I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year for a small group of family and I haven't done it in ages. My first time cooking the whole shebang on my own was about 15 years ago when David and I were newly dating. I enthusiastically volunteered to make dinner for about 8 people, including his Mom who was flying in from Connecticut and who I had only met once before (no pressure).
My out-of-state Dad (a cook extraordinaire) wasn't attending, so he'd sent me detailed step-by-step instructions (complete with diagrams) on recipe cards; his mother's recipes that he'd scrawled out in his jagged handwriting. I followed his instructions to the letter, prepping as much as possible the day before. I had picked up our fresh turkey and per his instructions, was preparing to rinse it, dry it well, then salt it overnight.
I didn't get around to unwrapping the turkey until quite late and needed to enlist David's help in lifting the behemoth. After which, we sliced open its plastic covering. The bird slid out into the sink along with a gush of pink fluid. We looked at each other in horror. We were in WAY over our heads. After I shimmied the bird's legs out of their plastic handcuffs, I pried open the icy cavity and stopped cold.
What was nowhere to be found on my recipe cards (or diagrams) was any information about removing the creepiest thing in THE ENTIRE WORLD. Despite the late hour, I didn't think twice before calling my Dad in Colorado and waking him up.
"Hi Honey. Is everything ok?" he answered.
"UM…..not really," I said. "What the CREEPS is this bony penis thing inside the turkey???"
"Oh, that's just the neck." he said.
"Just the neck? JUST THE NECK?! First of all it's TEN INCHES LONG," I said, "Secondly, they cut it off and stick it inside of itself? That's horrifying."
"Don't worry. You just remove that." he said.
"Oh. Ok. Thanks for telling me NOW."
"This wasn't on the recipe cards!" I shouted.
"Dad? Are you there?" I think he fell back asleep for a second.
"Ok. Hold on the line while I do it."At this point David, who'd been standing slack-jawed during this mess, bolted and feigned deaf when I continued attempts to make him my accomplice. I finally pinched the meaty neck between a few (hundred) paper towels and made record time to the garbage.
"You also gotta get the organs out." said Dad.
"There's more?! ORGANS?! WHY WASN'T ANY OF THIS ON THE CARDS?!!" I said, "I don't think my heart can take it."
"That's a coincidence because I think one of the organs is a heart."Somehow I managed to hold down my dinner and finish the turkey autopsy. The next day went off without too many hitches and that Thanksgiving turkey was probably the best one I've ever made. Holiday success!*
You know what's WAY easier than raw-turkey-part analysis/removal? Pumpkin pie.
Grandma's Pumpkin Pie
makes 1 pie
There are no bells and whistles here. This was my sweet Grandma's recipe that I've made just a dash spicier over the years. It's pretty basic but pretty freaking delicious. This amount of filling is perfect for a 9.5" pie. If your pie pan is smaller, you'll have a bit of filling left over.
1 recipe pie crust (note: If you wanna go from scratch, I love Deb's all-butter recipe on Smitten Kitchen but no one will complain/even notice if you pick one up in the frozen section of Whole Foods. It's already fluted in the tin and everything. They taste amazing and have no creepy ingredients. No one needs to know:))
3 large eggs, beaten
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 t kosher salt
2 t pumpkin pie spice (buy pre-mixed or make your own)
If you don't do the Whole Foods shuffle, make your pie crust and let it chill for at least 1 hour (it can live in the fridge for a few days, otherwise freeze it). After it's rolled out and placed in the dish, chill again in the fridge for 15 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 400F. Now you're going to blind bake your crust (this just means pre-baking with no filling inside so it won't become soggy on the bottom). Line your dough with foil, pressing it lightly over the entire bottom of the crust. Cover the sides and edges gently too, then top the foil with pie weights (or uncooked rice or beans). Stick in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake another 5-10 minutes or until the crust is golden. Take out and set aside.
While your crust is cooking, make your filling: combine the eggs, pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Stir until well mixed. Pour into the warm, pre-baked pie crust and bake for 10 minutes at 400F (keep it on that rimmed baking sheet in case of spills!), then turn the oven down to 300F and continue baking about 30-40 more minutes. Check as you go. When you lightly jostle the baking sheet, you want the edges to be set but the very center to be wiggly. The pie will keep cooking as it cools and will set beautifully in a few hours at room temperature. I always like to make these the day before.
Serve with fresh soft-whipped cream sweetened with a dash of maple syrup and vanilla.
*Except when later that same weekend, we went out to breakfast and after I'd finished my eggs, I leaned over to pick at David's plate. His Mom clocked this, looked at her son and shook her thumb at me. "Well, she can really put it away, can't she?" I was horrified even though she to this day insists it was a complement.
P.S. I'm so grateful for you! Happy Thanksgiving!