Friendsgiving, a potluck with pals

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fall sourdough pizza with acorn squash, broccoli rabe, kale, mushrooms, sage, brown butter, sage on sourdough crust (recipe at right) is by Trent Shaskan of Icon Bread.
Fall sourdough pizza with acorn squash, broccoli rabe, kale, mushrooms, sage, brown butter, sage on sourdough crust (recipe at right) is by Trent Shaskan of Icon Bread. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

A popular new Thanksgiving tradition has nothing to do with what’s on the table, but rather, who’s around it. Friendsgiving – a gathering of friends over a potluck dinner held before (or after) Thanksgiving Day – has become increasingly trendy among young people who want to spend time with pals around the holiday.

Appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts and drink responsibilities typically are divvied up among guests in advance, and formats can range from a casual cookout with paper plates to a seated dinner with fine china.

Retailers and pop culture are jumping on the bandwagon. This season, IKEA store design experts are offering tips on how to maximize space for Friendsgiving with folding chairs and strategically placed tray tables. Target is promoting #friendsgiving party supplies (yep, there’s a hashtag). And Chip and Joanna Gaines, of HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame, featured Friendsgiving ideas in the premiere issue of their magazine, The Magnolia Journal, which hit stands last month.

Tanglewood, Texas, residents Katherine and Jeff Proctor experienced their first Friendsgiving five years ago when a buddy from Minnesota hosted the gathering before heading home for the holidays. They’ve hosted the annual event in their home the past two years, drawing around 30 guests.

“We saw a few other people on social media doing it and decided we wanted to do it,” says Katherine. “We usually host it on a weekend when TCU has an away game, because there are so many TCU alumni in our group. It really does revolve around watching football and it’s an all-day thing. People come and go from about 10 a.m. to late in the night.”

The Proctors’ Friendsgiving has a tailgate theme, with Jeff and his buddies handling meats and main dishes on a friend’s custom-built smoker while Katherine and her friends coordinate sides and desserts. Entrees have ranged from brisket and ribs to venison and elk, and there is a fried turkey every year.

“It’s also fun to let everyone bring their traditional dishes from their own families,” she says. “It’s fun to hear what’s a staple at their Thanksgiving. One year, we had tamales and Mexican food.”

Seating is typically “a free-for-all,” Katherine says, adding that tables are set up both inside and out, if the weather is nice.

“At my brother’s Friendsgiving, they set up one long table and everyone sits down at the same time for dinner,” Katherine says. “Ours is a lot more casual. The biggest difference now is that there are kids involved. Next year, there will be almost as many kids as there are adults, which will be really fun.”

Carley and Brandon Moore, both of Fort Worth, will host their third Friendsgiving this year. She, too, says the number of children in attendance is growing, so a baby sitter is hired to help. The first year, a group email “went back and forth about 100 times” to coordinate the menu, says Carley.

She now uses that original email to assign dishes in advance. Several tables are set up around the house and festive paper plates are used with real silverware. “For us, we want the point to be to get together and not make it stressful over how fancy it is,” says Carley.

Fall sourdough pizza

Serves 2-4

Trent Shaskan was raised in Northern California, where he grew up eating sourdough bread that he says he was inspired to replicate after moving to Fort Worth. He spent months perfecting his recipe and launched Icon Bread this year, specializing in sourdough products and selling at farmers markets. Pick up his sourdough pizza dough – or any premade fresh pizza dough – to make this rustic fall pizza recipe. “It’s pretty,” says Shaskan. “It has a great aroma and it’s very striking. But don’t have high standards on the shape. It’s not going to be a perfect round or a perfect square.”

From Trent Shaskan, Icon Bread,

1 large acorn squash, cut into 1/2-inch rings

6 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced

Olive oil, as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

One 16-ounce fresh pizza dough, sourdough preferred

Flour, for dusting

4 tablespoons butter

4 cups kale leaves, torn into large pieces

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped sage

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Rub acorn squash and mushrooms with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on an oiled baking sheet and roast vegetables until tender and browned. Reserve.

On a lightly floured surface, stretch or roll dough into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle or oval (or as large as will fit on baking sheet). Transfer dough to an oiled baking sheet.

Melt butter in a sauté pan and continue to cook until slightly browned and aromatic. Pour browned butter into a dish and reserve.

In the same pan, sauté the kale in olive oil until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta with chopped sage, salt and pepper. Scatter vegetables on top of pizza dough and dollop with ricotta. Bake until crust and ricotta are golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved brown butter and serve.

Chocolate mousse with cookies and persimmons

Serves 10

Jen Williams, who gained tenure in Fort Worth as executive chef at Magnolia Cheese Co. and Sera Dining & Wine, says Thanksgiving was always a potluck filled with friends, and that her grandmother set a high bar as a hostess. “She had everything color-coordinated and put together. It was always an event,” says Williams, who now cooks at Dallas’ acclaimed Lucia in the Bishop Arts District. “It was a fun experience growing up like that.” She shares a recipe for an impressive dessert that’s well worth the prep time.

Chocolate mousse:

6 cups heavy cream, divided

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

9 tablespoons sugar, divided

12 egg yolks

21 ounces dark chocolate, or chocolate of choice

Maple-pecan meringue cookies (see recipe at left)

2 to 3 persimmons or oranges, peeled, sliced and reserved for garnish

Heat 2 1/4 cups heavy cream with vanilla bean and 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar until sugar has dissolved and vanilla is steeped.

While vanilla is steeping, whisk yolks and remaining sugar together until yolks turn a pale yellow.

Temper hot cream gradually into egg and sugar mixture. Return mixture to the pot, whisking constantly over medium-low heat until consistency coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Use the same pot as a double boiler to melt chocolate in a stainless-steel bowl. Once chocolate is fully melted, strain warm cream mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into melted chocolate. Whisk until incorporated. Cool in refrigerator until well chilled.

Whisk remaining 3 3/4 cups heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold into cold chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate immediately.

Assembly: Transfer chocolate mousse to a large serving bowl and top with meringue cookies and fresh persimmons. If persimmons are slightly underripe, sprinkle with a little sugar and salt to bring out the natural flavors.

Maple-pecan meringue cookies

From Chef Jen Williams, Lucia, Dallas,

1 cup pecans

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup sugar

7 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/4 cups maple syrup

Heat oven to 225 degrees. You will need parchment paper or a nonstick pan or cookie sheet.

Combine pecans and cornstarch in a food processor, grinding into a powder. Add half the sugar and set bowl aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat egg whites on medium-high speed. Mix until whites are frothy and no liquid remains. Add cream of tartar and whisk for an additional 2 minutes. Add remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time with at least a minute between addition, allowing meringue to fully incorporate each tablespoon.

Reduce maple syrup on medium-low heat until it has become gummy and extra sticky. Add hot syrup mixture to whites, streaming down the side of the bowl as close as possible. Continue to mix after all syrup has been incorporated, for about 5 minutes or until the meringue gains about three times its original volume.

Gently fold in pecan mixture, scooping from the bottom to the top and rotating your bowl. Take a pastry bag or two spoons and drop meringues onto nonstick tray and bake 1 hour, rotating frequently. After 1 hour, lower temperature to 200 degrees and bake for another hour.

Baked brie with cherries, pecans and agave-maple drizzle

Serves 8-10

Kalen Morgenstern has hosted many Friendsgivings and says she likes to divert from traditional Thanksgiving menu items. Cherries, pecans and sage make this pretty fall appetizer suitable for December holiday gatherings as well. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

– Chef Kalen Morgenstern,

1 16-ounce brie wheel, rind trimmed

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup dark agave syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

1 orange, zested and juiced

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup dried cherries

3/4 cup chopped pecans

4 sprigs sage, minced

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place brie on a baking sheet or in a large cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Heat until softened, about 12-15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.

In a saucepan, combine remaining brown sugar, agave, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, citrus juices and butter. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add dried cherries and pecans.

Pour mixture over the warm brie. Sprinkle with citrus zest and sage for garnish.