8 Cookbooks For Your First Thanksgiving Feast

by Tabitha Blankenbiller

Whether you're contributing to the family potluck or hosting a full-fledged Friendsgiving in your own place, your first Turkey Day as an Adult Cooking Participant can be overwhelming. On my first Thanksgiving way back in 2005, I leapt into the deep end of the pool. Everyone was invited: my parents! Siblings! Grandma! New boyfriend! I was serving three courses out of a kitchen the size of a stingy closet. I'd spent the fall watching Ina Garten on The Barefoot Contessa touting the virtues of using your own homemade chicken stock, which "makes all the difference in the world."

I spent hundreds of dollars I didn't have on ingredients I never used a second time (sorry, pomegranate molasses) and tablescape elements like intricate napkin rings and taper candles that no one noticed. They just clogged the path to the gravy boat.

If I could travel back in time to that 21-year-old girl making her own cornbread to cut into chunks, bake until stale, and then use in stuffing, I'd take the flour out of her hands. I'd pour her an old-fashioned. And I'd tell her to dial it back to at least a seven.

It's easy to make Thanksgiving sound complicated, but we're just getting together for food. It's dinner, not a sacrificial rite. In the 10 years of Thanksgiving dinners that have followed, I can say with confidence to cut corners where it doesn't matter (like buying stuffing bread instead of baking and drying your own). Outsource the dishes you don't enjoy (I hate making mashed potatoes). And stay off the Internet. Searching Pinterest for Thanksgiving recipes is a surefire way to stir yourself into a holiday panic: Fifty Shades of Green Bean Sides! Twenty-Five Gravy Hacks! Just let your visiting relatives suck up the WifFi and consult a calming, helpful cookbook instead. Here are eight new, brilliant cookbooks that contain fabulous recipes for this dinner and the other 364 you'd like to eat in this coming year.

1. Great Balls of Cheese by Michelle Buffardi

Last Christmas, my cousin and I both showed up with the same cheese tree. Apparently we'd both discovered Great Balls of Cheese, a cookbook full of nothing but decorated gobs of irresistible fromage. Bring a little Betty Draper kitsch to your Thanksgiving event with an almost-too-cute-to-eat appetizer. The book contains surprisingly easy directions for a number of themed sweet and savory cheese decorations, from the herb-studded Christmas tree to a mini cherry cheesecake.

Try for Turkey Day: The herbed turkey cheese ball, natch! With pretzel stick feathers and dijon mustard-flavored goat cheese, this recipe is infinitely Instagram-worthy and delectable. Serve with your favorite crackers.

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2. My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl

Half memoir and half cookbook, Ruth Reichl's new book traces a year of personal rebuilding from the shuttering of Gourmet Magazine, where she was editor-in-chief. Her Thanksgiving is a mash-up of memories — guests arriving a week early, hungry for pound cake and the dozens of turkey recipes she tested as a food writer — peppered with recipes. It's tough to put this book down long enough to run into the kitchen.

Try for Turkey Day: Reichl's got your turkey! High-heat turkey is the best recipe she's ever tried — and also the simplest. The only elements are turkey, water, a pan, and your oven. The instructions hardly take up a paragraph. And it only takes about two hours to cook. More time for wine!

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3. The Portlandia Cookbook by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, with Jonathan Krisel

Curate an artisinal cast of heirloom Portlandia characters for your kitchen with this surprising cookbook. Fans of the show will love the nods to their favorite skits (all current seasons are basically in here), but serious food fanatics have plenty of Pacific Northwest culinary inspiration to harvest as well. And yes, you even get the complete dossier of Colin the farm-raised chicken (an amazing recipe for chicken shawarma with tahini mayo), along with an entire chapter devoted to the institution that is brunch.

Try for Turkey Day: The Brussels sprouts with bacon combines everything we love about the hipster capitol: fresh fall vegetables and heritage pork. Retire the soppy green bean casserole and convert any brussels sprouts haters in your life with this modern day peanut-butter-and-jelly pairing. The last-minute additions of hazelnuts and vinegar bring a flavor balance and texture that screams "this is my 100th Thanksgiving, NBD."

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3. Heritage by Sean Brock

This oversized cookbook is absolutely stunning. Full of exquisite food photography that will drive you to abandon all you know and move to a farm, this book makes an excellent distraction on the coffee table to steer the family away from asking you too many probing questions. The recipes are simple, heartfelt, and impressive, with a distinct Southern home flair. Not that you'd expect anything less from a James Beard-winning chef.

Try for Turkey Day: The squash seed risotto is a classic risotto with Thanksgiving-themed squash. With this lovely, cheesy goodness, no one's going to miss a reconstituted box of Stove Top.

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4. Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Why settle for a box of pre-fab tofurkey when you can have carnivores and vegans all drooling over the same healthy, meat-free dishes? Plenty More is a pure vegetarian cookbook that explores the infinite possibilities for transforming plants into complex, satisfying meals, with sections dedicated to each common cooking method.

Try for Turkey Day: The eggplant pahi, a Sri Lankan curry dish that's dense with hearty eggplant, peppers, and a potpourri of fragrant spices and vibrant lemongrass. Stock the table with plenty of rolls for sopping up the madly flavorful juices. As a bonus, it tastes better as leftovers, making it a great choice for prepping ahead and relaxing on the-day-of.

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5. My Life on a Plate by Kelis

My Life on a Plate by musician Kelis is a versatile cookbook that will have remarkable staying power on your shelf. The recipes criss-cross the world, bringing Southern, Asian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern cuisines together into a collection that is absolutely delicious. Her creativity and the vibrant photography serve as extra inspiration.

Try for Turkey Day: Chorizo-date stuffing is sweet, spicy, unexpected and (hurray!) easy. This is a side dish that will appeal to the traditionalists demanding stuffing and the adventurists bored with the same old Thanksgiving menu.

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6. Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar

How can you not want a cookbook blurbed by Martin Scorsese and Madonna? Anyone who's watched Gabriele and Debi's show on the Cooking Channel knows that the starlet Mazar brings old Hollywood dramatic flair, while her Italian husband has undeniable cooking chops. Made for entertaining, this book includes the couple's dinner party tips, which are shockingly down to earth. Mazar and Corcos explain how to design a tablescape that you can hold a conversation through, the benefits of thrift shopping, and the single best wine glass for every beverage.

Try for Turkey Day: Oven-roasted potatoes with just a few simple ingredients are much less fussy than their mashed cousins, and they harness the power of crispy crusty caramelization. Fresh herbs awaken the palette and play off the turkey theme.

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7. Nerdy Nummies by Rosanna Pansino

This colorful cookbook is an ambitious, adorable feast of geeky inspiration from Internet baking darling Rosanna Pansino. Although many of the recipes are intricate (like recreating a motherboard in cake), her exhaustive photo step-by-steps and tips prevent you from falling into a Pinterest "Nailed It" trap. There's also simpler starter project as the gateway pop culture baking drug, like cake pops and coder cookies.

Try for Turkey Day: The WiFi cheesecake, an ode to everyone's chief concern over obligatory holiday visits.

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Image: jaypanda87/Instagram