| Bring on the Bird!

Author / John

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Power Athletes!  Just wanted to share our Thanksgiving meal and a little insight on family traditions.  With my parents and 5 coolers in tow hubby and I head to my inlaws in Jacksonville, Florida for a family gathering of 27 and a 4 day weekend.

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The Bird:  Here’s one of the stars of our day, a 21.5# pastured turkey.  Source out your bird early; you don’t want to get stuck having to buy a commercial one — they’re not raised right.  Look for a pastured bird, fresh or frozen.  Ours hails from Peaceful Pastures, the farm where I procure most of my meat.  We always end up with a moist and juicy bird every year.  The secret is in the brine. . .

It’s worth the time and trouble to brine your turkey. All it takes is a little pre planning. It lends to a moister bird especially in the breast meat. One caveat; you don’t want to brine supermarket or commercial birds; they are generally injected with a sodium solution up to 8 times the sodium content of the meat. But you’re not buying one of those anyway.

I would highly suggest a brining bag — well worth the $4.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s a heavy duty bag that will hold your turkey and the brining liquid preventing most spills. Let’s get started. . .

Before brining your turkey thaw your bird if you bought a frozen one and that can take days. I take mine out of the freezer about 5-7 days prior and allow it to thaw in the fridge.

Rinse the turkey well, remove the innards and drain and pat dry. Now don’t throw those innards out; we’re going to make a bit of stock for our gravy out of the neck and cook the liver, heart and gizzard in some butter and serve alongside a few eggs for your breakfast or a snack. Yum!

Take the neck and place in a small saucepan; add a celery stalk and a bit of onion, cover with cold filtered water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 3 hours. Strain, pour into a Mason jar and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use for your gravy.

Get a nice big stock pot out to make the brine.  Be creative in what you add; every year is a little different for me.


2 gallons filtered water
3 cups unpasteurized apple juice or cider
2 tbs dried or 4 tbs fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp allspice berries
1 tbs black peppercorns
peels of 2 tangerines
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup sea salt


Put all the ingredients in a large pot. Stir until just barely a boil and salt and sugar are dissolved. Turn off heat, cover and allow to cool completely.

Put your bird in the bag.  Put the cooled brine in the bag. Put the bag in the fridge. Let it sit for about 16 to 24 hours with a full day being the best. You will want to carefully turn the turkey once halfway through the brining process.


After the turkey has brined, remove from bag and drain.  Fill the cavity with 1/2 of an onion, 1 celery stalk chopped, 1 cut up carrot, 2 cloves chopped garlic and a few sprigs of fresh sage.  Truss your bird, season with sea salt, pepper, fresh sage, dot with butter and place in your roaster breast side down.

Yes, you read that right, breast side down.  That will yield moister breast meat; the white meat cooks more quickly than the dark meat so being on the bottom helps to even it out and the juices will also drain down into the breast.

Place in a 400 degree oven and turn the heat down to 300.  Let it cook for about 2 hours while you watch football before checking it.  If it is browning too quickly tent with foil.  Allow it to cook for a total of around 12 to 15 minutes per pound (pastured birds) and check with an instant read thermometer about an hour before you think it should be done.

If you want the nice crisp skin and Norman Rockwell presentation flip your bird (no pun intended) the last hour of cooking.  Crank the heat to 400 for about the last 15 minutes to crisp the skin.  Or you can let it cook breast side down the entire time, it is not necessary to flip.

Not featured:  That won’t feed 27 people so my brother in law deep fries a second turkey.  While I don’t approve of the peanut oil he uses I will admit it tastes delicious.

The Sides. . .

These vary from year to year and I like to introduce a new recipe each Thanksgiving.  I will highlight just a few. . .

-Buttery Citrus Salad

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A salad for Thanksgiving?  This is the new dish and the pairing of fresh greens and citrus should not disappoint.  We will serve while the turkey is cooling and last minute preparations are being made. The sweet and tang of the dressing will be a great complement to the coming courses.

1 large bunch fresh butterhead lettuce (local and organic is best)
1 large bunch fresh red romaine
1/2 purple onion, thinly sliced
3 tangerines; peeled, sectioned–pith and membranes removed
1/2 cup crumbled raw blue cheese

3 tbs fresh squeezed tangerine juice
1 1/2 tbs unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp raw honey
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place torn greens in a large salad bowl, add in purple onions. Peel your tangerines; cut away the white pith, section and remove the membranes. Top the greens mixture with the tangerine sections and sprinkle with the blue cheese.
Whisk together tangerine juice and next 5 ingredients. Add in oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until well blended.
Spoon onto plates and pour desired amount of dressing right before serving.

-Hog Wild Cornbread Dressing

We are a house divided when it comes to dressing.  I am a diehard cornbread dressing girl while my husband will only eat his mother and sister’s white bread dressing.  We have both, I only make the former.


To stuff or not to stuff? I’ve done both and the dressing cooked inside the turkey has an extra yummy flavor in my opinion. But, since there are several cooks in my family and we have 2 different dressings both are cooked outside the bird.

4 slices of thick cut bacon (nitrate/nitrite free)
1/2 pound pastured pork sausage
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
1 red jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic
5 cups cornbread; cubed and toasted
2 cups Udi’s gluten free whole grain bread, cubed
2 ish cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tbs fresh chopped sage
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

Cook bacon in a large cast iron skillet until crisp; drain on paper towels and crumble. Place in large bowl. In the bacon drippings brown the sausage and using a slotted spoon place in the bowl with the bacon. In the drippings saute the celery, onion and jalapeno for about 10 minutes or until tender. Add the chopped garlic and saute for 2 minutes longer.

Stir the celery mixture into the the bowl with the bacon and sausage. Add the parsley, sage and beaten eggs and stir until combined. Gently stir in the toasted cornbread and the gluten free bread and add the chicken stock. Spoon into a buttered 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 for 35 minutes or until golden.*
*This can be made the day ahead. Allow to come to room temperature before placing in the oven.

-The Gravy


Use the turkey stock you made or chicken stock may be substituted.  First make a roux; melt 1/3 cup of grass fed butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, whisk in 1/3 cup King Arthur gluten free flour.  Reduce the heat to low and whisk until the roux is golden brown.  While that’s happening bring 6 cups turkey (or chicken) stock to a near boil in a large saucepan and add 1-2 cups skimmed roast turkey drippings.

When that’s hot gradually add it to the roux mixture whisking constantly.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

-Cranberry Sauce

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No turkey dinner is complete without the cranberries on the side. I remember turning my nose up as a child at the canned gelatinous mess that was put on our table and dubbed “cranberry sauce”. It even had the shape of the can tin complete with ridges and tasted like can. I must admit I was an annoying child when it came to food. I couldn’t be fooled with the fake foods that came to life in the 60’s and 70’s. Aaaah, I digress

As always, fresh and homemade is best. You can whip up fresh cranberry sauce quicker than you can drive to the store and buy it. And it is one of the sides that can be made the day before and kept refrigerated until ready to use. Planning, preparation and organization.

1 pound fresh organic cranberries
3/4 cup juice (orange, apple, cranberry)*
3/4 cup organic Grade B maple syrup
2 tbs orange and/or lemon zest**
*get creative and water can also be used depending on the flavor you wish to impart
**can be all orange, all lemon or a combo; this year I added tangerine zest — be creative in your flavoring

Rinse your cranberries under cool water removing any that have gone bad and drain in a colander. Place in a saucepan along with your juice of choosing or water, the maple syrup and your zest.

Turn on the heat to high until it reaches a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the cranberries burst and the mixture is thickened.

Remove from heat, allow to cool and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Additional sides not featured:  mashed potatoes; green beans, white bread stuffing and squash casserole (sisters in law family traditions)

The Desserts

Oh yes, I have sinned.  I definitely do not earn my carbs Thanksgiving day but I do believe throughout the year they have accumulated enough to allow a day’s spluge.  At least they are all gluten free (yea, I’m looking for an “ok” here)


Left & Featured:  Autumn Pumpkin Pie — my tradition since 1987
Center:  Coconut Pumpkin Chiffon
Right:  Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan

-Autumn Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie

The pie:
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups mashed cooked pumpkin
12 oz raw cream
1 cup organic cane sugar
¼ cup King Arthur gluten free flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup King Arthur gluten free flour
½ cup firmly packed organic brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans

Combine eggs, pumpkin, cream, sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, and spices: blend well. Pour mixture into pastry shell. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, and bake an additional 35 minutes.

Combine butter, ½ cup flour, and ½ cup brown sugar: blend well. Stir in pecans; sprinkle mixture on pie. Bake at 350 for an additional minutes. Yield: one 10-inch pie.

Tip: Place small pieces of foil over crust to prevent overbrowning. Remove the last 10 minutes of baking.

The pie crust:
Many trials and errors in this department after taking gluten out of my life.  This is the best to date and adapted from Gluten-Free Pie Crust

1 1/4 cups Kin Arthur Gluten-Free Multi Purpose Flour
1 tbs organic cane sugar
1/2 tsp zanthan gum
/21 tsp sea salt
3 tbs cold grass fed butter
3 tbs cold lard*
1 large eggs
1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar
*may use all butter; I find using half lard and half butter lends to a flakier crust


Lightly grease a 10″ pie pan (I use glass).  Stir together the four, sugar, xanthan gum and salt.  Cut the cold butter and lard into small pieces then work into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal leaving some pea sized chunks of butter and lard.

Whisk the egg and vinegar or lemon juice together until very foamy.  Mix into the dry ingredients stirring only until the mixture holds together, adding 1 to 3 additional tbs cold water if needed.

Shape into 2 discs, wrapping each in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.  Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.  Roll out on a piece of wax paper sprinkled with gluten free flour.  Invert into the prepared pie pan.  Fill and bake as directed above.

The Leftovers

Save that carcass. . .

-Turkey Stock


First thing I’m doing on Black Friday is ordering my Eat the Weak shirts.  Then I’m going to take that turkey carcass, cut it up, throw it in a saucepan along with some carrots, onion, celery and black peppercorns, cover it up with filtered water, bring to a boil, skim the surface, turn it down to a simmer and cover.

Then the guys are in charge.  While my husband and his 2 brothers are watching football and consuming libations they must occasionally stir the pot while my 4 sisters in laws, 3 nieces and I hit the mall for a power packed day of shopping and girl talk.

When we return all that is left is to strain and drain and feast on leftovers.

-Game Day Pot Pie

In our family as traditional as the holiday itself is the annual Florida –  Florida State post turkey ballgame.  There is a large outdoor gathering of over 50 people.  And if you live in our neighborhood you had better be wearing garnet and gold.

Everyone brings a dish for a pot luck feast and my contribution has been a couple of these pot pies using the remainder of our turkey.


For the crust:  double the recipe above
1 egg mixed with 1 tbs raw milk

For the pie:
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup potatoes, chopped
1/4 cup grass fed butter
2 cups chopped turkey meat
1/2 cup frozen organic peas
1/2 cup King Arthur gluten free multi purpose flour
1 cup raw cream
2 cups turkey stock
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat; saute the celery, onions, carrots and potatoes in the butter until crisp tender.  Add the flour stirring until smooth, cook 1 minutes.  Gradually add the stock and cream; cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly.

Stir in the salt, pepper, peas and turkey meat.  Remove from heat.

Roll half of the pastry to 1/8″ thickness and fit into a 10″ deep dish pie plate.  Spoon the turkey mixture into the prepared pastry.  Roll the remaining pastry and place over the turkey filling.  Trim, seal and flute the edges.  Cut slits in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Combine egg and milk and brush over the pastry.  Cook at 400 for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Check out more Thanksgiving recipes to follow on my blog Paula Lean Primal Queen!

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Leah Kay on November 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    This all looks amazing!!

  2. Ingo B on November 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    What time should I come by?

  3. Paula on November 26, 2014 at 2:44 am

    @ingob anytime, the feast lasts all weekend!

  4. Jennifer S. on December 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Ok so I made the pot pie with leftover fried turkey and store bought fridge pie crusts…oh it was sooooooo delicious! It was hard to find a recipe that didn’t include biscuits or condensed soup and this one was perfect! While I didn’t use all organic or raw dairy products (or gluten free flour) this recipes was easy to substitute with what is available in the grocery store here where we live. I will definitely write this one down and make with chicken too, oooo or beef for that matter! great base recipe!!! Thank you, thank you

  5. Paula on December 9, 2014 at 8:24 am

    @Jennifer glad you enjoyed! There are some easy subs to this recipe that can save a lot of time without sacrificing the flavor and taste. It is equally good with both chicken and beef. Happy holidays!

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