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A true tale of turkey and love

CARLSBAD — La Costa resident Erin Newton’s skills in the kitchen may well have saved her future husband from at least one nasty bout of food poisoning, and very possible worse.
In her junior year of college in Virginia, she and her roommates were just starting the fall semester and wandered down to the nearby apartment of Clark and four guys named Bill for an afternoon gathering. Upon entering the house, her first words were, “What is that God-awful smell?”
In a college boy’s apartment, it could have been many things, but in fact it was a still frozen-solid turkey, with giblets still in the center, the boys had popped into the oven, expecting it to simply cook.  Erin swiftly explained to them how and why that was never going to happen. Before long, she had worked out a deal with the five hungry male neighbors to cook dinners for them in return for rides to the supermarket and free meals for herself.
“I shopped, and cooked, and then went home to study while they cleaned up,” she explained. “I made huge, low-cost meals with lots of leftovers.”
It was a brilliant idea for a young woman putting herself through college, with one unexpected benefit — she got to know Clark. And they were married the next year.
To this day, Erin’s cooking is still relished by friends and family. Dropping by to chat while she makes dinner on any given night makes you sad to go home to your own cooking. She is best know for throwing frequent parties that no one in her La Costa neighborhood will ever miss.
In a salute to the turkey incident, the recipe Erin chose to share is her Turkey Tetrazzini. It’s a rich, savory, easy-to-make comfort food and a use-those-leftovers kind of recipe that freezes beautifully prior to baking.
“I love to cook the foo-foo stuff like crab cakes, triple citrus cheesecake or fillet mignon that you rub and marinate for three days,” she said. “But (Turkey Tetrazzini) is my family’s favorite. It is perfect to take to a sick friend or a potluck. I make a bunch for a dear bachelor friend at Christmas time, who not only loves it, but now expects it. It was one of the recipes I learned from my mother back when I lived in Harrisonburg, Va., where turkey was cheap.” 
When I mentioned, in front of mutual friends, that we needed to pick a favorite recipe for this article, they all suggested something different. They then decided she needed to make all of our favorites to taste again in order to pick a winner. If she wasn’t busy working several days a week as a nurse at Scripps Encinitas, she might well have gone for it.
Instead, we just sat drooling and remembering the many meals and gatherings we have all shared with her. Each time, we had to decide whether to stuff ourselves on the fabulous hors d’oeuvres or save room for her seafood bisque, chicken tortilla soup, corned beef stew, homemade bread and from-scratch desserts.
And believe me, it always tastes amazing, even if it wasn’t preceded by her epic frozen Margaritas.

Turkey Tetrazzini

1/4 C. butter
1/4 C. flour
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 C. chicken broth
1 C. heavy whipping cream
1/4 C. sherry
7 oz. spaghetti noodles broken into small pieces, cooked and drained
2 C. cooked and shredded turkey (or chicken) – dark meat adds the BEST flavor!
1 (3 oz. can) of mushrooms (pieces and stems)
1/2 C. grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt butter in non-stick skillet over medium heat and stir in flour and seasonings. Cook, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in broth and cream.  Return to burner and heat until boiling, stirring constantly.  When it starts bubbling continue to boil and stir constantly for one more minute. Remove from burner and add sherry. Put cooked spaghetti noodles, chopped mushrooms and turkey in 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Pour cream mixture over this and mix well.  Sprinkle Parmesan on top.  Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until bubbly in the center and a little crusty brown on top and the edges.
I love to make this ahead and freeze it. I usually cook a huge turkey at Thanksgiving (more than I will ever need) and then I buy the aluminum 9-inch-by-9-inch pans and make up several trays of this (doubling and tripling the recipe whenever I can). I like to keep this casserole in the freezer for emergencies (people drop in, emergency at someone else’s house like a surgery of loss of a loved one or just when a friend is feeling down – this is great to drop off along with a can of jellied cranberry sauce, ready-to-bake rolls, and a salad. It’s your own frozen dinner. When my kids come home from college I often send a frozen tray back with them.  They love it because it reminds them of home and the holidays.  If you freeze it then the prep time is longer.  I tend to warm it at 200 F for an hour and then turn it up to 350 F for about 45 minutes.