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The decision has been made: You're headed to your in-laws for the holiday. One easy way to impress your relatives—especially your future mother-in-law—is by bringing a homemade dish or drink that looks as good as it tastes. We rounded up a few punches, appetizers, and desserts that can travel by car, bus, or train and don't call for fussy storage. All you have to do is define your cooking skills (simple, skilled, or superb) and decide which course you'd like to whip up (cocktails, appetizers, or dessert). A word to the wise: run your dish by your MIL, or start by first asking what's missing from her Thanksgiving spread. And if she insists that you don't need to bring anything, take it from us, you most certainly do!
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Easy as Pie
There's no holiday and dessert match up quite like Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie. Stay true to form and bake the classic—but with a twist, no matter your skill level.
You'll save a step for our simple pumpkin pie by starting with a premade shell, an especially important detail if you don't own a food processor. Store bought whipped cream is another way to up the presentation without costing you time.
Press-In Shortbread Tart Shell
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)
1. Prepare tart shell according to package instructions.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and eggs in a large bowl. Pour filling into prepared piecrust.
3. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, rotating halfway through, until filling is just set and slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly, 55 to 60 minutes.
4. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 hours. Serve chilled, topped with whipped cream if desired.
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Skilled: Pumpkin Icebox Pie
All you'll bake for our Pumpkin Icebox Pie is the crust. The filling sets in the fridge, not the oven. Serve it up with homemade whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg to maintain the cake's lighter-than-air consistency, which can both be added at your in-laws' house.
(For the Crust)
16 cinnamon graham crackers, broken into large pieces
1 tablespoon dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
(For the Filling and Topping)
3 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (from 2 packets)
1 can (29 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
3/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, combine graham crackers, sugar, and salt; process until fine crumbs form. With machine running, slowly pour butter through feed tube and process until mixture resembles wet sand. Press crumbs in bottom and up sides of a 9-inch square baking dish. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and fragrant, 20 minutes. Let cool completely in baking dish on a wire rack.
2. Meanwhile, make filling: Place 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin on top and let stand 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree and cream cheese until smooth. In a small saucepan, combine evaporated milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt; bring to a simmer over medium. Add gelatin mixture and stir until completely dissolved. Pour milk mixture into pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely smooth.
3. Pour filling into cooled crust and refrigerate until chilled and completely set, about 3 hours (or wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate, up to 2 days).
4. To serve, whip cream with confectioners' sugar until soft peaks form. Top pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with nutmeg.
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Superb: Pumpkin-Cheesecake Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Our Pumpkin-Cheesecake Pie with Gingersnap Crust is guaranteed crowd-pleaser (and is bound to become a last-course tradition) but requires some planning ahead if traveling. The meringue should be whipped and torched before serving, so pack up your torch and piping supplies before hitting the road.
6 ounces gingersnaps (about 23), broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1. Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse gingersnaps and sugar in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Add butter and pulse to combine. Press mixture evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
2. Bake crust until golden in spots, about 15 minutes. With the bottom of a measuring cup, gently flatten bottom and sides of crust. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
3. Filling: Pulse cream cheese in food processor until smooth. Add sugar and pumpkin and process until smooth, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Add egg and yolk, flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; process until incorporated.
4. Pour filling into cooled shell and bake until custard is just set, about 33 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
5. Meringue: Combine sugar and egg whites in a heatproof mixing bowl. Set bowl over (not in) a pan of simmering water, whisking until sugar dissolves and whites are warm. Remove from heat. Beat on high speed until thick, glossy stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes.
6. Transfer meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a large leaf tip (such as Ateco #115). Pipe leaves around border of chilled pie, releasing pressure to create tips.
7. Holding a small kitchen torch at a 90-degree angle, 3 inches from surface of meringue, move flame back and forth over meringue until it starts to brown. (Or broil 6 to 8 inches from heat source, about 1 minute.) Serve immediately.
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While arriving with a bottle of bubbly is always a nice touch, showing up with the makings for a punch or cocktail is all the more festive and thoughtful. There's no need to splurge on Champagne or an expensive label when all the ingredients will be mixed together. Opt for sparkling wine instead.
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Simple: Pomegranate Champagne
Pomegranates pack flavor and a whole lot of pretty into one flute.
1 1/4 cups chilled fresh pomegranate juice (from 3 pomegranates)
1 1/2 ounces chilled Cointreau liqueur
1 chilled bottle (375 milliliters) Champagne
Fresh pomegranate seeds, for garnish
1. In a pitcher, mix juice, liqueur, and Champagne.
2. Pour mixture into flutes, and garnish with pomegranate seeds.
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Skilled: Cranberry Sparkling Wine Cocktail
The homemade simple syrup in this sparking wine cocktail is just that—simple! And cranberry juice, no matter how low in sugar, is no substitute.
2 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (8 ounces), plus more to garnish
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1. Make the simple syrup: In a medium saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, and water to a simmer over medium. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until cranberries are tender but haven't burst, 10 minutes. Let cool, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard cranberries.
2. Make the cocktail: Add one tablespoon cranberry simple syrup to a half-cup of sparkling wine. Garnish with cranberries.
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Superb: Mulled Blood-Orange Punch
You'll be dubbed the family mixologist if you show up with this impressive Mulled Blood-Orange punch.
4 cups blood-orange juice
8 allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
1 star-anise pod
2 cups orange juice, chilled
1 orange, thinly sliced into rounds, for garnish
Sparkling dry white wine, such as Prosecco or Cava, chilled
1. Combine 2 cups blood-orange juice and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate at least 12 hours and up to 1 day.
3. Pour refrigerated, mulled juice through a fine sieve into a punch bowl; discard spices. Stir remaining 2 cups blood-orange juice and regular orange juice into mulled mixture and garnish with orange rounds.
4. Top with sparkling wine.
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And what pairs well with a cocktail? Cheese! Go beyond cheese wedges and charcuterie, and instead dress up a wheel of Brie or pack more flavor into parmesan with these simple variations.
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Simple: Baked Brie with Pecans
You can substitute any soft cheese, such as Camembert or Saint-André, in this Baked Brie with Pecans, or bring a variety of wheels, while walnuts and almonds make tasty replacements for pecans.
1 small wheel of Brie or Camembert (about 9 ounces)
1/2 cup pecan pieces
3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
crackers or sliced baguette, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cheese on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate; cool about 20 minutes.
2. While cheese cools, place nuts on a clean baking sheet; bake until toasted and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle nuts over cheese.
3. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and maple syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer until foamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle warm sauce over slightly cooled cheese and nuts. Reheat in a 350-degree oven before serving with crackers or baguette.
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Skilled: Warm Fennel-and-Parmesan Dip
The roasted fennel in this Fennel and Parmesan Dip brings an unexpected flavor to the typical Thanksgiving lineup and is a tasty way to incorporate fall produce. The recipe below serves 12, so double it if you're serving a host of extended family, or have a notoriously hungry crew on your hands.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch wedges
4 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat until shimmering; add fennel, pressing down so that most of it fits snugly in a single layer. Add garlic to skillet. Brown fennel on 1 side for 4 minutes. Flip, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover skillet with parchment-lined foil, and transfer to oven. Roast until fennel is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Puree fennel and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in 1/4 cup cheese. Transfer mixture to a 3-cup baking dish, and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake until dip is hot in center and cheese is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reheat in a 350-degree oven before serving.
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Superb: Cauliflower, Red Onion, and Chestnut Tart
This savory tart for eight takes some TLC to pull off, but the result is a flaky, rich flavor you won't find in a box. Cauliflower and onions can be replaced with other fall produce if you'd prefer to bring a medley of appetizers.
(For the Tart)
1 rectangle Hazelnut Pastry Dough
All-purpose flour, for surface
(For the Filling)
4 ounces red pearl onions
1 small head cauliflower, separated into florets
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
(For the Bechamel)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (2 ounces)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/3 cup coarsely chopped chestnuts
1. Make the tart: Roll out pastry dough to a 6-by-16-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a 4-by-13-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim edges flush with top. Prick bottom of tart all over with a fork. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line crust with parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until crust is set and edges are just starting to turn golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and remove pie weights and parchment. Bake until bottom of tart shell is pale gold, about 10 minutes more. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook onions for 2 minutes. Transfer to ice water bath. Drain. Peel onions, and cut each in half. Meanwhile, steam cauliflower in a basket insert set over a pan of simmering water until almost tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Let cool.
4. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook onions, stirring, until browned, about 12 minutes.
5. Make the bechamel: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk, and cook, whisking, until mixture is thick and just starts to boil. Add 1/4 cup blue cheese, the thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt, and whisk until cheese melts. Stir in cauliflower, half the onions, and half the chestnuts.
6. Spread cauliflower mixture onto tart shell. Scatter remaining onions and chestnuts over filling, and dot top with remaining 1/4 cup blue cheese. Bake tart on a baking sheet until filling is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Reheat in a 350-degree oven before serving.