushed nut I have on hand and some quick pickled red onions. Instead of serving this on a bed of greens, you could also serve it on top of some Greek yogurt. A hot honey drizzle on top also kicks it up a notch.


Sheet-Pan Baked Feta With Broccolini, Tomatoes and Lemon

I love the presentation of this sheet pan meal, which I serve alongside a big bowl of orzo cooked in chicken broth with lemon juice. Throw the whole pan on a trivet on the table with a pair of tongs and let your guests pick out what they want to have over the orzo (or other grain/pasta/etc of your choice).

Butter Garlic Herb Salmon Foil Packets

You could easily introduce an interactive/personalized element to your dinner party by having your guests prepare their own salmon foil packets. Beforehand, just chop or prep a bunch of ingredients like green beans, onion, tomato, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, squash, spinach, garlic, etc and place them all in little bowls. Then have your friends fill their own foil packets based on their preferences! These cook super fast. I also like the Just One Cookbook guide to salmon in foil!

Instant Pot Short Ribs

Short ribs in THIRTY MINUTES!!!!! These are seasoned in a Japanese sauce, and this is definitely a main for winter dinner parties. If you don’t have an instant pot, try a stovetop variation on short ribs but just plan for it to take more time. It’ll make your house smell amazing though.

Asparagus Pasta

Here’s a pasta that looks beautiful but comes together quite easily. It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan if you skip the parmesan or use vegan parmesan. You can use canned cannellini beans for it, and definitely serve it with some lemon wedges on the side in case your guests want a little more zing.

Steak Garlic Rice

I love that the home cook (my favorite home cook btw) behind this recipe calls the dish “seductive.” It takes 20 minutes to make and uses sirloin flap, which usually isn’t too pricey of a cut. For a vegetarian alternative, try making with a mix of mushrooms.


Quick Kimchi

Every meal tastes better with a bright, spicy bite like kimchi on the side in my professional opinion! This quick kimchi has a different flavor profile than regular kimchi as it doesn’t undergo a fermentation process, but it’s a great companion to savory mains.

Miso Onions

I went through a phase of making these all the time, because they’re so easy but so flavor-packed! All you need are onions, miso paste, and butter. That’s it!!!! Miso paste holds for a long time in the fridge so even if you only get some for this recipe, you’ll be able to make lots of other yummy things in the future, too.

Goat Cheese Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Also, tbh, just plain mashed potatoes can be an excellent side dish at a dinner party, and you can dress them up with things like crispy garlic sprinkled on top of the bowl or fresh herbs. My go-to recipe for mashed potatoes is the Food52 anti-recipe guide.

Garlicky Broccolini

Minimal ingredients, minimal effort, lovely veggie final product!

Creamy Polenta

Ever since I got my wisdom teeth out and had to eat mushy foods for several days, creamy polenta has been a go-to comfort food for me. It’s sooooo easy and cheap to make, and maybe you think it’s boring, but I promise it’s not! Similar to the mashed potato tip, you can definitely throw some toppings on it to make it a little prettier. I like to make mushroom chips by rehydrating dried sliced shiitake mushrooms and then patting them dry with paper towels, tossing them with olive oil and seasonings, and baking them in the oven. They would make a great topping on a big bowl of polenta.


Berries and Cream

Dessert is always an afterthought for me as I’d usually rather have an extra savory course than something sweet, but I’m getting a bit more into sweet treats lately! Again, I like an interactive element at a dinner party, and one easy and fun way to approach dessert is to just put a bunch of berries in bowls out on the table with some cream and give each guest their own ramekin to assemble berry bowls in. You can include other toppings like chocolate chips or even sprinkles. Everyone gets to make their own dessert bowl!

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

There’s not really cooking/baking involved here — it’s just assembly! These are made with a baguette, peanut butter, Nutella or something similar, a pint of ice cream, and bananas. Super simple with high payoff!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

This is the easiest sticky toffee pudding recipe I’ve found, and it comes together in under an hour!

Cappuccino Swirl Bars

You can definitely use store-bought chocolate cookies to crumble for these instead of making from scratch. Prep time is low, but since they need to chill it would be best to make them the night before or morning of your party!

Go forth and host the fancy gay dinner party of your dreams! Let me know if you have any go-to recipes for entertaining friends and fam.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 839 articles for us.


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  2. I love these! Stoked to try some of the soups.

    My go-to for hosting dinner parties are meals where I provide the green/grain/protein, and then make a list of toppings for folks to bring. A few of my favs (that can all be made with a gf+vegan base) are:
    – congee/juke
    – sushi bowls
    – burrito bowls
    – fresh rolls
    – gallo pinto

    Yum yum!

  3. I love these! I tend to do one cozy showstopper rather than delineated courses, but there’s some great inspiration here!

    If it’s a chill hang rather than a Dinner Party, my go-to is this Shepherds Pie (https://thecookful.com/lamb-shepherds-pie/), which blows all the others out of the water. The lemon zest in the mash always blows peoples mind! It also goes great with pork if you can’t have red meat.

  4. What a delightful culinary adventure! This article has me ready to host the fanciest, most fabulous dinner parties in 2024. I never knew canned tuna could be so chic – French Tuna Rillettes, here I come! And who knew that a simple baguette could be the key to an extravagant feast? I’m all in for the low budget, low effort, high-class soirées. Time to impress my friends with Goat Cheese Stuffed Piquillo Peppers and Steak Garlic Rice! Thanks for the tips, and if you’re up for some online gaming fun after your dinner party, check out my site at https://kizi-mizi.com. Cheers to fancy dinners and playful gaming!

  5. Get in My Belly; Love the variety of flavors and skill level involved!

    To be honest, I am more likely to want to just buy such things mostly or completely done. However, seeing simple recipes like Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus and recipes that most likely can be done in advance like the roasted cauliflower soup gives me courage.

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