Happy #Friendsgiving!

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MyVeronaNJ-CranberriesThanksgiving is just about upon us: One of the big three family holidays. But if family isn’t an option, there’s always “Friendsgiving”.

My family has celebrated Thanksgiving with friends for many years and it turns out that lots of other people do too. The hashtag #Friendsgiving seems to be sweeping the Internet and social media sites, as well as online retailers offering the best outfits for the day. Growing up, my family always celebrated Thanksgiving with friends. Always with the same family. Whatever the magic was with them, the memories are fond enough that even when we see each other now, grown and with our own children, we still talk about how great those times were. Clearly, the #Friendsgiving theme worked for us for many years.

There is something special in sharing a holiday with friends regardless of the reason for such a gathering. It’s also easier to share in the work for a holiday meal when you have help without the potential for not quite living up to Aunt Sally’s reputation for the best mashed potatoes this side of the Hudson.

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The trick with such a gathering though is timing and coordination of many components all to be served at the same time, preferably hot, without being a control freak. With a little planning and menu guidance though, it can all work. Here are some ideas, and recipes, to help you put together a successful #Friendsgiving and still be able to enjoy yourself.

MyVeronaNJ-Verona-FlipCocktail Hour: If you’re thinking of inviting a friend who prefers to order in rather than cook, give him or her the wine list. My father used to say the only true American wine is a Zinfandel. As true as that may be, limiting the holiday table to just one kind of wine puts a damper on the fun you can have tasting and comparing wines with friends and food. I like to start a holiday gathering with a cocktail or a little Prosecco first–you can even include a few cranberries or pomegranate seeds for a fall accent. Then, a Zinfandel is a good idea, but feel free to move to the smoother taste of a Pinot noir or Carmenere. Or, have some fun with it and try three or four different Zinfandels from different vintners and different years and have your own little tasting.

Next is appetizers: Your oven will likely be stuffed with a turkey, so a cheese or antipasto plate with some marinated olives is an easy way to start. Manchego with fig jam is delicious and takes very little prep. Both of these items can be prepared ahead of time so guests are not depending on other guests to arrive and then have an appetizer. If you want something hot, and have room on the stove, try a cheese fondue with bread and apples for dipping. It can be made just as people arrive, doesn’t require oven space, and invites conversation around a delicious pot of melted cheese with wine. A perfect accompaniment to Prosecco.

The set-up so far leaves side dishes and dessert. As the host, of course you want to make it as easy as possible for your guests which naturally means that making things ahead of time can be both useful and helpful.

MyVeronaNJ-Crock-It-Butternut-Squash-Soup

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Homemade cranberry sauce can be made two to three days ahead of time, as can any fruit pie for dessert. Apples are still in abundance and while applesauce is not the most traditional food item on a Thanksgiving table, it is great if you have small children attending your gathering. If you’re looking for a soup course to start, Butternut squash soup is always festive and in-season on Thanksgiving, and can be made ahead of time. Two things that can be made on Thanksgiving day in the slow cooker are scalloped potatoes and cornbread casserole. Both make great sides, and depending on how long your cocktail hour goes, the cornbread casserole can be assembled by your guests upon arrival, cooked in a slow cooker and be done on time for dinner.

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Dessert: Next to a stuffed turkey with gravy, this is my favorite part of the meal. Traditional desserts of course are pumpkin pie and apple pie. I’m not much of a pumpkin pie fan, but with a touch of cinnamon ice cream on the side, I might change my mind. Apple pie is more my style and if you’ve never made one before, it’s easier than you think. Just follow this recipe for mixed berry pie and substitute six cups of peeled Granny Smith apples for the mixed fruit. Use a Pillsbury pie crust instead of the shortbread one–no one will know the difference.

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However you decide to work the day, and regardless of how you handle wine tasting and what to make ahead and what to make that day, #Friendsgiving is all about enjoying time together with friends who mean the most. It’s a no pressure kind of event and if a mistake is made, friends can be the most forgiving.

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