Originally created 01/08/97

Small portions - bits about food

Cereal for the easily entertained

If you are still of an age when you want to be entertained by the shape of your breakfast cereal, General Mills has a new one for you: French Toast Crunch. Actually, as the label dutifully mentions, it's a "crispy, sweetened corn cereal": essentially, corn puffs shaped like miniature slices of toast, complete with brown "crust."

Pile a la mode unknown in France

We Americans seem to be the only people who make pie a la mode. Despite the French name, the idea of putting ice cream on pie is unknown in France. The closest you'll find to it in Europe is the sort of nouvelle cuisine dessert plate that includes a little of everything - tart, ice cream, pastry and fruit.

The phrase means "in style," and appropriately, because pie a la mode seems to be a relatively recent, or at least a 20th century, fashion. In the first edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), Fannie Farmer gave a number of pie and ice cream recipes but never suggested garnishing the one with the other.

Americans were already serving pie-like desserts like cobbler and pandowdy with cream, though, and doing the same to pie was a natural step. The 1923 edition of Fannie Farmer's cookbook acknowledged this by suggesting cream on one pie; by the 1930 edition, it was calling for cream on seven.

`Presidential' cookbook goes to far

This presidential cookbook thing has finally gone too far. The latest, Hail to the Chef! A Taste of Power by Russell Kramer (Time-Life Books, $12.95), is about an imaginary president. "Russell Kramer" is the name of the ex-president Jack Lemmon plays in My Fellow Americans. In the movie (made by Warner Bros., owner of Time-Life), the Kramer character has written a cookbook ... coincidentally titled "Hail to the Chef!"

This book, actually written by two guys named Tom Conner and Jim Downey, is a collection of regional American recipes with a feeble joke in Kramer's style introducing most of them. Time-Warner is really, really counting on people to love the movie.

Fast food vs. health food: the survey

Readers Digest Books interviewed 400 people in fast-food restaurants and outside health food stores about food and health. The results: The fast-food people answered three times as many questions correctly as the health foodies. For instance, almost all burger-eaters knew that apples are relatively low in nutrients, while only about half the health food customers were aware of this. Percentage who knew that a "reduced fat" label doesn't necessarily mean low fat: 68 percent vs. 18 percent.

The health foodies were more knowledgeable in only two areas. One was that tofu can be a source of food poisoning (they took that one 61 percent to 24 percent), which suggests that the two populations tend to be better informed about the dangers of the kind of food they're more likely to eat.

Can't gain weight by looking

You can't gain weight by looking, right? And most of us can't hope ever to achieve the heights of pastry inspiration even when given the recipes.

So that makes Grand Finales: The Art of the Plated Dessert by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty (Van Nostrand Reinhold, $49.95) a safe gift to give yourself or your favorite sweet tooth, even if your New Year's Resolution began with Lose and ended with Weight.

The authors ganging up on our willpower are the food and features editors of Chocolatier and Pastry Art & Design magazines. They present 50 top dessert artistes from around the country - including Emily Luchetti from Stars in San Francisco, Francois Payard from New York City's Restaurant Daniel and Washington, D.C.'s private pastry chef Ann Amernick - and 75 of their fabulous creations.

Fabulous? Well, some are downright silly, goofy, splendid in a crazed kind of way. But what entertainment the photos make! The book is at selected bookstores.

Calendar of fat

How's this for a sobering fact? One chocolate truffle has the same amount of fat as 26 oranges. Or this? Two french fries from a fast-food restaurant are comparable, fat-wise, to two whole baked potatoes.

Through this year you can digest both of these comparisons, plus 10 more, from the "1997 Illustrated Calendar of Fat," a cleverly photographed compendium that juxtaposes pictures of fatty foods with more healthful alternatives.

The calendar, devised by John Flaherty, a Waltham, Mass., commercial photographer (and vegetarian), is available by mail order for $15.95, including postage and handling.

Send check or money order to Briones Studio, P.O. Box 66082, Auburndale, Mass. 02166. For MasterCard or Visa orders, call (800) 967-3713.


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