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Pie champ
Congratulations are due to Candice M. Stack of Hamburg for her first-place win in the Refrigerated Pie Crust Contest held at the Erie County Fair. She won $125, an engraved silver pie server, a ribbon and an apron. The contest was sponsored by Pillsbury.

Second place was taken by Linda Frost, third by Cindy Miller; both hail from West Seneca.

Here's what the judges described as Mrs. Stack's "beautiful" recipe:

1 package refrigerated pie crusts

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh strawberries, quartered

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup instant tapioca

1 /2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line pie pan with one crust. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat cream cheese with 1/3 cup sugar and flour. Add eggs and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Beat 2 minutes until fluffy. Pour in bottom of pie shell.

Mix strawberries with tapioca, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. Spread evenly over cream cheese. Cover with second crust. Seal edges and cut slits in top crust.

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Melt chocolate chips, then drizzle on top.

Viagra -- for vegetables?

Move over, Bob Dole. According to a produce industry newspaper, the Packer, Viagra can be used to extend the shelf life of fruit and vegetables.

Israeli professor Yaacov Leshemsays of Bar-Ilan University has discovered that the drug for male impotence mimics nitric oxide gas in plant ripening.

"Both chemicals could provide the food industry with entirely new, dramatically improved processes for preserving agricultural produce," the newspaper says.

Italian journey
The least expensive way to take an Italian trip may well be to sit down with a beautiful new coffee-table cookbook, "Savoring Italy: Recipe and Reflections on Italian Cooking" by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books). You'll find huge color photographs of both food and scenery.

Part recipe collection, part travelogue, the book features easy-to-do recipes, experiences and anecdotes from all sections of the boot. The author is a teacher and journalist who specializes in wine, food and travel.

The price? Substantial. It's $39.95. But what the heck -- have you priced air fares recently?

You've got meal
We bank at automatic-teller machines and fuel our cars at self-service gas pumps, so why can't we order a Big Mac and fries by machine?

Guess what? McDonald's is working on it.

Seeking relief from placing help-wanted ads and betting that many consumers may prefer an electronic clerk to a live one, McDonald's is looking into installing self-serve ordering devices in its stores, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Prototype kiosks are being tested.

Culinary datebook
Oct. 3, Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall, noon. A Restaurant Rally benefiting Children's Hospital, with nine participating restaurants. Here's how it works:

Participants gather at the Music Hall to enjoy donated hors d'oeuvres. That's when they learn which three restaurants they'll be visiting.

Then they go out to each of them to sample appetizer-size portions. Finally, they regroup at Kleinhans for dessert and coffee.

Participating restaurants include the Brownstone Bistro, Cafe in the Square, Fat Bob's Smokehouse, Harry's Harbour Grill, the Left Bank, Lord Chumley's, Roseland, Pearl Street Brewery and Truffles. (Transportation will be provided on some of the far-flung routes.)

For information, call 878-7713.

Oct. 12, Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant, 3785 South Park Ave., Blasdell, 6 p.m. Eight-course Italian Dinner, "Fest Grande IV," to benefit Trocaire College. Wines provided by Ruffino Wines of Tuscany; music; Steve Tasker is master of ceremonies. For information, call Tim Maloney at 827-2492.

Onion skins very thin
Mild winter coming in.
Onion skins very tough,
Coming winter very rough.
-- Old English rhyme

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