Parfait is the perfect dessert, at least in name. "Parfait" is the French word for perfect, but that doesn't help in understanding what a parfait is or what it should contain.
The most modern permutation of a parfait is the one served at McDonald's, which layers granola, low-fat yogurt and fruit in a plastic to-go cup. It's a pretty tasty item, but we're not sure it's actually a parfait.
Traditionally, according to the extensive culinary reference book Larousse Gastronomique, a parfait was "an iced sweet based on a coffee cream." Later, the term came to mean mousse set in a mold.
How parfait came to mean a layered dessert served in a tall, fluted glass is anyone's guess. But that's what we think of as a parfait today.
And the layers can be pudding, ice cream or even yogurt, a la McDonald's, alternated with granola, fruit, Jell-O, bits of pretzels, whipped cream or even a little liqueur. (By the way, a cocktail that features liqueur and cream in layers of bright colors is a pousse cafe.)
And anymore, a parfait doesn't even have to be a dessert. Emeril Lagasse now makes a caviar version which relies on champagne cream to carry hardboiled eggs, parsley, red onion and salmon roe.
To jazz up the flavor, color and nutritional content of plain applesauce, make it blue or pink. Puree each cup of applesauce with two tablespoons of fresh or frozen blueberries or strawberries plus sugar, if desired, to taste. - Adapted from The Kid-Friendly Food Allergy Cookbook by Leslie Hammond and Lynne Marie Rominger (Fair Winds Press, $14.95).
Ah, yes, a Web site to whet your appetite and bring a little (or maybe a lot) of alcohol fire to your food. We're talking Burgundy beef roulade, Aunt Fran's spirited brandy asparagus, Cuban black beans baked with rum, tequila chili blanco, beer cheese soup and legions of other dishes. Nashville cook LeAnne Rowland tests recipe submissions and demonstrates a new dish every month in her streaming video presentation. She also doles out cooking tips and a cornucopia of ideas for entertaining with flair.
The quote of the day on a recent schedule of the Culinary Institute of America was anonymous: "It takes four men to dress a salad: A wise man for the salt, a madman for the pepper, a miser for the vinegar and a spendthrift for the oil." Chef instructor Ken Woytisek said it sounded to him like something from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. - San Francisco Chronicle
Dim sum 101
Kit Shan Li's pocket-sized guide to dim sum may be all you need to figure out what's under the bamboo steamers and on the rolling carts at your favorite Chinese brunch place. Dim Sum: A Pocket Guide (Chronicle Books, $7.95) resembles a child's sturdy board book and has photos on each page to help identify the three- or four-bite goodies traditionally served at Cantonese restaurants.
The guide includes basic etiquette (leave the top of the pot open if you want more tea) and simple techniques (how to use chopsticks). Now you'll know the difference between shrimp and beef rice rolls just by looking. (The beef rolls have tiny slashes on the top.)
first water, now stuff
Perrier, the first name in fancy bottled mineral water, now has a catalog from which shoppers can buy home goods that radiate that upscale image. Lovely embroidered linens, hunt club prints and French-inspired furniture are the specialties of the house. The catalog is worth a look, if for nothing else than to watch how a brand name diversifies. Call toll free 1-888-543-2804 to get on the mailing list or look online at www.sourceperrier.com
Creative gadget use
Some new uses for familiar gadgets are listed in the April issue of Real Simple magazine. Included:
* Egg slicer. Original purpose: chef's salad expediter. New use: mushroom slicer.
* Orange peel. Original purpose: nature's disposable packaging. New use: brown-sugar lifesaver. Prevent sugar from getting hard by keeping a 3-inch-long piece of orange peel in the box always.
* Salt. Original purpose: unlocking flavor. New use: sopping up a spilled egg. Heap a handful of salt on the mess, leave for 2 minutes or so, then wipe up.
* Sandwich bags. Original purpose: keeping BLTs fresh. New use: pastry mitt. Slip your hand into a bag when you're spreading pastry dough in a pie plate. It will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers, and heat from your hand won't oversoften the mixture.
- Compiled by Janet K. Keeler from staff and wire reports