Turkey day – only slightly delayed

Since I can’t be at home with the family for Thanksgiving because of the way the school year is structured (read: stupidly), every year we have a pot-luck dinner for those grad students who are in town with nowhere to go. I say we, meaning my good friend Sarah and her husband would usually host, and I’d go crazy making side dishes. But since they moved away last year (sniff…) I took it upon myself to host this year. Which meant I was in charge of turkey.

Mom to the rescue! Not only did she offer to spot me for the turkey, she encouraged me to try a smoked turkey, something we have never done in our house. We’re in the brining camp, traditionally. So a smoked turkey was going out on a limb. But I said what the heck, and ordered one. It arrived on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, a turkey in a plastic bag, in a cardboard box. The UPS guy handed it over and left me gaping on the doorstep. What the heck!?  No refrigeration?  No padding?  What kind of turkey is this?

Dinner was Saturday night, to give us poor students a shot at the after-Turkey-Day food sales, and also to give us more than a single day to get all that food ready. Good thing, since I was making stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin pie.

Saturday dawned, and I took the turkey out of the fridge to let it come to room temperature. According to the little pamphlet that came with it, smoked turkeys are usually eaten at room temperature, or cold. So I pulled it out, liberated it from its plastic bag, belatedly shut the cat in the bedroom, and began to worry. It looked so … dark. And kind of dry. Not really appetizing. At all. What on earth had I gotten myself into? Dinner was going to be a disaster.

What if I carved it now? I wondered. Before everyone arrives and sees this beast? Good idea. Lessen the shock. So I sharpened my best knife, and went to work, trying mightily to emulate my father carving turkeys in years past. I did not do as neat a job as the one in my head, but it was decent. And – lo and behold! The turkey was delicious. As tradition dictates, the one who carves the turkey gets to snack on all the little bits that fall off onto the cutting board. This I did, without even thinking. And – bliss! Mmmmm. Wonderfully moist, smoky but not as overpowering as I had been led to believe by the smell, and tender.

It was a good thing everyone else showed up a few minutes later, or there might have been a preemptive turkey coma.

The complete menu (and keep in mind this was thrown together by four grad students):

Smoked turkey, curried mussels, savory stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade garlic-leek bread with goat cheese, cranberry-pear relish, 3 kinds of home-brewed beer, and our traditional Tucson daquiris. And then dessert – pumpkin and pecan pies with fresh whipped cream.

Nothing better than good friends and good food, unless it’s good friends cooking good food together.  With home-brewed beer.

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