Nov 26, 2008

Tryptophan...Take Me Away

Right about now, those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving are gearing up for some lazing around, drunk and dreamy from tryptophan and carbs. For many years I never understood the obsession people have with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Side dish leftovers, yes. Don’t get between me and the leftover potato casserole. I do mean it. Turkey, no. I guess I just never used leftover turkey correctly. Growing up, the tradition was a turkey sandwich Thanksgiving night. What’s to get excited about? Cold turkey on a buttered brown-and-serve roll. Whoo-hoo. Turkey isn’t high on my list of things to eat anyway.

But here’s my dilemma. As uninterested as I am in leftover turkey...especially the dark meat, which no one in my house is wild about, I am also frugal (cheap) and hate wasting food (money). So the leftover turkey must be eaten.

Many years ago I thought I’d make turkey tetrazzini with the leftovers. It was a flop. I’m not sure why. I followed a recipe from a well-respected chef. The dish was dry and bland, definitely not to be made again. It puzzled me though. I like mushrooms, pasta, Parmesan cheese, why was this a failure? Hmmm...does anyone smell a project coming on?

One day-after-Thanksgiving I looked around the kitchen. I had mounds of leftover turkey (mostly dark meat), unused celery, onions, chicken broth, cream (since changed to half and half...gotta keep my girlish figure), herbs, and mushrooms from Thanksgiving dinner. I had Parmesan cheese. I always have Parmesan cheese. I had 3 types of pasta—spaghetti, penne, macaroni. Surely I could come up with something similar to tetrazzini, but with a creaminess and flavor I and my family would like. Yes, you know where this is going. Of course I came up with something. Otherwise this would be an uneventful post, wouldn’t it?

Knowing a few cooking methods, like how to make a cream sauce (one of my favorite things on Earth), the basics of tetrazzini, and asking my son for input, I came up with a casserole—made from leftovers—that my family actually looks forward to every year. My husband once said that he didn’t mind eating the leftover dark meat if it was in “The Casserole.” In case you’re wondering how my son fits in to this story...I asked him to choose the pasta. He is a little pasta-loving freak. Secretly, I hoped he wouldn’t pick spaghetti. In keeping with his four-year-oldness (his age at that time), he chose macaroni.

So in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving foods we eat every year, Turkey Tetrazzini-Style Casserole has also become a tradition. I share lots of recipes with lots of people on a daily basis. But, the ones I’m most proud of are the ones I’ve come up with myself. This is one of ‘em.

* This casserole freezes well.
* I like to reheat it on the stove top
* Sherry has a distinct flavor. Some people don’t like it. If you think you may be one of those people, skip it, or use white wine.

Turkey Tetrazzini Style Casserole
from Ms. enPlace

2 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
3 tbsp butter
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup dry sherry
salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh thyme, ground sage--amounts depending on personal taste
3 cups cooked turkey
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 cup cheddar cheese, plus more for topping

Preheat oven to 375. Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain.

While macaroni cooks, chop vegetables. Sauté in butter. Start the onions and celery first. When onions get soft, add garlic and mushrooms. After all the vegetables are done to your liking (I like to get the onions caramelized a bit), add flour to thicken mixture.

Stir in broth, half and half, and sherry. Allow to come to a boil, then simmer to thicken the sauce. Add turkey and cheeses to the sauce. Allow cheeses to melt. Add cooked macaroni to pot and blend everything well.

Pour mixture into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Top with additional cheese. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.

Got everything in order, right? Cook the macaroni, drain, and set aside. Don't overcook the mac or it will be mushy after baking the casserole. Mushy mac = icky meal.

Chop and saute the vegetables. Start with the onion and celery. They take longer to cook. Add in the garlic and mushrooms.

Sprinkle in the flour. It will help thicken your sauce.

Add the liquids, bring to a boil, then simmer to thicken.
Add the turkey and cheeses. Stir to combine. Gently stir in the macaroni.
Add to a greased 13 x 9 casserole and top with additional cheese.
Bake for around 20 min. at 375.

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