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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.

See also: Thanksgiving Survival Guide — Recipes, Tips and Expert Advice

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.

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

Next page: Butternut squash with crispy sage soup and pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust. »

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