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Goliath Grouper Toilet

author
Brent Mccoy
• Wednesday, 30 December, 2020
• 63 min read

The Goliath grouper reaches a length of 8 feet (240 cm) and the largest published weight is 1003 lbs. The base of the soft dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin.

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Contents

The juvenile Goliath grouper, which is less than 39 inches (100 cm), is tawny or yellowish-brown in color with irregular darker brown vertical bands. The larger adult fish is gray or greenish with pale blotches and smaller dark brown or blackish spots scattered over the upper part of its head, body and pectoral fins.

The goliathgrouper is capable of producing a loud booming noise, which may be used to defend territory or during courtship. The Goliath grouper feeds primarily on crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as turtles, fish and stingrays.

This species is an ambush hunter that feeds during the day, with increased activity during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk. This is accompanied by rapidly expansion of its jaws and flaring of the gill covers which create a vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth.

The Goliath grouper occurs in the western Atlantic from Florida to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Populations began to decline in the 1960s when recreational SCUBA divers would swim up to the fearless fish and spear it at close range.

This consists of a “threat display” to intruders by opening its mouth wide and shaking its body or producing a loud booming sound (see below). The Goliath grouper will travel many miles during one or two months each year to mate in huge spawning aggregations at traditional breeding grounds.

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As the male approaches the female, its entire forebode, from the pectoral fins forward, turns pale, contrasting sharply with its dark rest of the body. The eggs hatch into transparent larvae that quickly develop long spines and a large mouth.

After drifting with the current for 25 to 45 days, the one-inch larvae settle to the bottom in shallow-water mangrove habitats where they hide while completing metamorphosis into juveniles. Large areas of mangrove forests are vital for the larvae and juveniles until they reach 30 lbs.

Due to short dive times at depths of 100 feet or more, there have been few recorded observations of the courtship of the Goliath grouper. Grouper typically have a stout body with a large mouth.

They can be a variety of shades, colors, and patterns, which help them blend into their surroundings. Note: Gag grouper need to be 22” to keep and the recreational harvest season for them in most Gulf state waters (within nine miles from shore) is July 1 through Dec. 3.

They are similar in appearance to the Gag, and have a gently rounded head with a slightly concave or flat caudal (tail) fin. Note: Black grouper need to be 22” to keep and are open year-round in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Goliath grouper are marked on their sides, from head to tail, with a series of irregular dark brown vertical bars against a light brown or gray background. Another quick way to identify them from the other grouper is by their rounded pectoral and caudal (tail) fins.

Goliath grouper are prohibited to harvest, and keeping one can land you heavy fines and penalties. Found nearshore around docks, in deep holes, and on ledges; young often occur in estuaries, especially around oyster bars; more abundant in southern Florida than in northern waters.

Spawns over summer months; lifespan of 30 to 50 years; feeds on crustaceans and fish. CLOSED TO HARVEST OR POSSESSION IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC EEA (FEDERAL WATERS) SINCE 1990.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided additional guidelines on release techniques for Goliath grouper. Note: Goliath grouper and Nassau grouper must be released by cutting the line and NOT removed from the water.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided additional guidelines on release techniques for Goliath grouper. At least one hooking device is required and must be used as needed to remove hooks embedded in South Atlantic snapper- grouper with minimum damage.

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Descending Device Requirement: Requirement: A descending device is required to be on board and readily available for use on all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper- grouper species; Definition of a Descending Device: an instrument to which is attached a minimum of a 16 ounce weight and a length of line that will release the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught or a minimum of 60 feet. Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing.

At least one hooking device is required and must be used as needed to remove hooks embedded in South Atlantic snapper- grouper with minimum damage. Descending Device Requirement: Requirement: A descending device is required to be on board and readily available for use on all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper- grouper species; Definition of a Descending Device: an instrument to which is attached a minimum of a 16 ounce weight and a length of line that will release the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught or a minimum of 60 feet.

Cleats died on Friday, and the initial results of a crops shows the likely cause of death was advanced age. “RIP Cleats, being a 25year old Tampa native that has spent time visiting and volunteering at Flag, I can honestly say I’ve grown up with this fish and it's very sad to see him pass, but amazing how many people he impacted,” wrote Chris Jacobs.

The longest verified life span for a goliathgrouper on record is 37 years, according to the aquarium. They live mostly in shallow tropical waters among coral reefs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys to the Caribbean.

Harvesting the species in the southeast U.S. was prohibited in 1990, allowing the goliathgrouper to rebound. Editor’s note: This story was updated with the latest information about Cleats’ likely cause of death from the Florida Aquarium.

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The tail is round, as are the posterior, dorsal, anal and pectoral fins. Similar Fish: Other Groupers Feeding Habits: GoliathGrouper are extremely sluggish predators.

Habitat: Juveniles to around 100 pounds frequent mangrove creeks and bays of Southwest Florida. Adults can be found at a variety of depths, from holes and channels of coastal waters out to offshore ledges and reefs; also around pilings of bridges and under deepest Typical Size: GoliathGrouper can grow to 8 feet and 700 pounds.

Three or four irregular faint vertical bars are present of the sides of individuals less than 3 feet in length. The rear half of the caudal peduncle of these small individuals is covered by another similar bar.

The juveniles inhabit mangroves and brackish estuaries, especially near oyster bars. This fish is solitary by nature, with the adults occupying limited home ranges.

Goliath groupers are territorial in areas of refuge such as caves, wrecks, and ledges. As a warning to intruders, the Goliath grouper will display an open mouth and even create an audible rumbling sound from their swim bladder.

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Goliath grouper feed largely on crustaceans– spiny lobsters, shrimps and crabs, and fish including stingrays, parrot fish, octopus, and young sea turtles. Though they have sharp teeth that are adapted for seizing and preventing escape, the meal is usually simply engulfed and swallowed whole.

The Key West Aquarium is part of the Historic Tours of America® newsletter. This is an extremely strong eggnog; you can reduce the Bourbon to 1 cup, if you prefer.

1 quart whipping cream, beaten to soft peaks then chilled Add the sugar, a little at a time, beating until the mixture becomes lemon-colored, 5 minutes.

Fold the cream and milk into the yolk mixture, then sprinkle the nutmeg on top. Note: Although many recipes call for uncooked eggs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found them to be a potential carrier of food-borne illness and recommends that infants, the elderly and immunocompromised people avoid raw eggs.

Add the garlic and onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the garlic mixture to a large, heavy roasting pot and place the meat on top, fat side up.

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Add the carrots, parsley, the tomatoes and their juice, the wine and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, cover and bake until the meat is tender, 3 to 4 hours.

Transfer the beef to a wooden board and slice across the grain. Return to the pot, squeeze the garlic from the cloves into the sauce, and keep warm until serving.

Cut into small wedges with a sharp knife and stab each one with a toothpick. They are served in bars and corner taverns, as well as in “fancy” restaurants and pizza joints.

Incidentally, chicken wings in Buffalo are always served with celery sticks and Blue Cheese Dressing. Deep-fry wings, about half at a time, in hot oil (370 degrees) until they are crisp and golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add about half of the bottle of hot sauce; stir until well-blended. Serve warm, with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

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Dip the wings and celery sticks in dressing as you eat. To make dressing: In a 1-quart bowl, mix together onion, garlic, parsley, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar and blue cheese.

From Janice On, Buffalo (N.Y.) News in “Food Editors' Hometown Favorite Cookbook” A friend called recently to say he'd made Burgundy beef from “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” and served it with buttered egg noodles.

It has been years since I made this dish, which is ideal for cooler weather. Prepare the stew, cook up some noodles and toss them with a few tablespoons of butter, and serve crusty bread and a salad alongside.

Put the ingredients in a small jar, screw on a lid and shake very well to blend before sprinkling a little on your salad. Cut off the stem top and the root bottom of the onion and discard.

Mix the flour, salt and pepper on a dinner plate and roll the meat in the mixture. Return the onion to the pot, cover, and reduce the heat to simmer.

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Simmer for 11/2 hours, checking to make sure there is still liquid in the pot. Combine walnuts, flour and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and beat until mixture is fluffy.

Beat in vanilla, then reduce speed and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Using your hands, shape dough, 1tablespoon at a time, into small balls, then place about 1 inch apart on nonstick baking sheets.

Meanwhile, place remaining 2 cups confectioners' sugar on a large plate. Roll cookies, while still warm, in sugar, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft ball that flattens when 3- Stir in vanilla and beat vigorously until mixture loses its gloss.

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In a large saucepan, bring the butter, heavy cream, granulated sugar, Brown sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, cook sweet potatoes in boiling, lightly salted water about 8 minutes or just until tender; drain. Continue roasting about 45 minutes or until thermometer registers 155 degrees F. Meanwhile, prepare salsa as directed below.

Remove pork from oven; cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before carving. To make salsa: In a medium mixing bowl combine pineapple, jicama, mango, tomato, green onion, jalapeños, lime juice and salt.

Note: Wear gloves when handling fresh chilies; the oils can cause a burning sensation on your skin. Serve the dumplings plain (as a side dish), with a meat or marinara sauce, even change the flavors.

It's unbelievable how many ways you can prepare the same recipe and have it come out with a completely new character. Cook the potatoes in their skins in boiling salted water to cover just until tender, about 40 minutes.

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One portion at a time, roll into a rope on lightly floured board until the piece is about a foot long. Place pieces on flat surface such as a cookie sheet and sprinkle with flour.

Working in batches, transfer the dough to a sieve and shake lightly to remove excess flour. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to ovenproof platter and keep warm in oven at low temperature.

In microwave, melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and stir in 1/2 teaspoon curry powder. Instead of curry powder, substitute tarragon, basil, cumin, marjoram or any herb that complements your meal.

1 red or green jalapeño chili, cored, seeded and minced WEAR GLOVES Combine carrot and potatoes in small pan with water to cover.

Cook at low boil 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add shallot and jalapeño and sauté over medium heat 2 minutes.

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Add cream and cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick. Note: Wear gloves when handling fresh, canned, dried or pickled chilies; the oils can cause a burning sensation on your skin.

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl, or the top of a double boiler, over a pan of simmering water.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and light-brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, three or four minutes.

Bake until flat and the sugar coating splits, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

When you look for chocolate at the grocery, you'll encounter four different varieties: unsweetened, dark with sugar added, milk and white. Pastry chef Cindy Musket teaches at the California School of Culinary Arts.

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Because it melts at a lower temperature than many other solids, chocolate should get only warm, not hot. So tend it closely while it's melting or it could burn in a split second.

“Scorched chocolate is like a tannin wine; it draws all the moisture out of your mouth.” Chocolate chips are designed to hold up when baked into cookies, so they are not as practical as bars of chocolate when it comes to baking, says David Levitt of San Francisco, a former pastry cook at Berkeley's famed Chen Panics.

Since the fourth century, chocolate has been exploited for its therapeutic values, both as a stimulant and a source of comfort. In its bittersweet form, chocolate has a good amount of iron, fiber and potassium, as well as traces of vitamins.

Today's scientific studies on the nature of cacao and its effects are going much further into how beneficial chocolate might be. Its mood enhancer, known as phenylethylamine, is said to mimic the feelings people have when they are in love.

Other studies show chocolate to be an antioxidant, like red wine or tea, suggesting that chocolate can raise good cholesterol, reduce bad cholesterol and prevent plaque formation near the heart. Drain tuna in colander and shred with fingers until no clumps remain and texture is fine and even.

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Transfer tuna to medium bowl and mix in lemon juice, salt, pepper, celery, onions, pickles, garlic and parsley until evenly blended. Fold in mayonnaise and mustard until tuna is evenly moistened.

Run a toothpick through the meat and into the end of the carrot or pickle to hold the stamen to the flower. Any day now, little innocent you will end up at an office party standing next to a cold-cut platter paved with rosy slices of bologna, salami and ham.

Having nothing better to do, you will pluck a slice out of the neatly arranged wheel, fold it up and pop it whole into your mouth. Nobody really intends at a celebratory event to eat lunch meat identical to what is in the company cafeteria.

Are exhorting Americans to live large by spending money on expensive hors d'oeuvres -- well, that's what I take him to mean. This holiday season, companies are paring down office parties -- what with memories of Sept. 11, the downturn in the economy and free-floating anxiety about anybody bearing a sharp or powdery object.

Let's try to make the best of this situation by examining the deli platter's upsides, downsides, origins and uses through decades of holiday parties. James T. Euler, a food historian who lives in Key West, Fla., guesses that cold-cut platters evolved from the Italian antipasto, which also includes smoked and cured meats.

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In fact, these days, incorporating roasted peppers and other elements of Italian cuisine on a cold-cut platter is considered upscale, according to Ivy Gold spiel, director of Catered Too in San Jose. But the words “cold cut'' and the platter style were adopted in England as long ago as the 16th century, says Euler.

The first course, “or ante past as they call it, is some fine meat to urge them to have an appetite,'' says the Harlan Miscellany, a collection of scarce, curious and entertaining pamphlets from 1590 found in the library of Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford. Back in the United States, lunch-meat plates big enough to squash a cat flat first began finding eager audiences in the 20th century.

Appetizers that soaked up some alcohol became competitive, spawning Martha Stewart's who fiddled with food. In her book “Fashionable Food,'' Sylvia Agree notes that a 1938 issue of American Home magazine recommended spiffing up appetizers by serving them in a dustpan.

Another tip was to rescue “celery and olives from dullness by serving them in fascinating galvanized iron chicken feeders with their neat little rows of oval holes.'' The cocktail parties of the 1950s took playing with appetizers further with dips, cheese balls and ways to gussy up what was by then becoming the beloved cold cut.

Aside from their malleability and craft ability, cold cuts are an obvious choice for hurried hosts or hostesses because they don't wilt and don't need a bed of ice or a steam tray to remain edible. And, with a platter, you can hit most of the food groups: meat slices fanned out like a slippery deck of cards atop kale, which sidles up to vegetables and cheese slices or cubes.

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Toss in a side tray with small buns and a vat of mustard and you're offering a meal that doesn't require a fork. Although pastrami will raise costs, it almost goes without saying that a cold-cut platter is cheaper than oysters, shrimp or crab, which require forks and cannot be formed into cute cakes.

After all, the uncontrollable eating of cold cuts is about as normal and American as it gets. To make topping: In a bowl, beat together cream cheese, egg yolk, lemon juice and curry powder.

Spread 1 rounded teaspoon topping on each baguette slice. Bake until tops are bubbly and bottoms are lightly toasted, 6-8 minutes.

Note: Buy baguettes from a bakery that cuts them evenly with an electric slicer; then freeze the bread until needed. Halibut is a low-fat, firm, mild white fish that lends itself to grilling.

Because the fish is light and delicate, I like to keep its preparation simple. Rub the fish with a cut garlic clove and season it with salt.

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The cucumber and oranges are heightened with cilantro and a touch of cumin. Some specialty markets sell just the seeds so you don't have to go to the trouble of peeling a pomegranate.

If you can't find these, remember that the best way to handle this fruit is to cut it in quarters, then thresh out the seeds underwater. That way the red color won't wind up staining everything in your kitchen.

Toss together the green onions, diced cucumber, oranges, cilantro, pomegranate seeds, lime juice, cumin and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-high and grill the fish about 4 minutes on the first side.

Turn and cook the files just until tender, and they flake easily with a fork, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and spoon the salsa alongside.

Chop the onion in a small dice using a food processor. Immediately transfer the potato and onion mixture to a large bowl and add the lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper to taste.

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Heat 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions and peppers, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, 20 minutes. Cook, turning once in a while, so they don't burn, until the potatoes are a nice brown color and a little crusty, 10 to 15 minutes.

Italian Catholic theologian Massimo Salami condemned McDonald's as “Catholic.” He said fast-food restaurants springing up in Europe are a sign of a Protestant trend toward individualism rather than the Catholic tradition of community meals.

Instead of raising prices, food manufacturers are putting less of their products in the packages -- but not enough to make it obvious. The cafeterias at two elementary schools in Harvard, Mass., feature wrapped sandwiches with hummus, baby greens and marinated portabello mushrooms.

The salad bar has mescalin, beets, roasted peppers and asparagus. On occasion, there is Quiché, grilled make shark or broiled trout, and rating with chicken, garlic and broccoli.

“Kids are more sophisticated today,” said Paul S. Current, the chef and food service director. The Hotel Hershey, owned by the trust that controls Hershey Foods Corp., opened a new $7 million spa featuring such treatments as chocolate baths and fondue wraps.

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For $265, visitors can indulge in the three-hour Chocolate Escape -- a whipped cocoa bath, cocoa butter scrub, chocolate fondue wrap and a choice of massage or facial. Among an explosion of new convenience products designed to simplify tasks that weren't all that complicated to begin with is Uncrushable frozen sandwiches from Sucker's; Lipton's Cold Brew tea, Chicken of the Sea Tuna Salad Kit and P.B.

Dijon's mustard is America's favorite condiment, according to Bon Appétit magazine's fourth annual readers survey reported in the March issue. Twelve of McDonald's traditional restaurants will be converted into diners that serve such American standards as meatloaf and chicken fried steak -- as well as the usual McDonald's hamburgers and fries.

Harper's Magazine reports that U.S. sales of organic foods since 1996 are up 122 percent. In the same period, sales of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts have gone up 110 percent.

The First Vienna (Austria) Vegetable Orchestra blows hollowed-out carrots, taps turnips, claps with eggplant cymbals, twangs on rhubarb fibers, and rustles parsley and greens, all in the creation of an experimental sound that eventually winds up -- literally -- in the audience's stomach. For as the concert progresses, the nine musicians toss their instruments into a large pot.

Then listeners feast on the fare that has resulted from this smorgasbord of sound. The American Water Works Association, an industry group, has produced a list of terms associated with the tastes or smells of water with contaminants or additives.

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In addition to the standards -- sweet, salty or citrus y--descriptors include: rancid/fatty acid; model airplane glue; soapy; cat urine; shoe polish; petroleum; varnish; medicinal; fresh fish, rancid fish; aquarium like/algae; geranium; decaying vegetation; rubbery; rotten eggs; onion; Creek; tobacco like; pencil shavings; dried grass or hay; potato bin; swimming pool; chalky; metallic. A national organization has changed the name of Florida's largest grouper species from Jewish, which some found offensive, to goliathgrouper.

The last time the organization made such a change was in the 1990s, when the squaw fish of the Pacific Northwest became the pike minnow. The pizza rode aboard a Russian rocket used to resupply the International Space Station.

Pizza Hut said it paid the Russian space agency about $1 million for the promotional stunt, including footage of Yuri Sachs flashing a thumbs-up after eating the pizza, and for pasting the chain's logo on a rocket last year. Britain's favorite food, as proclaimed last month by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, is chicken Tikki masala, an Indian dish.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest -- aka the “food police” -- is responsible for warning Americans about such nutritional dangers as too much saturated fat in movie popcorn, fettuccine Alfredo and Chinese takeout. PRE day, the typical American averages 1.3 ounces, which contains about half the total amount of saturated fat a person should consume in a day.

Epicurious.com's “Search Spy” function takes voyeurism into the kitchen. In a real-time peek at what real people crave, the site's pop-up window showcases the 10 most recent entries typed into the site's search function, updated every 15 seconds.

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Who knew that the lowly prune might be the solution nervous hamburger fans are looking for? Food technologists have found that 1 tablespoon of puréed prunes added to a pound of beef kills more than 90 percent of whatever E. coli bacteria is present.

It may be as effective on salmonella, listeria and other bugs, according to a recent study. The Edmonton Journal reports that British army scientists have found a way of using soldiers' food to protect them from accidentally being shot at by their own side.

Special meals contain compounds that are expelled from pores in the skin or from soldiers' breath. When viewed by specially equipped pilots or satellites above a battlefield, the troops would appear to be brightly colored.

Trendy restaurants in New York are serving Swanson's Hungry Man TV dinners -- at around $6 a pop. Chef Philippe Parole thinks we should be eating nutria, a large rodent known for its furry pelt.

He told Cooking Light magazine that nutria is low in cholesterol and fat. The critters have been chewing their way through Louisiana's wetlands at an alarming rate.

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He may be a few Frito short of a bag, but Jeremy Sewn is trying all 10,000 of the packaged snacks being produced worldwide. Rat genes could make vegetables produce more vitamin C. Scientists at Virginia Tech University managed to introduce rat genes into the genetic material of lettuces.

This caused the greens to increase their production of vitamins by 700 percent. In the last 10 years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 17 reports of such fires.

Europe's favorite meat alternative may be headed for the United States. If Quoin (pronounced “corn”) meets FDA approval, it will start showing up in frozen chicken-style products such as nuggets, tenders and cutlets, plus lasagna.

To make Quoin, the cells of a mushroom like plant are fermented using glucose, oxygen, nitrogen and other nutrients. Flavored and formed, Quoin takes on the appearance and taste of whatever meat it's supposed to be copying.

A Massachusetts food development and research company, Arthur D. Little, claims to have figured out how to add fish oil's super healthy omega-3 fatty acids to our favorite dairy treat without adding sits fishy odor. Scientists at the University of Cobra in Portugal have discovered that ripe fruits such as apples and kiwi fluoresce brightly if they're zapped with a laser.

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Work is under way on a commercial device that people could take shopping. The artist calls his series “Food Chain Barbie” and he sells it on postcards and prints.

The farm town has only about 160 residents, apparently too few of whom are willing to pay $3.50 for a vanilla latte. Albuquerque, N.M., police have taken doughnut runs to new heights, swooping down in an official helicopter for a late-night snack.

“I don't know how they decided that was a good idea,” said Lt. Bob Huntsman, department spokesman. In late September, 80 patrons at Rosalie's China in Skaneateles, N.Y., received a letter at the end of their meals instead of a bill.

Owner Gary Robinson wrote: “Dear fellow Americans, Since the Sept. 11 tragedy, many of you have given your compassion and donations to assist those in New York City. Many in Central New York have encountered emotional and financial stress.

They think the term “goat meat” is a turnoff to the average American. Epicure Pharmaceuticals Inc. is splicing into corn a genetic defect found in some women with the aim of making the plant generate a protein that kills sperm.

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According to a new study from Greece, living in a water tank while waiting to be cooked and eaten causes a fish tremendous stress and depression, which then alters its flavor. Fortunately, a hydro biology professor from Athens has spent 10 years researching ways to make fish relax.

Lies has a Website, Gallery of Regrettable Food, at www.lileks.com/institute/gallery. Food manufacturers are courting kids with new, oddly colored foods, among them: blue and pink squeezable Parkway margarine; green and purple ketchup from Heinz.

“Who in God's name would take a job with the Fig Newtons complaint line?” In a study sponsored by candy maker Mars, Professor Carl Keen of the University of California at Davis reports that flavonoids found in chocolate thin the blood and may help prevent blood clots.

The work of three German artists was recently featured in “Eat Art,” a show at Harvard University. Viewers were invited to eat confections of chocolate, caramel, popcorn and other foodstuffs cast in the form of pedestals and display cases, typical gallery furnishings.

Butterball is making the Turkey Talk-Line Internet site a little juicier this year with the Ladies of Talk-Line 2002 Calendar. The company wants customers to know that 99 percent of the world's supply of the vegetable is grown in Britain, not Belgium.

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Coffee drinkers are going bananas over a brew that's made of monkey dung. A British newspaper says Brits are clamoring for Hopi Luck, made from berries that have passed through the digestive system of Indonesian monkeys.

Experts reckon the monkey business gives the drink a unique “earthy” taste, which has made it the most expensive and sought-after coffee in the world. Harper's Magazine reports that the percentage of Chicago sushi chefs who are of Japanese descent is 29.

A Toastmaster toaster features a leopard print, Darling. Serve it hot from the oven at dinner in place of the pasta course, or with a simple green salad for lunch.

In a small pan, melt butter and add sage leaves. Add the semolina in a slow stream, stirring quickly so there are no lumps.

Cook about 8 minutes, stirring constantly over low heat or until batter becomes very stiff -- so that a spoon can stand alone when stuck into the center. Remove from heat and add salt, nutmeg, some melted butter (sage leaves reserved) and half of the grated cheese.

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Evenly spread mixture 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick on a wet cutting board. When thoroughly cool, cut into circles with a cookie cutter or wine glass.

Butter an ovenproof serving platter and arrange the semolina cut-outs in layers; scraps on bottom, circles on top. Remove from oven and garnish with the sautéed sage leaves.

Note: Semolina is milled from 100 percent durum wheat -- the preferred flour for pasta making. Find packaged semolina flour at natural foods stores and most supermarkets.

If the couch potatoes in your crowd like guacamole, they'll leap goal posts to get to this spicy avocado dip. In a medium saucepan, simmer the tomatillos and tomatoes with the garlic and jalapeños for 15 minutes, or until their liquid has evaporated.

While the tomatillo mixture simmers, place the avocados in a blender. Add the sour cream, cilantro and salt, and blend for up to 5 minutes to create a smooth purée.

Serve the sauce immediately with tortilla chips, or refrigerate it for later use. Nina's makes this sauce fresh every day, but we've kept it overnight, and it has remained tasty and hasn't turned gray the way guacamole does.

Note: Wear gloves when handling fresh, canned, dried or pickled chilies; the oils can cause a burning sensation on your skin. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar begins to turn golden, 20 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, warm orange juice and zest, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, about 30 minutes. Combine the apricots, dates, raisins, candied cherries and pineapple, almonds and pecans in a large bowl.

Cream the butter and brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. Sift the remaining flour with the cloves, cinnamon, mace, baking soda and salt.

Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the rum, brandy, the 2 tablespoons of Grand Mariner and the orange and lemon juices and zests. Pour the batter into the loaf pans and smooth the tops.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Wrap the loaves in foil and refrigerate or store in a cool place.

Add bread cubes and raisin mixture, pressing gently to moisten. Spoon bread mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Serve warm with caramel whiskey sauce (recipe follows). Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a dash of sugar and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Blend the margarine, egg yolk, orange juice and yeast mixture in the bowl of a mixer. Gradually add the flour, 2 teaspoons of the sugar and salt and blend well.

Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Place the dough (it will be sticky) on a well-floured board and knead it into a flat disk, adding additional flour if needed.

Place 2 teaspoons of jam in the center of half of the rounds; brush the edges with the egg white and put a plain round on top of jam. Place them on a paper-covered cookie sheet, cover with a towel and let rise about 45 minutes.

The fragrant and elegant Asian herb drives some to larceny and others to Fresno. If you really want to hear about it, I suppose it all started several years ago, when I took some cold medicine because I thought I was coming down with something, fell asleep on the train to Berlin and ended up in Hanover.

It was raining, and the train back to Berlin wasn't due for a couple of hours, and the last thing I felt like doing, to be honest, was sitting around a damp German Bangor, staring at a bunch of drab businessmen holding wet fedoras in their laps and nervously tapping their fingers on the wooden benches. So I thought maybe I'd just hang out at a restaurant for an hour or so and have a bowl of soup.

This was in April, which is only important because springtime in Germany is like National Spar gel Season or something. They serve it with hollandaise, they stuff it into chicken breasts, they make soup out of it--you name it.

I found a restaurant near the train station called Award, which turned out to be Thai. I can get by with my German when I have to, but I wasn't having much luck with the waiter, whose grasp of the language seemed even worse than mine.

He became agitated and pointed to a green chalkboard across the room, so I said, “Sure, that would be fine.” Between the cold medicine and a couple glasses of wine, I guess you could say I went a little crazy.

I ended up ordering three more plates of asparagus with lemon grass. I don't want to use that experience as an excuse, but it's probably why I was driving slowly through Westminster in the middle of the night three months later, covertly looking for lemon grass, and why I ended up leaving my shovel behind in an unknown flower bed when a dog started barking and several lights came on in a pink stucco house.

Before the dog started yapping and before I'd even started trying to dig up a little clump of lemon grass from the front yard, I'd left $20 tucked inside a bank deposit envelope beneath a little stone Buddha on the porch. These days, you can walk into almost any supermarket and buy all the lemon grass you want, but there was a time when it wasn't so easy to get.

Back then, I'd get a craving and drive to Orange County's Little Saigon just to buy lemon grass at the 99 Ranch Market. During these trips I noticed that a lot of people in the neighborhood grew the stuff in their yards, which is how I came up with the idea of “borrowing” a clump or two.

Shortly after, I found a nursery 50 miles east of Fresno that sold the herb in three-inch pots. Billings, the owner of Mountain Valley Growers, when I told her how thankful I was to locate her because I couldn't find any lemon grass in Southern California.

She thought that Southeast Asian refugees, many of whom settled around Fresno in the early '70s, introduced it to California. Like a nervous new father, I called her the day my two seedlings arrived to ask what I was supposed to do with them.

“Cut the woody outer leaves off until you get just the bulb--like the white part of a scallion. I planted a bulb in a weedy bed behind our backyard fence and another in a 15-inch clay pot that sat next to a potted Mexican lime tree on our brick patio.

But my wife doesn't like the look of whiskey barrels as planters, so I thought I'd try growing it in a south-facing bed on the side of the house, this time with larger plants. I didn't get around to planting until this summer, when a friend in San Diego, Summer You, mentioned that she grows lemon grass, along with French lavender, in a bed in her front yard.

I told You, author of the Thai cookbook “Cracking the Coconut” and owner of the Thai restaurant Saffron in San Diego, about eating three plates of lemon grass asparagus in Germany and how the waiters looked at me. In Thailand, she explained, they use it for upset stomachs, urinary tract problems and excess perspiration.

After giving me a great recipe for a lemon grass dressing, You suggested I call her friend Karen Ca plan, the president of Frieda's, a Los Alamitos-based produce wholesale marketer and distributor. Frieda's is a family-owned business known best for taking a little-known fruit from New Zealand called the Chinese gooseberry, renaming it Kiwifruit, and persuading American growers to plant and market it back in the early '60s.

“There was a woman from Bakersfield--I think her name was Sherry,” Ca plan said a few days later, when I asked how she first heard of lemon grass. It took Frieda's two years to figure it out and start selling the herb to grocery stores.

Since then, I've asked several cooks whether they've ever had lemon grass steamed with asparagus, once prompting a conversation about the equal rarity of Kaffir limes. They, along with lemon grass, are what give hot-and-sour Thai soup its aromatic smell.

My lemon grass grows tall in a raised bed on the side of the house, away from the street. The Affair lime tree, which I bought online from Four Winds Growers, is a year old and growing in a clay pot on the patio.

3 large firm, sweet apples, such as Fuji or Golden Delicious Place them in the pan, drizzle the butter over the top and toss to coat.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves in a small bowl and mix well. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven until the apples are tender but not so soft that they fall apart, about 15 minutes, stirring once to mix well.

Generously butter a baking sheet or a jellyroll pan. Add the vanilla, maple syrup and half-and-half and beat to combine.

Place the slices, one to two at a time, in the egg mixture and let stand about a minute, turning once. Shake off the excess egg mixture and place the slices on the baking sheet; it's OK if they're touching.

Bake until the underside is golden and the slices have puffed up slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the slices over and spread with the butter.

Return to the oven and bake until the other side is light brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Place the toast on serving plates and top with the apple slices and their juices.

1/2 firm but ripe avocado, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes Sprinkle with salt and stir gently with fork or wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat, stir in tarragon and let cool. Add almonds, lemon juice, soy sauce and pepper, and process until smooth.

Combine remaining 1 tablespoon parsley, lemon peel and Parmesan; sprinkle over tart lets. The talented can be made up to 3 days ahead to allow the flavors to meld.

Spread mixture onto small rounds of baguette; top with sliced beef. In an 8- or 9-inch flameproof heavy skillet, cook onions and garlic in olive oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

In bowl, whisk together eggs, thyme, rosemary and pepper to taste. Add ham and cook, without stirring, 8 minutes, or until edges are set but center is still soft.

A half-hour before cooking, trim all but a small ribbon of fat from the chops, blot with a paper towel, rub both sides with the garlic and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. If thicker, stir in a little wine, water or broth after searing and cook to desired degree of oneness.

1/2 pound sharp Cheddar or Jack cheese, grated Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes.

Drain the bacon on paper towels, then crumble and set aside. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are scrambled, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Crust: Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and mix well; set aside. Beat butter and shortening together with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla, then reduce speed and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Gather dough into a ball, flatten slightly, then, using your fingers, press into a buttered nonstick baking sheet about 10 by 15 by 3/4 inches (sometimes called a jelly roll pan). Refrigerate dough overnight or place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

To make the topping: Combine butter, honey and sugars in a saucepan. Simmer, stirring constantly, over medium heat until sugars melt and mixture darkens and foams, five minutes.

Remove from heat, whisk in cream and stir in pecans. Spread filling evenly over crust with a rubber spatula and bake until topping is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and cool completely on a wire rack, then cut into 11/2-inch squares or diamonds to serve. For a family meal, I make this with a side of spare ribs cut into 1-inch lengths.

Trim all visible fat from boneless ribs; cut meat into 1-inch cubes. Add pork, half at a time, and cook, turning as needed, until brown on all sides, 6-8 minutes total.

Add paprika, oregano, salt, pepper, bay leaf, wine and water; stir to coat meat evenly. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring once or twice, until meat is very tender, 50-60 minutes.

Discard bay leaf, let meat cool. These days, the sushi, dim sum and mouth-watering cookies and miniature pastries you see are usually purchased from food service vendors.

Caterers devote their time to preparing the items they do best: cornucopias of fresh vegetables and dips, platters of grilled vegetables, skewers of seasonal fruit, cheese boards and bread, Chinese chicken salad, pasta salads and, when requested, meat for carving stations. It's presentation that turns good food into stellar party fare.

Buying food you don't have time to make is a good idea. But during the holidays, I entertain like a caterer, mixing and matching purchased items with those from my kitchen.

Here are a few easy ideas from caterers to help you make the party when you lack a secret chef or a hired staff. What a surprise to see this homespun food on a cocktail buffet table.

Caterers keep them warm in a chafing dish and serve 1/2 cup portions in over-size martini or margarita glasses. A “south of the border'' version was served with bowls of salsa, sliced green onions, sour cream, sliced olives, shredded jack cheese and crumbled bacon.

The seafood version offered nuggets of salmon, caviar, ribbons of crisp nor (the seaweed used to wrap sushi) and deep-fried shallots. At home, I cut a skinless salmon fillet into domino-shaped pieces, rubbed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and black sesame seeds and cooked them in a grill pan for 1 minute on each side.

Since there's no need to serve the fish hot, you can cook it ahead. At a high-end event, caterers serve prawns, king crab legs and freshly shucked oysters.

At home, I stick with shelled cooked prawns and buy the largest I can find. Cover the ice with prawns and serve with Chile sauce spiked with horseradish and a squirt of lemon juice.

At home, I set the ingredients next to an electric frying pan, let guests put things together and call it interactive cooking. Cook until light brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes, then cut into pie-shaped wedges.

Some cooks like to put a little butter in the pan so the tortilla becomes crisp. Small cooked shrimp, tomatillo salsa and Mexican-style quest AQADER.

Shredded roast chicken, fruit chutney and Gouda cheese. Well-drained, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red bell pepper strips and Havarti or Monterey Jack cheese.

If you want to serve salsa, here's a quick way to personalize store-bought versions: Add 2 fresh tomatillos, husked and minced, and 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro to a 12-ounce jar of tomatillo salsa. Bruschetta are slices of Italian bread brushed with olive oil and grilled.

In Italy, the slices are rubbed with garlic and eaten hot. But caterers toast them ahead of time and serve at room temperature with a savory topping.

Trim and discard stems from 4-inch portabello mushrooms, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle the gill sides with minced garlic and dried thyme. Cook mushrooms over medium-high heat in a heavy frying pan, turning once, until they are soft to the touch, 12-14 minutes.

Once they cool, cut mushrooms into quarters and place 1/4 on each bruschetta. With a squeeze-top bottle, squiggle aioli (mayonnaise spiked with pressed garlic) on top.

Be sure to have all the brunch dishes on the table and everyone seated before bringing the pancake directly from the oven. For larger groups, multiply all ingredients as you increase the pan size.

Giant versions can also be baked in a shallow paella pan that holds eight times the batter recipe. Top with: a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice; sliced fresh seasonal fruit or fruit sautéed in butter; warmed applesauce; almonds, pecans or walnuts.

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel (yellow part only; optional) Place butter in 4-inch ovenproof skillet, ramekin or other baking dish.

Meanwhile, beat egg in food processor, blender or bowl with wire whisk until light and bright yellow. Pour batter into skillet with hot butter and return to oven.

When you make larger pancakes, cut them into wedges at the table or spread with selected topping, roll up jellyroll fashion and cut crosswise into slices at the table. Combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, spices, salt and sugar.

Sprinkle cake mix over top of pumpkin mixture. If you already have cranberries on hand, use a few for this simple, tangy red berry sauce.

Authentic Moroccan couscous takes about an hour to make. Fortunately, precooked couscous, the kind found in supermarkets, takes only 5 minutes.

It makes a great side dish for this easy holiday dinner for two. Flatten with a meat mallet or back of a skillet to even thickness.

Let simmer about 30 seconds, scraping up all the brown bits while liquid reduces. Return chicken to pan and gently simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour sauce into blender or food processor and blend a few seconds until smooth. Cook until wilted and add the pepper, rice, water and salt.

In an age of fast food and faster food, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union and ensure domestic ease in the kitchen, have strayed far from the menus of our forefathers and fore mothers. Still, and especially during the holidays, some of us yearn for such old-school menus, foods that remind us of parents or grandparents and the carrying on of family traditions.

I overcame fear and cooked three large roasts: that hunk of beef, a leg of lamb (I wanted mutton but couldn't find it) and a ham. And everyone who partook of the meat fest loved it and made like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

I had bought it for a dinner I was hosting for some people who really knew food. If I overcooked it, I might as well go to the nearest latrine, open up my wallet and flush sixty bucks down the toilet.

That means a roast beef has to be tender (read: a more pricey cut) to begin with. “The funny thing is, people come in this time of year, wanting the prime rib roast, but they wonder how to cook it,'' said Alex Castro, assistant manager at Antonio's in San Francisco, adding that bone-in lamb and ham were close runners-up in popularity to beef roasts.

To build up my confidence, I bought a good meat thermometer and pulled out the Bible of cookbooks, “Joy of Cooking.'' To slow-roast a beef rib roast, all the “Joy of Cooking'' recommended I do to cook it medium rare was season the meat liberally with salt and pepper, throw it in a roasting pan rib-side-down for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the heat to 250 degrees until the instant-read thermometer read 125-130 degrees.

In my oven, it took about 20 minutes per pound to cook, and two hours later, after I carved the first slice, the first luscious, pink cut of beef, I mentally high-fived myself. I know Jerry Seinfeld stuffed it into Grandma Mamma's napkins and hid it in his jacket pockets as part of some convoluted plot twist.

And now I know that mutton -- that is sheep, or a lamb that is more than a year old -- is also virtually impossible to find these days. The butcher at my supermarket recommended I try Guerra Quality Meats in San Francisco.

Neither of these would work for my recipe, which was also hard enough to find in itself, since not many celebrity chefs have made their name with their mutton dishes. Vowing not to tell my mother her taste buds were freaky, I bought a plain old leg of lamb with the bone in and used an ancient recipe from Gourmet Magazine's “Gourmet Cookbook Volume I,'' published in 1950, which boasted an entire section on mutton, not to mention bear, bison and muskrat.

It was easy enough, asking for white wine, some raisins and some boiled and peeled chestnuts. Take that into consideration when you're balking at the $30 price of your leg of lamb.

I mean, in a society raised on stuff like Hormel, there are probably people who don't realize the ham on their plates is the result of a tedious cooking and curing process. Though ham of yesterday (the entire back leg portion of the hog which was smoked or cured) is not the ham of today (generally, a variety of cuts from either the hind leg or front shoulder that are salt-cured and sometimes smoked and aged), the result is generally a juicy, textured, flavored meat.

I wasn't about to try salt-curing at home (imagine the kitchen afterward), I commenced my search for a cured but uncooked ham. “You can buy cured hams that need to be cooked, but it's just not done,'' said Bill Nisan, founder of Marin County's Nisan Ranch, the undisputed local king of beef, pork and lamb.

“The smoking is such a wonderful process, and done so well, that there's no point for home cooks to do it themselves.'' After lugging the ham home -- remember, that bone adds weight, and if you want a workout on the side, this is another good meal to prepare -- and followed Nisan Ranch's idiot-proof recipe.

The house smelled like I'd been cooking all day, and for those who don't know that buying an uncooked ham is next to impossible, I seemed incredibly impressive in the kitchen. These comfort foods, these dramatic, festive meals that remind us of days past, can still work their magic on the masses.

Croghan Josh (literally, “red stew”) is a traditional dish from the Kashmir region of northwestern India. It is rich and usually prepared for special occasions, such as weddings or other celebratory feasts.

11/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb or shoulder meat, cubed To make spice paste: Place the almonds, ginger, garlic, cayenne, paprika, cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves in a blender; add enough water to form a paste.

To make lamb: Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Add the lamb and sauté, while stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes, until browned.

Add the tomatoes, salt and 1/2 cup of water, and reduce the heat to medium. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the lamb is completely tender.

Just before serving, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Editor's note: This recipe was tested with 1 tablespoon mixed cayenne and red chili powder.

If you prefer a milder curry, start with a much smaller amount -- such as 1/4 teaspoon -- and adjust to taste. Note: Cardamom pods are available at ethnic food markets such as Uwajimaya.

Adapted from “Omaha Steaks: Meat” by John Harrison with Frederick J. Simon In this salsa, roasting focuses the tomatoes' sweetness and rounds out the typical green brassiness of fresh chilies, creating perfect harmony.

Fresh, hot green chilies to taste (roughly 2 medium jalapeños or 4 Serrano) Flip them over and roast the other side; 5 to 6 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatoes that are soft and cooked through.

Working over the baking sheet, pull and discard the blackened skins; for round tomatoes, cut the hard cores where the stems were attached. Roast the chilies and garlic in a dry skillet or on a griddle over medium heat, turning them occasionally, until they are soft and darkened in places, about 5 minutes for the chilies, 15 minutes for the garlic.

Either crush the roasted garlic and chilies to a smooth paste in a mortar or chop them to a near-paste in a food processor. If using a mortar, crush in the tomatoes one at a time, working them into a coarse purée.

For a food processor, add the tomatoes and pulse to achieve a coarse purée. Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water.

Transfer the salsa to a bowl, stir in the onion and cilantro and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon. Thin with a little water (usually about 2 tablespoons to give a spoonable consistency).

Advance preparation: Once the onion and cilantro have been added to the salsa, it should be eaten within a few hours. Without onion and cilantro, the refrigerated salsa base keeps for several days, though the flavors will dull.

Place chicken in stockpot or Dutch oven with unpeeled onion, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, peppercorns and 3 sprigs mint. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat.

At once reduce heat to maintain a low rolling boil; skim off any froth that rises to the top. Place chilies in a small bowl and cover with 2 cups of the hot stock.

Transfer chilies and soaking liquid to a blender and purée with remaining onion and 4 garlic cloves. Add puréed chili mixture, reduce heat to low and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Bring to a boil and taste for salt, adding a little if it seems flat. Cook over low heat until noodles are al dente, 5-7 minutes.

1 cup seedless raisins, plumped in boiling water and well-drained Insert small slivers of garlic near the bone and roast the leg for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook for about 1 3/4 hours. Return meat to the roasting pan and pour the white wine over it, then the degreased drippings.

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 4 pieces Bring cream and pepper to full boil in a saucepan.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let cream rest for 10 minutes to become flavored by pepper. Pour cream through a strainer lined with a piece of dampened cheesecloth.

With a spatula, gently stir cream into chocolate in ever-widening concentric circles until panache is homogenous and smooth. Add butter 2 pieces at a time, stirring gently to blend.

When all butter is blended into mixture, pour panache into a baking pan or bowl. Put pan in refrigerator and, when panache is cool, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 3 hours or overnight.

When ready to shape truffles, spoon a generous amount of cocoa powder into a bowl and set out a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Truffles can be stored in refrigerator a day or two, covered and away from foods with strong odors.

Note: Do not use white Sichuan peppercorns commonly found in supermarkets for this recipe. Be sure to use the rose-colored, flaky, husk-like pieces of Sichuan pepper found in specialty shops and spice markets.

To enhance the flavor even more, toast the peppercorns lightly in a dry skillet over medium heat before adding to recipes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, pour off any excess grease and reserve it for Yorkshire pudding. Place roasting pan over medium heat and add stock, preferably low-sodium.

Bring liquid to a boil and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon until roasting particles are dissolved. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle the just over sliced beef.

Beat the oil and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl until creamy. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

Roll the balls in sugar to coat and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake the cookies until cracked and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

When you unwrap the corn husk, the escaping steam hints at the gift to come. And even if you have spent all day preparing mass and fillings, the marriage of ingredients is still a magical surprise.

Long before the Europeans arrived in the New World, tamales were associated with the feast days of indigenous people. But as Spanish and Indian cultures joined, the revered bundles of steamed mass corn became a Christmas tradition.

Over the years, families have gathered throughout Mexico to make tamales during the holidays. Men often prepare a fire to cook outside, while generations of women grind spices, simmer meats and create sauces before assembling the tamales.

In my family, we make tamales to celebrate two very special occasions in December: Christmas and my mother's birthday, which falls on Dec. 24. Since my mother spent much of her childhood in the South, all food, including Christmas tamales, seemed to take on a Tex-Mex flavor.

The basis of virtually every tamale is mass, corn soaked in lime and then ground. Fresh mass, which is sold in Mexican grocery stores and some large supermarkets, is preferable because it makes a lighter, fluffier tamale.

But if you can't find it, most supermarkets carry mass marina (flour). Whether you are making savory or sweet tamales, the procedure for cooking and assembling them is the same: Soak several corn husks in hot water until they become pliable.

To assemble tamales, spread 1-2 tablespoons of mass dough in the center of each husk. Arrange tamales in a steamer pan over boiling water, making sure they are not touching.

One trick is to add a couple of coins to the boiling water. They'll make a clinking sound, which lets you know there is still boiling water in the pan.

Here are recipes for two of my favorite holiday fillings, carnival (shredded pork) and piña colada (pineapple and coconut). But if you are running short of time, here's another possibility: Buy a precooked rotisserie chicken and a good prepared salsa.

Shred the chicken and use it as a filling with a spoonful of salsa for each tamale. Tear 2 corn husks into strips for tying the tamales closed.

To prepare mass dough: Beat shortening in a bowl. Alternately beat dry and wet mixtures into shortening until a firm dough forms.

Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook about 1 hour, or until pork is very tender. Remove pork from cooking liquid and reserve on a plate.

With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables and reserve in a separate dish. When pork is cool enough to handle, tear it into bite-sized shreds using two forks.

To assemble: Spread 1-2 tablespoons mass dough on each corn husk. Cook, covered, over medium high heat about 1 hour, adding more water to steamer pan if needed.

Tear 2 corn husks into strips for tying the tamales closed. To prepare dough: Cream together brown sugar and shortening.

Alternately add flour, then juice to sugar-shortening until a firm dough forms. To prepare filling: Chop banana chips, almonds and coconut together in a blender or food processor.

To assemble: Spread 1-2 tablespoons mass dough in each corn husk. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons filling over mass, then press in one pineapple chunk.

Arrange tamales, so they are not touching in a steamer pan over boiling water. Meanwhile, process remaining pineapple chunks with fruit juice and brown sugar to make a smooth sauce.

To serve, cut open tamales and spoon fruit sauce over top. Garnish with dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of lime zest.

Wrap the tortillas tightly in foil and place in the oven to heat through for about 10 minutes. Or, layer with damp paper towels and heat in the microwave on half-power for 20 seconds, check and then repeat.

Meanwhile, remove the papery husk from the tomatillos, then rinse and cut in half. Combine the tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, salt, pepper and sugar in a food processor or blender.

Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast about 3 minutes on each side. The bread should be golden brown on the outside, but still chewy and slightly moist on the inside.

In a small bowl, stir together the tomatoes, basil, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Top each slice of bread with about 1 tablespoon of the tomato mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Add lemongrass and continue to fry, stirring, until onions are lightly browned. Quickly fry meat cubes, 7 or 8 pieces at a time, until brown on all sides.

Also put in chili powder, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns and sugar. Remove lid; increase heat to medium and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until sauce has thickened a little and meat is tender.

(Or combine flour, salt, eggs and milk in a blender, mixing until smooth.) Heat an empty 13 x 9-inch baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic, in the oven for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until puffy and deep, golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Note: You can make individual Yorkshire puddings in a muffin tin.

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