Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Trade Secrets

Tips for dining in and dining out

Compiled by Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Required Reading

Firefighters spend a lot of time waiting for fires during their long shifts, when they can't leave the firehouse. So fire companies have a tradition of cooking meals together. It must be a great way to create a feeling of cohesiveness and community. (Well, that and fighting fires and facing death together).

Firehouse Food (Chronicle Books; $24.95), by George Dolese and Steve Siegelman, collects recipes, photos and stories from the firehouses of San Francisco. Good idea. Like most San Franciscans, these firefighters care about food and come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

This cookbook is full of easy-to-make dishes that can feed a crowd. They aren't fancy (firefighters pay for their own food), but tend to be boldly flavored, and cover ethnic ground from Asian to Hispanic to American down-home. Tamale pie, award-winning chili, duck wonton soup, "slug salad" (mandarin oranges and bleu cheese), big sheet cakes and lots of techniques and marinades for barbecuing. (Firefighters like to grill out, of course.) All recipes are credited to a firefighter or a firehouse.

We tried it

Hellmann's/Best Foods just introduced a new line of squeezable dips called Dippin' Sauce. As with most new food products, this is just a twist and new packaging of old products. I wasn't too interested in the barbecue or honey mustard flavors, but the Rockin' Ranch flavor seemed useful at my house, where I guess about 64 percent of the vegetables consumed by certain members are baby carrots, and 73 percent of those are consumed with ranch dressing.

We made an impromptu tasting team, and this Dippin' Sauce went over well. It's thicker than dressing, so you easily can squeeze out just how much you want and dipping is easier. The upside-down packaging is handy and neat.

We thought we'd try a variation on the theme, so I bought some Wishbone Ranch-Up sauce - "Zesty" version ("our ranchiest ranch"), in similar packaging.

The baby carrot eaters and I gave the Hellmann's Rockin' Ranch the thumbs-up. It has a creamier, more mayonnaise-like flavor, and is richer and smoother than the Wishbone, which is a little thinner and has a more vinegary tang.

Hellmann's is more expensive, at a suggested retail price of $2.89; Wishbone (at Bigg's) is $1.50.

Timely tip

Question: How long are cured meats such as bacon, hot dogs and kielbasas good after the package is opened?

Answer: Unopened, vacuum-sealed packages of cured meats may be kept in the refrigerator - conservatively - for two weeks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Once opened, use lunch meats within three to five days; bacon, hot dogs and smoked sausage within seven days; and dry-cured sausage within two to three weeks.

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