Saturday, February 12, 2011

Turkey: a dumb bird with smart possibilities

My Aunt Roberta never met a bird she did not like.  She filled bird feeders outside her kitchen window and watched as Sparrows, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Doves and Finches flew in to eat.  She also kept birds in the house.  She once set up two love birds in a small home and watch hopefully for them to engage in what their name implies, allowing their tiny eggs to lay in the nest waiting for them to hatch.  Unfortunately no little ones emerged since neither bird seemed inclined to sit on the eggs in the nest.

When my mother passed away, I took her orphaned Parakeet Peter to live with Roberta and he/she (one never knows with a bird) chirped happily in front of a large picture window until Roberta joined my mother in the hear-after and Peter went to live with my daughter, Teresa.  We won’t mention the cat that ultimately sent Peter’s little bird spirit to join mom and Roberta.

While Roberta’s inside birds bring smiles, my most cherished memories surround the fowl that roamed the farmyard where Roberta, her husband Bob and three sons Johnny, Glen and Gary lived.  These birds at one time or another included: chickens of all shapes, sizes and colors; a male peacock; ducks; guinea fowls, some of the ugliest, noisiest birds you ever want to meet; and last by not least a herd of turkeys.

“They are the dumbest birds you ever want to meet,” said Roberta one day as she scattered feed around the yard.  She then related how when a recent rainstorm hit the farm she looked outside to see the turkeys looking toward the sky while the rain fell.  “They were too dumb to go into the coop and half of them drowned before I could get out there and shoo them inside,” she said with a glint in her cocoa brown eyes.

It took a minute or two for me to realize that she was feeding me a bit of her dry-Kansas humor.

Dumb or not, anything a chicken can do, a turkey can do more of, especially for the single cook.

Just before Thanksgiving a local supermarket chain advertised 10- to 12-pound turkeys for $4.99 with the purchase of $10 worth of groceries.  Sounded like a great deal to me, especially if I could stretch this bird over time and meals, which is what I did.  Here it is February and the turkey’s meat continues to feed me well.

After roasting my turkey and allow it to cool slightly, I sliced the white meat and pulled the dark meat off the bone.  I then froze the meat in 4- to 5-ounce packages, separating the white and dark meats and marking the packages white or dark along with the date.

What then remained was the turkey carcass, which I slowly simmered in a pot along with a stalk of celery, a couple of chopped carrots, a chopped onion, a clove of garlic, a bay leaf and enough water to cover it all (Allow to simmer for at least an hour or longer).  After skimming off the foam and removing the vegetables I had a good amount of stock that I also froze in 1-2 cup containers for use in soups later.  This boiling of the carcass to make stock saved my mother a trip back to earth from heaven to haunt me.  A child of the depression, she wasted nothing and scolded me if she caught me tossing anything she considered “still of use.”

The small packages of frozen turkey meat thaw quickly in the refrigerator and can be used in place of cooked chicken when the recipe calls for it.  How about a little turkey salad in a sandwich?  The white meat works well for this purpose.

The dark meat adds a hearty flavor to soups like the one below.

Turkey-zini Soup with red beans

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon oil

¼ Cup chopped onion

½ Cup chopped carrots (about 2 small or 1 medium)

1 Garlic clove, minced

1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

3 Cups water

1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

3-4 Ounces cooked turkey, preferably dark meat

1 Small bay leaf

1 Small to medium zucchini, quartered lengthways and sliced

Salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind that canned beans contain some salt)

Heat oil in two-quart pan.  Add onions and carrots and sauté 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes longer.  Add beans, water, tomatoes, turkey and bay leaf.  Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 30 minutes.  Add zucchini and simmer 15 minutes longer.  Season and serve.  This makes 3-4 servings, but it heats well and in fact improves with time.  You can sprinkle on some grated Parmesan if you wish.

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