Need help? Operators are standing by

November 24, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer


The recipe says to pour the cake batter into the pan, but it's as thick as concrete mix. What do I do?

The turkey is done, and half the guests are stuck on the runway at Newark. Can this bird be saved?

We've all had them -- those moments of panic, when things are not going as expected, and the time frame is unkind.

Help is at hand, however -- all you have to do is pick up the phone and call one of the toll-free help lines operated by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and various companies that employ home economists and other trained personnel to ease cooking consumers out of jams.

Be warned, however, that as the holiday approaches, the hot lines become extremely busy. You may have to be patient to get through.

In the meantime, don't abandon common sense. In the case of the cake batter, there's not much you can do except spoon it into the pan and put it in the oven. Ingredients that are solid at room temperature may melt and initially make the batter more liquid before it cooks. Watch it carefully, and test frequently for doneness.

In the case of the turkey, if the wait is two hours or less, take it out of the oven, wrap it in foil, wrap heavy bath towels around that and newspapers around that, and place in an insulated container. For a wait of two to three hours, turn heat back to 140, open oven door to let most of heat out. Wrap turkey in foil and close door. Check frequently to make sure internal temperature of turkey stays at 140 degrees or above. If it seems to be getting too cool, increase heat long enough to raise the temperature. For a longer wait, take the turkey out and carve it, wrap the meat in small packages and put in fridge. Reheat when guests arrive.

Don't forget that cooking is not a mechanical process, where everything goes like clockwork. It's an interactive process that requires you, the cook, to monitor what's going on and make decisions based on what you see. If something seems done, take it out, regardless of what the recipe says. If it's not done, ignore the recipe and cook it longer.

Here are some holiday help lines you can call. (If you have a question about a specific product, check the packaging; often it will list a toll-free number for consumer queries.)

*USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: (800) 535-4555. Operates from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST weekdays.

*Butterball Turkey Talk-line: (800) 323-4848. Operates from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST weekdays through Nov. 24; from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Nov. 20-21 (weekend before Thanksgiving); from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Day; from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Nov. 26 through Dec. 23 (weekdays only in December.)

*Reynolds Turkey Information Line (recorded messages): (800) 745-4000. Operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Nov. 30.

*Land O' Lakes Holiday Bakeline: (800) 782-9606. Operates 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST through Dec. 24.

*Nestle Baking Information Helpline: (800) NESTLES or (800) 637-8537. Operates 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST through Dec. 23, except Nov. 25 and 26.

*Dreyer's and Edy's Grand Ice Cream Cold Facts Hotline: (800) 777-3397. Operates 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST through Dec. 31. Leave name and address for such holiday recipes as Christmas peppermint pie and ice cream truffles; or ask for a consumer representative for questions on nutrition and cooking assistance.

*Finally, an unusual hot line that's new this year is MCI Entertains, with its Host Tips line. Eleven noted authorities in food and entertaining will offer recorded tips on such topics as party planning, decorating, recipes, gift ideas and menu suggestions. Celebrity advisers include the doyenne of home entertaining, Martha Stewart; John Loring, of Tiffany & Co.; Jeff Smith, "The Frugal Gourmet;" cookbook author Barbara Kafka; and Renny Reynolds, New York party designer and florist, among others. MCI, the long-distance phone provider that is sponsoring the hot line, will donate $50,000 to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation on behalf of the celebrity participants. The number is (800) HOST TIPS, or (800) 467-8847. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Jan. 15.

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