The main attraction. Festive meals are a family affair - and for many, this means starting with a turkey

THANKSGIVING and Christmas dinners are two of the few ``great'' meals of the year. But in today's world of dual-career couples, Thoreau's words ``Simplify, simplify'' have practical value. This doesn't mean we have to go out to eat for the holidays. Besides, they're family days. And a festive meal has special meaning when it becomes a family project. It means also that the meal may be planned to make full use of packaged and canned foods. While they cost more, they save on the cook's time and energy.

Giving each family member a special ``chef job'' strengthens the coherence of family life - especially when it is rewarded with the appreciation it deserves. Dad might be responsible for the turkey - making the dressing and stuffing and tying up the bird, seeing it is roasted for the proper time, and then serving and carving it. One child might prepare the vegetables. The littlest one might have the job of putting some jam on the table in a pretty dish. Mom's job could be to make the plum pudding or mince pies - which she might make on an earlier weekend and put in the freezer until the big day arrives.

A simple centerpiece might be a bowl of red apples, with sprigs of green tucked in. This is the time to use your best tablecloth and napkins, to light the candles and dine by their soft glow.

One cook in the kitchen? Never! The more-the-merrier this holiday season!

How to cook a turkey

The main feature of many a festive table, turkey is relatively simple to prepare.

Most turkeys today are purchased frozen. If so, follow the directions that come with the bird.

After the bird is thoroughly defrosted, remove the giblets and wash the inside of the bird thoroughly under a running faucet.

Dry the bird and stuff it lightly. Do not pack the stuffing. Don't forget to stuff the neck opening. Secure these openings with skewers, or baste them closed with a heavy needle and coarse thread.

Usually a trussing string accompanies the bird. If not, tie the wings and legs in place. Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan. Cover with foil, so it will not get too brown. Remove the foil about half an hour before serving, letting the top become a light golden brown.

Roast the turkey in a 325-degree F. oven, allowing 25 minutes per pound for a turkey under 12 pounds and about 20 minutes per pound for a turkey over 12 pounds. Large birds take six or seven hours to roast. So remember, it will have the priority oven space!

This holiday season, Swift-Eckrich Inc. is again sponsoring the Butterball Turkey Talk-line. Cooks with questions about cooking a turkey can call toll-free at 1-800-323-4848 on weekdays from Nov. 2 through Nov. 26, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (central time), and weekdays from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24, 8 a.m to 6 p.m. Operators will also be available on the weekends of Nov. 14 and 15, and Nov. 21 and 22, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; on Thanksgiving Day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and on Christmas Eve, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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