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Plan Thanksgiving Dinner for Friends

Recipes from actress Ali Larter based on her Thanksgiving traditions

My husband, Hayes, and I had been married only a year when we decided to host his family for Thanksgiving. There was just one problem: It would be the first Thanksgiving meal I'd cooked. Ever.

After a moment of panic, I realized that I didn't have to go it alone. I decided, as a trial run a week before the big day, that I would host a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for all of my friends. That way, I could test out the recipes ahead of time.

The turkey, as it turned out, was the easy part. The hardest part was the timing. Because I wanted to make so many dishes — a kale salad with pecorino and truffle vinaigrette; a butternut squash soup with sage — I asked my friends to bring partially prepared dishes that could be finished in my kitchen. We then kept one another on track — and managed to get everything to the table on time. Barely!

By the next morning I felt confident that I could cook the best Thanksgiving dinner ever — and a week later, I did.

The next year I again hosted a Friends Thanksgiving, and I continue to do so. Sometimes a dish goes awry, but the event is always casual and fun.

Friends Thanksgiving shows me the blessing that is imperfection. Family Thanksgiving teaches me the blessing that we create. Each of these two traditions has its place in my life, and I cherish them both.

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Thanksgiving (Kang Kim)

Actress Ali Larter's Thanksgiving stuffing calls for sweet Italian sausage and fresh fennel. — Kang Kim

Sausage and Fennel Stuffing

Serves 16

  • 12 cups 1-inch cubes sourdough bread, crust on
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 pounds organic sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4½ cups chopped onions
  • 3 cups chopped fresh fennel
  • 9 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons black pepper
  • 6 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1½ cups half-and-half, divided
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread bread cubes on 2 baking sheets; bake till toasted, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sauté the sausage until browned, 5 to 7 minutes per batch, using remaining oil. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Melt the butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, fennel, garlic, salt and pepper, and sauté until the onions are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage, and mix in the bread cubes.

4. Whisk the eggs, 1 cup half-and-half, Parmesan, broth and parsley in a medium bowl. Pour over the sausage mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to two 9-by-13-inch baking pans and drizzle with remaining half-and-half.

5. Bake, covered, for 25 minutes, then remove foil and bake, uncovered, 20 minutes more.

Nutrients per serving: 462 calories, 26g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 26g fat, 142mg cholesterol, 1,094mg sodium

Squash Soup (Courtesy Amy Neunsinger/St. Martin’s Press)

Add to the table decor and show off a bit, serve butternut squash soup in individual pumpkin bowls. — Courtesy Amy Neunsinger/St. Martin’s Press

Butternut Squash Soup With Crispy Sage

Serves 6

  • 6 cups peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups vegetable broth, or more
  • ¾ cup half-and-half
  • ¾  teaspoon dried sage
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 sage leaves

1. Place the squash in a large pot with the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the squash is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

2. Transfer the squash and vegetable broth to a food processor and puree until smooth. Return the squash to the same pot. Add the half-and-half, dried sage, salt, pepper, and additional broth if needed, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat until heated through, about 5 minutes.

3. To make the crispy sage leaves: Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and a pinch of salt. Saute until crispy, about 1 minute each side.

4. Serve the soup with the crispy sage leaves on top.

Serving Option: Pumpkin Bowls 

  • 3 small sugar pumpkins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkins crosswise into halves and place, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the pumpkins cool on the baking sheet, then remove the insides (reserve for another use) and ladle the soup evenly between the bowls.

Nutrients per serving: 134 calories, 3g protein, 24g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 5g fat (3g saturated fat), 14mg cholesterol, 935mg sodium

pumpkin pie (Courtesy Amy Neunsinger/St. Martin’s Press)

Pumpkin pie with a gingersnap cookie crust combines favorite fall colors, aromas and flavors. — Courtesy Amy Neunsinger/St. Martin’s Press

Pumpkin Pie With Gingersnap Cookie Crust

Serves 10


  • 1½  cups ground gingersnap cookies (25 to 30 cookies)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (½  stick) unsalted butter, melted


  • 3 large eggs
  • 15 ounces canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • ¾  cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½  teaspoon salt
  • ¼  teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cloves

Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar

1. To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the cookies, sugar, ginger, salt and butter in a food processor. Blend until the crumbs are evenly moistened, then press into the bottom of a 9-inch deep pie dish. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then bake the crust until set, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely.

2. To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl, then add the remaining filling ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour into the cooled crust and bake until the filling is set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool.

3. To make the whipped cream: Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream, vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Serve pie with whipped cream.

Nutrients per serving: 340 calories, 5g protein, 38g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 19g fat (11g saturated fat), 108mg cholesterol, 334mg sodium

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