Tis the season to get good deals on turkey. Turkey is not usually expensive, but during the holiday season you can get some really good prices on these birds. When you live alone, the thought of a large turkey is a bit much for a single person, as they envision eating turkey for days on end to get it all gone. It also takes some time to prepare and that is also not something most singles want to do on a weekend. I have found taking an afternoon to prepare a turkey will feed not only me, it will feed my three feral cats I have adopted, give the chickens some treats and will also provide some broth I can use to cook things like rice with. I find it is time well spent and a good way to stretch a food dollar. But this year I ended up with not one turkey to prepare.. but two.
My mother took advantage of a great deal at her local HEB Grocery store. They had a coupon where if you bought a ham you got a free turkey. So the first bird I got was a twelve pounder that I cooked up two weekends ago. I made several lunches for myself, made gravy to go with them, fed the chicken skins to the feral cats, gave the neck bones with the meat on them to the chickens to pick through and Spencer the dog got the giblets and broth they were cooked in. I took a portion of the turkey and put it in a Ziploc bag and stuck it in the freezer for a later date to thaw and make lunches. I was able to do a lot with the free turkey for myself and all the critters I have here.
Life was good… then a co-worker that volunteers time at a local charity that gives turkeys to families during the holidays had an extra turkey needing a home. I came into work and sat down next to a frozen bird. This one was eighteen pounds and that day it went home and into the freezer to thaw. We pulled it out and cooked it up yesterday.
Prep of a turkey does take a little bit of time, but the bird goes in the oven for most of the day so it is not too big a deal to prepare. I am interested just in getting the bird cooked, not in having a pretty bird to display and carve at a family dinner. So when I prepare the turkey I remove the neck and giblets and put them in a pot of water that I simmer on low while the bird cooks. I rinse the bird inside and out and allow it to drain. I do not pat dry.
Then the inside cavity is salted and peppered. The turkey is put into a large roasting pan and stuffed with an apple cut into quarters and the core and seeds removed. The core and seeds go into a bucket for the chickens. I cook the turkey breast down and this last turkey I smeared apple sauce all over the bird then covered with the roaster lid. I put the turkey into a pre-heated oven at 325 degrees and noted the time. Bird should be done in 4.5 to 5 hours. Then I went about my day.. cleaning house.. 😦
I pulled this larger bird out of the oven after five hours of cooking time. The turkey was so tender it was falling off of the bone. The one I did two weeks ago also was so tender it was falling off the bone. Not sure if it was the apple in the center cavity or being cooked on its breast.. what ever the reason the meat was juicy, tender and easy to remove from the bones.
After it cooled down a bit I got busy pulling the meat off the bones. I ended up with two large gallon Ziploc bags full of turkey meat. The skin and some of the meat found around the bones was pulled off and set aside for the feral cats. They have enjoyed this treat all day today and I still have enough for them to have tomorrow.
It was a bit late in the evening when I was doing this so I poured the juice from the turkey into two quart canning jars. I will skim off the fat and give that to the feral cats, the rest will be used as broth. I will need to break down the turkey a bit more in the next day or so into smaller portions for freezing. I have a co-worker that is also single and will share some of the meat with her. The rest will be frozen for later use. I love turkey and am going to try and stretch it so I can enjoy these birds for a while.
Since I have so much turkey right now I need to get creative in ways to use it. I like turkey meat with gravy for lunch and might make up some stuffing to go with it. But that is going to get a bit old with as much turkey as I have right now. I am not a big sandwich eater or I could do turkey sandwiches. For something a little different I will put the turkey into a favorite casserole I got out of the recipe book Jim Fobel’s Casseroles. It is a great recipe for what ever leftovers you happen to have. I have used turkey and chicken as well as ham in the recipe and it was a favorite when cooked. I do leave out the vegetable as I do not like any listed, and the recipe made up just fine. I will also be able to use the fresh herbs I have grown this year.
Melting Pot Casserole
Makes: 4 Servings
Casserole: Lightly oil a shallow 2 quart casserole or 8 or 9 inch square pan.
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni, penne, ziti, shells, or other pasta, or a combination (even spaghetti or fettuccine, broken into 2 inch pieces)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeno chili, minced or 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups diced (1/2 inch) cooked lean pork, beef, lamb, chicken or turkey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or o live oil
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup grated cheese, such as Fotina, provolone, Swiss, or cheddar
- 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1 to 2 cups cooked chopped spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, zucchini or green cabbage ( I did not add these and recipe made up fine)
- 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
- Preheat the oven, and prepare the casserole or baking pan.
- Drop the pasta into a large pot of lightly salted boiling water over high heat. Stir until the boil returns and then frequently until the pasta is tender but firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the oregano, basil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and toss again.
- Spoon the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, hot pepper, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt; saute for 1 minute longer. Add the meat, increase the heat and lightly brown for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over moderate heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute; the mixture will be dry. Pour in the milk and stir over moderate heat until thickened and simmering. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted.
- Spoon 1/3 of the pasta into the prepared casserole. Top with half of the meat. Spoon on 1/3 of the tomato sauce. Add half of the cooked vegetables and 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Repeat layering once more. Top with the remaining pasta. Drizzle the remaining tomato sauce over the top; sprinkle on the remaining cheese and the bread crumbs.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bubbly around the edges. Serve hot.
Reheat: If at room temperature, bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes; if cold, add about 15 minutes.