My Crowded Table

Friendsgiving was wonderful this year. Great food, great friends, great conversation. I went to bed that night with a full belly and a full heart. The next morning we woke up and went to church where I heard a song that brought me to tears because it spoke so closely to my heart, and the things that are important to me. The song is titled “Crowded Table” by the Highwomen. Wow! Here are the lyrics for the chorus of the song:

I want a house with a crowded table

And a place by the fire for everyone

Let us take on the world while we’re young and able

And bring us back together when the day is done

Later the song talks about planting a garden and letting the roots of happiness run deep. It talks about having an open door, where everyone is welcome.

I want this song to by my anthem. I want my home to have a crowded table, where everyone has a place and where we can all come together to relax and regroup after a long day.

Friendsgiving was a small way of me living out the meaning of this song. I had so much fun planning and preparing this meal and sharing it with people I care about. Below are the recipes I used, and a timeline for how I planned out the day. I hope it inspires you to crowd your table not only this Thanksgiving, but throughout the year.

Disclaimer- In the excitement of Friendsgiving, I failed to get pictures of most of the dishes. I guess you’ll just have to make everything yourself to see what it looks like πŸ™‚


Turkey: I followed Bon Appetit’s recipe for “Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roasted Turkey“. Two nights before the meal, I broke down the turkey into various cuts: breast, leg and thigh, and wings. Then you generously sprinkle the skin with a salt brine and let it sit in your refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 24 hours but no more than 2 days. I made sure to bring the turkey out about 2.5 hours prior to cooking it so it could come to room temperature. This helps it to cook more evenly. Then there is a glaze with soy sauce and orange zest that you baste on about every 20 minutes. Since you’re baking it on a sheet pan and the turkey has been deconstructed, you’re left with all the pieces having nice crispy skin but it wasn’t dried out. Even the leftover breast meat was still juicy today when we had it for leftovers. I can’t recommend this recipe enough! I plan on trying it on chicken sometime soon.

Stuffing/Dressing: My family has never been the kind to stuff the turkey. We like to have “dressing” instead, and it usually has a cornbread base. This year I tried New York Times’ recipe for “Rich Cornbread Dressing“. The recipe calls for optional oysters, but I didn’t include those. It’s a base of half cornbread and half crusty white bread. It’s bakes up almost like a custardy bread pudding, but it’s rich in flavor and had a texture that held up well to full gravy overload. I baked mine in the morning, cooled it and refrigerated it. Then I pulled it out to bring it to room temperature when my turkey had about 30 minutes to go. Once the turkey was out, I put the dressing in the oven covered in foil at 350 to warm it.

Stock & Gravy:

Stock– Since I broke down the turkey this year rather than cooking it whole, I was left with the backbone which was still full of meat and fatty skin. I also had the neck from the turkey to utilize. I put all the leftover turkey parts in my pressure cooker with 1 onion, 1-2 TBSP pepper corns, 1 TBSP salt, and a small handful of bay leaves. I covered it with water and set it to pressure cook for 1 hour. I then let the pressure naturally release. I was left with a rich broth that was perfect for making gravy. I did this two nights before the meal, and just kept the stock in the fridge until the morning of to make my gravy. You could totally make the gravy ahead of time as well and just reheat it.

Gravy– Normally I use the pan drippings from the turkey to make gravy, but since there were a lot of strong spices in the rub and glaze of the turkey this year, I didn’t want that to overpower everything on the plate by those flavors also being in the gravy. That’s why I decided to make my own stock and use that as the base for my gravy.

I melted 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan and added 1/2 cup of flour. Add it slowly and whisk the whole time to help prevent lumps. Continue to whisk and cook this over medium until you’re left with a mixture that resembles the color of peanut butter. Congratulations, you just made a roux! A roux is typically equal parts fat (butter) and flour cooked together, and it’s the base to a lot of creamy sauces.

Once you have your roux, slowly whisk in ROOM TEMPERATURE stock. Don’t mix cold stock into your hot roux, or you risk creating more lumps. Add about 4 cups of stock to this mixture and whisk until smooth. Bring it to a boil and simmer until it’s uniform. Then you can refrigerate it and warm it on the stove when you’re closer to meal time. This will solidify in the fridge, so you might have to thin it out with more stock when you warm it on the stove. Add more or less stock to make your gravy more/less thick.

Sweet Potatoes: This recipe is less precise because my Aunt taught me how to make it, and I make it by sight/feel. But here is how I do it!

Peel and quarter your sweet potatoes (cut them like you would a potato wedge). I used 5 large potatoes and that easily fed 7 people with leftovers. Place them in a large saute pan. Add 1/2 cup of butter, 1/4 cup of Karo light corn syrup, 3/4 cup-1 cup of brown sugar and then enough water to cover the potatoes. Simmer them until they’re fork tender. You want the sauce to be thick like a syrup, so if the potatoes are done before that point just transfer them to your baking dish and continue to reduce the sauce. Transfer the potatoes and sauce to a baking dish and top with marshmallows. Broil for a few minutes until the marshmallows are toasted.

Thanks Aunt Debbie for teaching me how to make your sweet potatoes πŸ™‚

Cranberry Sauce: I have been making Ina Garten’s “Make-Ahead Cranberry Sauce” recipe for a few years and I love it! It has orange juice and zest in it and I love the citrus notes that come out in this sauce. It’s a must have on my holiday table.

Rolls: Homemade rolls are always a highlight of the holiday table with my family. Some of my favorite cooking memories are shared in my Aunt Debbie’s kitchen, rolling out the bread dough and shaping it into crescents. A few of us work together to roll out the dough, brush it with butter, and shape it into crescents. Then it’s like playing tetris, trying to find a large enough work space to lay out the baking sheets full of crescents as we wait for them to rise. They’re the last thing to go in the oven right before we eat, so when the rolls go in you know it’s almost time! These rolls have become known in our family as “Debbie Rolls” and when it comes to family recipes, it’s easily in my top 5.

But! I will not be sharing that recipe with you today πŸ™‚ I don’t often make Debbie Rolls at home on my own because they are more time consuming to roll out and shape. They also require more oven space to bake multiple sheet trays. Since I don’t have as many hands helping me in the kitchen when I host meals, I usually make a dinner roll where I can fit all of them in one baking dish. Saves me time, and oven space.

I found this recipe for Honey Butter Rolls from Sally’s Baking Addiction a few years ago and it’s become my go-to quick dinner roll. I’ve made them before and they’re a great quick roll recipe that I can bake in one pan. I bake them all in a 9×13 and the get nice and puffed but still pull apart nicely once they’re baked. They’re wonderfully soft on the inside and basically melt in your mouth. Plus you can freeze them! I get to the point where I shape them into rolls, then I place them on a baking sheet and freeze it until they’re solid. Then I put the frozen rolls in a ziplock bag. Pull out as many you need for you meal and you have fresh rolls! I pull them out the night before and place them in the baking dish in the fridge to thaw overnight. Then I bring them to room temperature about 1.5 hours prior to baking.

Mashed Potatoes: Hmmm… I boil potatoes, then mash them with butter and milk and salt and pepper to taste. πŸ™‚ But seriously. I boil peeled potatoes in salted water with a few cloves of garlic. Once they’re fork tender, I drain them and put them in my stand mixer. I use the paddle attachment to beat the potatoes until smooth, adding butter and milk or cream to reach my desired consistency. I usually add about 1/2 cup of greek yogurt or sour cream as well to 5 lbs of potatoes. It just adds a nice tang. Make sure to salt and pepper the potatoes well. Be fancy and garnish with some chives or parsley!

Table Setting

My dining room table isn’t large enough to seat everyone and serve the food, so I put the food on a separate buffet table. Then I have room to decorate a table runner on my dining room table. This year I went with almost all edible decorations including chestnuts, sage, pomegranates, and mandarin oranges. I kept each place setting simple with a folded cloth napkin placed on every plate. Once the meal was finished, we started snacking on the fruit from the table. Everyone loved the pomegranates!

Prep Plan

Two Nights Before: Dry brine the turkey and make your stock.

One Night Before: Bake cornbread, and prepare cranberry sauce.

Day Of: Follow my attached PDF for my Day-Of Thanksgiving Timeline. It’s a detailed timeline for how you can execute the recipes I listed above to serve a meal at 6 pm.

Completing the Meal

Our friends brought deserts, wine, and green beans to complete our meal. One of my friends makes a delicious cranberry pie that I think is going to have to be a permanent resident on the Friendsgiving menu.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank my friends and family and all of those who have shared meals at our table. Having you in our home brings us so much joy. I am thankful for my “crowded table”.


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