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TURKEY IN THE THAW. Thanksgiving dinner: Who's cooking it, what's going inside the bird, and who's carving? THE `RIGHT STUFF'-ING

DESPITE the hundreds of cookbooks available today, most home cooks get their ideas for holiday dinner from their own memories. They try to re-create the favorite dishes of all the family meals they've ever had. This is especially true of Thanksgiving, when the centerpiece of the day's celebration is usually the traditional bird. But with many cooks, questions still arise. Questions start with the bird, and the most frequent one is, ``Who will do the stuffing, and what kind will it be this year?''

Some are made with corn bread, nuts, and other additions. Cookbook writer James Beard thinks stuffing tastes better when cooked in a baking dish than when cooked inside the bird - so it gets crisp, not soggy, and is easier to serve.

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Traditionalists, however, like to bake their stuffing inside the bird, often with a portion of the stuffing cooked separately.

Jean Liles, food editor of Southern Living magazine, says the turkey roasting is often shared - with different members of the household taking turns as to who does the honors.

``Many men help with cooking the Thanksgiving turkey today. Of course, in the South,'' she comments, ``men enjoy cooking outdoors, especially grilling ... and you'd be surprised how many men like to make desserts.''

Ann McDuffie, food editor in Tampa, Fla., says that ``since more men have to share the kitchen duties, they've learned that it's more fun to do the cooking than to wash up.''

Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, says that although her figures for people calling for help show no more men roasting the bird than last year, she has found that 10 to 15 percent of calls for advice come from people who are cooking the bird for the first time.

``And age is no question - one man of 84 called to get a few tips on how he should cook his first holiday turkey,'' she reports.

Questions asked most often this year concern thawing. Many people also call and say they have a power outage - what to do?

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``Wrap the bird in a towel and take it next door or to a neighbor'' is the answer that solves the problem quickest, Ms. Rodriguez says.

``Some years we have questions about food safety with the turkey, but people are more aware of cooking techniques today,'' she says.

``An interesting thing about our callers is that when a person starts to talk to us, we find we can tell from their accent what kind of stuffing they will have in their turkey,'' Rodriguez comments.

``People with a New England accent favor oyster dressing. In the Southwest, it's a corn bread mixture. In the Southeast, the stuffing will be cooked outside of the turkey in a separate dish, and cooks in the Midwest usually like a bread-onion-sage stuffing.

``Of course, there are other varieties of stuffing that all kinds of people like,'' says Rodriguez.

``Many people make two kinds - one for the front of the turkey and another for the bigger cavity. People tell us about their stuffings with sausage, chestnuts, fruit, noodles, sauerkraut, nuts, and other additions. The list goes on and on.'' Open since 1981, the toll-free Butterball Turkey Talk-Line number is: (800) 323-4848. Talk-line dates and hours are:

Today - Nov. 23: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. (central time).

Weekend before Thanksgiving (Nov. 19-20): 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (CST).

Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24): 6 a.m.- 6 p.m. (CST).

Nov. 25 - Dec. 23: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. (CST).

Here are some favorite recipes of the food professionals who answer phones at the Turkey Talk-Line.

Connie's Toasted Pecan Stuffing 5 cups fresh bread cubes, crusts removed (about 10 slices) 5 cups crumbled corn bread (see note) 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted 1/2 to 3/4 cup giblet stock or chicken broth 1 egg, beaten

Combine bread cubes and corn bread in large bowl. Melt butter in medium skillet. Saut'e onion and green and red pepper until tender. Stir in poultry seasoning, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper.

Add vegetable mixture, pecans, stock, and egg to bread mixture. Toss.

Stuff turkey and roast immediately or place in greased 21/2-quart casserole and bake, covered, in preheated 350-degree F. oven 30 minutes or until hot.

Makes about 8 cups - enough for a 12- to 14-pound turkey.

Note: One package (7.5 ounces) corn muffin mix may be used to make corn bread or muffins for the crumbled corn bread.

Mary Lou's Cranberry Freeze 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 1/2 cups water 1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries 1/2 cup orange juice 1/4 cup lemon juice

Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat in large saucepan. Boil 5 minutes.

Add cranberries; reduce heat to medium and cook until cranberries have popped and are clear, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in orange and lemon juices. Pour mixture into freezer container and freeze overnight. Mixture forms a frozen slush and does not harden. Makes about 4 cups.

Gail's Cracker Pudding 4 common crackers, split into halves (see note) Butter Raisins 3 eggs 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 cups milk

Spread butter on cracker halves, press 3 or 4 raisins into butter. Place raisin-side up in buttered shallow 11/2-quart baking dish.

Beat eggs slightly in medium bowl. Blend in sugar, salt, and milk. Slowly pour over crackers and let stand several hours or overnight in refrigerator.

Bake in 225-degree F. oven 2 hours or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Serve warm with hard sauce. Serves 8.

Hard Sauce:

Blend together 2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 tablespoons half-and-half, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and dash of salt in medium bowl. Stir in 1 cup confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth.

Note: Common crackers are a very crisp, hard, thick, wheat flour cracker that may be split and are made in Vermont. Substitute cold water crackers or Uneeda biscuits.

Marjorie's Golden Mashed Potatoes 4 medium potatoes, pared, and cut into pieces 1 1/2 cups water 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk 1/2 cup shredded carrot Dash salt and ground black pepper

Cook potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain, reserving water. Mash potatoes with 2 tablespoons butter and milk. Gradually beat in reserved water until potatoes are of the proper consistency.

Fold in carrot, salt, and pepper. Place in buttered 1-quart casserole. Top with remaining tablespoon butter.

Bake in preheated 375-degree F. oven 20 to 30 minutes, or until hot and lightly browned. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Note: Potatoes can be prepared the day before. Cover and refrigerate. Increase baking time by 10 to 15 minutes.

Carla's Cream of Wild Rice Soup 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1 large onion, diced 1/2 green bell pepper, diced 1 1/2 ribs celery, diced 1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms 1 cup all-purpose flour 8 cups hot chicken or turkey broth 2 cups cooked wild rice (1/2 cup uncooked) 1 cup half-and-half 1/2 teaspoon salt Dash ground white pepper

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saut'e onion, green pepper, celery, and mushrooms until crisp-tender. Stir in flour; do not brown. Slowly add chicken broth.

Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Cook 1 minute longer. Stir in wild rice and half-and-half. Heat to serving temperature. Blend in salt and pepper. Makes 11 cups.

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