Originally created 12/01/99

Small portions



Eating Big Bird?

From the Middle Ages down to the 17th century, European big shots liked to eat big birds -- wading birds of the stork family, particularly cranes and herons.

It was a privilege of the nobility, and 15th-century cookery writer Platina was only repeating an ancient warning when he advised commoners never to taste these birds, lest they develop a fondness for something beyond their station. But not many gourmets have tried them in recent centuries, so it's hard to know whether they were really prized for their flavor or mostly as a status symbol.

Part of the attraction was certainly size. (On the same principle, whales were the property of the king in England.) Another was all those fine feathers. In the Middle Ages, a crane or a heron was usually boiled to tenderize it and then finished by roasting, to preserve its shape; finally, to make a fine show on the banquet table, its feathered skin was rearranged around the meat. A modern health inspector would probably have a thing or two to say about that.

Soy to the world

Too bad all the benefits of soy can't be put into a pill.

Soy contains much of what Americans need: a cholesterol-free form of protein, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to fight stroke and heart attack. It is the single best source of isoflavones, a substance that reduces the risk of osteoporosis, prostate cancer, breast cancer and the symptoms of menopause.

But for many Americans, food like tofu -- in any guise -- is truly too bitter a pill to swallow. We continue to shun it in droves.

Now, however, a new product on the market stands a fighting chance of being welcomed into the American home. Green soybeans -- called edamame in Japanese -- are expanding out of the specialty and health food stores and into supermarkets.

Green soybeans look like small lima beans, but they're sweeter, with a firmer and crunchier texture. It is a different variety from the dried or canned soybeans found in health-food stores or the kind used to make tofu, although they are nutritionally the same.

Green soybeans are harvested while not quite mature. They come in fuzzy peapodlike shells. In Japan and in Japanese restaurants in this country, they're brought to the table cooked in their shells for diners to tear open with their teeth. They make a good bar food that way.

Food safety

Home Food Safety (www.homefoodsafety.org), a Web site from the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Inc., is helpful for its basic tips and links. Although some Internet safety information is stodgy, this is easy to read. But as with other sources of cautionary food advice, it is a bit overly so. One tip, for instance, is to wear latex gloves if you have a sore or cut on your hand (when you're cooking?).

You also can ask questions of dietary and cooking experts, review recent news on food safety and link with other sites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov). Just don't panic if you haven't disinfected your sponges properly, as the site suggests; you can start now.

Indoor grilling

Aching for a nice char-grilled anything this time of year, but too turned off by the chilly weather to fire up the grill? No problem. Just grab a bottle (or three) of Ginger Hickory sauce and settle in for a long, snug winter of indoor grilling of sorts.

The subtle hickory flavor makes pan-fried burgers taste as if they'd been grilled over an open fire. And the ginger and other natural ingredients -- including Tasmanian Leatherwood honey -- make it very smooth and very pure tasting. Brush it on broiled chicken, beef, fish or even tofu. Or cut the sauce with water and use it as a marinade. A godsend for grilling mavens from the West Coast who prefer their meats slightly smoky and their winters spent indoors.

Ginger Hickory Grilling and Cooking Sauce is produced by the Ginger People, purveyors of many things ginger. A 12.7-ounce bottle sells for $4.49. Available at Dean & DeLuca and Sutton Place Gourmet stores; for mail-order, call (800) 551-5284 or try the Web site: www.gingerpeople.com.

Cookie time again

There's no reason to run out of Christmas-cookie ideas this year. The bakers at CookieRecipe.com offer a new holiday cookie recipe every day until Christmas. Recipes are at www.cookierecipe.com/cat/christmas.asp.

Santa has a few cookie ideas, too. He likes Amish sugar cookies and Christmas fruit bars, along with other sweets at www.santas.net/recipes.htm.

For Christmas candy with a kick, try the Irish Cream Balls at www.donogh.com/cooking/cookies.html. The site also has date balls, pecan Puffs and some fudge recommendations.