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By JANET K. KEELER and wire reports
Pink Stuff (Sweet 'n Low)
[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
The sweetener in the little pink packet is powered by the chemical compound saccharin, which has been around for more than 100 years and is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar. In the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration reported that saccharin "could be hazardous to your health." Heavy users, researchers said, could be risking bladder cancer. Heavy use was considered six packets or two 8-ounce diet sodas a day. In 2000, saccharin was removed from the list of carcinogens. Saccharin can be used in cooking.
Blue Stuff (Equal)
The blue stuff is sweetened by aspartame, sometimes called Nutrasweet, the most common artificial sweetener used in food manufacturing. Aspartame is a chemical compound made of aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. It is found in diet sodas, breath mints, sugar-free gums, cereals, wine coolers and children's vitamins, among other things. Aspartame won FDA approval in 1981 and has been surrounded by controversy since. The government says it's not a carcinogen, but some independent researchers disagree. Aspartame can cause adverse reactions, the most common being headaches, in some people. Aspartame breaks down under heat and is not suitable for cooking.
Splenda is the only artificial sweetener made from sugar. To make Splenda, or sucralose, three of the hydrogen-oxygen groups in each sugar molecule are replaced with chlorine atoms. The body does not absorb sucralose, which means there are no calories to burn off, and it doesn't affect blood sugar levels the way sugar does. Splenda was marketed in granular form in 2000 and was sweetening many products, such as SoBe sugar-free drinks and Pedialyte, before that. There are no long-term studies on Splenda and no government warnings. It can be used for cooking, but recipes using Splenda tend to cook faster.
"I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and I think, 'Well, that's not going to happen.' " -- comedian Rita Rudner
Faced with nearly 50,000 recipes (an embarrassment of riches), your biggest problem will be picking one from this voluminous site. Recipes are conveniently categorized and easily sorted, and this will help. If time is of the essence, you can choose by preparation time (0 to 15 minutes, 15 to 30 minutes or 30 to 60 minutes). If economy is important, you can choose among 7,818 recipes that use five or fewer ingredients. People on special diets will find this site fertile ground, with options for diets of every ilk.
Packaged beef cubes labeled "stew meat" at the supermarket may seem like a handy shortcut, but you can't be sure what cut of meat you are buying. If you purchase a roast and cut it yourself, you can be certain. Many cooks consider chuck the preferred cut for the most flavor. Rump and round also work well. Cut the roast with a chef's knife into equal-size chunks, about 1 by 2 inches; trim away excess fat and connective tissue.
Americans ate more shrimp than any other seafood in 2001, overtaking canned tuna, says the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Shrimp consumption rose 9 percent in 2001 for a per capita consumption of 3.4 pounds. Overall consumption of seafood decreased by 2.1 percent, with Americans eating about 14.8 pounds per person total.
Occasionally a recipe will call for cooking in a nonreactive pan. No, that's not a dead pan. Nonreactive cookware is anything made of a material that does not react chemically to food cooked in it. Stainless steel is the most common nonreactive cookware. Cookware made of aluminum, cast iron or copper can react with acidic foods such as tomatoes or vinegar, giving them a metallic taste; if cooked long enough, the pans will discolor the food as well. Other foods can be cooked in pans made of these materials without problems. Most better-quality aluminum and copper pots and pans are lined with stainless steel to make them nonreactive.
Mrs. Smith's Bakeries has come up with a way that you can have your pie and eat it, too: a plastic tool that keeps the filling from falling out into the pie tin once you've cut the first piece. The pie tool has adjustable arms that create a wedge to take the place of the missing piece of pie. To order one, send a check or money order for $2.99 along with your name, address and phone number to Mrs. Smith's Pie Keeper Offer, P.O. Box 279, Norcross, GA 30091-0279. Expect your pie tool to be delivered in six to eight weeks.