About the Bird

Below, in all its glory, is the story of this year’s Turkey, along with some historical info about each step.

The Bird:

This year’s turkey came from Sheridan Fruit Company, a wonderful local grocery. It’s a natural, free range turkey, meaning that it got to walk around and eat bugs and stuff, in addition to turkey feed. That also means that it isn’t a shockingly large-breasted, brine injected bird-in-a-bag that enjoyed a life of antibiotics and hormones prior to being our dinner. Not quite the same as ordering a Heritage Turkey a year in advance, or hunting our own from the area’s recent wild turkey infestation, but a decent start. We order an additional pair of legs, because drumsticks are popular with the cooking crew. At least one of the butchers at Sheridan actually remembers this order from year to year.

The Brine:

Wednesday morning, the bird went into a brine made with:

1 cup Morton’s pickling salt
1-cup apple cider vinegar
3 carrot sticks chopped in 1-inch pieces
3 celery stalks chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 bunch radishes, whole with ends sliced off
1 yellow onion sliced in eighths
1 white onion sliced in eighths
Water to fill the pot

The bird was in the brine for about 20 hours, after which it was rinsed and prepped for cooking.

We’ve brined the bird with an apple cider vinegar and salt mixture for the past 4 years, if I recall correctly. This is the first year that the vegetables were included. I got that idea from a friend, who mentioned that a friend of his would basically make a soup as a brine. Next year, at my mother’s recommendation, I’ll cook the mix first, so that the vegetable flavors get into the water more.


We don’t cook stuffing in the bird, because that would take much too long, and risk the stuffing not getting fully cooked. We do, however, place sliced apples in the cavity to add to the flavor and because the apples come out tasting a bit like apple pie chutney and are tasty with the bird. This bird took 3 green apples, sliced.

Smoking Woods:

We use approximately half pecan and half white oak to smoke the bird. The pecan delivers a satisfying bacon flavor, similar to apple wood smoked bacon, while the oak delivers a traditional BBQ flavor to the bird. We hit on this combo last year after trying many things, including cherry wood with mesquite charcoal, apple wood with mesquite charcoal, and a hazelnut shell smoking mix. If I had to rank these, I’d place pecan/oak in first, apple/mesquite second, cherry/mesquite third (though this is top notch for smoking pork) and the hazelnut stuff last.

The bird smoked for about 8 hours between 200° and 225° F, until the last 20 minutes or so, when we took advantage of the gas burner to bump the temperature up to around 350° F to finish the bird. The past two or three years we’ve finished the bird in the oven, and before that we finished it on a grill, which added drama, but not a lot of flavor. The first year that Wil and I cooked the turkey, we actually didn’t have a smoker, and we did a combo of the oven to start, and the grill with smoking chips added to finish it.

The Baste:

The baste is a mix of 1-pint Old Crow Bourbon, 1-cup honey and 2 sticks butter. We don’t baste on a schedule, but try to hit it a couple times an hour.

The baste is a little funny. The first year I was making it, I heard a Garrison Keilor skit about Thanksgiving where he mentioned making the baste with 4 sticks of butter. Never having made turkey before, I went ahead with that, not realizing that it was Midwestern exageration. Before you imagine that the turkey comes out soaked in that much butter, keep in mind that most of it drips off the bird and into the water pan below it, and never touches anyone’s lips.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 11:42 pm  Comments (1)  

A Parade Of Appetizer and Dessert Recipes

One of the highlights of this Thanksgiving broadcast was the Parade of Appetizers. Several viewers told us that they not only enjoyed the delicious “parade,” but wanted the recipes.

So, here they are.

Goat Cheese Appetizers

(aka Pecan and Goat Cheese Marbles)

1/4 cup pecans
1/2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 tsp sugar
5 oz log goat cheese
1/2 tsp minced rosemary
1/2 tsp crushed, chopped coriander seeds
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss pecans with butter and sugar, bake for 8-10 minutes or until a shade or two darker.  Set aside and cool, then pulse in food processor.
Mix goat cheese, rosemary, coriander, and freshly ground pepper until blended.  Roll approximately 1/2 teaspoon of cheese mixture into balls, then roll in pecans.  Roll again between palms to press nuts in.
Makes approximately 16 balls.

Bacon Appetizers Almost Gone!

CARAMELIZED BACON (from Martha Stewart Hors D’oeuvres)

1/2 pound peppered slab bacon, cut into 1/8 strips
3/4 cup light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Cover rimmed baking sheet with wax paper.  Pack sugar on both sides of bacon with hands and lay in single layer on baking sheet.  Oil a new sheet of wax paper and lay on top of bacon, oil side down.  Weight wax paper with heavy skillet and/or smaller baking sheets.
Bake bacon 15 minutes.  Drain off fat (careful not to lose too much caramel), and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until bacon is crispy.  Remove weights, spoon caramel over bacon, and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Place on a rack to cool, then break into 2″ pieces.  Serve warm.
Makes approximately 2 dozen pieces.

Savory Mushroom Cakes By Sarah


3 cups cleaned stemmed mushrooms (1 used one cup each of portobello, shiitake, and white, but really anything will do)
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves minced garlic
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
3 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced green onions (chives would also be fine)
1 cup room temp Boursin cheese (soft goat cheese will also work)
3 cups greens (I used spinach, but arugula or mesclun might be better)
1 1/2 cup corn (I used canned, but fresh would be great when in season)
Mince all mushrooms together in food processor.  Put butter in a large skillet, then sauté mushroom until they give up liquid.  Add garlic and cook until almost dry.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs, flour, milk, paprika, mustard, basil, thyme, tomatoes, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, and chives.  Add the mushrooms and mix well.
Heat a small skillet and season with butter.  Pour enough batter into the skillet to make the size pancakes you want (I used about a tsp for 2″ diameter cakes).  Cook until edges brown and bubbles form on top, then flip over and cook until whole cake is brown.  Place on sheet lined with parchment.
To create the stacks, ice one cake with cheese, then top with corn, greens, and a bit of sauce.*  Repeat as many times as you would like, then top with plan cake (I did three layers total).  Drizzle with more glaze, and top with chives, corn, cheese, whatever!
Makes about 16 2″ diameter stacks of 3.
* Balsamic Vanilla Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/8 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Boil sugar and water until syrupy (about 10 minutes).  Add vanilla and vinegar and boil until thickened.  Do not overcook or syrup will end up like molasses (which I did … oops)!  If this happens, heat in the microwave for a few seconds and thin with a bit of water.
Cheddar Rolls In A Basket
I don’t have the recipe in front of me at the moment (will update when I do). But basically, use your favorite yeast bread recipe.
1. When you’ve got the dry ingredients in a bowl, grind at least a teaspoon of course black pepper. (I use more than that. Just keep grinding ’til there’s a nice speckled look throughout your flour mixture.)
2. After you’ve mixed in your wet ingredients, but before you get the dough all thick with more flour, mix in about a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. (I used a combo of Tillamook medium cheddar, Tillamook sharp white reserve, and an organic raw sharp white cheddar.)
3. Let your dough rise for an hour.
4. Punch dough down and divide in half. Let it (and yourself) rest for 10 minutes.
5. Tear off bouncy-ball-sized chunks of dough and roll them into ropes. Take three at a time and braid them.
6. Put on baking sheet and let rise another 1/2 hour.
7. Bake ’til golden brown.
NOTE: Our Pie Mistress notes that, with the exception of the Alton Brown recipe, she took her inspiration from Smitten Kitchen – though of course adding her own flair. Annotations from both Smitten Kitchen and our own Pie Mistress are included in the following recipes…

Cooks Illustrated, November 2007 via Smitten Kitchen

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie (if you’re making all the pies that I made for Thanksgiving you’ll need to double this)

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Apple Pear Gallette By Erin


2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for the surface
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
3 Empire, Gala, or Cortland apples, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used Granny Smith for extra zing)
3 Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (I used only brown sugar)
1 large egg, beaten

Heat oven to 350° F. On a lightly floured surface, roll piecrust into 16-inch circle. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup of the preserves on the crust, leaving a 2-inch border.
In a large bowl, toss the apples, pears, flour, lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Transfer to the crust, leaving the border clear. Fold the edges of the crust over the fruit mixture. Brush the egg on the crust and sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of sugar. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender, 50 to 60 minutes. In a small saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of preserves and 1 tablespoon water over medium heat until liquid, 2 to 3 minutes. Brush on the fruit. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, November & December 2008 by Smitten Kitchen

A half-recipe of your favorite pie crust, chilled

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I used a cup and a half of milk and a half cup of heavy cream instead)
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks (I just did the 3 eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (regular canned yams can be substituted) (I used a half a baked yam)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground because I’m not a huge fan of fresh ginger)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to make 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate.

Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

Make the filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Re-whisk mixture and transfer to warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until edges are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with resident heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)

Alton Brown


Lemon Filling:

* 4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
* 1/3 cup cornstarch
* 1 1/2 cups water
* 1 1/3 cups sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3 tablespoons butter
* 1/2 cup lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
* 1 (9-inch) pre-baked pie shell
* 1 recipe Meringue, recipe follows

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk egg yolks in medium size mixing bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually, 1 whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture.

Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and gently stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined. Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still hot. Make sure meringue completely covers filling and that it goes right up to the edge of the crust. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until meringue is golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Make sure pie is cooled completely before slicing.

Meringue Topping:

* 4 egg whites
* 1 pinch cream of tartar
* 2 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Use to top lemon filling.

I left out the meringue and so we had just plain old lemon pie, but it was pretty tasty anyway.

Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Turkey Tracker Post-Vivum

Our Thanksgiving was wonderful. All the food was delicious, the turkey smoked for eight hours and was succulent and smokey and the table was packed tight with friends and family. Turkey Tracker turned out better than any of us expected. My hope was that we would peak at 150 viewers, and maybe see 3-500 people over the course of the day. When the dust settled, it turned out we had about 170 viewers at our peak, and a total of 15,585 unique viewers over the course of the day. Much of this can be attributed to Ustream.tv deciding to feature us on their front page many times over the day. We can’t thank them enough. TurkeyTracker.com had 997 visitors, according to Google Analytics, while Ustream brought in the additional 14,588.

A particular highlight was an early evening surge in Canadian viewers, pointed to the site by a great piece on the CBC’s As it Happens, which I’m told is akin to All Things Considered on NPR. Even though they enjoyed their turkey dinners over a month ago, a bunch of our Northern neighbors decided to get into the fun, last Thursday.

Here are links to the pieces about us, in the order they appeared:


Mental Floss

PDX Pipeline

The New York Times Blog

The CBC’s As it Happens (Audio file, we’re the last 3 minutes or so)

We also want to thank all the folks who mentioned us on Twitter and shared the link with their friends and readers, and especially the folks at Ustream for finding us and reaching out to give us a big push. Next year I promise we’ll call you first.

We’re certainly looking forward to next year’s Turkey Tracker, and we plan to add some things to make it bigger and better. Among the possibilities:

– A better smoker. Honestly, we’ve been a touch disappointed with the one we have now, and a bigger, better unit may be in order.

– A call-in portion. Setting up a VoIP number and doing a talk-show bit would be fun. We could schedule a couple turkey chats over the course of the day. We tried to get people in front of the camera (and our lovely dog Petra) and we did a nice parade of appetizers and sides, but this was pretty much all put together on the fly as folks requested it. Now that we know what you want to see, we can better plan it out and show it to you.

– Charity Sponsors. This one really excites me. I’d like to get one or more companies (or individuals) to sponsor the feed by pledging to donate $1 to a food bank for every viewer we have. Anyone who’d like to do this should not hesitate to get in touch with us.

If you have other ideas for what would make Turkey Tracker more fun, please contact us and let us know.

Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 4:02 am  Comments (1)