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GOURMANDISE

Which apple?
What a world, what a world! Even buying an apple can be confusing. Which variety is best for eating out of hand (or lunch box)? Which is best for pie?

So here's a brief guide to some of the apples you're seeing this fall. When shopping, note that most apples are labeled as to variety. If not, ask.

Cortland: A genuine all-purpose apple. Excellent for eating out of hand, sauce and baking. Very good for salads -- the flesh is relatively slow to discolor.

Empire: A sweet-tart apple that is a 1960s cross between a McIntosh and a Red Delicious. Empire is best enjoyed out of hand or in a cider blend.

Fuji: Dense, crisp and more sweet than tart, with yellowish-green flesh. Fuji apples improve with storage. Best out of hand.

Gala: A beautiful, sweet, aromatic all-purpose apple for out-of-hand, pies and cider making.

Golden Delicious: A very sweet and mild all-purpose fruit that is best out-of-hand but can be used in pies, sauce and for baked apples.

Granny Smith: Not grown in New York State but an excellent culinary apple with a sweet-tart, snappy flavor. Good for pies and all general cooking.

Idared: A shiny all-purpose, crisp fruit with a mildly acidic flavor. Idared is favored by apple-butter makers.

Jonagold: Juicy and crisp Jonagold, a cross of Jonathan and Golden Delicious, has creamy flesh and a balanced flavor that is full and rich. Excellent for out-of-hand eating. Stores well.

Macoun: A very good sweet-tart apple. Best for out-of-hand eating.

McIntosh: An all-purpose classic. McIntosh is sweet, juicy and crisp, with a spicy flavor. Good for pies (better combined with a tart apple) and cider.

Mutsu: A large, tart, spicy, very juicy fruit with a crunchy flesh. It is good for applesauce and cider.

Northern Spy: An all-purpose late apple, especially fine for pies.

Red Delicious: The most common apple in the world, with more than 300 strains, generally has a mild sweet flavor, crisp flesh and thick skin. For out-of-hand only.

Rhode Island Greening: The ultimate tart pie apple. Hard to find but worth the search.

Rome Beauty: A mild, sweet premium baking apple that holds its shape well. Especially good baked whole.

Winesap: A very juicy, spicy apple with a sweet-tart winelike flavor. Winesap is all-purpose.

Woof!
And now we have "A Little Recipe Book for Dogs," written by Jaroslav Weigel (translated from the Czech, and published by Ballantyne Books for $12).

"Every day at any time, you will be welcomed by a most faithful friend, your dog," the author says in the introduction. "As a reward for this and many other delightful moments, it is worth giving up a little time to cook for him and invite him to the dinner you have prepared for him."

Indeed.

Then Weigel goes on to offer canine nutritional advice and recipes. A little Yogurt with Boiled Egg and Lettuce, maybe? How about Pig's Kidneys, Pasta and Vegetables?

There's also a chapter titled "The Art of the Table" -- "Dog food is best served in ceramic bowls" is one tip given here. Also, "It is a good idea to watch your dog discreetly while he is eating." Our italics, but it's probably good advice to determine if Fido really is happy with the bill of fare.

Wine contest
A terrific prize will be awarded to the winner of Beringer Vineyards' recipe contest: Winner and guest will be flown to the Napa Valley next spring for the weekend.

All you have to do is provide a recipe for an appetizer to serve with the winery's "new" Beringer 1997 Nouveau Gamay Beaujolais. You must be at least 21 years old; type your recipe on an 8 1/2 -by-11-inch piece of paper with a brief explanation of the reason for the food/wine pairing.

Send to Beringer's New Deal, P.O. Box 111, St. Helena, Calif. 94574. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 15.

Mom is No. 1
In our hearts, of course, but also on menus, it turns out. Big Yellow, an online shopping service, recently polled restaurants nationwide about their daily specials and discovered that "mom," "mother" or "mother's" is the most popular word used in the naming of these specials.

But there's some sobering news, too. Daily specials named after the female parent tend to be 15 percent more expensive than other specials without the "mother" name. They also are an unbelievable 43 percent higher in fat than their no-name counterparts.

A few other odd facts:

The survey discovered that nine times out of 10, eggs are an ingredient in a daily special named for Al Gore.

Cities with a Republican mayor have 15 percent more red meat specials than those with a Democrat at the helm. (Democrats tend to serve more fried food, goat cheese and pesto.)

Specials served on Tuesdays have the lowest calorie count -- a full 40 percent lower than Thursday, which is the fattest day of the week.

Quote of the week
"One of the goldenest of the golden rules in making up a menu is to pay special attention to the dessert course. Nobody seems able to resist a delicious dessert."
-- Wolfgang Puck