How to Cook a Turkey

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I remember my first Thanksgiving after moving away from home. I was living in an apartment in Washington, D.C. with two roommates. That morning I got up, pulled a turkey out of the freezer and then called my mom to ask, “Hey Mom, how do you cook a turkey?” Needless to say, there wasn’t a turkey dinner on the table that day. Instead, we ate the only things I knew how to cook – Shake ‘n Bake chicken, boxed stuffing and steamed broccoli with cheese – and I heated up a frozen Sara Lee pumpkin pie! Well, I also knew how to cook tacos, thanks to my Spanish-speaking roommate, Rosie, but that didn’t sound like a very “Thanksgiving-ish” meal.
I eventually learned how to cook a turkey, making sure I took it out of the freezer to thaw in plenty of time before the big day. I have hosted many family Thanksgiving dinners over the years and it is probably my favorite meal to prepare.
Now, cooking a turkey can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips on what to do and NOT do.
Timing is everything. If you are having a lot of guests and cooking a very large bird, it requires getting up very early in the morning to get it in the oven. (I learned this the hard way, when the turkey was still not done until late in the evening.) And, I like to use one of those plastic cooking bags – turns out perfectly every time.
The next thing I learned the hard way was that way too many things need to be cooked in the oven at the same time. Usually, the turkey takes the longest, so, I learned to plan ahead and make some side dishes the night before.
I used to try to make everything myself; now, I ask all my guests to bring a dish of their choice, so I can watch the football game, too!
The final and most important tip: do NOT forget to check inside the bird’s body and neck cavities for that little bag containing the giblets, liver and all of those other yucky-looking things!
Once in a while, I enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner at my son’s or daughter’s house, or at a restaurant. But I really enjoy cooking it myself, because the best part is, of course, the leftovers – that turkey sandwich slathered with mayo or the cold piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, not to mention the Day-After-Thanksgiving turkey-noodle soup.
My daughter, Melissa, never had to worry about cooking a turkey because she always came to my house for the holiday meal. However, when she and her family moved to Traverse City a few years ago, I received a phone call from her on Thanksgiving morning. “Hey Mom, how do you cook a turkey?” At least hers wasn’t frozen!
To me, the best thing about Thanksgiving is that it is all about gratitude. And I have so many things to be grateful for: the abundance of delicious food and that I am sharing the day with family and loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!
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