Joy Wilson Shows Us How She Hosts Friendsgiving

Joy Wilson Make-Ahead Friendsgiving
Photo: Alison Goote; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

Friendsgiving allows the cook a little more creative freedom than a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Joy Wilson hosts an annual meal that includes a top-your-own mashed potato bar as well as mini turkey pot pies. Follow her on Instagram: @joythebaker.

01 of 07

What is Friendsgiving?

Joy Wilson Make-Ahead Friendsgiving Menu
Photo: Alison Goote; Styling: Suzaonne Stirling

I always thought Friendsgiving was forced. It felt like an ill-conceived potluck meal on a day meant to gather all of the joys and dramas of family around a big baked bird served once a year on Grandmother's good china. Friendsgiving seemed more like a hashtag than a tradition, and I didn't know what to do with it.

And then I moved. Four years ago, I packed up my car and relocated with my cat from California to New Orleans for change, for adventure, and simply because it's a magical place that called to me.

But leaving family is never easy, especially when the holiday season rolls around. It's also not always feasible to hop on a plane for Thanksgiving. So, after a few years of calling the Crescent City home, I knew it was time to create my own version of Turkey Day.

New Orleans is a place with deep traditions that involve bringing the community together, and for thousands of us in the city, the holiday starts out at the racetrack. Instead of fretting over turkey-basting all morning, we dress up in our finest fall outfits (fancy hats included) and head to the track to watch the horses, sip Bloody Marys, and reconnect with friends we may not have seen since the summer.

02 of 07

New Traditions

Joy Wilson Make-Ahead Friendsgiving
Alison Goote; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

Now I understand it. Friendsgiving is all about the people sitting around the table, the friends you've chosen to become your family, and celebrating those new bonds with fresh holiday traditions—and, of course, plenty of Pumpkin Layer Cake with Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting.

03 of 07

Fun Punch

Joy Wilson Thanksgiving Rum Punch for Friendsgiving
Photo: Alison Goote: Styling: Suzonne Stirling

When you're hosting a crowd, a punch is a great way to keep things simple and let guests serve themselves.

Recipe: Thanksgiving Rum Punch

04 of 07

Top It Your Way

Joy Wilson Mashed Potato Bar for Friendsgiving
Photo: Alison Goote; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

It is so easy to set up a Mashed Potato Bar when you're throwing a casual Thanksgiving dinner. Put out some classic toppings like sour cream, Cheddar cheese, chives, and bacon and let your guests pick their favorite toppings for creamy mashed potatos.

Recipe: Mashed Potato Bar

05 of 07

Crowd-Pleasing Pot Pies

Mini Turkey Pot Pie Recipe with Dressing Tops
Alison Gootee; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

Instead of making a traditional roast turkey, Wilson likes to surprise everyone with single-serving (but filling!) turkey pot pies topped with dressing. A 6-inch cast-iron skillet is just the right size and also helps the crust bake up nice and crisp. If your Friendsgiving celebration falls after Thanksgiving, pot pies are a great way to use up leftover turkey, vegetables, and herbs from the big holiday meal.

06 of 07

Perfect Ending

Pumpkin Layer Cake with Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting
Alison Gootee; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

What better way to end a fantastic meal with friends than with this tasty Pumpkin Layer Cake?

Recipe: Pumpkin Layer Cake with Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting

07 of 07

A Make-Ahead Game Plan

Joy Wilson Hosting Friendsgiving
Photo: Alison Goote; Styling: Suzonne Stirling

Prep the meal in stages so you can enjoy the party too!

One Week Ahead:
Assemble the pot pies, and wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Store (unbaked) in the freezer. Bake from frozen as directed. (They may need an extra 10 minutes in the oven.)

Three Days Ahead:
Cook the pancetta; refrigerate in an airtight container, and reheat before serving. Mix the salad dressing; store in the refrigerator. Make the cake, and store it (covered) in the refrigerator.

Two Days Ahead:
Prepare the mashed potatoes; refrigerate in an airtight container, and reheat before serving. Assemble the French Onion Puff Pastry Bites. Store the unbaked bites (covered) in the refrigerator, and then bake as directed. Prepare the cider syrup for the punch; store in the refrigerator.

The Day Before:
Slice the apple and celery for the salad, and place in a bowl filled with lemon water; refrigerate.

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