First Turkey and Cheesecake§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: December 14, 2009; revised: March 24, 2018; readers in past month: 1051

An Uncooked Turkey

This past Thanksgiving, I did nothing reminiscent of the American holiday. It used to be my favorite holiday of the year, more so than Christmas even. What I liked about it in comparison to Christmas is that it has all that Christmas offers (i.e., people coming together), but without the commercial aspect and stress of buying gifts. What I liked about Thanksgiving in particular, though, has been the food. My mother and step-father are very good at cooking and would make an elaborate meal for Thanksgiving. Thirty to fifty relatives and friends would come for the meal. We would begin snacking at 11:00 a.m., eat lunch around 1:00, deserts and napping to follow, and another round of eating as dinner time would approach. We would end the day with everyone taking home left-overs to be eaten over the next several days for lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks. It was marvelous.

Living in Italy, though, Thanksgiving has been fairly non-existent. It’s an American holiday, afterall. Nevertheless, I had thought to conduct my own Thanksgiving feast over the past few years, but I’m not that good at cooking. So, nothing materialized and I have accepted that, although I have missed it.

This year, though, I have become less complacent about skipping holidays. No, I didn’t pull together a Thanksgiving meal as I mentioned above on the last Thursday of November per tradition. However, I did put the wheels in motion, a sort of trial run for next year. To start, after a few trips to the U.S. and Geneva, I acquired some of the tools necessary for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. I items such as a pan and rack to be able to roast a turkey, a baster, a meat thermometer, and a few other items. It sounds pretty lame, I know, this slow progress. But keep in mind that most people who prepare Thanksgiving dinners already have all of these items, or can find any items they’re missing at several stores in their area. Since Italians don’t usually roast a turkey for any festivals, you can’t easily find what you need here. Also, regular Thanksgiving cooks usually are able to invite friends and relatives to join in and bring with them to the big event part of the meal. More importantly, relatives and friends can help newcomers to the tradition learn how to roast a turkey and prepare other classic dishes.

The main dish of Thanksgiving is generally turkey. While they sell turkey meat here in grocery stores year-round, I’ve never seen a whole turkey for sale. The girlfriend did tell me that she spotted one in a grocery store once last year, but that was an unconfirmed sighting. Recently, though, it occurred to me that I might be able to special order one from a butcher shop. Last week we went to one near my apartment and inquired and discovered that a turkey could be obtained easily with a few days notice. So we ordered one (see photos above). It cost us € 24 (about $36) for a 16 pounder, but it was fresh. It arrived at the butcher shop on Saturday, having been killed that morning. We had the option of receiving it with the head and feathers still attached. As charming as plucking feathers and all might seem until one does it, I asked for it to be cleaned. I didn’t realize it, but buying the bird cleaned includes gutting it — which is good since I didn’t want to do it’and it also meant that the farm didn’t forward the gibblets and neck to us. So I wasn’t able to make a proper turkey stock.

First Roasted Turkey

After perusing recipes on-line, I found one that appeared moderately simple and still looked good. It was pretty stressing to me in the beginning, but it went moderately well. I finished about 3:30 a.m. yesterday, or rather this morning. So, we postponed dinner until tonight. Actually, since the girlfriend fell asleep, I should say that I postponed it.

The resulting turkey looks good and appears to almost be fully cooked when cut a few pieces in preparaton for our two and a half week late Thanksgiving meal today. I tried to microwave the pieces, but the motor of my microwave oven started smoking: I don’t think that is a result of my turkey. Instead, we warmed the meat in the oven. I made mashed potatoes and peas in keeping with the classic American Thanksgiving menu. The girlfriend made Pumpkin Raviolli (which was luscious), giving the meal an Italian twist. For the gravy, I managed to make a port turkey gravy that was pretty decent tasting, even though I didn’t have all of the necessary ingredients for the recipe. For desert, I had hoped to make cheesecake, my first cheesecake. I did make the cheese cake, but several days in advance. The girlfriend, her brothers and I ate it all before the turkey arrived.

First Cheesecake

So, in our head we have to rearrange the memories to make for a complete Thanksgiving meal, and adjust the dates. As I said, this was a trial run. The turkey came out alright. The cheesecake tasted exactly as it should have, even though it cracked and looked a bit of a mess. Overall, I think this was a good first effort considering the obstacles in pulling everything together. I may do a couple more trial runs over the next few months to be ready for next year. I also have a list of additional kitchen items that I need to buy the next time I’m in the U.S. Plus, I need a larger kitchen table if we want to have guests. However, I think next year we may be able to do something more elaborate and host it on the correct date and have company for the event.