Friendsgiving is a lot like Thanksgiving—but much more fun. While the trend was initially popularized by displaced millennials who couldn’t afford the airfare home to celebrate with family, Friendsgiving has become popular excuse to enjoy two Thanksgiving dinners—a custom we fully endorse. Ready to plan your celebration? This three-part series is your go-to guide to hosting the ultimate fall feast. From designing the perfect table scape to mixing up boozy beverages to cooking a fabulous, chef-inspired meal, we’ll cover everything you need to know.

Don’t miss the other articles in our Friendsgiving Entertaining Series:

Part I: Simple Decor

Part II: The Drinks

Part III: The Feast

The table has been set, the guests welcomed, and the cocktails stirred. It’s officially time for the main event: the food. For our menu, we asked local chefs and culinary superstars for recipes that highlight classic Thanksgiving ingredients like sweet potatoes and cranberries—in totally unexpected ways. These dishes tip their hat to the staples without adhering to strict tradition, and they’re perfect for a festive dinner party.

The final consideration for a Friendsgiving host is whether to cook all of the food or make it more of a potluck-style event. If you go the latter route, consider assigning attendees specific recipes that play to their strengths. Not only does this make planning easier, it also ensures that you don’t end up with four pumpkin pies and no potatoes. Whichever way you decide to go, many of these recipes can be either partially prepped or fully prepared well in advance, freeing you up to enjoy the company of good friends. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

The Menu:

Simple Roast Chicken

Savory Bread Pudding

Spinach Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette

Bubble & Squeak

Sweet Potato Agrodolce

Johnetta Miller’s Mixed Greens

Pumpkin-Pecan Pie Bars

Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken

Don’t get us wrong: We love the yearly ritual of cooking a turkey. But baking a 20-pound bird is an involved process with plenty of pitfalls—namely, the long cooking time and intimidating carving situation. For this laid-back get-together, we decided to avoid the turkey trouble and go with an easier and equally delicious choice: roasted chicken. Each bird serves two to four people, so you can roast as many or as few as you need (and end up with a manageable amount of leftovers). Our favorite roast chicken recipe is this ultra-simple Thomas Keller classic, which uses little more than salt and pepper for delicious results.

A few more tips for roast chicken success:

  • Quality First: Start with the best chicken you can find. Free-range, organic poultry just seems to taste better.
  • Brine On: If you want an extra juicy, seasoned-to-the-bone bird, let it soak overnight in a brine (a mixture of salt, sugar, spices, and water). We like this recipe. Or, pick up a foolproof brining kit at the Savory Spice Shop.
  • Let it Dry: Though brining guarantees super moist, flavorful meat, it can also leave the skin soggy. To get the best of both worlds, brine the bird two days in advance. The day before the party, remove the chicken from the brine, lightly dry it off with paper towel, and then let it dry out, uncovered, in the fridge until ready to cook. This added step ensures a crispy exterior.
  • Spice Is Nice: You can always jazz up the chicken by rubbing it with additional herbs and spices before cooking. We like to add a few dried, crushed sage leaves, some smoked paprika, or a bit of lemon zest along with the salt and pepper.

Savory Bread Pudding

Stuffing or dressing? Oysters or sausage? Corn bread or white bread? Pepperidge Farm or homemade? Leave the stuffing smack down to your family Thanksgiving and whip up these savory bread puddings for your friends instead. Chef Lon Symensma (of ChoLon and Cho77) dug up this decadent recipe from his days as a chef in New York City. It’s a fantastic accompaniment to the roast chicken, but the abundance of wild mushrooms and fresh greens also make it hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian main dish.

(Serves 4)

8 ounces of sourdough cut into 1-inch cubes (crusts removed)

4 ounces wild mushroom, chopped

1 shallot, chopped


2 ounces leeks

2 ounces Swiss chard

2 ounces spinach

4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1 whole egg

¾ cup milk

¾ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400°. Briefly sauté shallot in butter then add the mushrooms (I sautéed them until they were lightly browned). Julienne and blanch leeks. Separate Swiss chard leaves from the stems and cut or tear into bite-size pieces. Dice the stems and blanch them, then sauté the leaves in butter. Sauté spinach in butter. Combine the shallot, mushroom leeks, Swiss chard, and spinach in a bowl with the bread cubes, Swiss cheese, and half of the Parmesan.

In a separate saucepan, bring milk and cream to a boil. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Crack the egg into a separate, heat-proof bowl, and with a hand blender, slowly add the milk and cream mix. With a spoon, work this egg and cream mixture into the other ingredients and adjust the seasonings. Butter four ¾ cup ramekins and put the mixture inside. (Tip: Gently press the mixture down and compact it to make un-molding easier).

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then un-mold the mixture from the ramekins and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Broil until golden brown and serve.

Spinach Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette

Cranberry sauce—at least the stuff that makes that horrifying sound as it exits the can—is generally pretty unspectacular. But this cranberry vinaigrette from Panzano’s executive chef Elise Wiggins is a different story altogether. She uses the vinaigrette to dress a simple salad of spinach, goat cheese, and walnuts, but it also works as a delightfully zippy condiment (which is helpful, because the recipe makes more than you’ll need for salads). While I’ve taken to using it on sandwiches, it also makes a terrific accompaniment to chef Simon Purvis’ Bubble & Squeak recipe, below.

For the cranberry vinaigrette:

1 cup olive oil

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 cups dried cranberries

½ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup honey

juice and zest of 3 lemons

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and sauté for at least 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then add cranberries, red wine vinegar, honey, and lemon juice and zest, and stir to combine. Place in blender, add remaining olive oil, and blend for 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Spinach Salad

(Serves 4)

4 ounces baby spinach

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

2 ounces walnuts

1 ounce cranberry vinaigrette

Toss all ingredients together and serve immediately.

Bubble & Squeak

Unless you’ve traveled across the pond or dined at Edge Restaurant & Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver, you may be unfamiliar with the traditional British dish of bubble & squeak. Though usually a clever way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, turkey, or vegetables, Edge chef Simon Purvis’ recipe is first-rate enough to merit serving to friends. The key to this deliciously simple recipe is to really let the vegetables and potato caramelize and take on a little color. Oh, and don’t hold back on the butter.

(Serves 4)

5 ounces cooked Brussels sprouts or cabbage

5 ounces cooked diced carrots

4 ounces cooked white sliced onion

12 ounces prepared mashed potatoes

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1 teaspoon chopped garlic salt and pepper

¼ pound butter

2 teaspoons olive oil

Start by heating a nonstick pan to a medium heat. Add the olive oil, onion, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and thyme. Season evenly with salt and pepper. Toss the ingredients in the pan so that they start to lightly color.

Add the mashed potatoes and combine in the pan with the other ingredients. Spread out the mixture evenly so that the potato starts to become golden brown. Incorporate the butter by putting in on to the side of the pan so that it melts into the potato. (You should start to see some bubble and squeak action now.) Lightly stir the mixture to allow other parts of the mixture to color. Once you have some good color remove from the pan and serve desired portion size.

Chef Purvis recommends serving the bubble & squeak with a scoop of chilled cranberry compote, but it’s also nice with a bit of the cranberry vinaigrette from above.

Sweet Potato Agrodolce

While sweet potato casserole with marshmallows will always have a special place on the Thanksgiving table, we really can’t stomach it more than once a year. But when chef Paul Reilly of Beast & Bottle shared this light, balanced sweet potato recipe with us, we knew we had to try it out. Not only is it a sophisticated and delicious alternative to the dessert-like casserole, it’s actually supposed to be served at room temperature, meaning it won’t hog valuable stove or oven space when you’re putting the finishing touches on the meal.

(Serves 6 or more)

4 pounds sweet potatoes, diced, skin on

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

½ teaspoon red chile flake

1 garlic clove, sliced thin

¼ cup torn mint leaves

Preheat oven to 475°. Toss sweet potatoes in olive oil and lay on sheet tray, but do not overcrowd (I used multiple sheet trays and seasoned the sweet potatoes lightly with salt). Roast for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all of the remaining ingredients to make a vinaigrette. As soon as the sweet potatoes come out of the oven, place in a serving bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them. Adjust the seasoning, and serve at room temperature. Tip: I added a little extra olive oil to the vinaigrette mixture in order to fully coat all of the sweet potatoes.

Johnetta Miller’s Mixed Greens

Round out the Friendsgiving table with local author and “soul-food scholar” Adrian Miller’s recipe for rich, porky mustard and turnip greens. This recipe hails from his James Beard-award-winning book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, but originally, it was passed down to him from his late mother, Johnetta Miller. “Given our Arkansas and Tennessee roots, my family always surrounds our turkey with soul food and southern food side dishes,” Miller says. Perhaps this recipe will incite a new Friendsgiving tradition of your own.

(Serves 8)

2 smoked ham hocks or smoked turkey leg or wings (about 1 pound)

1 1/2 pounds turnip greens

1 1/2 pounds mustard greens

1 tablespoon granulated garlic or 2 minced garlic cloves

1 medium onion, chopped

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

pinch of baking soda

Pinch of sugar

Pinch of salt

Rinse the hocks, leg, or wings, place them in a large pot, and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the meat is tender and the cooking liquid is flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes. The meat from the hocks, leg, or wings may be removed from the bone, chopped up, and mixed backed in with the greens at the end of the cooking process or the meat may be discarded.

Meanwhile, remove and discard the tough stems from the greens. Cut or tear the leaves into large, bite-sized pieces. Fill a clean sink or very large bowl with cold water. Add the leaves and gently swish them in the water to remove any dirt or grit. Lift the leaves out of the water and add them to the hot ham stock, stirring gently until they wilt and are submerged.

Stir in the onion, pepper flakes, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

Simmer until the greens are tender, about 30 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Pumpkin Pecan Pie Bars

“I am one of those people who needs a slice of both pumpkin and pecan pie on Thanksgiving. I can’t have just one,” says Kelly McGeehan, exectutive pastry chef and cake artist at Sugarmill. She created these bars, which incorporate layers of both pecan and pumpkin on a brown sugar oat crust, to satisfy her craving. The bar format makes serving these to your guests a snap, and they tend to disappear quickly.

Note: I halved McGeehan’s recipe so that it fits in a 9-by-13-inch pan.

(Makes 12 very large bars; I cut them into 24 smaller squares)

For the Brown Sugar Oat Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup oats

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter, soft

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl until soft crumbs form. Press into a 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper. (Tip: Make sure to liberally grease the parchment paper before pressing in the oat crust to avoid sticking.)

Bake for about 15 minutes. At this point, the crust should not be baked all the way through, just sturdy enough that when you scatter pecans on top, they don’t sink in.

For the Pecan Filling

3 ounces butter

1 ¼ cups brown sugar

3/4 cups corn syrup

vanilla extract (I used 1 teaspoon)

pinch of salt

3 eggs

2 cups pecans, chopped into pieces

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt until the brown sugar crystals have dissolved and the mixture is quite warm.

Temper the eggs: Adding the eggs to a separate, heatproof bowl and whisk while pouring a small amount of the hot butter-sugar-corn syrup mixture into it. Return the mixture back to the pot and whisk on medium heat until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and strain the mixture into another bowl.

Distribute pecan pieces evenly over the par-baked crust. Pour warm pecan filling over the pecans. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until slightly set. Again, the filling at this point should not be all the way baked.

For the Pumpkin Filling

3/4 cups white sugar

1 ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (combination of cloves, cinnamon, and ginger)

pinch of salt

2 eggs

1 14-ounce can of pumpkin purée

1 8-ounce can of evaporated milk

In an electric mixer, combine eggs and sugar. Add pumpkin, and mix well. Add evaporated milk and spice. Scrape and mix until thoroughly combined.

Pour on top of slightly cooled pecan pie filling. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until almost set. Take out of oven when still slightly jiggly in the very center. Allow bars to cool to room temperature, and then transfer to the refrigerator and allow to cool for at least 4 hours. Cut, and serve with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream if desired.

Time Line:

Two days before: Brine chicken. Make cranberry vinaigrette. Cook mashed potatoes and vegetables for the bubble & squeak, store separately.

One day before: Remove chicken from brine and return to fridge, uncovered, to allow to dry. Make mixed greens, dice sweet potatoes for agrodolce and store in the fridge. Make the pecan-pumpkin bars and store in the refrigerator overnight.

Morning of: Assemble spinach salad. Roast sweet potatoes and mix with vinaigrette, keep out until ready to serve. Assemble bread puddings.

A couple of hours before: Roast chicken(s).

Just before serving: Warm mixed greens, make bubble & squeak, bake bread puddings, toss salad.

Shop it:

Of course, thanks to Denver’s dedicated arsenal of gourmet shops and purveyors, you could plausibly pull the entire dinner party off without actually cooking a thing. If that’s the direction you want to take, here’s where to shop and what to buy.

Marczyk Fine Foods: Not only will you find all of the fall produce you need at both Marczyk locations, the shop also offers an entire pre-made Thanksgiving menu from sweet potatoes with pecans to Parker House rolls by the dozen.

Tony’s Market: Tony’s Market will go to the trouble of cooking the turkey for you, in your choice of brined and roasted or Cajun fried. Also, don’t miss the green beans amandine.

Il Porcellino Salumi: Poultry not your thing? Pick up a maple-mustard glazed ham at this new cured meat emporium in Berkeley. Or, for an effortless appetizer, consider stocking up on the made-on-site charcuterie like coppa and chorizo, and don’t forget accoutrements like crackers and pickles.

Western Daughters Butcher Shop : While you’ll find a meaty selection including smoked, pasture-raised turkeys, leg of lamb, and dry-aged meats at Western Daughters, they’ve also got you covered with staples like rendered fats, eggs, broths, and gravy.

Modern Gingham Preserves: Though any of Kathy Lee’s conserves would be a welcome addition to the spread, the limited edition organic cranberry and orange compote makes a mighty fine substitute for ho-hum cranberry sauce. Order online or find Modern Gingham at the Sugar Plum Bazaar.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out our Friendsgiving Pinterest board.

(Read all the articles in our Friendsgiving Entertaining Series)

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.