How I Prepared My First Thanksgiving Turkey

30 11 2012

Vegetarians beware: this post contains some explicit pictures of raw turkey.

I know this is quite a bit late, but I figured I’d share my experience in preparing my first ever turkey. I hope it might serve as a good “how to” for some first time turkey cookers.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Before I got my hands on (and in) a turkey, I did some research. I spent a few days googling “How to roast a turkey” and reading the latest Food Network Magazine and the little Thanksgiving handout from Williams Sonoma. I also was curious about brining, so I read up on that too. The Serious Eats Food Lab had a really interesting article about the science behind brining. It was a little too detailed, but I did pick up on a few things.

Anywho- my indecisiveness paired with my desire for perfection caused me to flip flop between whether or not I was going to brine or not brine. In the end, decided to go for it.

I loosely followed The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for her favorite turkey brine. Man, did it fill the house with a wonderful aroma! I started this several hours before I went to bed on Wednesday night because the brine needed to come to a boil and then cool completely before sticking the turkey in.

Note: if you are going to brine a turkey, use a fresh turkey and make sure it hasn’t been pumped full of sodium already! I’ve read too much Michael Pollan and watched too many food documentaries to buy one of the run of the mill Butterballs, so I opted to spend a little extra money on a free range, organic turkey. Worth it? I dunno, I’ll just tell myself it was.

(um not sure what is up with my eyes/eyebrows in this picture…)

Next came the icky part- finding the giblets and such and pulling them out from inside the turkey. I rinsed the bird and then dug in.

Don’t forget to check both openings of the turkey! I made that mistake and only checked the obvious opening. I didn’t realize they might have stuffed the other end with the bag of innards until after I talked to my mom, when the bird was already brining in the fridge. Whoops.

I used one of those oven bags and filled it with the brine and turkey, wrapped it up tight, stuck it in a bowl and put it in the fridge to brine overnight. I think it may be possible to overbrine the turkey by letting it soak for several days. My turkey brined for about 14 hours.

Thanksgiving is all about backwards planning, starting with the time you want to eat, and then calculating how long it will take to prepare the bird, including the brining, the resting, the cooking, and more resting. (Not to mention figuring out when to cook the sides when the oven is monopolized by the turkey!) My bird was 10.8 pounds so I was guessing it would take close to 3 hours to cook since I was going to stuff it. I wanted to let it rest for about 30 minutes before putting it in the oven and I needed to let it rest about 30 minutes after it came out of the oven, so I took it out of the refrigerator about 4 hours before the planned meal time.

While it was resting, I prepared my stuffing.

I didn’t really follow a recipe, but here’s what I used: 1 roll of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, 1 onion, ~8 celery stalks, 1 loaf stale German Dark Wheat Bread, 1 Braeburn Apple, fresh Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Salt, Pepper to taste.

I patted the turkey dry and filled the it with the stuffing.

My turkey came pre-trussed, but if yours isn’t, just use some twine and tie together the legs.

I filled all of the crevasses I could with stuffing, and let it overflow a little. Once stuffed, I buttered and seasoned the turkey all over. I probably could have used more butter, but oh well!

Now it was ready for the oven!

Well, almost. Before sticking it in the oven, butter a piece of foil that will fit on top of all the stuffing. Put it butter-side down onto the stuffing so that it doesn’t burn.

It’s also worth noting here that a lot of what I’ll call “purists” shy away from stuffing the turkey, and instead make the dressing on the side. Stuffing the bird prevents it from cooking as evenly, and you need to be extra careful that the stuffing is at least 165ºF so no one gets sick.

I popped it in the oven at 400ºF for the first 30 minutes before turning the temperature down to 325ºF for the remainder of the cooking time.

Not gonna lie, I was a little lot worried out when I pulled it out at 30 minutes at the tips of the wings were already a dark brown and clearly crispy. But Bill assured me it would be okay and that no one really eats the wings anyhow:-)

I basted the turkey every 30 minutes with a mixture of butter and chicken broth. I think I might have been doing something wrong because I always expected to baste the turkey with drippings in the pan. But every time I pulled the bird out, there was just some pieces of the turkey browning on the bottom, no juices…

3 hours later, my first turkey was done!

Not quite as photogenic as I would have liked, but it will do!

Carved and plated was much prettier:

I’d say this turkey was a success! The meat was juicy and flavorful. I definitely think the brine helped! The stuffing was delicious and I made a flavorful gravy with the pan drippings. (Side note: I unstuffed the bird and put the stuffing in an oven-safe pan and threw it back in the oven, just to make sure any contaminants were cooked off.) What a great meal!

I was a little intimidated by the whole process going into the holiday, but when it was all said and done, it wasn’t all that bad. Sure it’s a pretty labor intensive process, but I love being in the kitchen, so I didn’t mind it.

Now that I’ve got one under my belt, I’m ready (well, maybe not until next Thanksgiving) to tackle another one, and make it even better next time!

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

28 11 2012

One of the reasons I decided to cook a whole turkey instead of just turkey breasts was because I wanted leftovers. I mean who doesn’t love an overstuffed turkey sandwich with all the fixins’? And when it comes to making said overstuffed sandwich, Bill Berry proved to be quite the expert.

Yup, that would be Bill’s double-decker turkey sandwich that was outta control delicious. Here’s how he made it:

First, he started with some Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter which I brought back from my weekend trip to Chicago. And yes, I paid $20 to check my bag so that I could bring back three jars of it (and some trail mix, sesame cashews, and chocolate.) So worth it.

Then he sliced some of his tequila laced sweet potatoes, and added the first layer of turkey.

He was careful not to overload, since he had many more layers to go.

Then he smeared some fancy mustard onto the next slice of bread to finish off the first half of his sandwich.

I could have dug in right then, but no siree, there was still half of the sandwich to go!

Next up: cranberry sauce. No post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich is complete without it!

And why not add some more carbs to the sandwich in the form of stuffing?

“Is it soup done yet?”

Nope, there was still a layer of turkey, arugula, and a thin spread of miracle whip to go before Bill stepped back and said it was done.

Check out those layers!

After a quick diagonal slice and a few photos, the ultimate sandwich was ready to eat.

Mmmm. I don’t think I’ll ever make a boring turkey sandwich again!

Question of the day: How did you use your leftovers?

Thanksgiving 2012

26 11 2012

My first Thanksgiving was a success!

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and were able to spend time with friends and family. I sure did!

A few days before Thanksgiving I decided that I was going to take the plunge and roast a whole turkey. We were planning on having 5 for dinner: me, Bill, and our friends Steve, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s bf Ben. Five people + the desire for leftovers + wanting a new culinary experience pushed me take the plunge and roast a whole bird. I’ll share the details of my experience in another post, but for now, here’s a little recap of my Turkey day.

The day started off with a little Turkey Trot in downtown Orlando. When we had picked up our packets the day before, the woman told us to get there early so that we could find a parking spot. Bill and I got up nice and early, braved the “cold” and headed to Lake Eola. We arrived around 6:35, easily found parking, and waited a few minutes before heading to the start. As we approached the starting line, Bill commented about how few people were there. Confused, I did a quick Google search for the race website and discovered the race actually stared at 8, not at 7 like I had thought. Whoops…Back to the car for a 45 minute nap!

After the race, we headed home to take a nap before the cooking began!

We were having a late dinner, so I started my cooking around 3. I pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator and let it rest while I prepared the stuffing.

I stuffed the bird and then put it in the oven at 425°F for 30 minutes, and then lowered the temperature to 350°F for the remainder of the 3 hours it cooked.

Meanwhile, I got started on the brussels sprouts. Bacon + caramelized onions + brussels sprouts = deliciousness.

I also prepared my sweet potato rolls for their 3rd rising.

Bill was in charge of the sweet potatoes, and took his spin on his grandmother’s recipe.

Cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter, and a splash of tequila for good measure.

Topped with marshmallows, and popped in the oven at 350° for about 30 minutes.

A few hours later, our guests arrived with some yummy sides to add to the spread. Rebecca brought broccoli rabe with almonds, cranberry sauce, and wild rice with cranberries.

The only thing left to do was to carve the turkey! Since none of us were really all that experienced in the art of carving a turkey, we watched a YouTube video on how to do it…

We were apparently really nervous about carving the turkey, because we watched it 3 times, just to make sure we got it right. Finally, Rebecca took charge and carved the turkey.

By the way, Rebecca’s kind of a rock star. Not only because she did a killer job at carving the turkey, but she’s the friend Bill and I went and saw perform in Cirque Dreams. She recently appeared on MTV’s Made, as the coach for the girl who wanted to be “made.” Oh yeah, and in 2010, she was the US Pole Dance Federation East Coast Champion. No big deal. 🙂

Once the turkey was carved, it was time to eat!

Nom Nom Nom!!!

All the food was so tasty! I think we all stuffed ourselves pretty good. While we waited for Ben to arrive (he was at work) and for our food to settle, we made an army of rice krispie treat turkeys. What better thing to do when you’re full than to make more food?




A little after 11, we were finally ready for dessert. I had made a pumpkin pie the night before, and Ben had baked a pumpkin cheesecake. This wasn’t just any cheesecake, it was Wild Turkey 101 pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust.

This baby really stole the show!  I didn’t really get a great photo of it, but believe me, it was tasty!



My pie was pretty good too, but I definitely was looking forward to leftover cheesecake the day after 🙂

What a wonderful day! All of the food turned out so well, and I was so happy to spend the holiday with Bill and our friends. I can’t wait to do it again!

Question of the day: How was your Thanksgiving? Any funny stories to report?