Countdown to T-DayIt's turkey time. Most people regard...


November 15, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Countdown to T-Day

It's turkey time. Most people regard this season with a mixture of longing and terror -- longing for the wonderful traditions and marvelous tastes, terror at the thought of producing that majestic meal.

Decades ago, the lore of preparing Thanksgiving dinner was learned early, at Mom's or Dad's or maybe Grandma's elbow. But these days, moms and dads and even grandparents are pretty busy. They may not have much time to cook, much less time to teach. But there's good news for T-dayphobics: There's plenty of help available.

Here's a roundup of some of the hot lines and tips and products that may help your holiday season run smoothly.

Keeping calories down

It's true turkey is naturally lean, but you can add plenty of calories in the stuffing. Here's a recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has only 120 calories per half-cup serving, plus 1 milligram of cholesterol, 3 grams of fat and 210 milligrams of salt.

Savvy stuffing

Serves eight.

1 cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 tablespoon margarine

8 cups soft bread cubes

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves

3/4 cup chicken broth, no-salt-added type

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook onions and celery in margarine until tender. Remove from heat. Mix in bread cubes, seasonings and broth. Place in greased 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish. Cover and bake one hour.

Note: Cooking the dressing separately keeps it from absorbing fat from the cooking bird.

USDA has a hot line for folks who have problems or questions as turkey day approaches. It even operates on Thanksgiving. It's the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, (800) 535-4555. See accompanying box -- suitable for clipping and sticking on the fridge -- for hours.

Make it safe

Safety should be a primary concern when you are dealing with raw poultry. Here are some safety tips, from the National Turkey Federation:

*Cook whole turkey to an internal temperature of 180 degrees as measured by a meat thermometer stuck into bird's inner thigh.

*Cool leftovers rapidly. Remove turkey meat from carcass and store in small, shallow, containers.

*Always keep hands, utensils and work areas clean. Do not use wooden cutting boards with poultry; use non-permeable boards.

Gobbling it up

Americans are eating more than twice as much turkey as they did 20 years ago. According to figures from the National Turkey Federation, per capita consumption was 8.4 pounds in 1973; this year, it's estimated to reach 18.3 pounds. The federation has these tips:

*When buying a turkey, allow at least 1 pound of uncooked

weight per person. That will allow for "moderate" leftovers.

*To thaw a frozen turkey, leave it in its original wrapping and put it on a tray or in a shallow pan in the refrigerator. Allow five hours per pound, or three to four days for a 14- to 19-pound bird to defrost.

*To thaw a bird more quickly, put turkey, in original wrapping, in sink and cover with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes. Allow half an hour per pound to defrost turkey.

*A whole turkey can be kept frozen in its original wrapping at 0 degrees for 12 months.

Talking turkey

There's probably no hot line in the world that can teach a person who doesn't know how to turn on the oven how to cook a turkey -- though certainly all parties are to be lauded for effort. That's just one of the questions addressed by the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line in recent years.

The Butterball line is 12 years old, and offers service for Spanish-speaking consumers and for people who are hearing-impaired. There's even service for Canadians (and, no, south-of-that-border types shouldn't call and ask how to roast a Blue Jay).

Everyone who calls the talk line receives a free, 12-month cookbook calendar with recipes for turkey meals year-round. This year, the talk line teamed up with cookbook author Sarah Leah Chase to create the recipes.

Dates and hours are: Monday through Friday, through Nov. 25, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST; Nov. 21-22, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST; Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Nov. 27 through Dec. 23, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The numbers are:

In the United States and Canada: (800) 323-4848.

For the hearing impaired: (800) TDD-3848.

Here's one of the Butterball recipes that makes good use of those inevitable leftovers.

Turkey salad with cherries, pecans

Serves eight.

1 cup dried cherries

1 1/2 cups apple cider

5 to 6 cups cooked turkey, coarsely shredded

1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, cut in half, and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted

1 bunch dill, stemmed and minced

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons ground ginger

salt and pepper to taste

Combine cherries and cider in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside briefly.

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