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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hosting a Friendsgiving

I wasn't too familiar with the concept of a "Friendsgiving" but I did know some of our friends in Chicago would host one - many of them not Chicago natives, would travel home for the holiday, so they decided to gather on a different day with local friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Friendsgiving is a great way to extend the turkey-related festivities - sometimes you can't travel home for the holiday or can't see everyone you'd like to. Try hosting a Friendsgiving! A few of our Chicago friends recently moved back to Michigan so we were very excited to not only be able to participate this year, but host the first Michigan edition of "Friendsgiving."

You can stick to traditional Thanksgiving foods that you know and love, or it can be a great time to try new twists on traditions, try out new recipes, and share new experiences. I seriously contemplated attempting a Turducken. I researched it for days - three meats layered with three types of stuffings - this could be really good! I also kept running into reviews of it being "just so-so" and eventually we decided on going a different route that we were more familiar with - a deep fried turkey.

You can organize your Friendsgiving any way you'd like, but our friends typically conducted it in a "pot-luck style" fashion. The host handles the turkey, gravy, etc - and the other invitees fill in the menu with other holiday favorites like stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, vegetables, desserts and appetizers. You can really great creative with menu items and the pot-luck style helps spread out the cooking effort.

This was our first formal dinner party in our new house and I spent most of the time just prepping the house, unpacking my party serveware and making updates to personalize our home a little.

Did you see that magnetic chalkboard with the Friendsgiving sign above? That was one of my little projects I just had to do the week before the party. I had wanted a magnet board somewhere in the kitchen as well as a chalkboard, but some of the custom ones online looked quite expensive and never combined them both. Then, when I was at Ikea, I saw they had a totally affordable magnetic board and they said you could cover it with fabric and hot glue it in the back- cool, that's something I can do! More graphic prints that I love! I quickly googled to see if there were any magnetic backed chalkboards and Amazon had this awesome "ziggy board" which is way better than a chalkboard because these pens are brighter, easier to use, and wipe right off with water. Love it! Now I can use the chalkboard for reminders or menu lists, and use my personalized magnets for invites and other papers. When I get sick of the pattern, I can just rip it off and change it.

My mom is a wreath wiz and made me this super cute fall wreath (I glittered the B and added that), too bad hardly anyone uses our front door! Haha! I pressed these leaves and used some for decorations on my table as well. My mom was a big help with this party and she listened to all my ideas and gave me lots of great advice on the food and decorating!

I decided on a buffet-style way to serve the food - lay it all out in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves - and this left more room for decorating the table. This was more elaborate than I've ever done in the past so I had a lot of fun buying a new chevron runner from Etsy, making nice floral arrangements, pressing leaves, and adding other touches of fall decor with candles.

I also went to Nino's and got a cool assortment of fall and unusual flowers and made 3 flower arrangements - two with a white/green/yellow theme and one big red and yellow one for the table centerpiece. I used raffia to tie around the vases for extra decoration. It was really fun!!

More flowers on the table and also an extra arrangement in a green vase - even several days later I am enjoying the flowers!

I also was trying to bring in the old with the new - I hadn't cared for the design on my grandmother's china set that my mom was thinking of donating to good will, until I was planning for this party and realized it's perfect for a fall dinner. Plus, it has more meaning than just buying something new - it had a gold leaf pattern. My mom also has many wine and champagne glasses with gold and even a gold stainless steel silverware set - but! How was this going to go with my already ordered gray chevron table runner and silver/gray pattern curtains? Ah ha - a gold and silver, old and new - theme! I bought some cheap silver chargers from Bed Bath and Beyond and added raffia and silver ribbon with the napkins, and I think the overall look was a good mix of old and new, modern and traditional, silver and gold. It was really fun to plan it all out!

Now on to the best part - let's talk about all the food! I did not do a great job taking a picture of the appetizers or desserts, but I can still describe everything. I tried a few new recipes which I would definitely make again.

First and foremost, spiced nuts from Martha Stewart! They were the very yummiest homemade nuts I've ever had. I got the idea from watching "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" where Giada was talking about some rosemary nuts from a bar/restaurant in NYC. I tried that recipe the weekend before Friendsgiving but it was not quite sweet enough and too salty. Martha had a similar recipe but featured more butter and sugar so I knew that would be perfect and it was! The only thing her recipe was missing was a dash of cayenne so I added that, but it could have used some more to get a little spice going. Definitely try these - it's a perfect appetizer for holiday cocktail parties, the rosemary is very interesting and matches great especially with pecans - I used about 90% pecans vs the other nuts.

See Martha Stewart's recipe for Roasted Rosemary Nuts below! It's so yummy!
Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe here. 

2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I added this myself - add spice to your taste preference!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

When I made it, I had extra butter/sugar chunks and it made for really tasty large brittle-like texture. I made three batches (6 cups of nuts) and had 1 cup leftover, for 11 people. They were delicious the next day, as well, so this is a good make-ahead dish. The problem is it's hard to ever have any leftover! We had impromptu guests a few days later so I made a 1.5 batch and I wish I had made more, it was only 3 people eating but it's mostly gone!

I had a selection of cheese and crackers - Costco had an interesting "tapas" selection of Manchego, Tipsy Goat and Iberico - pre-sliced which was convenient. The Londoner was gross though, I will not try that again! The blue cheese was fabulous though no one liked it plain however it played a key role in my next new appetizer recipe that I tried, which was a big hit - Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese!

I forgot to take a picture, but I used cute bamboo skewers with a twist at one end to secure them. Bacon is obviously delicious and this is a great tapas-style appetizer that is easy to put together and can be served room temperature! I tried this recipe the week before with my mom, half with goat cheese with herbs and half with blue cheese. I liked the herbs but the blue cheese gave the best tang! The dates are sweet like caramel candy, the bacon is salty and smokey, and the blue cheese inside breaks it all up with a tangy bite. Yum! Here is a photo of what they look like from the blog The Sweets Life:

They have the same recipe on their blog that I used from
Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese
1/2 pound bacon cut in half
16 plump medjool dates, pits removed
2 or 3 oz blue cheese

Spoon blue cheese into the center of each date and wrap with a half slice of bacon, then secure with a tooth pick or wooden skewer. Bake in the oven at 375 for 30-40 minutes until the bacon is crispy. If some of the cheese melts out, that's OK. These can be served warm or room temperature and they weren't half bad reheated the next day for leftovers!

Of course your guests who do not like blue cheese will not go for these, as The Husband would not try them, but it's worth it for the rest of us who love blue cheese. For me, I only want one or two of these, but many of my friends really had several and enjoyed them quite a bit.  They are a wonderful addition to a cocktail party especially if you are going for a tapas theme! Try them with your favorite cheese, too. I tried a Danish Blue from Papa Joe's and an American Blue from Costco, both were tangy but the Danish Blue was creamier. I got the dates from Costco as well - I buy these often, the boys and my parents love them!
Finally, I had planned on using my appetizer spoons somehow and was going to make shrimp. However, I eventually decided against it and bought some sushi and put one slice on each spoon and had a few different kinds of rolls for my 18 spoons. I put the soy sauce and ginger on top and there was also wasabi there and everything was ready in a bite-size package - forget the chop sticks! I thought it was a good way to use appetizer spoons with not much effort. I forgot to take a picture the day of so this was just a recreation that I did a few days later.

I was looking up ideas for fall cocktails and came across a Pear / Prosecco combination from Claire Robinson which I wanted to try. This was my "welcome" cocktail and it was pretty tasty though I'm not a big anise/licorice fan. Of course it's more of a girly drink and I wasn't thinking about the fact that most of my guests were either children, pregnant or men. Those of us who tried it enjoyed it and now I have a bottle of pear liqueur to figure out what to do with! I used my mom's gold champagne glasses on a silver tray for presentation. Would I make it again? No. But, it looked cool. As an aside, have you seen these super cute chalkboards I'm using for labeling foods? I saw them at Crate and Barrel a year or two ago and finally got to use them for this party. They came with some chalk but the ziggy pen from my ziggy board worked WAY better! Love it!

Anise and Pear Bubbly
Recipe from Claire Robinson, found here here
2 cups pear nectar
1 cup pear liqueur (recommended: Poire William)
2 star anise
4 bottles Prosecco
16 cranberries
In a small saucepan over moderate heat, add the nectar, pear liqueur and star anise. Bring up to a boil and turn heat off. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then discard the star anise. Cool to room temperature and chill until ready to use.

To serve, drop 1 cranberry to the bottom of each champagne coupe or flute. Add 2 tablespoons of the spiced pear mixture for coupe glasses and 3 tablespoons for the flute glasses. Top with Prosecco and enjoy!

I liked the cranberry floating in the glass. I only opened one bottle of sparkling wine, Asti Spumanti, as that was more than plenty for the two people who were partaking!

After frying our cajun-seasoned (cajun and poultry seasoning rub and creole butter injection) 18 lb turkey for an hour or so, it was perfectly golden brown. I should have taken a picture of it before carving but trust me in saying it had the most beautiful crispy brown skin! Success! Our friend expertly carved it and he did a wonderful job, it looked beautiful on the platter and all of the sides that everyone contributed looked great, too. Finally it was time to eat! We had 11 adults and the 18 lb turkey was just the right size, hardly any leftovers.

I had decided on buffet style serving so the kitchen counter was cleared off and I used my new leaf-cut place mats as a backdrop for the food. Everything was delicious! We had Chris' sausage apple cornbread stuffing, Karen's sweet potatoes, Tom and Gwen's baked garlic green beans and rolls, Megan's cranberry relish and corn, and I finished out the dinner with classic mashed potatoes (inside that adorable ceramic bird serving dish - isn't that adorable?) and gravy. It was all so flavorful, everyone really enjoyed it and we were stuffed, and we haven't even gotten to dessert yet!

I didn't get all the recipes from everyone but everyone totally loved Karen's sweet potatoes - check out her recipe below - I have always wanted to try one of these casseroles with the marshmallows on top and I was so glad she brought this!!

Karen's Sweet Potato Casserole
Yield: 16 servings


2 ¼ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup half and half (may substitute whole milk for a lighter version)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Cooking spray

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

1.              Preheat oven to 375°.
2.              To prepare potatoes, place potatoes in a dutch oven, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until very tender.  Drain; cool slightly.
3.              Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add half-and-half, ¾ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.  Add eggs, beat well (mixture will be thin).  Scrape mixture into a 13” x 9” baking dish coated with cooking spray.
4.              To prepare topping, sprinkle miniature marshmallows over top of casserole.  Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, level with a knife.  Combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in pecans, and sprinkle over potato mixture and marshmallows.  Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

The rolls, butter, gravy boats, cranberries and wine is ready and waiting at the table for us!

Next, let's talk about desserts! Andrea brought a lovely French apple cake which was chock full of apple and Megan made a delicious pumpkin pie from Crate and Barrel / Cook's Illustrated. She had put a lot of work into a homemade crust and the special preparation and wasn't sure about it but I loved it - it came out perfect. I found the recipe online - check it out below:

Pumpkin Pie 

by Cook's Illustrated as seen here.

Serves 8

Why This Recipe Works: Too often, pumpkin pie appears at the end of a Thanksgiving meal as a grainy, overspiced, canned ­pumpkin custard encased in a soggy crust. We wanted to create a pumpkin pie destined to be a new classic: velvety smooth, packed with pumpkin flavor, and redolent of just enough fragrant spices. To concentrate its flavor, we cooked the canned pumpkin with sugar and spices, then whisked in heavy cream, milk, and eggs. This improved the flavor and the hot filling helped the custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust. For spices, we chose nutmeg, cinnamon, and, surprisingly, freshly grated ginger. Sugar and maple syrup sweetened things, but for more complex flavor, we added mashed roasted yams to the filling (switching to canned candied yams streamlined the procedure). To keep the custard from curdling, we started the pie at a high temperature for 10 minutes, followed by a reduced temperature for the remainder of the baking time. This cut the baking time to less than an hour and the dual temperatures produced a creamy pie fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.
Make sure to buy unsweetened canned pumpkin; avoid pumpkin pie mix. If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The crust must still be warm when the filling is added. When the pie is properly baked, the center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. Serve with 
whipped cream.

  • 1 recipe Foolproof Single-Crust Pie Dough (see related recipe)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup canned candied yams, drained
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Lay pie dough on generously floured counter and roll dough outward from its center into 12-inch circle. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it over 9-inch pie plate. Lift dough and gently press it into pie plate, letting excess hang over plate’s edge.
2. Using kitchen shears, trim all but 1/2 inch of dough overhanging edge of pie plate. Tuck dough underneath itself to form tidy, even edge that sits on lip of pie plate. Use index finger of one hand and thumb and index finger of other hand to create fluted ridges perpendicular to edge of pie plate. Wrap dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic and freeze until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Line chilled pie crust with double layer of aluminum foil, covering edges to prevent burning, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake until pie dough looks dry and is pale in color, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and remove weights and foil. Return crust to oven and continue to bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack and let cool slightly. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
5. While crust bakes, whisk cream, milk, eggs and yolks, and vanilla together in bowl. Bring pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to simmer in large saucepan and cook, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Whisk mixture, then pour into warm prebaked pie crust.
7. Place pie on prepared sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake until edges of pie are set and center registers 175 degrees, 25 to 45 minutes longer. Let pie cool on wire rack to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Serve.

Also my mom was nice enough to participate even though she wasn't attending, and she made delicious spice cookies and buckeyes. I also couldn't resist getting some cupcake-shaped chocolates and belgium chocolate cups from Costco just to add some items to the dessert table.

Last but not least, did you see that super cute fruit turkey? This was an idea I saw online and it was one of the first things I did to prepare Saturday and then I covered it and put it in the garage to chill and totally forgot to serve it! I noticed it after all the kids were done eating - oh well - I brought it out at the last minute and we enjoyed most of it the next day as well. I used a pear and jabbed in the skewers and then cut a clementine for the beak and fixed it on with a toothpick, along with the strawberry underneath and a sliced blueberry for the eyes - also fixed on with toothpicks. Cute!

I hope you enjoyed all of my fall recipes and Friendsgiving ideas! We are very blessed to have wonderful friends and family and very thankful everyone could make it. I hope you try a Friendsgiving or some new recipes for your Thanksgiving meal - let me know your favorite recipes!

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