Friendsgiving brunch: A November menu to eat outdoors

Perhaps we call it Friendsgiving because saying “I’ve got too much gratitude in my heart for a single day to encompass” isn’t very catchy. Or maybe the blending of the words “friends” and “Thanksgiving” has taken on increasing popularity since its introduction circa 2012, because Thanksgiving is now a holiday with a season all its own.

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

The month of November might be when stores go full-Christmas in their soundtracks and decor, but there is an undeniable appeal to languishing in the simple, cozy, food-focused traditions of Thanksgiving before we become shopping and gift-wrapping crazed. In fact, my family’s tradition for years before the portmanteau was ever uttered is to host friends for a leftovers feast on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, eking out that last bit of gratitude and joy before we embark on December’s festivities.

Debate exists around when Friendsgiving ought to take place. And while it isn’t an official holiday, formal advice suggests Friendsgiving be a meal with friends the weekend before the big day. I say any weekend during the month of November works. I’ve embraced Friendsgiving as an opportunity to serve a meal clearly inspired by the Thanksgiving menu but with enough differences that our feast on that last Thursday of the month remains an unrepeated one. A Friendsgiving Sunday brunch fits the bill just right.

With four Sundays in November, you have several opportunities for hosting. Given that my friends and I remain more comfortable with outdoor gatherings, a brunch allows us to take advantage of the warmer afternoons we enjoy in November. We eat outside at a table dressed for the weather with sheepskin-adorned benches. Candles and china elevate our rustic dining space for the celebration. An outdoor heater and basket of blankets sit nearby just in case. We play cornhole, incite teen eye-rolls by dancing to Dua Lipa, catch up on life and relax.

Something chilled, something hot

The menu is full of familiar flavors of the season. Warming spices of cinnamon and ginger, tangy cranberry, sweet potatoes and turkey are all featured in this brunch for eight. Some of the recipes can be prepped in advance, making this a meal you could do all on your own. As potluck is the custom with Friendsgiving, consider assigning the dishes to guests.

When guests first arrive, I like to have drinks ready to greet them – a sparkling wine with juice mixers (or just the juice for underage guests) and a hot chai tea. I keep these options available throughout the brunch

I prefer Prosecco for brunch because it is a great value and the ideal sparkling wine for mixing with fruit juices such as cranberry, pomegranate or orange. The pink hue of Prosecco Rosé looks particularly appealing alongside the soft tones of turning foliage, decorative gourds and bright skies this time of year.

Prosecco Rosé is fairly new on the wine scene, having only this year become an approved version of Prosecco by the Italian governing bodies that determine what classifies as Prosecco wine. The pink fizz is having a real moment. Like traditional Prosecco, Prosecco Rosé is made in the Charmant method – undergoing secondary fermentation in tanks and bottled under pressure. All Prosecco is made primarily with Glera grapes. In the case of the rosé version, a small amount of a red grape is also allowed to be pressed and fermented with the white Glera grapes. Notably, the bubbly doesn’t get its color from the red grapes – their juices are pressed out of the skin before fermentation – but instead from some still red wine added later in the production process.

With its intoxicating baking-spice aromas and soul-nourishing flavors, spiced chai makes for a fabulous Friendsgiving drink. The hot, sweet tea cast its spell on me in my teen years. My sister-in-law would take me to a cafe down the street from where she and my brother lived. Her friend, Dipak, worked behind the counter and would serve us the most warming and flavorful chai. To this day, his chai stands out as the best I’ve ever had. I’ve adapted online recipes to create my version, at left.

This Friendsgiving brunch menu includes prep-ahead dishes but also requires some day-of activity. Bake the scones in the morning and assemble the salad at meal time. The scramble needs to be made right before serving it. For an easy meat addition, brown slices of Diestel Turkey’s breakfast sausage. Add a fruit salad, cheese board and store-bought baked goods if you’re looking to stretch this menu to feed more. When ready to eat, serve the food as a buffet or family style, with each person helping themselves.

Spiced Chai

  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced into rounds
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 8 cups water
  • 8 bags black breakfast tea
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar

Combine first five ingredients in saucepan and smash a bit with wooden spoon. Add water and bring to boil. Remove saucepan from heat. Add tea bags and allow to steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, stir in sugar until it dissolves and then add milk. Place in insulated thermos or carafe and serve hot.

Alternatively, chai can be made the day before. Refrigerate it overnight and reheat in saucepan.

Cranberry Orange Scones

  • 2 cups flour, plus some for kneading
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup frozen, unsalted butter, grated
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange

Prepare dough day before brunch. Remove butter from freezer and grate with box grater. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Zest orange and set aside. Place cranberries in small bowl and squeeze orange juice over dried berries. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. When mixed, using two butter knives, cut in grated butter until mixture resembles sand.

In separate bowl, mix together egg, vanilla and buttermilk. Fold gently into flour mixture. Once incorporated, add zest, cranberries and orange juice and mix.

Pour dough onto floured surface. Knead one or two times and then form into roughly 8-inch disk. Score eight cuts in dough, wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 400 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut dough into eight scones, placing 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Brush small amount of buttermilk on each scone and sprinkle with sugar if you’d like.

Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Harvest Green Salad

  • 1 large fennel bulb, cleaned and diced
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1 cup orange slices
  • 1 cup toasted almonds
  • 1 cup washed frisée
  • 1 cup washed arugula
  • 1 cup radicchio
  • 1 cup butter lettuce or other mild greens
  • Citrus vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 425 F. Place diced fennel and butternut squash on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes. Cool, then store in refrigerator overnight.

Wash and dry greens. Place in large salad bowl, scatter fennel, butternut squash, dried figs, orange slices and almonds.

When ready to eat, dress with your favorite citrus vinaigrette. I like: 1/4 cup olive oil, one tablespoon Champagne vinegar, juice of 1 orange, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add all to small bowl and mix well.

Sweet Potato Scramble

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium cooked and peeled sweet potato (I roast mine whole the day before)
  • 2 cups baby spinach, washed
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 ripe avocado

Aleppo pepper, za’atar, salt and pepper to taste

Heat large skillet over low heat. Add butter; when melted, add beaten eggs. Cook until eggs begin to set, but remove from pan before fully cooked. Set aside.

Return pan to heat and increase temperature to medium. Add olive oil. When glistening, add bell pepper, spinach and sweet potato and cook 7-10 minutes. Fold eggs into mixture.

Season with za’atar, salt and pepper and fold gently. Place slices of goat cheese atop scramble and place under broiler until cheese is slightly browned (2 minutes).

Garnish with avocado and pepper to taste.


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