Two cookbooks to menu-plan Thanksgiving

The trick is to prepare as many dishes as possible in the week leading up to Thanksgiving Day.

Scott Phillips©The Taunton Press
Garlic-roasted green beans and shallots with hazelnuts from "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook" by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (The Taunton Press, 2012).
Scott Phillips©The Taunton Press
"Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook" by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (The Taunton Press, 2012)
"Menu Cookbook" by the editors at America's Test Kitchen (Boston Common Press, 2011)

As Thanksgiving rolls closer, Web searches for "green bean casserole," "how to brine a turkey," or "pumpkin pie" recipes always heat up. But more often than not, what people are searching for is some guidance on how to host a large dinner party with classic, favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Here are two cookbooks – and two approaches – to navigating the big day.

The editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine have released a paperback cookbook titled Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook (The Taunton Press, 2012), which has lots of recipes for cooking turkey and all its holiday trimmings. It gives you tips on "How to Survive Thanksgiving" such as, plan ahead, shop in phases, and don't do all your cooking on one day. Other tips tell you how to rescue dinner from kitchen disasters, such as burned pan drippings and lumpy gravy.

"Thanksgiving Cookbook" has chapters dedicated to each course of the Thanksgiving meal and includes updated and healthy versions of classics. (Sorry, you won't find green bean casserole made with canned mushroom soup in this cookbook. Their recipe for Garlic-Roasted Green Beans & Shallots with Hazelnuts follows.) The turkey chapter alone is 50 pages and covers everything from selecting to roasting to carving your turkey with style. 

And it doesn't end with step-by-step instructions for rolling out the dough for homemade pecan pie. In the "Continuing the Feast" chapter you'll find recipes for what to do with leftovers: "From soothing soups to chile-spike Mexican-inspired dishes to heart pasts (and no turkey tetrazzini in sigh), turkey's obligingly mild flavor adapts to all kinds of dishes." Think: turkey enchiladas with creamy tomatillo sauce.

With its wide range of recipes, "Thanksgiving Cookbook" could be a resource that you could rely on for years of Thanksgiving dinners.

But if the idea of sifting through dozens of side dish and pie recipes to put together your own Thanksgiving menu is overwhelming, look no further than America's Test Kitchen. Their Menu Cookbook (Boston Common Press, 2011) has "kitchen-tested menus for foolproof dinner parties," and a chapter dedicated to the "Classic Thanksgiving Dinner." They have figured out all the hard stuff for you. Simply follow their lead and you'll be relaxed and ready to greet your guests on the big day.

"The Game Plan" sidebar for each dinner party features a timeline with a check list for what to do five days ahead, one day ahead, and the day of the dinner party. The America's Test Kitchen cooks also offer up clever tips to make prep work more efficient and help solve common cooking problems, such as how to fix a thin sauce or remove candle wax from a tablecloth. America's Test Kitchen offers a wealth of information and guidance online, too. You might enjoy touring their new online cooking school. This month's class on Thanksgiving dinner promises: "We teach you the skills you need to make any holiday meal a success."

You may not get the wealth of recipes choices in "Menu Cookbook" as you'll find in "Thanksgiving Cookbook" offers, but sometimes too many choices is not helpful for those with busy lifestyles. In addition, the tightly focused menu from America's Test Kitchen could help prevent an ambitious cook from biting off more than one can chew, as they say.

Here is the Classic Thanksgiving Dinner from "Menu Cookbook":

Big American Cheese Board
Roast Turkey for a Crowd
Make-ahead Turkey Gravy
Whipped Potatoes
Herbed Bread Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger
Buttery Peas with  Shallots and Thyme
Deep-Dish Apple Pie
Classic Pecan Pie 

Whatever approach you use, whether you design your own meal or use a ready-made plan, your guests will be grateful. And hopefully someone else will do the dishes. 

Garlic-Roasted Green Beans & Shallots with Hazelnuts
From "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook" (Julianna Grimes)

Serves 8

Chopped hazelnuts are a fine flavor match for green beans– and a refreshing departure from the more-expected almonds. The beans will hold at room temperature for several minutes before serving; cover with foil to keep warm.

10 to 12 medium shallots, sliced lengthwise 

 1⁄4 inch thick

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

10 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Put the shallots, green beans, and garlic in a large bowl; toss with the oil. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the vegetables and toss again. Transfer to two large baking dishes (about  10x15 inches) and roast until tender and very lightly browned, stirring once, 18 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the parsley, hazelnuts, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Sprinkle this over the roasted vegetables when they come out of the oven and toss to coat. Serve warm. 

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