"The Thanksgiving Table," Diane Morgan

Pros: Pretty pictures; wonderful recipes; nice tips
Cons: The “Martha Stewart stuff” isn’t to my taste, but some people will enjoy it
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 9/26/2001

Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for far too long knows that I like holiday cookbooks. My husband and I do huge Thanksgiving feasts with friends and family (it’s an excuse to cook and hang out with people we like, really; it isn’t the holiday that’s important), and we always like to have something new to cook for these things.

In the search for cool holiday recipes, I’ve already reviewed one great Thanksgiving cookbook and one lousy Christmas cookbook (both by the same author – go figure). Now it’s time for another Thanksgiving cookbook.

Presentation

This one definitely gets some good presentation points. The pictures are pretty, and evoke the right holiday atmosphere. There isn’t a photo for every recipe, but they come close. The recipe layout is pretty good, although not fantastic. The ingredients are nicely set off from the directions, although oddly, sometimes the directions come first. Sometimes recipes trail onto the back of the page, which is a trait I’m not fond of. Some recipes have nice little technique photos to show you how to do things.

The Tips

There are lots of tips and hints in here to help you out. One section covers the differences between normal turkeys, self-basting, free-range, kosher, and “wild.” There’s a defrosting time table for frozen birds. There are instructions on trussing a turkey. There are menus for different numbers of guests, timetables, equipment lists, and so on. This is useful stuff.

The Martha Stewart Stuff

If I wanted to know how to make vases out of pumpkins and gourds, I’d buy a Martha Stewart book. If I wanted to know how to make a “harvest centerpiece,” I’d buy a book on decorating my home. I guess I’m showing my biases here – I’d rather be spending time cooking and making the house clean and presentable than making vases for flowers out of small pumpkins. It isn’t like it particularly detracts from the book, however.

Great Recipes!

Portobella Mushroom Bisque. Oh, wow. Fantastic. Yummy. Just as good reheated as fresh, so you can make it in advance. In fact, there’s a handy “Cook’s Note” telling you that you can make it up to 3 days ahead! This is a thick, flavorful soup that is equally good as a side dish for your feast or a main dish on a normal night. The Delicata Squash Soup with Parmesan Croutons on the opposite page is almost as delicious, and again, can be made up to 3 days ahead. It’s a surprisingly sweet dish.

My only complaint with the soups is that the author hasn’t quite caught up with modern machinery. It’s a lot easier to puree these things in their stock pots after adding some of the broth with a stick blender, than to take the time to cool the stuff off and do it in batches in a food processor; it might be nice if she at least mentioned this as a possibility. There isn’t a wide variety of soups (only four), but the author at least makes her choices count.

The author has two lovely recipes for brining turkey (my favorite method of turkey preparation): a Juniper Brine and an Apple Cider Brine. There’s even a recipe for Butter-Rubbed Roast Turkey with an Apple Cider Glaze. Yum! We actually use the cider brine recipe almost every year now, and it works out perfectly every time.

There’s a small section of four vegetarian entrees, including the lovely Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Cranberries, Walnuts, and Hickory-Baked Tofu. The chapter on Stuffings, Biscuits, and Muffins includes six stuffings (Cheddar and Jalapeno Corn Bread Stuffing!), one bread pudding, one roll recipe, one biscuit recipe, and one muffin recipe. Not a great selection, but the quality of the recipes makes this a forgivable sin.

The chapter on Side Dishes offers a wider array of options, including the Caramelized Sweet Potato Wedges. The author states that this is the recipe that traditionally comes with marshmallows on top. Her version does not, although she does offer instructions for that variation. We found the sweet potatoes a little dry, but very delicious. I’m looking forward to trying the Maple-Glazed Apple and Sweet Potato Gratin next, as well as the Puree of Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Cranberry Salsa with Lime.

The desserts are certainly mouth-watering, including many of the traditional sorts: a berry pie, a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, and so on. Most of these recipes have some unusual touches, however: Double-Crusted Cranberry-Blueberry Pie; Spiced Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Pastry Crust; Hollye’s Pecan Pie with Spiked Chantilly Cream. Delicious!

Finally, you’ll find a chapter with recipes to help you get rid of those leftovers! This includes a turkey stock; Roast Turkey and Winter Vegetable Chowder; Turkey Potpie; Turkey Enchiladas; and more.

We’ll certainly be making use of this cookbook come November! It contains a wonderful mix of traditional elements with original flair. The results have been uniformly delicious so far (even ranging to stupendous in the case of that mushroom bisque), and I have absolutely nothing to complain about (except for a not-entirely-dormant Martha Stewart gene in the author, and a selfish desire for more recipes).


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