On the Menu: Culinary Q's? Here are the A's!


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Some home cooks approach Thanksgiving with the dedication of a team of NASA engineers preparing for launch day at Cape Canaveral. There are weeks of planning, dozens of lists and a weeklong game plan broken down into 15-minute intervals.

Then there's most people. The gravy is lumpy, the green beans are overcooked, and if the smoke alarm goes off one more time, you just might tear it out of the wall. Or worse, the turkey is sitting on the counter hard as a rock, because no one realized it takes more than 24 hours to defrost a 22-pound bird.

On this day of all days, so very much can go wrong. Fortunately, whether you're faced with a broken oven, a lackluster pie crust or a critical houseguest, there are an amazing number of resources to help out the home cook during these trying holiday times. This year, you can call in, tweet, facebook message and even text culinary experts for answers to all your Thanksgiving (and daily) cooking emergencies.

Holiday cooking hotlines

Unless otherwise noted, experts are not available on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line

1-800-288-8372 or e-mail talkline@butterball.com.

The hot line is open weekdays in November and December from 9 a.m to 9 p.m.

Crisco Pie Hotline

1-877-367-7438

Weekdays in November and December from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Extended hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Nov. 15 to 24 and Dec. 13 to 23.

Fleischmann's Yeast Baker's Help Line

1-800-777-4959

Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Foodpickle

www.food52.com/foodpickle

King Arthur Flour Co.'s Bakers' hot line:

1-802-649-3717

Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and, during the holiday season, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Splendid Table Turkey Confidential

1-800-537-5252

Thanksgiving Day, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry hot line

1-888-674-6854

On Thanksgiving Day, the hot line is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For inexperienced or infrequent cooks, the turkey can be one of the most intimidating aspects of the Thanksgiving meal. That's probably why one of the oldest culinary resources available to home cooks is the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. This year, it is celebrating its 30th year of fielding culinary questions from the basic (what kind of pan to use) to the time-sensitive (my turkey is on fire!).

Each year, the phone lines and e-mail inboxes are staffed by more than 50 professional home economists who answer more than 100,000 questions. This year, they're also answering questions on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Butterball) and Twitter (twitter.com/@butterball).

Pie crusts are another once-a-year project for many cooks. A purchased crust may be fine any other time of year, but when Thanksgiving rolls around, a lot of people dust off their rolling pins and dig up their grandmother's favorite pie recipe.

The Crisco pie hot line was created in 2006 to give home bakers basic tips about pie making and access to live experts. Is your dough too crumbly? Add ice cold water one tablespoon at a time. Frustrated by shrinking edges? Roll the dough out two inches wider then the pie pan, and let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan. Crisco is also answering questions on its recently created Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Crisco).

A number of other baking supply companies also offer hot lines, some year-round, such as the King Arthur Flour Co. and General Mills.

Most talk lines staffed by experts are closed on Thanksgiving day itself, but that doesn't mean that there's no one to turn to for answers.

Just a few months ago, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs launched Foodpickle, a Web-based resource to answer culinary questions, a new addition to their up-and-coming site for home cooks, Food52. Rather than consulting specific experts, Foodpickle marshals the knowledge of the crowd to answer cooking questions on the fly. Cooks can ask questions on www.food52.com/foodpickle, on twitter (twitter.com/foodpickle) or instant message the service, and wait for home cooks around the country and even the world to offer their suggestions, often within minutes. One caveat: The site is relatively new and unusually high usage rates have caused a few problems, which may come up again during the holiday season.

For last-minute Thanksgiving questions, cooks across the country call in to receive sage advice from Lynne Rossetto Kasper of NPR's "The Splendid Table" radio show. About 10 years ago, one of the morning hosts on Ms. Kasper's home station suggested that she come in on Thanksgiving and open up the phone to calls. It was a tremendous success and six years ago the annual show, "Turkey Confidential," went national.

People call in to ask questions, request recipes and offer advice. Many call in with their stories, including some that Ms. Kasper described as "wonderfully loopy," like the roofer who cooked his turkey by burying it in a bucket of hot tar. "There was a lot of foil involved," she said.

Sometimes, she's the one to break the bad news if nothing can be done. If a turkey has been thawing on the counter overnight, even Ms. Kasper can't provide a solution other than to throw out the turkey because of potential bacteria contamination.

She can, however, offer this piece of Thanksgiving wisdom: "The biggest mistake we make is aiming for perfection. It's not about the food, it's about getting people together."

To that end, she suggested "get [your guests] close together at the table, and never have a bright overhead light."


China Millman: 412-263-1198 or cmillman@post-gazette.com . Follow her at http://twitter.com/chinamillman .


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