How to Host a Thanksgiving Celebration with Friends

Spiced Cranberry Sauce with turkey and arugula salad on plate
Looking to host your own Friendsgiving? Chef Justin Wangler and his wife Leanne are sharing their favorite Friendsgiving ideas and recipes, plus tips on finding the best wine for the occasion. They'll show you how to host a Friendsgiving party that your guests will remember for years to come. If this is your first time hosting, be sure to check out these tips for your Thanksgiving gathering with friends!

Thanks for Thanksgiving

For the last few years, Justin Wangler, chef for Kendall-Jackson Winery, and his wife, Leanne, have celebrated Thanksgiving by welcoming loved ones to an enormous feast at their tiny bungalow in California. We asked Justin to share the treasured recipes he serves—a mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and inventive variations of old favorites. Now gather up your friends and serve them this tasty Friendsgiving menu this year!

Thanksgiving Shortcuts

Justin prepares his turkey ahead of time so there's less to do on Thanksgiving, and he can focus on his guests. Make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes can be a major lifesaver, especially if you're hosting a large crowd. Besides the turkey, serving make-ahead Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts is also a great way to get a head start on Thanksgiving cooking so you have time to actually enjoy your company.

Justin's Make-Ahead Turkey

For best results, Justin cooks the turkey breast and legs separately. Braising the legs keeps them moist and creates a wonderful stock for gravy. Just like the turkey, you can make homemade gravy the night before and refrigerate it overnight for a much easier make-ahead Thanksgiving meal!

Chardonnay Glazed Carrots

For a fresh twist on this classic Thanksgiving side dish, Justin glazes carrots with verjus, the pressed juice from unripe grapes. It has a sweet-tart flavor and is similar to, but less sharp than, vinegar. This easy Friendsgiving recipe is ready to go in just 40 minutes and serves 8, so you can easily toss it together on Thanksgiving morning.

Savory Butternut Squash Dressing

Say goodbye to dry stuffing recipes. This bread pudding-like stuffing is moist thanks to eggs and cream. For loads of fall flavor, this make-ahead Friendsgiving recipe also makes use of a few other seasonal favorites, like butternut squash, dried cranberries, and fresh sage.

Pear and Arugula Salad

Yes, you can have healthy Thanksgiving food that's tasty enough for seconds! The sweetness of the pears complements the peppery arugula in this festive holiday salad. This quick and easy Thanksgiving side dish is a great way to add freshness to your Friendsgiving meal.

Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Pecans

Instead of a traditional sweet potato casserole, serve up these make-ahead mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. Toasted pecans and sticky-sweet marshmallows top creamy whipped sweet potatoes. This Friendsgiving recipe is part side dish, part dessert—and you'll want to save room for seconds!

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Instead of rushing to finish a green bean casserole on Thanksgiving Day, plan on making this easy side dish instead. You can quick-cook the Brussels sprouts the day before to get a jump on prep work, but even if you don't this Thanksgiving recipe will still only take you 30 minutes on the big day. If you're hosting veggie skeptics for Friendsgiving dinner, these tasty Brussels sprouts will win them over!

Priscilla's Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad

Persimmons might be a new addition to your Thanksgiving menu, but this fresh salad will convince you that they definitely deserve a spot at the table. For a fresh and flavorful holiday salad, Justin tosses persimmons, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, olive oil, and cilantro in lime juice. Jalapeño pepper slices give this easy Thanksgiving side a bit of kick.

Pumpkin Corn Bread

Pumpkin bread, meet corn bread. Our favorite fall bread recipe is teaming up with classic cornbread to make this delicious take on traditional Thanksgiving bread. Masa harina, a fine corn flour, gives this bread light texture with corn flavor. Plus, you can make it up to two days early!

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

This cranberry sauce recipe is so easy to make, you'll never even consider buying canned again. Pinot Noir verjus (the pressed juice from unripe grapes) adds another layer of flavor to traditional cranberry sauce. It's a unique, grown-up swap for canned cranberries.

Pecan-Cranberry Tart with Sweet Buttermilk Ice Cream

Fans of pie and ice cream are sure to fall in love with this Friendsgiving dessert recipe. This tart has all the goodness of pecan pie with a sweet-tart hit from the cranberries. It's served with sweet buttermilk ice cream; buttermilk adds tang to ice cream giving it a frozen yogurt-like taste.

Pairing Wine and Food

"The key to pairing wine and food is to balance the flavors of the two," says Justin. His Thanksgiving wines of choice are Kendall-Jackson's Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay ($16), Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir ($21), and Vintner's Reserve Riesling ($13) because they "have rich layers of flavor and complexity while maintaining a delicate balance."

About Justin Wangler

Justin grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, where he worked in restaurants and attended culinary school. After moving to California, he began spending Thanksgiving with friends. "People are so far flung these days that many of us don't get home for the holidays," he says. "Our friends become our family, and we celebrate with them."

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