Anytime I’m hosting, I have to remember to chill the heck out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature and I always want everything to be absolutely perfect for guests. (BTW – If you haven’t watched this video, please do so immediately. I was crying laughing!) My mom instilled the whole “house needs to be perfect for guests to come over” thing in my head from a young age and I wasn’t until I moved to New York that I had to kind of get over that. There was simply not enough space to store all of my things away, so my apartments just always looked kind of messy. It drove me crazy, and if we’re being honest, it probably (/definitely) partially contributed to my moving back to Chicago.
Now that I have a whole lot more space to work with, entertaining has been one of my top priorities. And I’m slowly but surely starting to feel a bit more relaxed when I’m having people over. I started small and had a few different little cocktail parties over the last few months, but I knew I wanted to step it up for Thanksgiving. I’ve wanted to host a Friendsgiving for quite a few years and I finally made it happen this year. Considering I don’t have a dining table in my one-bedroom apartment, nor do I have enough nice dishware to host more than a handful of friends at once, I kept my Friendsgiving on the intimate side. I absolutely love going to casual Friendsgivings at my friends’ places, but I wanted to swap the disposable plates for picturesque place settings instead. Who says you have to wait until you have a formal dining room to host dinner parties?
I styled it with four place settings for the photos, but realistically, I’m going to have three place settings at my kitchen island with my counter stools, and then three place settings on my coffee table and pull up my desk chair, my lucite chair, and this chair in my living room. But that wouldn’t have looked as pretty in photos, you know? Doin’ for the ‘gram.
Get the Look…
C.Wonder Navy Ikat Plates (No longer available, but I found similar options here, here, & here!) | Gold Placemats | Gold Flatware | Blue and White Napkins | Brass Napkin Rings | C.Wonder Chevron Glasses (No longer available, but similar here, here, here, here) | Navy Stripe Straws | Pumpkin Orange Italian Baker | White Pumpkin Salt & Pepper Shakers | Gold Leaf Plates | Gold Serving Fork | Gold Serving Spoon | Navy & White Bistro Bar Stools
I wasn’t sure exactly what direction I wanted to take when I was planning my tablescape. Most of the decor in the main room of my apartment is rooted in navy blue and white. In my living room, I have a few quirky pops of print and color. My workspace is still a work in progress, and then my kitchen is all navy, white, and gold. You can’t see it in these photos, but I just hung this mirror above my bar tray at the other end of my counter. Obsessed! Any who, I knew that almost all of my dishware was navy and white and I was planning on getting a new set of dinner plates for the occasion. But then I remembered just how much money I’ve dumped into decor over the last few months and I figured I should try to make do with what I have instead! (Older and wiser, people.)
When I found these napkins, a lightbulb went off. The print is a faux wood grain print which is so fall, but I love that they’re kind of a play on navy and white stripes. I’ve always loved orange and navy together (Illini, hello!) so I figured this pumpkin-hued baking dish would be perfect to make my preppy dishware feel a little bit more seasonally appropriate. White pumpkin salt and pepper shakers, check. And then when it doubt, just go for the gold. I already had my gold glasses and flatware, so I just picked up these simple napkin rings and these placemats and I was set! At the last minute, I tossed in these navy and white striped straws to add a little dose of whimsy. It is a friendsgiving, after all.
I thought about going for more of a “thanksgiving-themed” napkin ring, but I chose this simple style because I’ll be able to use it over and over again. It was love at first sight with these placemats. They’re actually supposed to look like a dahlia, but I thought the cut-out shapes looked kind of leafy and acorn-y, too. I know they’ll also be super versatile for future entertaining endeavors!
Speaking of, I’m already planning my Christmas tablescape (I’m a freak, I know. But once you get bit by the entertaining bug, there’s really nothing you can do.) and I’ve decided that I’m going to use these same placemats and napkin rings to show just how versatile they are! Spoiler alert.. I got these tartan napkins because I truly have a plaid addiction and couldn’t say no.
PS: After Melissa left, I realized I mixed up the left and right flatware sides. OOPS! #SleepDeprived
Now on to the recipe part… I’m by no means a vegetarian, but I only recently started cooking with meats and fishes. (It was actually Plated that made me feel comfortable cooking with them!) Maybe it’s because I had a bad situation of fish stinking up my entire first apartment in New York, or maybe it’s just because I tend to prefer to let someone else do the dirty work of preparing meats. While I love the taste of sausage, I usually shy away from it when cooking at home because the casings kind of freak me out. So naturally, I was pretty delighted to find Johnsonville Ground Italian Sausage at the grocery store.
My mom will bake occasionally, but she hates to cook, so I’ve kind of had to teach myself the ropes over the years! Before this, I’ve only made stuffing one or two other times, and always for Friendsgivings. When I was searching for a recipe this year, I couldn’t find one that really jumped out at me so I kind of pulled a whole bunch of them together and did some tweaking. I made the test recipe for when Melissa was coming over to shoot this tablescape, and then did some more tweaking from the taste test.
I pulled inspiration from this recipe, this recipe, this recipe, and this recipe. And here’s what I came up with… It’s kind of a mix of sweet and savory, which I like! I also really like the crunch that the pecans gave the dish.
12 cups 1-inch bread cubes, white or sourdough
1 pkg 16 oz Johnsonville Ground Italian Sausage
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups onion, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups chicken stock, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl.
- In large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat until no longer pink; drain.
- Transfer sausage with a slotted spoon to bread cubes. Discard sausage fat in pan.
- In the same skillet, melt butter. Add onions, celery, parsley, salt & pepper to skillet and saute until tender, about 10 to15 minutes. Add this veggie mixture to the sausage mixture, mix to combine. Add sage.
- In a medium bowl, combine allspice, maple syrup, eggs, and chicken stock. Fold in cranberries and pecans.
- Add to bread crumb & sausage mixture. The mixture should be moist, but not soggy. Add more chicken stock, if necessary. Transfer stuffing to a 9 x 12” baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is golden.
On a very random side note – With all of the Friendsgivings and Thanksgivings going on over the next week, there’s sure to be a ton of extra food left over. I was at a Freindsgiving a few weeks ago and I was joking with the host about leftovers when he said he was donating it all to a local food bank. One of those moments where you’re like, “DUH” and feel guilty for even thinking about chowing down on the leftovers. After I had this stuffing for lunch a few days ago, I realized that I didn’t need to be eating stuffing for every meal for the remainder of the week. So I packaged up a few different dinner bags consisting of a Tupperware container of stuffing, a set of plastic utensils, and a bottle of water and handed them out to the homeless in my neighborhood. Admittedly, I’m pretty quick to throw things out, but it’s a good reminder to give your extras to someone in need, especially around the holidays!
Created in partnership with Johnsonville