In just 16 days we will all be sitting around tables large or small, celebrating Thanksgiving.  Like thrift store shopping and living with dogs, this holiday rarely elicits a lukewarm response. We love it or we dread it. And here it comes again.

Into that unpredictable but perhaps familiar churn of Thanksgiving memories, clipped recipes, ever-changing shopping lists, reminders to buy candles and silver polish, promises not to discuss politics, and resignation to graciously serve Aunt Ginny’s odd marshmallow-raisin- apple pie comes a refreshing new book by Sam Sifton, former restaurant critic for The New York Times and currently that paper’s national editor.

Simply titled Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well and filling a very manageable 125 small pages, it is the perfect gift for someone facing the cooking of their first Thanksgiving dinner. It is also a must-read for seasoned cooks with countless turkeys under their belts, for it elegantly and whole-heartedly calls upon us to embrace all the joy and anticipation this great feast deserves.

Sifton knows firsthand how we can suffer over our big bird meals. He spent several Thanksgivings working in the Times office, answering questions from readers worldwide. (To someone who wanted to know what to tell a cook at a tandoor oven near Mumbai who had never before seen a turkey, Sifton suggested telling him it’s a big chicken.)

He has also cooked plenty of turkeys and presided over plenty of feasts. Of his book, he explains:

“This book compiles all that I have learned. It is a primer. It should provide you with solace as you face the terrors of your first Thanksgiving or the boredom of your 26th. And it will, I hope, answer any and all questions you have about the day and its preparations, its beginnings, its middle, its end. Thanksgiving, after all, always brings questions, doubts, and emergencies. This book exists to answer and assuage them, and, if necessary, to apply electric paddles to chests. It is a Thanksgiving ambulance in book form.”

It’s also an easy and entertaining read, and we guarantee that it will inspire you to think differently about this coming Thanksgiving.

To help us all keep this meal in perspective, Sifton offers these refreshingly straightforward recommendations:

  • Set a proper dinner table, with proper place settings for each person, glasses for water and wine, and candles. (It’s OK if the table is a slab of plywood over some milk crates, covered by a sheet.)
  • The meal should consist of turkey, side dishes, dressing, and plenty of gravy.
  • Do not serve salad at meal’s end. (Have your salad the next day.)
  • Skip the appetizers before the meal. (They take up valuable stomach space. )
  • Keep dessert simple and don’t make it experimental. (“A proper Thanksgiving should close out with a blast of warm, gooey flavor – a burst of sugar that can give a guest just enough energy to make to from the table to the couch…”)
  • Most of all, celebrate Thanksgiving and strive to make it great.

This book has it all covered, whether you’re looking for a simple way to roast your turkey or concerned about what to roast it in, wondering about the difference between stuffing and dressing, worrying about lumpy gravy, or needing a refresher course in setting the table. There are also just enough recipes to encourage but not overwhelm. (Be sure to make the mulled wine and the apple pizza).

And, for all of us, there will be leftovers.

Here is Sam Sifton’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Bread Crumbs.  We gave this a test run, and loved it!

It is important to note that this dish does not have an anchovy flavor. Indeed, there is no reason ever to tell anyone who eats this dish that there are anchovies in it. The taste is merely salty and rich— and reflects beautifully off the sweet, creamy taste of the cauliflower beneath its slightly crunchy bread crumb topping.

2 heads cauliflower
8 to 10 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped


Zest of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


For the anchovy bread crumbs
1⁄4 cup extra- virgin olive oil
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Break cauliflower into florets and toss in a bowl with sage, lemon zest, sugar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread out on a large baking sheet. Place in oven and cook until tender and golden, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare bread crumbs. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add the anchovies, garlic, shallot, and bread crumbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden.

3. In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower and bread crumbs and serve on a warmed platter.

Excerpted from Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well by Sam Sifton. Copyright © 2012 by Sam Sifton. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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