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Buffalo Banana Berry

Winner of the First Nightcap Contest held in Main Place Mall last week was the alcohol-free drink the "Buffalo Banana Berry" from T.G.I.Friday's.

The drink, which is made by combining 4 ounces of cranberry juice, 1/2 ounce of lime juice, a scoop of crushed ice, 1/4 of a ripe banana and a scoop of orange sherbet, won first prize for overall showmanship in its preparation.

Two other winners were the Swiss Chalet's "Christmas Icicle" (best taste) and Billy Ogden's "Berry Ogden" (best-looking).

Other participating First Night restaurants will present their special nightcaps during this communitywide alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration, running from 5 p.m. to midnight at 26 locations around Buffalo.

Ask Beau Fleuve, Bijou Grille, Crash, Flying Tigers, Garvey's, the Juicery, Keystone Kelly's, Melanie Sweets Unlimited, Pettibone's, Saki's and Tram's Little Harlem for their First Night specials.

Community cookbooks

Two interesting new community cookbooks came across our desk recently. One, "Our Favorite Recipes," is composed of recipes from friends of the Food Shuttle, which transports leftover food from restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries to local soup kitchens and shelters. The spiral-bound volume costs $6 and can be purchased from the religious education office at St. Gregory the Great Church, 250 St. Gregory Court, Williamsville, or by calling 632-1925. All proceeds go to this worthy organization.

"Sharing Our Best," a local cookbook compiled by the Cheektowaga Community Chorus, costs $7 and is available in the Cook's Bazaar at AM & A's Walden Galleria store. The sale of this cookbook will raise money for the European tour planned by the chorus next year.

It will keep the group "a-carolin'."

UB recipe contest

Two healthy, pretty dips -- one red and one green -- won a big, beautiful cookbook for Dr. Karen K. Nonan of the Sponsored Program Office at the University at Buffalo.

The university's weekly newspaper, the Reporter, sponsored the holiday recipe contest, judged by yours truly.

The dips are easy to construct and good to keep on hand at holiday time. Serve them with fresh vegetables or crackers.

Red: Combine 1 pound cut-up and roasted red peppers with 2 teaspoons capers, 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 3 cloves garlic and freshly ground black pepper in the container of a food processor; puree until smooth. Refrigerate.

Green: Place 12 ounces washed, stemmed, drained fresh spinach in the container of a food processor; shred. Add 3 ounces parsley, 2 ounces dill, 1 cup part-skim ricotta, 1/2 cup non-fat yogurt, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice; puree. Refrigerate.

Fusion cooking

This will be the "in" culinary style throughout this decade, Los Angeles restaurant guru Hugh Carpenter predicted when he was in town last week.

The author of "Pacific Flavors" and "Chopstix" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) was consulting at the new downtown restaurant, Saki's.

Fusion cooking is a blend of Asian, Mexican and Southwest flavors with a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients.

And there's no reason Western New Yorkers can't have fun with this cuisine. While he was here, Carpenter took a quick tour of local grocery outlets and easily found the essential ingredients: light and heavy soy sauces, sesame oil, hoisin, plum, oyster and Chinese chili sauces and, if you wish, Thai fish sauce.

Also: ginger, garlic, mint, basil, cilantro and limes.

Want to give your next meatloaf a fusion twist? Carpenter suggests you add a little oyster sauce, chili sauce and grated orange peel to the ground meat. Or construct a marinade from some of the ingredients listed previously and brush the food as it is grilling.

"As a nation, we will become known for this integrated style of cooking in years to come," Carpenter says. "We'll see it not only in restaurants run by hip young chefs, but in the home kitchen."

Fusion cooking produces light, healthy food that people are into now. There will be another reason for its popularity, as Carpenter pointed out:

"After all, there are expected to be 20 million Asians living among us by the year 2000."

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