Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I have made so many Thanksgiving feasts over the years that I can practically do this holiday event in my sleep. I'm not being boastful here. It can be tricky getting a great Thanksgiving meal on the table with all the elements in place at once, which is why every time Thanksgiving comes around, my phone begins to ring with friends stressing over how to make gravy and worrying about overcooking the turkey? The real secret to success is organization. That is the message, delivered with inspired exactness by Diane Morgan in THE NEW THANKSGIVING TABLE: An American Celebration of Family, Friends, and Food (Chronicle Books; $24.95). The Portland-based Morgan has made this holiday feast somewhat of a specialty having written a previous cookbook devoted to Thanksgiving. In this all-new book, she provides the tricks, techniques and game plans anyone will need to get this huge behemoth of a meal on the table without having a nervous breakdown. This time Diane Morgan has shone "a spotlight on the regional specialties that make this vast land of ours so gastronomically amazing."

An excellent example of this regional diversity can be found in the stuffing recipes. For instance, there's a traditional New England Bread Stuffing with Bell's Seasoning, or Southern Corn Bread and Oyster Dressing, or Minnesota Wild Rice Dressing with Dried Fruits. This theme is carried throughout the book so that Fresh Cranberry Salsa with its shots of jalapeño, cilantro and fresh lime juice evokes the Southwest. Juniper-Brined Roast Turkey with Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy demonstrates the indigenous bounty of the Pacific Northwest.

None of this would be possible without organization, and this is the essence of THE NEW THANKSGIVING TABLE. Diane Morgan thoughtfully provides a seasonal Autumn Harvest Table, where she lays out all the important ingredients from bread cubes to winter squash. There's a glossary of essential holiday equipment and tools needed for best results. The Planning Tips for Thanksgiving section provides reassuring advice on the overall strategy of the meal, stocking the pantry, tableware and decor, as well as wine and other beverages. Each of the regional menus is accompanied by a schedule of what to do ahead of time, creating the menu, step-by-step meal preparation--all leading right up to assembling everyone around the table on Thanksgiving Day. And there's a terrific section with some very creative ideas on what to do with the leftovers.

Some of my favorite recipes here include Deviled Eggs with Capers and Wild Smoked Salmon, Spatchcocked Turkey Roasted with Lemon, Sage, and Garlic (basically a butterflied turkey), Hazelnut and Fresh Herb Popovers, Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato Spears with Lime, New England Iron-Skillet Succotash, and Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Diane Morgan's website,, features terrific Thanksgiving-themed how-to videos for that extra zap of confidence. She is also the author of The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition (also Chronicle Books, $19.95). With Diane Morgan’s game plan and great recipes, there is no excuse not to create your own fabulous holiday dinner that you can enjoy without stress!

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