This year was my first Thanksgiving living away from my family. After months of planning and going over everyone’s work and school schedules, my dad offered to drive himself and my two sisters from my native Michigan all the way to my new home in Colorado. I was ecstatic! And then I realized that after the monumental effort of driving 1312 miles, my non-vegetarian family probably deserved a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all.
I fretted. I wrung my hands. I googled so many different “best” ways to cook a turkey that my head started to spin. I consulted with omnivorous friends, vegetarian friends and, of course, grandma. Do I cook it in a bag? Do I have the right roasting pan? Do I cook it upside-down? How do I know when it’s done? Do I really have to touch it? Eww.
I eventually figured out that the first step was to find the right turkey. After some searching, I decided on a natural Diestel turkey. Diestel claims to practice sustainable farming and to allow their birds a long, free-range life on a vegetarian corn and soy diet. It was easy to order it online from Whole Foods, and I opted to pick it up the day before Thanksgiving. It was a tad pricey but I was happy to splurge on a responsible turkey purchase.
Two days before Thanksgiving, grandma gave me a near-heart attack by texting me (yes, grandma texts now!) to remind me to start defrosting my turkey. Apparently a frozen turkey needs around 72 hours to completely defrost. I hadn’t even looked to see if it was frozen or not! I felt like such an amateur! I took note – it’s important to know whether your turkey is frozen or not. One of my friends assured me that if I had ordered it from Whole Foods it most likely not be frozen when I picked it up. Whew. Okay.
On Wednesday morning, my family rolled into town. After their long, 22-hour drive, I welcomed them to Colorado the best way I knew how – I dragged them up a mountain! We hiked Royal Arch in Boulder and then stopped by the Boulder Whole Foods to pick up Mister Turkey. I told the guy at the deli that I was a vegetarian cooking my first-ever bird. After easing my anxiety by telling me that the bird was not and had never been frozen, he enthusiastically handed me a pamphlet and explained to me the way that he cooks his turkey. (Special thanks to Aaron at the deli, by the way! You are so awesome and friendly!) He advised that I start the oven off at 400 degrees for the first half hour to brown the bird and then to reduce the temperature for the remainder. He also mentioned that cooking time changes depending on whether or not you stuff the bird.
There are so many rules!
Thanksgiving day I decided to just go for it. I found Diestel’s website online and looked at their specific directions for cooking their birds. They had a handy guide for cooking times. I decided to go simple. After some trouble finding and removing the various guts out of the bird (while my sisters laughed at me), I rinsed it thoroughly with cool water. I then rubbed the inside of the bird with lemon juice and salt and rubbed the outside with butter. I washed my hands about a hundred times because I was afraid of getting scary raw poultry germs all over my nice veg kitchen. Into Mister Turkey’s cavity I put an onion, celery, an apple, and a blend of sage, rosemary and thyme. I salted and peppered his outside, trussed him with some kitchen twine and gingerly put him breast-down in my roasting pan, with little sprigs of thyme stuck in his armpits for aesthetics. I popped him in the oven. I promptly took him back out because I had forgotten to put water at the bottom of the pan. I dumped in two cups of water.
I followed Aaron’s advice and browned the bird at 400 degrees for the first half an hour, and then followed Diestel’s advice and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees for the next three hours, covering the turkey with aluminum foil for the last half an hour. At the end I also flipped him back over onto his backside to brown his breast a bit. After about 3 1/2 hours total i took out my just-purchased meat thermometer and poked him in the meaty part of his thigh, doubting very much that I was doing it correctly. The temperature read about 170 degrees so I shrugged and proclaimed the bird done. I also proudly took a picture of it on my cell phone to send to my friends.
My dad proudly carved my first Thanksgiving turkey and he and my sisters claim that it tasted just fine (it looked like cooked turkey to me, so that was a good sign!). I opted to take their word for it and enjoyed my holiday meal of vegetarian stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad and artichoke dip. Also, nobody got food poisoning so I must have done okay.
It was quite an experience though! I felt very adventurous and it was actually pretty fun stepping outside of my comfort zone and learning something new.