There's a 24-pound frozen turkey in your refrigerator - now what?

Turkeys have wandered the Americas for millions of years, but the wild bird bears little similarity to the tender, broad-breasted turkey we enjoy at holiday time.

Today's turkey is a large bird weighing about 31/2 times as much as the wild turkeys of the Pilgrim days.

It has long been accepted that holiday meals simply aren't complete without a juicy, golden brown turkey to serve family and guests.

If you have bought a frozen turkey, thaw it by placing it on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey.

If you need a quicker method, cover with cold water and allow to thaw, changing water frequently. Allow a thawing time of half an hour per pound of turkey.

It is important to refrigerate or cook the turkey as soon as it is thawed.

When it is time to roast your bird, remove the plastic wrap from the thawed turkey. Remove giblets and neck.

On the cover: Marion Morash cooks for company in her kitchen. Story on page 4 .

Rinse turkey inside and out with cool water, then pat dry with a paper towel. Rub salt and pepper into neck and body cavities. Secure drumsticks with a string.

Tuck wing tips under the back. Skewer neck skin with a poultry pin or round toothpick to provide a neat appearance.

It may surprise you to know that the turkey can be prepared and roasted more quickly if it is not stuffed.

In fact the National Turkey Federation suggests that the dressing be prepared separately and roasted in a covered casserole for the last hour with the turkey.

If, like many, you do prefer to stuff it, spoon stuffing loosely into body and neck cavities before skewering the neck skin and tying the drumsticks.

Place the bird, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow open roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into center of the thigh next to the body but not touching bone.

Cover with a tent of lightweight foil, shiny side down, to prevent overbrowning.

Baste with melted butter or cooking oil. Roast in a 325 degree F. oven, allowing 20 to 22 minutes per pound. For final browning remove foil during the last half-hour.

Turkey is done when meat thermometer reads 180 to 185 degrees F., the thick part of the drumstick is soft when pressed, or when drumstick moves easily. Stuffing in turkey must reach 165 degrees F. to be thoroughly cooked.

It is wise to begin checking for doneness about one hour before the end of the recommended roasting time. The chart on this page gives the approximate roasting time in a 325 degree F. oven.

When turkey is done, let it stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes to make carving easier.

It is important never to stuff an uncooked turkey and hold it in the refrigerator. If the stuffing is made in advance, store it separately and stuff the bird just before roasting.

Another important pointer: Never partly cook your turkey one day and complete the cooking the next day. It should be completely cooked in one roasting period.

After the holiday meal you will find extra dividends by preparing some of the following economical, no-fuss meals using up the leftover cooked turkey.

If you have house guests for the holidays, they are sure to be impressed, as many of these dishes are delicious, yet easy and quick to make.

Turkey Bread Stuffing 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 3/4 cup chopped celery 3 tablespoons chopped parsley 2 tablespoons chopped onion 4 cups soft bread crumbs 1/2 teaspoon savory seasoning 1/2 teaspoon salt Pepper as desired

Melt butter in a frying pan. Add the chopped celery, parsley, and onion. Cook until tender. Add the butter and vegetables to the bread crumbs. Add seasonings. Mix lightly but well. Makes 4 cups stuffing.

About 1/2 cup of stuffing is needed for each pound of ready-to-cook poultry.

Variations:

Oyster stuffing: Omit celery and reduce parsley and onion to 1 tablespoon each. Add 1/2 pint oysters, heated in their own liquid and drained.

Nut stuffing: Omit parsley and savory seasoning and add 1/2 cup chopped nutmeats - pecans, roasted almonds, filberts, or cooked chestnuts.

Corn-bread stuffing: Omit breadcrumbs and savory seasoning. Add 4 cups corn-bread crumbs and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon thyme.

Turkey Chow Mein 2 to 3 cups cooked turkey pieces 1 can (13 3/4 ounces) chicken broth 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1/8 teaspoon ginger 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 cup sliced onion 1 clove fresh garlic, minced 2 tablespoons oil 1 cup sliced celery 1/2 cup slivered green pepper 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 cups fresh bean sprouts or 16-ounce can, drained 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms or 4-ounce can, drained 1 1/2 cups fresh Chinese pea pods or 6-ounce package frozen Hot cooked rice

Toss turkey with 1/2 cup broth, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper; set aside. Saute the sliced onion and minced garlic in oil for 3 minutes in large skillet with cover. Add sliced celery, green pepper, and remaining broth.

Heat to boiling, cover, and cook over moderate heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain the turkey, saving the marinade, and add it to the vegetables. Mix cornstarch with the drained marinade.

Add and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the bean sprouts, mushrooms, and pea pods. Cover and cook for 2 or 3 minutes longer. Serve with rice. Makes 6 servings.

Turkey Florentine 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 1/2 cups cooked, diced turkey 1 1/2 cups turkey sauce, recipe below 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese Few grains paprika

Thaw spinach enough to separate. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread spinach in 1 1/2-quart casserole.

Sprinkle lemon juice, salt, and pepper over spinach. Spread turkey over spinach. Pour hot turkey sauce over turkey. Sprinkle cheese and paprika over sauce.

Bake until the spinach is cooked and topping is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Turkey Sauce 1 to 3 tablespoons turkey fat 3 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups turkey broth

Melt the turkey fat in a saucepan over low heat. Blend in the flour and salt. Heat and stir until smooth. Add the turkey broth, stirring constantly. Continue cooking and stirring over low heat until thickened. Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce.

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