I've officially lived in my apartment for 18 months, making my mid-city bungalow the place I've lived in longest next to my childhood home. The past 18 months of my life in Los Angeles have been full of exciting changes: starting a new job I love, getting engaged, applying to graduate school, and more. And through it all, one thing has become more and more clear: Los Angeles feels like home more than any other city I've lived in, and it's all due to the wonderful people I've met since moving here.
This month, I've been feeling sentimental and wanted to give back to all my friends, especially since we'll be headed back East for the actual holiday. With dreams of good food and a lot of laughs (and wine) in mind, I planned my own Friendsgiving, all for under $100.
I was feeling very excited about this party from the second the idea entered my brain and wanted to go above and beyond. Normally, I would just make a group text inviting people over and to BYOB, but this time, I made my own paperless post and invited eight of my closest friends. Over the course of two weeks, five of my friends were fully committed to come, making it a party of seven.
Having a strict budget of $100, I started drafting my shopping list. With the turkey obviously being the most expensive ingredient on the table, I shopped at both Trader Joe's and Sprouts to get a final total of $101.89.
Sadly, I wasn't able to buy new decor within the budget, but I was able to successfully repurpose vintage napkins, vintage champagne glasses, dollar store water glasses, and woven placemats. With a vase of mums, a new fireplace-scented candle, and some matches placed on a vintage cutting board, the table looked special enough for a party.
As you've seen in past posts, my kitchen is a standard, small apartment kitchen. It has one oven, four burners, and no microwave. To plan my meal, I needed to make sure elements were make-ahead, stovetop, or uncooked. For seven people, I settled on two appetizers, turkey, three sides, and one dessert.
Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are my favorite part of any party, and I learned that from my childhood neighbor, Ginger. Ginger hosts weekly cooking classes called The Seasonal Kitchen, where she teaches the art of the cocktail hour. Full of '50s classics and stovetop delights, her classes will inspire you to become a better home chef. Whenever I receive a compliment on a meal, all I have to say is "it's a Ginger!"
- Cranberry Meatballs & Sausage: Although this can feel seasonal, I actually make this dish year-round because it's that easy. To make, combine 1 can jellied cranberry sauce, 3 T. cider vinegar, 2 T. brown sugar, and 1 T. yellow mustard in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the mixture is combined and the cranberry is melted, add frozen meatballs and/or mini sausages. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until you need it! Serve with toothpicks.
- Pumpkin Goat Cheese Crostini: Normally, I would make an ornate cheeseboard à la Emily for this kind of party. To keep costs low, I instead focused on one more elevated cheese and bread dish to satisfy guests without ruining their appetites. Mix 10 oz. goat cheese with 1/2 cup of pumpkin, 1 t. maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Spread over toasted baguette and top with cooked bacon or basil, if desired!
This was the first time I'd ever made turkey, and I was nervous, to say the least. After learning about the conversion of pounds to guests, I started reaching out to local grocery stores to see where I could get the best deal. Ultimately, I decided on Sprouts for my turkey at $1.49 a pound, which is still sadly not as cheap as stores outside L.A. For my sides, I wanted to strike a balance between indulgence and tradition. I opted for some of my mom's famous recipes like her chestnut stuffing, tried new recipes like the carrots, and relied on some back-pocket tricks like my gravy.
- Roast Turkey: The cardinal rule is 2 pounds of meat per guest, and I bought a little bit more because I always want leftovers (duh). After stretching and stuffing the skin with an herb butter I make and topping with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and garlic powder, I proceeded to put some of my stuffing in the bird. I "closed off" (for lack of a better word) the turkey with a piece of bread, and scattered halved lemons and garlic around the sides. After 3 hours and 15 minutes, with frequent basting in between, the turkey was ready to be taken out. I let it sit for an hour before carving and served it on a platter.
- Gravy: Using this recipe, we whipped up a simple gravy to put on top of the turkey. Given the amount of butter used in the meat, it was pretty moist already, but this just brought all the ingredients together.
- Make-Ahead Wild Rice & Chestnut Stuffing: This is my mom's recipe which is perfect since you can make it one to two days ahead! The recipe is super long, so I won't bog down the post with information, but if you'd like it, comment below and I can share there! P.S.: It features chestnuts, cheddar, fresh French bread, and more ;)
- Mashed Potatoes with Crispity Cruncheties: When I saw this in Bon Appetit's Thanksgiving edition, I knew I had to make it. I mean, who doesn't love mashed potatoes and potato chips?? If I hadn't tried this new recipe, I would've made my mom's classic potato dish, complete with Boursin and heavy cream.
- Harissa & Maple-Roasted Carrots: These were so delicious that I'd make them on any weeknight. They're the perfect complement to protein and rich carbs since the spice from the harissa cuts any heaviness.
People on t.v. always talk about the great pumpkin divide: those who love the pie and those who don't. But I've never actually met a pumpkin pie hater in my life, which is why I settled on making one for dessert. Knowing my friends would most likely come with baked goods and wine in hand, I wanted to make something unique, fresh, and savory. I followed this recipe for pumpkin chiffon pie the night before and made fresh whipped cream for the top after dinner. There's no need to overcomplicate something so delicious!
After hosting, I was exhausted and had a new-found appreciation for my mom who somehow does this every single year. Like all first attempts, I came away with a lot of learnings and a few essential tips I'll replicate next year.
1. Start two days ahead if possible: I started Friday night and regretted it when the next 24 hours became a race to get all the food done. Had I started the stuffing on Thursday night, I would've been able to bake a bread or get started on other elements of the meal on Friday.
2. Get your details straight: Don't shop with general descriptions. Write down the exact amount of what you need and separate the list into sections of your grocery store, in the order that you'll shop. You will be in and out in under twenty minutes. Also, I taped my recipes on my cabinets so I didn't have to open my phone every 30 seconds and found there were a lot fewer errors because of it.
3. Consult a turkey expert: How hard can cooking a turkey be? I found out the answer is very. I Facetimed with my mom the entire time as I screamed pulling out the neck and winced in disgust stretching the skin, all while Rob held a flashlight overhead. I also followed strict instructions on cooking and brining. This is not the time to just *wing* it.
4. Have at least one uncooked element: For us, a pumpkin goat cheese was so simple to throw together over two minutes, and we felt relieved knowing that we could already check something off our huge to-do list.
5. Balance out the carbs: The carrots cut the richness of the turkey, gravy, and potatoes so nicely. Usually, spice is nowhere near the Thanksgiving table, but adding harissa into the mix is definitely a tradition I'd like to keep.
6. Clean up every chance you get: This is pretty obvious, but I was so happy that each step of the way we did the dishes. By the end of the night, it only took me 20 minutes to finish cleaning up, and I was able to head to bed without feeling totally worn out.
7. Have pre-dinner entertainment: Since the dinner wasn't quite done when the guests arrived, I had a champagne station ready to go, Christmas records on (it's never too early), and left out a fun film group game for people to enjoy. I was relieved knowing that my guests were entertained, and I didn't have to rush to finish the meal.
8. Make your life easier: Look up little hacks online to save yourself the frustration. We kept our potatoes warm in our instant pot in order to free up the stove, we layered our pie crust in pennies to keep it even, and we bought an aluminum turkey pan (placed on top of a cookie sheet) to avoid a greasy mess in our oven. There are some brilliant hacks out there- do not underestimate them!
It's safe to say I'm equal parts exhausted and excited for the actual holiday next week. What are your Thanksgiving tips? Are you cooking this year? Let me know in the comments! x