Diminutive kumquats, only about 1 1/2 inches around, hit their peak during the holiday season.
Native to China, kumquat trees were brought to Europe by Englishman Robert Fortune in the mid-19th century. Their name comes from the Chinese kam kwat, or golden orange. Kumquats are related to the citrus family, but differ in that they can be eaten whole, especially when candied in a sugar syrup; the skin is almost sweet, the flesh tart.
They make a perfect garnish for any holiday roast. At market, look for brightly colored, plump fruit. Loosely wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for a few days.
How can you tell if a fresh turkey's really fresh? Roger Bassett, founder and president of Bassett's Original Turkey, has a few shopping tips for consumers: "Always look inside the cavity. The juices should look bright red and clear. Never buy a turkey when the juices in the cavity appear darker than burgundy.
Also, make sure the skin covers the breast. Cuts in the skin indicate a turkey that isn't certified Grade A.
Which is more fattening, a real hamburger or a veggie burger? If its a Soy Deli Veggie Burger (garlic) vs. a 90 percent-lean hamburger patty, the tsoy burger is fattier, according to a Nutrition Action Newsletter report cited in Muscle & Fitness magazine. The lean-beef burger has 210 calories, compared to the soy burger's 230. But most other brands of veggie burgers are far lower in calories than beef burgers.
Cut to perfection
Think you already have every cookie cutter? How about a Christmas mouse or a Snow Queen? These are only two of the hand-crafted cutters made by former race-car builders and tinsmiths Bob and Bill Cukla at their Boonsboro, Md., workshop.
Wonderfully whimsical, these cookie cutters come with a bit of a price tag ($12 and up), but they are very special. Among the many designs are the Christmas mouse ($12), as well as a partridge in a pear tree ($14), a wee angel with horn ($24), the Snow Queen ($32), the Nutcracker soldier ($46) and, the Cuklas' little joke, the fourth Wise Man, the "Wise Guy Bearing a Casserole" ($26). Available from La Cuisine at (800) 521-1176.
The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins this year on Dec. 23. If you can't be with family or friends to share a plate of latkes (potato pancakes) or play a game of dreidel (a top that's spun to win coins or candy), here are two sweet and clever gifts to send instead:
Harry and David, the Oregon company known for its mail-order fruit and food gifts, is now offering a special Eight Nights of Hanukkah gift. The blue box contains eight numbered boxes containing treats for each night of the holiday.
The first night's box contains a Royal Riviera pear, the company's signature fruit. For the second night, it's dark-chocolate-covered pretzels. There's an apple for the third night, kosher mixed nuts for the fourth, a wooden dreidel for the fifth, traditional gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins for the sixth, fruit-flavored hard candies for the seventh and a milk-chocolate dreidel for the final night. The cost is $34.95 plus shipping. Order by Monday for standard delivery (Dec. 21 for overnight express). Call (800) 547-3033 and ask for Dept. 7206-7.
Everyone wins when you play with this dreidel; when the game's over, break it open and share the rewards. Made of milk chocolate by Belgian-trained chocolatier Rex Morgen of Morgen Chocolate of Dallas, it's hollow and filled with an assortment of miniature white-, milk- and dark-chocolate candies in the shapes of Stars of David, dreidels and menorahs.
The cost is $16 and it's available at Neiman Marcus stores and through the Horchow holiday catalog. For catalog orders, call Horchow at (800) 456-7000 and ask for item 51B. (Order no later than Monday for delivery by the first night of Hanukkah.)
What fast-food chain has the best-tasting hamburger? Whose french fries can't be beaten?
Check out this month's Consumer Reports for the fast-food article, as well as ratings of a half dozen other products you may find yourself buying over the holidays: batteries, microwave ovens, electric fry pans and woks, popular new toys, kitchen gadgets and hot cocoa mixes. (Swiss Miss Chocolate Sensation was the clear winner there.)
Amazing as it sounds, we spend $100 billion a year eating in these places, the magazine says. Might as well choose as wisely as you can. Here are some highlights:
McDonald's is still king of the french fry. They're "thin, long, crisp" and "excellent at times." Burger King's were rated "very good at times"; the company is unveiling a new, crispier fry this month.
Wendy's Big Bacon Classic got the nod for best flavor and texture among burgers -- and it wasn't even the fattiest! It had 30 grams of total fat, 12 saturated; Burger King's Whopper with cheese came in at 46 fat grams, 16 saturated.
The burger with the least grease? Wendy's Single with everything.
Of four chicken entrees, only Popeye's Louisiana Mild fried chicken got a "very good" flavor rating, but Boston Market's roasted had the least fat and sodium.