Turkey Talk: The Ins and Outs

By Bonnie Dunn, Tabitha Surface and Robin Turner, Extension Agents

Thanksgiving is a time for good food and drink with family and friends, but the common centerpiece of the holiday dinner – especially Thanksgiving – is turkey. And while delicious, turkey does have its own set of preparation steps that must be carefully followed to ensure it is cooked appropriately. Here are a few guidelines that will ensure all your guests remain happy and healthy during your “turkey day” festivities.

Thawing: There are a few ways to thaw a turkey, but the best is to thaw it in the refrigerator. This will allow the turkey to thaw at the proper temperature, which also slows the growth of harmful bacteria. If you must use water to thaw your turkey, make sure the water is cold and drain it frequently to maintain the cold temperature.

Next, remember the letters “CSCS!” when the real turkey prep begins: Clean – Separate – Cook – Clean Up.

Clean: Wash hands, utensils, surfaces, and fruits and vegetables. Do not wash the turkey or eggs.

Separate: Keep all the meats separated from other food items by using separate cutting boards, utensils and towels. Wash your hands when switching from one utensil or recipe to another. Keep a sink full of clean, soapy, hot water to wash your hands as you are preparing each recipe. This ensures that no cross contamination occurs.

Cook: Yay! It is time to put the turkey in the oven. Try these helpful hints for a safe, delicious holiday!

  1. For a quick clean-up, purchase a turkey cooking bag at your local grocery store. This not only saves time on cleaning but also makes for a more moist and flavorful dinner.
  2. When stuffing is cooked inside the turkey, it is more moist and flavorful, but it absorbs some of the fat from the bird, so keep that in mind when calculating your caloric intake.
  3. Stuffing can be a source of foodborne illness, especially if placed inside the bird. Make sure all cutting boards, spoons, bowls and hands are very clean when preparing the mixture. Never stuff the bird before you are ready to bake it. Do not pack the cavity tight as the center may stay at the “temperature danger zone” too long.
  4. Baking stuffing separately from the turkey is safer and produces a lower-calorie side dish. If the stuffing is made early in the day, mix it very quickly and place in a prepared baking dish. Cover tightly and refrigerate immediately. When ready to bake, remove it from refrigerator and place directly into the preheated oven. Test to make sure the stuffing has heated all the way through before serving

 Clean up: Do not leave your Thanksgiving dinner out on the table beyond two hours after having taken it from the oven/stovetop to the table.

If you want to cook your turkey unstuffed, add extra flavor by placing the following items in the cavity of the turkey: one celery rib, one onion cut in half, and one whole carrot. Otherwise, try our Healthy Holiday Stuffing recipe below.


Healthy Holiday Stuffing:
Serves 8

1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup de-fatted turkey broth or 1 cup low-sodium non-fat chicken broth
1 cup sliced raw mushrooms
1 8-oz. package of seasoned stuffing mix
Non-stick cooking spray


  1. Wash, peel and finely chop carrots, celery and onion. Place in a medium saucepan with broth and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.
  1. Slice mushrooms. Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat. Remove from heat briefly and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Return to heat and add mushrooms to saute.
  1. Place stuffing mix in large bowl. Add mushrooms and vegetables in broth. Toss lightly with a fork.
  1. Spray baking dish lightly with cooking spray. Spoon stuffing into baking dish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 325 degrees.
  1. If you choose to stuff your turkey, be sure to do it loosely.

Nutritional Values
Calories: 120
Sodium: 387 mg
Carbs: 25 g
Protein: 4 g
Fat: 1 g

1 starch/bread and
1 vegetable


For additional information refer to: CDC Thanksgiving Food Safety




Easy Fall Centerpieces

By Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent

The holiday season has officially arrived, and coming soon to a dining room near you is Thanksgiving dinner! By now, you’re probably well on your way to planning your menu and assigning potluck dishes to visiting relatives and friends, but have you planned the table décor? If not, don’t worry. With a little “upcycled” imagination, you probably have most of what you need around the house and in the yard for spectacular decorations.

CtrPcPumpkin-Base Fall Centerpieces

For a beautiful Thanksgiving centerpiece, look no further than your outdoor fall decorations. Here’s an easy guide to creating a beautiful centerpiece base using that fall pumpkin you’ve had in the yard for a while now!

  1. Choose a pumpkin and gather your favorite fall flowers.
  2. Cut a medium hole in the top of the pumpkin.
  3. Scrape out the guts and the seeds.
  4. Insert a piece of water absorbent floral foam or use a small jar or can to hold the flowers inside the pumpkin.
  5. Arrange the flowers in the pumpkin and decorate around it with a harvest from nature: fall branches, acorns and pine cones.
  6. As a bonus, roast the seeds from the pumpkin for a delicious pre-dinner snack!

Kid-Friendly Centerpieces

If you don’t have a pumpkin handy, and you do have a lot of children at your Thanksgiving table, you might not want to risk your favorite vase for that kids’ table centerpiece. Instead, collect plastic food jars, such as those used for peanut butter. Clean the jars and remove the labels. Then, arrange flowers or fall foliage inside. By filling the bottom with decorative stone, you give the vase weight and add a modern element. The plastic takes spray paint well, so don’t be afraid to experiment and personalize your decorations.

These are a couple of our favorite easy centerpiece ideas using items from around the house and yard. What are some of your favorite trash-to-treasure tips for holiday decorating?

Upcycling Your Pumpkins

by Jenny Totten, Extension Agent

Now that the Halloween season is over, you might have an abundance of leftover pumpkins hanging out on your porch. Don’t throw them away; reuse them! There are several potential uses for those leftover pumpkins, whether you’ve turned them into spooky jack-o-lanterns or just simply used them as part of your fall landscaping.

Carved Pumpkins

A carved pumpkin may not work for a pumpkin pie, but our animal friends can still appreciate it as a seasonal – and nutritious – treat. Many area farms will take your carved pumpkins to feed their pigs. Additionally, you can chop your pumpkin into smaller pieces and feed the wildlife outside of your own windows. Squirrels, chipmunks and birds all love pumpkin.

If you have access to a compost area, you can also toss the whole pumpkin in or cut it into smaller pieces, and it will compost down with the rest of your scraps. If you have an abundance of pumpkins to compost, mix in some dry leaves or dried grass clippings to help the process along.

Full Pumpkins

If your pumpkins haven’t been carved and only used for decoration, the uses after Halloween multiply. The easiest thing to do is to simply leave the pumpkins out for the rest of the fall season! If you chose a healthy pumpkin from the get-go, it should last well into Thanksgiving week.

For a fun family activity, take the top off of the pumpkins and pull out all of the guts and seeds for a sensory play experience! Children love separating the seeds from the guts. Wash the seeds and place them on a baking sheet along with chosen spices and bake in an oven for 5 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Tasty combinations include cinnamon and sugar, garlic and sea salt, and rosemary with sea salt and pepper.

If the flesh is still intact, you can also use this in recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Simply carve the flesh off of the skin, place in a blender and puree for a preservative-free addition to your fall soups and sweets. The puree itself can also be frozen for later use.

Don’t be sad for your jack-o-lantern! With so many uses after the fall holidays have passed, you can easily make sure your pumpkins enjoy the rest of the season right along with you.