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37 Thanksgiving menu ideas for the most festive feast

These recipes are the (tur)key to a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
/ Source: TODAY

For the first time ever, my husband and I are hosting the Thanksgiving feast for our families, which means there's no time to waste planning the menu.

Last year, we bought an old colonial house with 200-year-old wood beams and a kitchen that begs for cozy gatherings and, with many relatives now dividing holidays between in-laws, we decided to offer up our abode as a place for both sides to come together. While this is my first time officially hosting, I played second-in-command for years at my grandmother's house (including 2011 when we even deep-fried a turkey with the help of some international friends braving this American culinary moment).

Through my holiday experiences leading up to this year, I've found that a truly successful Thanksgiving meal is really about the people coming to it. Many holidays merge different family members and friends from different places and provides a wonderful opportunity for a range of traditions, dishes and flavors to be present. If you're doing all the cooking, think about how to make everyone feel at home with your menu. Finding some fabulous vegetarian options, for example, is ideal when a guest doesn't eat meat, or including go-to dishes from different regions of the country.

Experts advise planning ahead for Thanksgiving and buying what you can in advance to avoid possible food shortages. So follow up for those RSVPs and get to the menu ideas. Whether it ends up being an intimate group where a micro-feast like Ina Garten's is called for, or a meal for every extended family member, getting recipes organized by course will make the rest feel seamless as Thursday, Nov. 24 fast approaches.

Drinks

Siri's Traditional Glogg

"There's nothing better on a crisp, fall day — particularly Thanksgiving — than a warm, cozy drink," says Siri Daly. "Most people turn to ciders or hot toddies, but this is a fun and festive change from the norm that might just become a new holiday favorite!"

Ginger Spice Punch

Ginger Spice Punch

Leslie Sbrocco

Like gingerbread cookies, only smoother and with a kick of bourbon, this ginger-spiced apple cider cocktail can be made in single servings or scaled up to keep a group happy all evening. Just be sure to use one part bourbon to five parts apple cider.

Sparkling Cranberry-Ginger Cocktail

Using frozen cranberries makes this cocktail seasonal, festive and super simple to put together. Feel free to double the recipe and make two pitchers because it always seems goes too fast.

Bubbles and Cran

Bubbles and Cran

Vivian Chan

Bubbles aren't just for Champagne and seltzer. This drink is inspired by the beautiful wreaths that begin to decorate the shopfronts of New York City from Thanksgiving through the New Year. It will prep your palate with the fiery kick of ginger!

Baobab Ginger Beer

Baobab Ginger Beer

Zoe Adjonyoh

The floral and citrusy flavor of baobab powder makes this invigorating ginger beer even more refreshing. Using fresh and ground ginger really amplifies the naturally sharp zing of the aromatic root.

Appetizers

Butternut Squash Soup

This soup skirts the line between sweet and savory in the most perfect way. Traditional dessert ingredients like honey, apples and vanilla bean play off the natural sweetness of the squash, while the aromatic onions and vegetable stock keep it grounded in a savory flavor profile.

Potato pancakes are a favorite holiday dish of Ina's husband Jeffrey. Her secret for the crispiest and creamiest ones is to combine both grated and mashed potatoes.

Flaky, crisp phyllo dough, tender asparagus with a cheesy, salty filling — this easy-to-make appetizer will definitely be a hit at any holiday dinner.

Crostini are the perfect thing to whip up when guests stop by. The poached pears soaked in Italian grappa are especially comforting as the weather gets cooler. They're easy to make and always delight a crowd.

Would it be a Thanksgiving party without a pumpkin party cheeseball? No, probably not. This festive cheese dish made with creamy smoked cheese is easier to make than one may think.

Fig and Goat Cheese Toasts

It's hard to beat the timeless pairing of earthy, sweet figs and fragrant goat cheese. Inspired by a restaurant in Provence, France, Ina infuses this simple bruschetta with vanilla and orange zest.

Delicata squash rings get roasted and fried, then stuffed with a simple salad of raw pear, dried cherries, feta cheese and a few sprigs of arugula in this inventive recipe. The result is a sweet yet savory wonder, perfect for a starter or perhaps a decadent side dish on a holiday table.

Martha Stewart's Baked Brie with Boozy Fruit Compote

A single show-stopping cheese — a gooey baked brie — is perfect for cocktail hour. Start with store-bought puff pastry (a great timesaver!) and roll in ground pecans, which add a nutty note to this mouth-watering appetizer.

Entrées

Citrus-Roasted Turkey Breast

This recipe is fantastic to make and serve for a smaller crowd. It's also not as intimidating as cooking a whole turkey if you're new to the kitchen. The compound butter with the citrus and smoked paprika is absolutely incredible!

This is a hearty dish with all the flavors of fall. Earthy sausage takes the place of classic ground beef or Bolognese and a pumpkin-cream puree brings sweet flavors to the mix. It's great the first night and leftovers are even better!

Herbed Pork Tenderloins with Apple Chutney

Ina preps her pork tenderloins by seasoning them with rosemary and thyme and wrapping them with prosciutto. She then roasts them just before dinner. You could go for the traditional apple sauce pairing, but if you want to pack in a little more spice, go for her apple chutney.

Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

This is the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Herbed butter keeps the meat flavorful and moist and helps create a beautiful brown finish on deliciously crispy skin.

Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Sage-Cornbread Stuffing

For those who don't want to commit to the whole slow-roasted bird or aren't cooking for a huge crowd, opt for a more inventive and affordable spin on the turkey day classic. With savory sage stuffing at its center, this turkey meatloaf is a winner.

Make-Ahead Veggie Potpies

This is not only great for Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving as a vegetarian comfort dish with tons of fall flavor. You can make this ahead of time in one large skillet or baking dish, or you can prepare personal servings in cocottes or ramekins for an extra fancy vibe.

"Getting the perfect turkey on your dinner table is simpler than you think! No, you don't need to baste every 30 minutes — all you need is a heavy sprinkle of salt and pepper and my apricot-herb compound butter. So, if you've been skipping out on turkey because of its dry and flavorless reputation, I urge you to give it another chance with this foolproof recipe," says Will Coleman.

Sausage, Spinach, and Apple Strata

Strata is the ultimate dish that easily transitions from brunch to dinner. In Giada's version, an unconventional strata ingredient — apple — brings a welcome acidity and sweetness to an otherwise heavy and cheesy dish perfect for the fall holiday.

Sides

Mashed potatoes are a cornerstone of so many Thanksgiving meals, but just what kind to make? Smooth or lumpy, classic or with a twist … the variations are almost endless. Here to help you out with a unique take on the classic dish is the one and only Ina Garten.

Roasted Carrots, Spiced Yogurt and Pistachios

This roasted carrot dish has been a favorite since Jody Williams and Rita Sodi opened New York's Via Carota and they don’t dare take it off the menu. They add a crunch of pistachios and cumin, not traditionally Italian — this is Jody’s tweak.

Wild Mushroom Stuffing Muffins

Baking stuffing in muffin tins instead of a big pot is a super simple way to ensure everyone gets all the best bits of stuffing: The crispy buttery top and the super moist interior. You can dress these up with whatever you traditionally put into your stuffing, but these mushrooms add a deep, earthy nuttiness that complements many other sides and mains.

Once you try this recipe, it will be a repeat side dish at Thanksgiving forever. Don't skip the roasting of the pumpkin puree: This important step removes excess liquid and intensifies the flavor for a beautiful combo of salt and a little sweet.

Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese

Somehow, the creamy sweet potato in this mac and cheese makes it better than better than any other mac and cheese — even fancy restaurant macaroni and cheese with white truffle or lobster.

"I love the variety of textures and pops of flavor in this stuffing," Al Roker says about his Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. "In each bite you get a hit of sweetness, a touch of spice, some crunch and crumble. It's almost impossible not to go back for seconds."

Brussels sprouts actually have a season — fall and winter — so they are perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. This combination of sweet, salty and tart with the textures of the nuts, fried leaves and crunchy pomegranate seeds is wonderful.

Roker Family Sweet Potato Poon

Putting her own spin on a classic Southern comfort dish, sweet potato poon, Al Roker's mom created this easy, smooth and sweet Thanksgiving dish. With pillowy, toasted marshmallows atop whipped sweet potato, it tastes like love and tradition.

Desserts

Spiralized Apple Pie

Apples may be available year-round but fall is when you're likely to find the crunchiest, most flavorful beauties at your local farmers market. For this pie, the apples are sliced with a spiralizer, which creates a cool-looking ribbony filling in minutes.

"These mini tarts are classically delicious with juicy apples and hints of warm cinnamon and nutmeg. They are not overly sweet, so the salted caramel sauce provides the perfect touch and gives them a modern twist," Siri says about this recipe.

This recipe is like having the most delicious cloud of pumpkin pie. It's light and fluffy yet with all the deep flavors of the heavier classic version. Exactly what you want after eating an indulgent meal.

Thanksgiving Turkeys

These creations not only look adorable, but are so fun to decorate and taste delicious. People with kids can have a great time making these ahead of time as a good after-school activity the day before Thanksgiving.

'Buttamilk' Caramel Pie

"(This pie) was my grandmother's favorite, then my grandfather's, then mine," says Jennifer Lyle. It's not super complicated to make and uses simple ingredients you usually have around the house to make something truly wonderful.

Big Apple Dumplings

Big Apple Dumplings

Better Homes & Gardens

"I love making anything with apples and this recipe is more fun than a standard apple pie. They’re almost like individual apple pies with a little surprise in the middle!" says Dylan Dreyer about this classic recipe from Better Homes & Gardens.

This is a fabulous recipe that will please everyone, even the pickiest people, during the holidays. You can have three different flavors of pie all in one, so everyone is satisfied.

Pumpkin (Calabaza en Tacha) Cheesecake

Impress guests throughout fall festivities with Marcela Valladolid's stunning pumpkin cheesecake topped with shards of pumpkin-brown sugar brittle.