Food West Edition

IT’S TURKEY TIME! Tips for making your holiday dinner tasty and healthy

Thanksgiving is literally just around the corner and a lot is involved in getting that all-important meal to the table.  Although you may have already planned your menu and decided who is going to bring what to the potluck, there are always those close-to-dinnertime decisions to make and challenges to solve.

Here are some quick, easy tips to help make your day both delicious and healthful, even if you wake up Nov. 24 and the turkey is still frozen. Keep this handy and enjoy the day.

Thawing the bird

 Don’t panic if you wake up to a frozen turkey. Fill the sink with cold water. Put the turkey in the water, package and all, making sure it is well wrapped so water can’t get in. Change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound for the turkey to thaw. If it looks like dinner’s going to be late, call your guests and give them the update. Ask someone to bring an extra veggie tray to munch on.


Think before you brine since brining increases the sodium in the cooked turkey. Most people brine for tenderness. The dark meat will be moist without brining. Try this instead for tender white meat. Try slicing the breast very thin and spooning on gravy or cut the breast into thick slices then pull into large shreds and spoon on a little light.

Wash the turkey?

Don’t rinse a turkey before you roast it. You won’t kill any bacteria by washing the turkey but what you will do is spread bacteria to other parts of your kitchen.

Instead, wash your hands with hot soapy water. Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Toss the paper towels and wash your hands again.

If you have brined the turkey, you’ll have to rinse it. Sterilize the sink and wash your hands after you rinse the turkey.

Photo courtesy of og-vision
Photo courtesy of og-vision


Remember to take the turkey neck out of the body cavity and the giblet package out of the neck cavity before you cook the turkey.

Avoid disposable roasting pans for the turkey. They can buckle under the weight. Borrow a roasting pan or invest in one of your own. A modestly priced speckled roasters work just fine; you don’t have to buy a fancy stainless steel pan.

Stuff or not stuff

 I have a confession to make. I don’t stuff turkeys; never have. Mom always said her mother told her it was dangerous to stuff the turkey. Seems that they were right.

When you stuff the turkey, bacteria can find its way into the turkey. You have to make sure the stuffing reaches a temperature of 165 degrees with an instant-read thermometer to kill the bacteria. The turkey may be overbaked by that time. Be deliciously safe and bake the dressing separately in its own pan.

Oven temp

Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. It is fine if you choose a recipe with a higher temperature. Just don’t choose under 325 degrees since that is a great environment for hosting a bacteria party.

Final temperature

Undercooked turkey is a recipe for disaster. Don’t trust the pop-up gauges in the turkey. Checking with a food thermometer is the only way to determine if the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature.

Instant read thermometers are the best, and at under $10 they’re also affordable.

Take the turkey out of the oven and insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing. Be sure not to hit bones. The turkey is done and safe at 165 degrees.

Some people prefer to roast a little longer since 165 degrees may leave some pinkness in the meat. If you’re concerned about pinkness, roast until the breast reaches 170-175 degrees and the thigh reaches 180 degrees. 



Photo courtesy of Dabekkencc
Photo courtesy of Dabekkencc

Slow Cooker Dressing

Short on oven space? Reach for your slow cooker for a moist dressing.

Just coat your slow cooker with cooking spray and make your dressing with a little less liquid than normal.

Spoon the mixture into the cooker and cook on low, leaving a few hours for it to cook. Check every half hour or so after an hour and a half.  Cooking time will depend on your recipe and cooker.

Quick Homemade Turkey Stock

You’ll add great turkey flavor to your gravy and dressing without all the fat and salt. I like to make this a few weeks ahead and freeze it but you can make it a day ahead and refrigerate it.

Roast 3 pounds of turkey wings on a baking sheet in a 450-degree oven until they are nicely browned, about 45 minutes.

• Put roasted wings in a stockpot and cover with 2 (32-ounce) cartons of low-sodium chicken broth.  Add 1 bay leaf, 1 carrot and 1 stalk celery, both cut into chunks and 1 yellow onion cut in half.

• Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 2 hours. Use a slotted spoon to remove wings and veggies from pot.

• Carefully pour stock into a heat-proof bowl. Place bowl in ice water to cool, adding ice as needed to keep water cool. Refrigerate cool stock, covered.

The next day, peel off and discard any fat that has congealed on top of the stock. Reheat, adding neck and giblets, if desired.

Homemade stuffing mix:  Cut back on sodium and load up on flavor with your own stuffing mix. Add celery, onions, apples, homemade turkey stock and whatever makes your dressing special.

• Make your favorite cornbread from scratch, eliminating the salt and using water instead of milk.

• Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly coat baking pan with cooking spray.

• Stack slices of bread and cut lengthwise into ½-inch strips then crosswise into ½ -inch cubes – whole wheat is great. Toss with poultry seasoning.

• Bake until bread cubes are dry and golden, about 15 minutes.

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Copyright 2016 Carla F. Williams. All Rights Reserved.