Turkey Adventures

So when holidays are happening all around you, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, sale prices on turkeys, ham and beef roasts tend to happen just before and after the big events. It's a great time to stock up, if you have the space. And if you don't have the space, well that's a different challenge altogether. I recently came into possession of a turkey. Now, don't get me wrong. We love turkey. However, we had a full freezer and a bird that was over twelve pounds! And so the adventure began.

I have a 6-quart slow cooker, so my initial thought was to cook the entire turkey in that and have moist, succulent leftovers to plan additional meals with for the next week or so. It was a great plan. An inspired plan. A misguided plan.

It was about 9:00 at night when I remembered late in the game that I wanted to get my turkey comfortably nestled into the slow cooker with a cavity stuffed with onions and apples and an outer skin coated with spices. I set out the stoneware insert from my slow cooker and grabbed the turkey, which was still encased in plastic and a nifty plastic mesh, and gently set it in to check for size.

Uh oh. I flipped it and tried again. Hmmm.

And then it came to me. My great solution. This bird was too big. I could take the wings and drumsticks off and use those for another meal another day. It would make the bird fit and my problems would be solved. So I removed the plastic mesh and wrap, rinsed the bird carefully in the sink, and took my 8-inch chef's knife after its appendages. I couldn't cut through the bone, so after cutting through to those, I got the joy of breaking everything off at the joints and then finishing the removal process with my knife. I must have been quite a sight: wrestling a mostly-thawed bird to submission in the sink as I wield a knife to remove its wings and legs. Eventually, there was success. I could just barely fit the newly-fashioned bird into the slow cooker insert. I stuffed the cavity with onion and apple slices, rubbed the outside with a yummy spice mix, covered the top with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to rest overnight while I tried my hand at the same, but in my bed.

And then morning came.

And I pulled out the sleeve for my slow cooker, eager to set the insert and let it do its magic. And it was sunny and beautiful and ...

The lid wouldn't fit tightly. Grrr! It didn't fit. I didn't want to be roasting this bird in the oven for hours. I wanted to use my slow cooker. How was I going to ...

And then it hit me. Aluminum foil! I put the slow cooker insert into the sleeve, placed the lid on as well as it would fit and fashioned an extra collar of aluminum foil over space between the insert and the lid. I set the slow cooker on high and a couple hours later, I was able to remove the foil and set the lid securely onto the rest of the stoneware insert and things finally began to fall into place. By the end of the day, I was able to sit down with friends and family and enjoy a fantastic turkey dinner, including turkey, gravy, garlicky stuffing, roasted asparagus and glasses of wine. I enjoyed the sweet taste of success ... and moist, delicious turkey!

Slow Cooker Turkey

  • 1 12-lb. turkey, thawed and rinsed with wings and drumsticks removed and cavity cleared
  • 1 large onion, cut into 6 large wedges
  • 1 large apple, cut into 6 large wedges
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. ground sage
  • 1 tsp. ground celery seed
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
Once the turkey is prepped as indicated above, stuff the onion and apple wedges into the clean cavity, making sure it's tightly packed. If needed, add more wedges. Combine the remaining ingredients and rub vigorously over the entire turkey and place the seasoned bird in the stoneware insert of a 6-quart slow cooker. It will be a tight fit. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 6-8 hours, or until the meat falls away from the bone.
  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus 6-8 hours unsupervised cooking time

Following my adventure in cooking most of the turkey, it was time to consider using leftovers. I opted to make two different dishes with the leftovers from the original slow cooker dish and use the remaining drumsticks and wings in yet another slow cooker dish. One thing that's really fantastic about turkey is that it provides a lot of meat. It's also the thing that can leave you scratching your head and wondering how to use all those leftovers. I like to help alleviate this by planning ahead and having at least a few meals planned out that will use the leftovers without leaving me and my family bored with turkey. My first use was simple chopped turkey in a spicy barbecue sauce served over toasted buns. Slices of cheese, our favorite mustards and relishes and a simple salad rounded out the meal. It was a nice change of pace after the fancy meal of the night before. Then I followed that up with turkey lasagna. Instead of browning ground meat, I simply substituted cooked, chopped turkey for the ground meat and made the lasagna as I would have any other day. Both dishes were well-received.

BBQ Turkey Sandwiches

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. chili oil
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onions
  • 2-3 cloves garlic - minced
  • 3 c. chopped, cooked turkey
  • 1 c. BBQ sauce - choose your favorite variety
  • 6 hamburger buns - toasted
  • Assorted condiments - mustard, relish, cheese, mayo, etc.
Combine the oils in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the turkey and stir to combine. Once heated, add the BBQ sauce and heat through. Serve over the buns with the condiments of your choice.
  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Turkey Lasagna

  • 4 cloves garlic -- minced
  • 2 c. chopped, cooked turkey
  • 1 qt. tomato sauce -- choose your favorite variety
  • 16 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 box lasagna noodles
  • 2 c. grated mozzarella cheese
Combine the minced garlic, cooked turkey and tomato sauce in a medium saucepan. Warm gently until heated through. Set aside. Combine the ricotta cheese, egg and Parmesan cheese in a medium bowl. Mix briskly to combine. Spread about 1 cup of the tomato mixture in the bottom of a 9 X 13-inch baking pan that's been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Place three uncooked lasagna noodles over the sauce and spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Spread 1/3 of the tomato mixture over that and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat this process until all of the sauce, ricotta mixture and mozzarella are gone -- making sure that you end with a layer of mozzarella cheese. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 50 minutes at 375 degrees or until the noodles are softened and the cheese is melted. Allow the pan to sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. This dish is even better served the next day and it freezes beautifully.
  • Yields: 8-10 servings
  • Preparation Time: About 1 hour

Finally, I pulled out my slow cooker again and used the drumsticks and wings to make a simple taco soup that was brimming with delicious turkey, onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn and black beans. We had it piping hot in bowls with corn chips and dollops of sour cream. If you find the soup to be too thin for your liking, you can thicken it with starch or add cooked rice to make a heartier dish. I found this version to be perfect for our needs.

Turkey Taco Soup

  • Legs and wings from 1 turkey
  • 1 large onion - cut into thin wedges
  • 4-6 cloves garlic - peeled
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 c. frozen corn
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 can black beans
Place the turkey pieces in the stoneware insert for the slow cooker. Arrange the onion and garlic around them. Cook on high for 3 hours. Remove the turkey pieces to a plate and when they've cooled a bit, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and return the turkey to the slow cooker. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, taco seasoning, beans and 1-2 cans of water (enough to cover the other ingredients). Cook on high for another 3 hours. Serve hot with corn chips and sour cream, if desired.
  • Yields: 8-10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus 6 hours unsupervised cooking time

And thus our turkey adventures came to an end. Almost thirteen pounds of turkey, a late night rush to get it to fit in a slow cooker, a last-minute workaround for a bird too big for the pot and four fantastic meals later, I've learned a few things that I will no doubt use the next time a can't-ignore deal on turkey comes my way. Who says eternity is two people and a turkey? They just haven't learned how to plan it out and enjoy it, bit by bit!