We’ve been in Frantic Party Mode around here, in anticipation of this weekend’s celebration of Jackson Barrow’s graduation – a party which for awhile looked like it was going to have to happen over here because their home renovation project has had more setbacks than the ’08 Detroit Lions. But now it’s looking like their house will be ready after all, while we got ourselves an especially thorough spring house-cleaning in the bargain. (I really haven’t minded too much; yesterday I cleaned to the wall- shaking sound of Leonie Rysanek screaming her way through Verdi’s “Nabucco,” courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera’s new Met Player, which allows one to play back any of 155 past Met broadcasts. . . Heaven on earth for an opera nerd like me. And today, since I was upstairs, I worked while watching a classic old film called “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” on AMC – one of those films I have heard so much about but never actually seen until today. I must confess that loud opera tends to get me moving pretty quickly, while a sweet old film like this probably tends to slow me down if anything. . . but at least I was folding laundry with a smile on my face. Anyway, the house now looks about as spotless as it can look (given who the current occupants are) leaving me free to tackle my car and my studio at Carthage, which at the moment are both appalling disaster areas, next.
Anyway, no sooner had I gotten our house party-prepped (just in case) before it was time to help Kathy whip up a double-sized batch of Turkey Mash. . . a sinfully delicious recipe from the kitchens of Darlene Krueger and Lynn Helmke (Both of their names appear at the top of the recipe; I don’t know if they concocted it together or not) that will be served at Jackson’s party. This is something we have served at various parties over the years and it tends to be right at the top of my request list, but I am embarrassed to say that when Kathy has mentioned that it’s very time-consuming to prepare, it has never occurred to me to offer to help. That’s right, over all these years I have not so much as licked the beater when it came to preparing this dish – and such cluelessness probably places me right below Cro- Magnon Man on the evolutionary continuum.
But not this time around. There was almost no time at all to get it prepared (we needed to get it done today because we would not have the time for it tomorrow) so it was all hands on deck . . . meaning my hands and Kathy’s. (Bobbi and Ellie were there, too, although their contribution pretty much consisted of sitting at our feet and gazing up at the kitchen counter with heartbreaking longing in their eyes.) And I have to say that pitching in on this project was really fun and also eye-opening. . . for never again will I request Turkey Mash for a party without being mindful of how much work is required to prepare it.
This morning we had to get the ingredients prepared and combined – which meant among things that I used a food processor for the first time in my life (to chop up two onions) and I’m happy to report that I still have ten fingers! I also had to open up cans of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup – plus a can of chicken broth – and mix them together before adding chopping celery, a pound of browned Italian sausage, and half a bag of stuffing bread crumbs. And once all of that was thoroughly mixed together, it was poured into two slow cookers – which then became the homes for two frozen turkeys (which we thawed overnight). So my First Culinary First of the day was using the food processor. The Second Culinary First was that I spent most of the day Basting the birds – which I also had never done before. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes that I would boast about doing something as basic as this. (“And after that, I filled a glass with water. . . from the faucet!”) But you have to understand how cool it is to be 49 years old and doing your first basting – and as far as I can tell, doing it successfully.
But the last step was yet to come, and it’s a doozy. Once both birds had been cooked through the course of the day, it was time to extract every bit of meat off of the carcass and combine it with the mixture of sausage, soups, croutons and chopped vegetables in which it had been cooking all day. At a glance it seems simple, but it took awhile- and then the last step was to go very carefully through it all in search of any tiny bones or bone fragments that might be in the mixture. . . sort of like sifting for gold. At first I was doing my search with a fork but eventually I just plunged my well- washed hands right into the Turkey Mash and did it that way, feeling for any unwanted bone fragments.
Actually, I am misrepresenting the experience by speaking in first person singular. This was pretty much a collaboration all across the board, and by the end of the afternoon I was feeling like my wife and I were ready to have our own Food Network program. (And I know the title- “Kitchen Cluelessness with Greg and Kathy Berg.” Of course, I would provide the cluelessness and Kathy all the answers.) Actually, the experience of helping her with the Turkey Mash reminded me of a fascinating book I did on my Morning Show about a year ago, “Kitchen Illiteracy.” (sounds like it could have been subtitled The Greg Berg Story.) The author talks about how too many modern Americans have little or no sense of how and where their food is grown . . . and more and more of us who eat out so much of the time or are waited on hand and foot have a remarkably vague understanding of how their food is prepared. Well now I know where Turkey Mash comes from. It may not be much, but at least it’s a start!
pictured above: one of the two turkeys, right after it was placed in its Nesco slow cooker. At this point in the process, it wins no beauty contests, but by the end it looks and smells and tastes delicious!