It was great to be the guest speaker Monday in Valparaiso for the weekly Rotary Club meeting.
And to make it even better, the Valparaiso Rotary Club meets in the large banquet hall at Strongbow Inn on U.S. 30, my favorite restaurant homage to all things turkey.
The last time I had a long chat with Strongbow Inn owner Russ Adams, it was in 1997 for a food feature I was writing to salute one of his restaurant's signature salads.
"Salads have always had their place on the table," Adams told me for that story.
"The only difference is the salad has moved from its place on the table as side dish, to also serve as a main entree."
Adams, a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, has always been particularly proud of the kitchen creations of his grandmother Bess Thrun, who founded the family restaurant, and who he says was "ahead of her time" in many ways, including salads.
"Since about 1940, we've been featuring the 'Bess' Turkey Salad Bowl' as a menu highlight," Adams told me.
"In the 1940s, this was certainly something different. And it's still a favorite today."
Adams said his grandmother was featuring white turkey meat as a tasty and low-fat salad topping long before it became a trendy trademark of health-conscious dieters.
He said today, Strongbow's executive chef Dave Hemdal works constantly to keep his menu's offerings exciting, while holding true to traditional favorites, like their recipe for turkey schnitzel, which they've graciously shared with Times readers today.
Wild turkeys have made a return to Indiana after decades of absence.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, "a combination of uncontrolled hunting and nearly absolute destruction of timber completely wiped out turkeys in Indiana and other Midwestern states, and as late as 1945, it appeared that they might be a vanishing species in the United States."
The DNR says turkeys raised on game farms were released by the thousands, with wild stock transplanted into suitable habitats. Between 1956 and 2004, 2,795 wild trapped birds were released at 185 sites around the state. By some estimates, the DNR says turkey range in Indiana is one to six birds per square mile with some estimates as high as 25 birds per square mile.
At our farm, brave turkeys are now a frequent sight roaming about the field and even the yard. In fact, one very vain wild turkey holds a specific distinction at our farm. My dad loves to tell others about the wild turkey with an attraction to seeing himself in any shiny reflection, be it windows or vehicle hubcaps.
For this feathered friend, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Strongbow Turkey Schnitzel
3-4 ounces raw turkey breast meat
Fine bread crumbs
4 ounces clarified butter
DIRECTIONS: Place turkey portion between pieces of plastic wrap and carefully pound out the meat to 1/4-inch thickness, trying to keep it in one piece. Dust pounded portion with flour. Dredge through egg wash (equal parts egg and cold water whipped together). Dredge through bread crumbs and set aside. Prepare the clarified butter by slowly melting it and use only the oil, no whey from either the bottom or the top, to create a pure clarified butter. In a small pan, add the juice of one lemon to 2 ounces of clarified butter. Add 2 ounces of this clarified butter and lemon to a 10-inch saute pan and place over a medium heat. When butter is hot, saute your schnitzel, browning on one side then the other. Remove schnitzel from pan, dredge through lemon butter mixture again and plate, and serving with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.