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GOURMANDISE

SWEET SENTIMENTS

Valentine 2001

You read it here first. Every year, we keep you up to date by reporting the new sayings on candy hearts. They are revised annually. Taking a cue from Arthur Clarke's "2001 A Space Odyssey," the Necco company says it has selected new phrases that "pay tribute to the limitless nature of love."

Among them: "Moon Beam," "U R A Star," "Venus" and "Star Dust." Of course, you can still find some old favorites like "Be Mine."

POPCORN PINCERS

Look Mom, no grease

A Wisconsin inventor has come up with a way to avoid butter fingers while eating popcorn -- a popcorn fork. The plastic, pincerlike tool is dishwasher-safe and even comes with its own salt shaker. Suggested retail price: $9.95 for a pack of 12. It's available at www.popcornfork.com.

TASTE TEST

Personality flavors

Ah, something else to worry about. A new book, "What Flavor Is Your Personality? Discover Who You Are by Looking at What You Eat" by Alan Hirsch (Sourcebooks), purports to assess your personality type by examining your food preferences.

You might want to take the ice cream test. If you prefer butter pecan, the author says you are rigid, fair and ethical; if your favorite flavor is vanilla, you're a colorful and gregarious, also a risk-taker with a hectic schedule. (Funny, we would have thought it would be the other way around.)

Hirsch is a neurologist and psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of smell and taste loss, and he is an expert in different areas, ranging from career choices to sexual compatibility -- all by observing food choices.

Pass the menu, please.

GOT A BEEF?

Meat and and potatoes

This year's National Beef Cook-Off will be held in September in Tucson, Ariz., with a first-prize award of $50,000, and there's something new. For the first time, the Cook-Off, in conjunction with the National Potato Promotion Board, is introducing two new recipe categories that feature beef and spuds. (Other categories involve beef alone.)

For a complete listing of the rules, call (800) 848-9088. Deadline for entries is March 31.

MYSTERY GADGET

What is it?

And a bottle of soy sauce to you if you guessed that this is a Chinese Spatula-Turner. It's the best tool to use when preparing stir fry. The curved shape matches the bottom of a wok so no ingredients escape and the outside edges curve up so you can really scoop up a lot of food. Not to mention the long handle that helps you keep your distance from the necessary intense heat.

Do note, however, that the spatula is made of stainless steel, so it will scratch non-stick surfaces.

INTERNATIONAL INTEREST

Dumplings by any other name

Be sure you know what you're speaking of when you call someone your "baby dumpling." It's a crowded field because dumplings are a global thing.

A recent Knight Ridder release cites "Gnocchi," the Italian entry usually made from potato but sometimes made from polenta or cornmeal. And there are French "Quenelles," delicate dumplings, usually made from ground meat or fish mixed with eggs, shaped into small ovals and poached.

And "Matzo Balls," small dumplings made of matzo meal or ground unleavened bread and traditionally served in Jewish-style chicken soup. And "Kreplach," small noodle dumplings filled with meat or cheese and simmered in broth.

And Chinese "Won Ton," ground meat enclosed in thin dough. And finally German "Spaetzle," made from a soft dough pushed through the holes in a colander into simmering broth, then tossed with butter or added to soup.

Quotable

"I can't imagine anyone living in the civilized world without a garlic press."

-- New York City kitchen consultant Florence Perchuk.

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