The holidays are some of the best times to appreciate all the special people who are a part of our lives throughout the year. And what better way to celebrate than a feast of friendship and food? Friendsgiving is the time to have a gourmet moment and show off the most festive dishes you can create in the kitchen, but it can be a bit daunting if you’re expected to bring a plate and you aren’t a seasoned cook.
We rounded up the most creative versions of all the classic holiday dishes, drinks, and appetizers you can take to your host’s house and impress the crowd, regardless of how difficult it was to execute. And while you’re in the kitchen, read up on our Thanksgiving cooking hacks so you can execute these recipes seamlessly.
The Sparkling Wine to Toast
No holiday meal, or gathering with friends, is complete without a little bubbly, and if you’re a little hesitant in the kitchen or are hopping from one party to the next, picking up a few bottles is your best bet. Try a light classic at a great price point, like Ferrari Trento Brut ($24, wine.com) that you can pop open during the appetizer course and continue sipping throughout the meal. The sparkling Chardonnay pairs well with anything from charcuterie to your favorite desserts (more on pie to come).
An Impressive Cheese Board
If you’re pressed for time or not up for a culinary challenge, you can bring along a simple but classy appetizer. You can put together a killer Italian cheese platter to go with the sparkling wine by hitting up your market’s cheese section and mixing a sampling of soft and hard cheeses, from Gorgonzola and Taleggio to Parmeggiano Reggiano, with these tips from Heartbeet Kitchen. All you have to do is assemble the selection of cheeses on a nice wood board and add your favorite crackers, and even some olives and pistachios to go along with it.
The Dip Everyone Will Be Obsessed With
You’ll win the holiday with this super easy but so impressive smoked salmon dip from Eating Bird Food. It only takes four ingredients: the salmon, red onion, dill, and cream cheese (or almond milk cream cheese to make the recipe dairy-free), which can all be popped in your food processor, pulsed, and brought along right to the party in a plastic container.
Your Go-To Festive Punch
Your fellow Friendsgiving goers may want to skip the wines and go straight to the hard stuff, and in that case, this is the perfect recipe: a cocktail that tastes exactly like fall and looks almost too pretty to drink. Teighan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest created a pumpkin patch punch that will take Friendsgiving to another level. Just beware that this punch isn’t for the faint of heart: in addition to fresh apple cider, pumpkin butter, orange and lemon juices, the recipe also calls for vodka, brandy, and ginger beer.
Savory Bread that Beats Store-Bought
You can really make an impression on your friends by baking your own bread rather than stopping at the bakery. This spiced pumpkin beer bread recipe from Savory Simple incorporates festive pumpkin ale (which you probably have in the house already this time of year). It takes under an hour to prep, including 50 minutes in the oven, which is likely how long you’d spend in line at a bakery during the holiday season.
The Soup Warm-up Course
Many people serve a light, steamy soup to kick off the Thanksgiving meal, so why not bring it to Friendsgiving? You can prepare this cream of chicken soup from Paint the Kitchen Red right in your Instant Pot before bringing it along to the party. The extra creaminess comes from the leeks in the recipe. You can also create this as a Thanksgiving leftover soup—it’s the ideal recipe to throw in all that extra turkey.
A Revamped Caprese Salad
No one wants to eat a simple green salad when there’s so much color already on the table, so if you’ve been assigned a tossed salad, surprise your friends with a riff on a Caprese salad made with an interesting Japanese fruit: persimmon. Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking‘s recipe swaps out the regular tomato for this seasonal fruit and the typical mozzarella for some burrata, topped with pomegranate seeds for a crunchy, colorful hit as well as some garlicky homemade croutons, which can be easily toasted with the leftover bread cubes from the stuffing.
A Hearty Vegan Side
Thanksgiving can be the most challenging holiday of the year to eat vegan, so you have to get strategic in the kind of dishes you make. If you’re vegan or are cooking for a large crew of vegan friends, go with a dish that can serve as another veggie-heavy side for non-vegans, or more of a main dish for the vegans in the house. This cozy braised chickpeas with butternut squash dish from My Name is Yeh is a smart option (plus, if served without the bread on the side, it’s also gluten-free) to keep all guests happy and full, regardless of dietary restrictions.
The Main Wine
A solid wine that pairs with turkey, or any holiday main dish, is essential to the Friendsgiving experience. Ideally, you want to choose something versatile, like a red blend, which is perfect for that warmth and body you crave with your holiday meal, and offers a unique mix of something for everyone. Try out Clos de los Siete, ($18, wine.com) an Argentinian blend of mostly Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, or Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red 2013 ($14, wine.com), an Australian blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot.
Turkey with a Twist
If you’ve been tasked with the turkey this year, take a breath. The easiest way to tackle it and make sure the whole bird cooks evenly is spatchcocking, Stephanie Le of iamafoodblog says. It’s simply flattening the turkey to roast, allowing the skin to get nice and crispy, and the light and dark meat to be equally cooked. This recipe adds a zesty citrus rosemary butter to the top of the turkey to keep it even juicer.
A Solid Stuffing
Stuffing is one toasty side that can never be forgotten on Friendsgiving, and is best homemade. It can be made slightly healthier, and even more flavorful, with the addition of some sauteed delicata squash, like in this recipe from Kim’s Cravings. This version also includes the classic flavors of sausage, with the added crisp of pecans and tartness of dried cranberries.
Transformed Root Veggies
Don’t shy away from the classic root vegetables when it comes to creating an amazing (and healthy) side: sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets are some of the stars of the season. And when seasoned properly, they are anything but boring. In this concoction from Foraged Dish, the root veggies can be cooked in a skillet with the juice of a grapefruit to cut through flavor-wise and a sprig of thyme as an added spice.
Amped-Up Mashed Potatoes
Friendsgiving is the ideal time to experiment with a classic like mashed potatoes to spice things up a bit. Literally, this jalapeño popper mashed potato casserole from The Girl Who Ate Everything kicks up your traditional buttery mash a notch with crunchy jalapeño potato sticks and even adds some cream cheese to the mix to make it even creamier.
The Wildcard Dish
Can pasta have a place at the table for this holiday? Sure, why not—there are no rules at Friendsgiving, especially when this pumpkin bacon mac and cheese recipe from Southern in Law comes into play. The fresh pumpkin purée adds to the creamy texture of the mac and cheese and, of course, adds a fun fall twist, making it a dish you might just add to your regular Thanksgiving rotation.
A Gourmet Cranberry Sauce
Sure, it’s easy to just open up a can and have your sauce ready to go, but an elevated version of the jiggly staple helps you step up your culinary game. The secret ingredient in this full berry cranberry sauce from Oh My Veggies is dried black figs, to balance out the tart cranberries with some sweetness (and cut back on the sugar). This perfectly thought-out sauce is enough to make you never open a can again.
The Star Veggie Side
Don’t worry if you are responsible for bringing a veg to the table—it can be one of the easiest, most flavorful side dishes if it’s done right. Take this roasted Brussels sprouts dish from Sassy Kitchen for example. The once-dreaded sprouts are charred to perfection and tossed with creme fraiche, dill, and a splash of lemon for a vegetable side that will have your friends scooping seconds.
The New Gravy
Not everyone is a fan of the fat-filled gravy made with the turkey drippings, and some of the guests could be vegan, but still want to drench the rest of their plate with the savory sauce. This dairy-free alternative by Vegan Richa leads with spices like ground mustard, garlic, and onion instead of the spices from the meat, and pairs perfectly with a mound of mashed potatoes.
Slow Cooker Creamed Corn
A Friendsgiving meal couldn’t happen without one of the staples of the first Thanksgiving: corn. But if you’re bringing it to a friend’s, don’t just whip it out of a freezer bag. Try this savory creamed corn from Julie’s Eats and Treats, that can simmer right in your slow cooker. The cheddar, whipping cream, and cream cheese make the dish super rich, but totally worth it.
Light Dessert Wine
To keep the party going through the final course, you need a light, refreshingly fruity wine to pour guests. We suggest a bottle that’s sweet, but not too sweet that it’d overpower dessert, like Layer Cake Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, ($18, wine.com). This California wine has notes of both blackberry and vanilla for the subtle sweetness to complement any pie, tart, or cake.
A GF Dessert Option
Dessert gets tricky for those who are allergic to gluten or have Celiac Disease (or are simply trying to steer clear of all the pies), so it’s nice to have a delicious sweet to the end the meal for them as well. A simple gluten-free apple crisp like this recipe from Cookie + Kate, made with almond flour, oats, and a touch of brandy to add some rich sweetness, captures the fresh flavors of fall and won’t make anyone feel like they’ve skipped out on dessert.
A Booze-Filled Pie
Two of the best things about Friendsgiving are rolled into one in this boozy sweet potato pie recipe from A Beautiful Mess. The Southern classic is spiked with bourbon and topped with marshmallows for the most satisfying slice possible. Plus, you can bake it the day before the celebration so that you’re free from your kitchen that day.
Tiny Bites of Pumpkin Pie
You and your friends will probably be super full by the time dessert rolls around, and might just be looking for one bite of your holiday favorites. Bring these pumpkin pie energy balls from Nutritionist in the Kitch to the table, because there’s no doubt your friend group needs a kick of energy after that meal. A healthy, vegan and gluten-free dessert made with satisfying cashew butter, they can be garnished with chocolate chips, coconut flakes, or pepitas for an additional crunch.
For the Chocoholics
Can’t go a single holiday without chocolate? Bring on the Nutella—this pie doesn’t even require baking and will be one of the most decadent items on the dessert table. The recipe from Little Spice Jar only involves 5 ingredients, plus the crust made from crumbled up Oreos and melted butter, and can be easily assembled the morning of the party.
One More Apple Sweet
Thanksgiving desserts tend to flip flop between the flavors of apple and pumpkin, so both need to be adequately represented at the table. These apple cheesecake bars by Desserts with Benefits are actually one of the healthiest dessert options you’ll find—the cream is made with lower fat cream cheese and Greek yogurt, and the bars are sweetened with maple syrup (so they’ll taste less sugary and even more like fall).
A Kombucha Cocktail
Looking to add a few probiotics to the party? Try a boozy version of a trendy beverage: kombucha. If an already-alcoholic ‘booch from brands like Flying Embers, Kombrewcha, Kyla, and Boochcraft isn’t available, you can also turn your non-alcoholic bottle into a cocktail. Simply grab a bottle of GT’s Gingerade Kombucha, Health-Ade’s Jalapeno Kiwi Cucumber, or Humm’s Raspberry Hops, fill up a glass, and then add a splash of your hard liquor of choice: vodka, gin, or rum.
Bring the Festive Decor
If you’re more into DIYing than cooking, take charge of the decorations for the Friendsgiving festivities. In preparation for all the desserts people will bring you can make a fun banner saying “thankful for pie.” Other ideas include printable nametags, group photos that can be framed, cake pedestals to display the large pies, and mini mason jars for tiny versions of the larger holiday favorites.