Now You’re Talking Turkey! Tips for Taking your Turkey to the Next Level.

By Cecelia Wilken, Current ASU Nutrition Student

The holidays are approaching fast, and if you are like me, you’ve been planning your Thanksgiving meal for the last month. Thanksgiving has always held a close place in my heart. I grew up helping my grandmother and father in the kitchen every year, and they taught me how to make pies, ham, roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes… You name it, we probably made it.

However, the one thing that I never really helped with was the turkey. That was my father’s job, and one he took rather seriously. So, when I left the nest, my knowledge on turkey-prep was very limited. But being rather motivated and dreaming about a beautifully roasted bird on my table, I got to work researching various recipes and techniques all over the internet.

To put it lightly, the first turkey was… disappointing. It was dry, overcooked and (I’m cringing thinking about it) … bland. Since then, I have honed and perfected my own turkey techniques and have helped many of my friends conquer their own first turkeys with wild success.

Here are some of my tips for cooking the perfect turkey:

1) Find the right bird.
First things first. In order to cook a turkey, you must find a turkey. But how do you choose? I go by a simple rule; fresh is best. The fresher your turkey, the better it’s going to taste. I try to avoid frozen turkeys at all cost, favoring a local butcher or farm to supply my bird. A lot of farms and ranches offer pre-ordering for fresh turkeys. The USDA recommends purchasing a fresh turkey no more than 2 days before you plan on cooking it.

Use the Fill Your Plate “Find A Farm Product” search to help you get started.

Of course, fresh birds are not always available, and I’ve cooked a pre-frozen turkey with great success! The trick is making sure you thaw a frozen bird correctly, a half-frozen bird will cook unevenly and result in a dry, grainy texture. Thaw times vary depending on how big your bird is. Use this guide by the USDA for appropriate thaw times

2) Stay away from STUFFING!

I avoid birds filled with stuffing like the plague. I find that stuffed birds take longer to cook, are less flavorful, are dry, and unless cooked correctly, can result in a range of food-borne illnesses. Do yourself a favor and don’t stuff your bird.

If you DO insist on stuffing your bird, here are a few rules (courtesy of the USDA):
– Do not buy FRESH pre-stuffed turkeys.
– Only buy frozen pre-stuffed turkeys sporting a USDA or State seal of approval. This ensures safety by being manufactured and processed in controlled conditions.
– Do not thaw stuffed-frozen turkeys! Cook right from a frozen state or follow the directions on the packaging.

3) Bigger isn’t always better!

It’s recommended that you allot 1 pound of meat per person. So, if you are serving 20 people, you’ll need a 20-pound turkey. However, that is a pretty big turkey and bigger turkeys take longer to cook. The longer you cook something the dryer it tends to be. My perfect turkey size is around 12-15 pounds. If I am cooking for a large group of people, I’ll cook two smaller sized turkeys instead of trying to purchase one big enough to feed everyone. I find that smaller turkeys cook more evenly and tend to stay juicier than the larger ones. And by cooking 2 turkeys I’m almost always guaranteed leftovers! Which is a must in my household.

4) Trust me. It’s worth it.

A brine, in food-processing, is a process in which meat is soaked in a salt-water solution before being cooked. The process is like marinating and is aimed at tenderizing the meat. When I first heard about bringing, I was skeptical. But ever since that year when I first brined my turkey, I’ve been doing it ever since and swear it’s THE ONLY WAY to prep a turkey. Bringing a turkey takes away the need to “baste” your turkey. By pre-soaking the meat in a salt-water bath, the salt and flavor molecules within the brine saturate the meat, helping it retain moisture and flavor, even as it cooks.

Comparatively, basting your turkey does little to enhance the flavor of the meat inside your turkey, and the constant opening and closing of the oven door only increase the cooking time, which, as I mentioned before, dries out the meat.

BUT ISN’T IT SALTY?! Nope. Not at all. Don’t trust me? Well, take a moment to watch this short video by Alton Brown, Food Network star and a pioneer of food science which explains bringing perfectly!

Now I love to add a bunch of other ingredients into my brine. I’ll add leftover apple peels and cores from pies I’ve made, dried cranberries, dried herbs, peppercorns, some sugar and orange peels. All these wonderful flavors will saturate deep inside the meat during the brining process making the juiciest most flavorful turkey. (See my recipe below for more information.)

To brine, I usually buy a sealable brining bag that you can find in any grocery store. If you are cramped on space in the fridge, like I usually am, you can place the bagged turkey swimming in the brine in a large cooler and cover it with lots and lots of ice. I’ll usually let it soak overnight the day before I roast it. You can find a brining bag on Amazon like this one here:

5) The big day! It’s time to roast!

After my turkey has been bringing for at least 12 hours, I’ll take it out and place it on a roasting rack in a large pan (like this one here, dry it off completely, inside and out, with paper towels and take out the neck bona and giblets. Making sure the skin is dry will help make it crispy and beautifully golden brown during the baking process.

At this point, I like to add additional flavor by coating the whole bird in a butter, herb, salt & pepper mixture. The butter enhances the flavor and the fat molecules help make the crispy and delicious skin. I’ll roughly chop up onions, apples, oranges, and fresh herbs and place them loosely in the turkey cavity and around the bottom of the pan with a splash of chicken broth or white wine.

I know I said stuffing is bad, but the ingredients inside aren’t meant to be eaten. Instead, by loosely filling the cavity with aromatic ingredients it will help enhance the flavor without increasing cooking time or risking food-borne illness contamination.

I will usually wait until the bird has reached room-temperature before placing it in the oven. Making sure the bird is room-temp will decrease cook-time and help with even cooking. Once I place my turkey in the oven, that door remains closed until an internal temperature of 165°F is reached. Which brings me to my next point.
6) Purchase a good oven safe thermometer.

The USDA recommends that a turkey reaches an internal temp of 165°F before it is safe to be consumed. In order to keep from having to open and close your oven door (which will increase cooking time), invest in an oven safe thermometer. I have a thermometer that has an oven safe prob that connects to a timer/temperature reader outside of the oven like this one here I can set it to alert me after a certain amount of time or when it reaches a specific temperature.


I’ll usually set it to alert me around 150°F and will pull it out once it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and innermost part of the thigh and wing. Once it reaches that temp. I’ll take the bird out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it.

Cooking times will generally fall into this category:

For an unstuffed turkey:

  • 4-8 pounds 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours
  • 8-12 pounds 2 1/2 – 3 hours
  • 12-14 pounds 3 – 3 1/2 hours
  • 14-18 pounds 3 1/2 – 4 hours
  • 18-20 pounds 4 -4 1/2 hours


7) Start the oven temperature high, then lower it.
This was a trick I learned over the years that I swear by. I preheat my oven to a raging 475°F before placing my bird inside. I’ll keep it at this temperature for about 30 minutes before dropping it down to 350° This sort of sears the outside of the bird, crisping the skin and trapping all the juices and flavor inside.

If you notice that your bird is getting a bit too crispy/getting burnt you can always place a blanket of aluminum foil over the entire thing and then pull it off 5-10 minutes before it finishes cooking. Again, try to keep the door closed throughout the entire cooking process only opening it unless you REALLY need to.

People often tell me that they are scared to cook a turkey and think that it’s hard to do. But with a little bit of finesse and patience, you too can roast a perfect bird and impress your family and friends on Thanksgiving.

My Favorite Turkey Brine

  • 3 cups apple juice/ apple cider
  • 2 gallons of water
  • A handful of fresh rosemary leaves
  • 5 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 ½ cups of course kosher salt
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of peppercorns
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3 oranges sliced up
  • 2 apples sliced up

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a large pot, stirring until completely dissolved. Let rest until completely cooled before pouring over a clean, completely thawed turkey in a brining bag. Ensure the entire bird is covered, seal the bag and place in the fridge or a cooler with lots of ice overnight or up to 24 hours.

Citrus & Herb Buttered Turkey

For the butter:

  • 1 large orange; juiced and zested
  • 1 large lemon; juiced and zested
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • A handful of fresh chopped sage
  • A handful of fresh chopped rosemary
  • A handful of fresh chopped thyme
  • A couple pinches of salt & pepper
  • 1 stick of room-temperature butter

For the turkey:

  • 1 large orange; cut into quarters
  • 1 large lemon; cut into quarters
  • 1 yellow onion; cut into wedges
  • 1 granny smith apple; cut into wedges
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • Handfuls of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme sprigs
  • 1-2 cups of white wine or chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and pepper


  • Preheat oven to 475°
  • Mix all butter ingredients together, set aside.
  • Place room-temperature, pre-brined turkey on rack in roasting pan. Dry completely inside and out.
  • Place oranges, lemon, onion, apple, garlic, herbs loosely inside of turkey and along the bottom of the pan. Add white wine or broth to the bottom of the pan.
  • Completely cover the turkey in butter mixture, massage onto and under the skin.
  • Place turkey on the oven rack placed so the turkey sits in the middle of the oven. Insert an oven-safe thermometer into thickest portion of turkey breast.
  • Bake at 475°F for 30 minutes, lower the temperature to 350°F and cook for allotted time or until internal temperature reaches 165°
    • 4-8 pounds 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours
    • 8-12 pounds 2 1/2 – 3 hours
    • 12-14 pounds 3 – 3 1/2 hours
    • 14-18 pounds 3 1/2 – 4 hours
    • 18-20 pounds 4 -4 1/2 hours
  • Remove turkey from oven and cover with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Check out these articles for more information on all things turkey!


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Re-vamp your Family’s Sweet Potato Casserole

By Jessica Brick, Current U of A Dietetic Intern


Holiday time is here, which means its time to get ready for family gatherings! Nothing gets the family more excited than getting together and sharing a meal together. So why not spice things up this year by ditching the old sweet potato casserole – try something nutritious and new this holiday season.  This recipe is quick and simple – the ingredients can be mixed the day before festivities so all you have to do the day of is mix in the oil and pop the dish into the oven.  It will be the dish your family cannot stop talking about and the recipe everyone will want! Hope you and your family enjoy and have a happy holiday sharing good food and company.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Yield: 8 servings

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (~2 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups halved Brussels sprouts
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium apple, cored and diced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary/sage
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup dried cherries/cranberries
  • ½ cup avocado oil – can use olive oil as a substituted if desired



  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with oil of choice
  3. Transfer ingredients to a baking dish and cover with foil
  4. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil, toss then bake, uncovered for an additional 15-20 minutes longer or until the sweet potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve.

-Jessica Brick – UA ISSP Dietetic Intern


For more fun recipes the whole family will love, check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section.

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Making Tamales: The Beginnings of a Holiday Family Tradition

By Cecelia Wilken, Current ASU Nutrition Student

One of the tell-tell signs that the holidays are approaching in Central Phoenix are tamales. I have vague childhood memories of my day-care provider’s family huddled around tables stacked high with ingredients. The smell of corn, cumin, chili, and roasted pork filled the air as the family’s elders worked diligently to make hundreds of tamales as soon as the cool autumn air rolled in. My mother, who worked for a large accounting firm in downtown Phoenix, would bring home armfuls of Ziploc bags filled tightly with tamales gifted to her from coworkers. Pop-up tamale vendors start appearing in grocery store parking lots, where you could buy 20 tamales and a stack of homemade corn tortillas for less than $10 out of a very nice abuela’s car trunk.

Each year, we had the same conversations with friends and tamales would fill our freezer.
“We’ve made too much this year! Please enjoy these.”
“My abuela went a bit crazy with the tamales this year. She wanted you all to have some.”
“Thank you for being so kind to us this year. Please accept these tamales.”

Without realizing it, tamales had sort of become a family tradition during the holidays. While my family never made them, there was never a shortage. It wasn’t until I moved across the country with my own family that I noticed the hole.

A hole left from the lack of tamales in my life. Growing up surrounded by the Hispanic culture in Arizona, I was blessed with an endless supply of delicious Mexican foods. After moving to the Carolinas, it became blatantly obvious that I took advantage of all the amazing Hispanic food available to me. As soon as the holidays roll around, my cravings for tamales return and I’m always left feeling extremely homesick. I kept hoping that someday, someone would knock on our door and gift us with an armful of homemade tamales. Wishful thinking.

I have always wanted to make my own homemade tamales. I pictured myself, surrounded by my family as we worked to make hundreds of tamales, and the smiles we would receive from friends as we would gift them with armfuls of tamales we made with our own hands.  This year I decided to make my vision a reality. After watching many YouTube videos, hours scouring Pinterest, and attempting to coax some family recipes out of my own Phoenix friends I finally felt confident enough to start my own tamale journey.

First, I had to decide on the fillings! So many options. But after consulting with my husband (who was very excited and supportive of my new adventure), I decided on a classic red chili pork filling.


  • Dried corn husks – 1 bag usually contains 30-50 husks
  • 1 pork shoulder, butt or loin
  • 2-3 heaping tablespoons cumin
  • 2 7 oz. cans of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • ½ cup of brown sugar
  • 2 tomatillos
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 roasted poblanos with skin removed
  • Optional: 2 roasted jalapeños (for added heat) or cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 4 cups Instant Masa – Cornflour
  • 1 ½ cups Lard (or vegetable shortening)
  • 2 cups hot chicken broth
  • 2-4 cups hot water
  • 3 tsp. baking powder


While tamales take time to make, the result is worth the extra effort. The nice thing about making tamales is that you can break up the steps, stop and pick it back up the next day. I spent two days making these tamales, but you could easily stretch the process over three to four days.

  1. The Husks. I soaked the corn husks overnight, making sure they were completely submerged. You want to make sure you soak them for at least three hours.
  2. The Filling. While it is possible to purchase your own chili sauce, making it by hand is fairly easy. First, roast any peppers you want to add to your sauce. I roasted 2 poblanos under the broiler in the oven for five to six minutes on each side. Remove the skin and seeds from the peppers and the canned chipotle peppers with the sauce, the cumin, lime juice, orange juice, brown sugar, tomatillos (without the husk), garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to a blender and mixed until smooth. Cube the pork and let marinate in the sauce for at least three hours, or overnight. Roast in a covered, oven-safe container for 2.5 hours at 275° Let cool for at least 30 minutes and then shred. To speed up production time, I added the cooked pork to a food processor and roughly chopped it all up instead of shredding it.

  1. The Masa. Many Hispanic grocery stores around Arizona will have premade masa available for purchase. Especially around the holidays. One pound of masa usually makes about 6 tamales. To make your own, start by mixing your masa flour with three to five cups of hot water. Add the water a cup at a time, stopping when the dough sticks together but is still sort of crumbly. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Next whip the lard or shortening in a stand mixer for two minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the baking powder and a few teaspoons of salt and mix until combined. Next, add the masa dough to the whipped lard in thirds until well combined. After, add in one cup of hot chicken broth to the mixture at a time until the mixture is light, creamy, fluffy and sticky (not crumbly). This will help the dough stick to the mixture.
  2. Putting it all together. Once you have prepped all your ingredients, it is time to build your tamales. Start with a pre-soaked husk that has been strained of the extra water. Sort of spackle on a layer of masa dough onto the bottom half of the husk (the fat side), lay down a row of filling right down the middle, wrap the edges around the filling, fold the other half over itself, and secure with a tie made from stringed husk or twine. The process takes a bit of time to get used to, but if you include members of your family it will expedite the process.


  1. Steam them! In a large double-boiler pot with just enough water to touch the bottom of the steam insert, place your tamales upright in it and cover with a few empty corn husks before placing a lid on top. Steam them for three hours, or until the masa peels easily away from the husk. Let sit to cool for at least 15 minutes before digging in.

Tamales will keep in the fridge for a week or so or in the freezer for months. To reheat them, all you need to do is wrap them in moist paper towels and microwave for a few minutes, or if you plan on reheating a lot, place them back in the steamer for about 30 minutes.

It was a blast having my family in the kitchen helping me construct our dozens of tamales. My toddler loved “painting” masa on the corn husks and my husband enjoyed showing off our hard work to his friends, and I loved how nostalgic and homey it made me feel. Making tamales is something that will probably become a yearly event for us. I can’t wait to try creating new fillings over the years!

To find local Arizona ingredients for your own tamale adventure visit this article for more information. If you’re looking more recipes check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section. There are hundreds of different dishes to try.

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3 Easy Ways to Stop those Dreaded IBS Symptoms

By Emily Carver, Recent ASU Nutrition Student


If you aren’t dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it’s likely you know someone who is. It is estimated that up to 15% of people in the United States suffer from IBS, and in fact, it’s one of the most common problems among women that leave many with feelings of constant stomach upset, bloating, diarrhea; or in some cases, it’s not so great counterpart, constipation.

Despite constantly feeling terrible, many are confused with how to reduce their symptoms, because the cause of the disorder is unclear. What isn’t unclear, however, is that diet plays a major role in the discomfort level of a person suffering from IBS. People who suffer from IBS should have a diet low in FODMAPs in order to significantly reduce their symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. What’s FODMAP? Its fermentable carbohydrates that include oligosaccharides (onions, jicama), disaccharides (milk, yogurt), monosaccharides (honey, beans), and polyols (low-calorie sugar replacers).


Diets that are low in FODMAPs can have significant positive effects, most notably a reduction in abdominal discomfort, distention, flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation. Something everyone wants, right? But where does one start?


Here are 3 easy ways to stop those dreaded IBS symptoms


  1. Write It Down


So easy, right? It’s so important to know what’s going in your mouth. Without knowing, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s triggering and flaring your IBS symptoms.


If the idea of a food diary is too daunting, write down when you have an episode instead. Think about the foods you just ate to really get an idea of what you’re reacting to and write those down. 30 seconds is all you need to write those specific foods in your notebook. Doing this will open a whole new world for you that you didn’t know was there.


Believe me when I say, that world is a happy world.


  1. Switch Things Up

Now that you have a good idea of the foods that are triggering an episode, you can start switching things up. Switching it up is simple to do, too.


According to a recent study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, foods that are considered low in FODMAPs can greatly reduce your symptoms. I said earlier what each letter stood for but what does it really mean? Think of it as sugars within a food. This isn’t like your white sugar you’d bake with or put in your coffee, instead, FODMAP sugars are those found naturally within your foods.


An apple, for instance, can cause a lot of problems if you have IBS. That’s because of those FODMAP sugars. The same can be said for wheat bread, dairy products or asparagus. They all can cause a flare up for someone who’s fighting with IBS.


There are a lot of options, though, that can replace the foods you’re eating that cause problems, while still feeling like you aren’t missing out on anything.


Grab a banana or orange instead of an apple or pear. Hard cheese like cheddar or Swiss is better than soft cheeses like brie and fresh mozzarella. Green beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini are perfect to eat instead of asparagus, corn, or even onions. Choose oats, quinoa, or rice, instead of wheat pasta or bread.


By making these little switch ups, your stomach will thank you and give you an internal high-five for working together as a team.


  1. Go to Your Happy Place


Stress. We all have it, but when you have IBS, it makes life so much worse. The last thing you want to do is have your stress be the culprit for an episode.


When you feel that stress creeping in and your stomach beginning to cramp, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. That alone can help slow your heart rate, calm you down, and get you to relax.


Another option for getting you to your happy place is to move. Go for a walk or do some form of exercise. Exercising is a fantastic de-stressor and believe it or not, if you have issues with constipation, it’ll help move things along as well.


If your stress is mounting, sit down and face exactly what is getting you wound up. Write down your thoughts, (yes, more writing. It’s cathartic), or talk with someone about it. By acknowledging what’s causing your stress, it will help you overcome those obstacles and begin reducing your stress.


Finally, treat yourself. When was the last time you had “me time?” Taking time for yourself is important not only for your stomach but also for your mind. Go to a movie, get a mani/pedi, go get a blowout and let someone pamper you for once. Knowing and cutting down those stresses is just as important as knowing the foods that are best for your stomach.


By following these three steps, you’ll be on the quick road to gaining control over your IBS and keeping it from gaining control over you. They’re simple to do and what’s great is each step is easy enough to implement immediately. Pay a little extra attention to your foods and stress levels and before you know it, you’ll have a strong handle of what your stomach can and can’t take, and you two will be best friends once again.


If you found this article informative and helpful, be sure to check out the other articles found on the Fill Your Plate blog.

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Chocolate on the Brain?

By Kat Brown, Recent ASU Nutrition Student


I’m craving…….fill in the blank with whatever salty, sweet, crunchy snack that you crave the most. It happens so easily, a coworker merely mentions the idea of cupcakes and instantly you want one. Cravings are common in our society, but why? What triggers cravings and do some people have stronger cravings for foods than others? A recent study looked at MRI’s of people’s brains to learn more about how cravings work.

Cravings are defined as an intense desire to eat a certain food. The study identifies the two key components of this definition to be that the desire for this food is enough to make you go out of your way to fulfill it. Also, that the desire is for a certain or specific food, not just food in general which is considered hunger. Cravings are the biggest deterrent of adhering to a diet and can hijack your brain and distract you until you have fulfilled that craving.


Different foods activate different parts of the brain and dopamine, a neurotransmitter is released when people see foods they desire. Certain foods can also release serotonin into the brain which can be an antidepressant and mood enhancer. Carbohydrates often contain serotonin and could be a contributing factor to people’s cravings for them.


Chocolate is often reported as the most frequent food craving, followed by pizza, salty foods, and ice cream. To curb these cravings it is important not to always deprive yourself. If you never allow yourself to have a bite of chocolate eventually your craving will overtake your willpower and you are more likely to binge eat. A study from McMaster University identified this abstinence model and states that cravings are the most intense when withdraw is at its peak. Instead of depriving yourself, treat yourself to a small bite of chocolate. The recommended sugar intake is to consume less than 25% of your total daily calories from sugar. If you like dark chocolate that is even better because recent studies show that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate can provide antioxidants that promote heart health. The antioxidant is called epicatechin that can help to improve endothelially (the inner wall of blood vessels) function which helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Chocolate also contains serotonin so it may also boost your mood as well.


Overall, women tend to experience cravings more often than men and individuals on an unbalanced, high sugar diet tend to experience cravings more often. This means that eating a better-balanced diet with a variety of foods can help minimize cravings and help you stay on track with eating healthy. Other serotonin-containing foods that may boost your mood include salmon, pineapple and eggs. Even better after your healthy meal you can enjoy your favorite chocolates in moderation!


For more fun and informative articles check out the Fill Your Plate blog! New blog articles are posted weekly! The Fill Your Plate website also offers hundreds of recipes!

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