Gaby Dalkin, the cookbook author and genius behind What’s Gaby Cooking, has been called the “Queen of Friendsgiving” because of her annual forty-person bash that managed to feel intimate even in the Before Times. This year, of course, will be different, but as she says, “2020 is a year like we’ve never had before, so let’s do everything we can to make the most of it.” Wise words from someone that always looks for the positive and rolls with the punches.
With a smaller guest list of her local pod, she kept things easy by serving appetizers and cocktails. Anything but boring, she put new twists on classic comfort foods like pigs in a blanket and spritzes for a California-cool take on Friendsgiving that is perfect for 2020. Read on for her expert insights, tips, and recipes from her collaboration with Williams Sonoma.
You’re known as the queen of Friendsgiving. Tell us about your tradition!
It’s a great opportunity to have all my friends over and treat everybody to a really nice meal. For a typical Friendsgiving, I usually invite around 40 people. I take care of all the food (and just ask friends to bring dessert). I create a magical setting outside and do everything to help guests chill, relax and have an amazing evening. I wish I could do the same thing this year, but clearly, that can’t happen.
It’s definitely a different world – and changing every day. How will this year’s Friendsgiving be different for you?
We’re going to do a great real-life Friendsgiving with two of my best friends. Our parents don’t live here – and of course, we don’t want to have an elaborate party with a big group people at our house right now, given the circumstances. So we’ll just serve up amazing cocktails and apps with everyone’s favorite flavor profiles. This year, it’s all about small, intimate gatherings.
2020 is serving up changes for a lot of people. It can be hard to get together – yet friends and traditions are more important than ever. What’s your advice on dealing with that?
I think the best way to wrap your mind around dealing with this year is to focus on what you do have. For instance, maybe you have your kids with you as they’re homeschooling or distance learning. This is a great chance to sit down, talk about food and get kids involved in the kitchen. You have the luxury of time to cook together and enjoy a great meal.
You’re a California girl. What’s your California mantra for staying relaxed, hopeful and balanced, even when life can feel a bit crazy?
My motto is that every day you wake up with the choice of whether you want to be stressed out or happy and carefree. I think, especially this year, we have to just roll with the punches. Sure, we have to acknowledge that we all can’t see our grandparents and other important people in our lives. But that’s the reality of 2020, so let’s focus on making the best of everything we have.
Tell us about your menu and how created it.
I love the combo of small bites and big fall flavors – and the idea of retro comfort food ties in perfectly. This year is going to be more casual and relaxed than ever. We’ll all be home, hanging out with a few select loved ones. So rather than sitting down to a huge meal, I’m going heavy on finger foods with everyone’s favorite autumn flavors. That way, you get a feeling that’s reminiscent of Thanksgivings past – and you might be starting a new tradition.
Are your recipes riffs on foods you loved as a kid?
I love creating fun finger foods that are reminiscent of yesteryear. My menu definitely riffs on childhood favorites – and it has something for everyone. I mean, who doesn’t love pigs in a blanket? Right now, when a lot of us are missing our families, it’s a great way to cook up some comfort.
What are your secrets for great celebration shortcuts?
My whole kitchen is stocked with Williams Sonoma foods, because they make everything easier. I think the Williams Sonoma stuffing is ridiculously good. If you’re going to make a turkey, the brines are phenomenal. Those are my two Thanksgiving favorites. In general, stock up on great oils, vinegars, salts, seasonings and other essential stuff. This makes it so simple to throw together anything you like, because you’re always armed with the basics of great flavor.
What else are you doing to boost everyone’s spirits?
Celebrate with cocktails! You can’t go wrong with my Blood Orange Peach Two Ways and Bloody Mary Shooters. I feel like these are the ultimate cocktails because you can prep them ahead of time. Stock your bar with the mixers and don’t worry about doing anything yourself – just relax and enjoy your day!
You’re great at not being a stickler for perfection–and embracing what you’ve called “perfectly imperfect.” Any other tips?
I’m always great with the mindset that things can be perfectly imperfect. Basically, go with whatever works! This is a super-casual, accessible way to celebrate. You’re with a few people you love, just mingling and enjoying great food.
Any advice for celebrating Friendsgiving online?
If you’re doing this on Zoom, you can be proud about showing off appetizers like pigs in a blanket and dipping them in the chutney – and everyone can be good-naturedly jealous. Or share the recipes ahead of time so everyone can make the same thing, whatever city they’re in.
Tips on holiday celebrations going forward?
I think we should all just play it by ear. Start by seeing how Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving go. Say, does a Zoom or other virtual get-together work well for you? Or are you celebrating in person? Figure out Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s gatherings from there. I also think it’s so special right now to be able to focus on spending time with people we love – whether it’s just you and your partner or extended family or friends in your quarantine bubble. Whatever you do, celebrate and make the most of it
Get Gaby’s Friendsgiving recipes on William-Sonoma
Gaby’s Shrimp Cocktail: Instead of turkey, whip up some apps to enjoy while you Zoom. Gaby loves a simple retro shrimp cocktail, especially when it’s paired with Bloody Mary shooters.
Bloody Mary Shooters: This fun and festive drink combines fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic and savory spices with cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.
Blood Orange Peach Two Ways: Inspired by the classic spritz, Gaby created an original mix of vibrant blend of peaches, blood oranges, lemons and a bit of agave syrup for natural sweetness.
Everything Pigs in a Blanket: Gaby puts a fresh spin on pigs in a blanket by swapping in kielbasa sausages for the traditional hot dogs and sprinkling the pastry with her This is Everything Seasoning, a versatile combo of garlic, onion, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. Dip these savory bites in Dijonnaise, a robust blend of mayo and two kinds of mustard.