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deconstructing

explanations from the inside out

jicama

Pity the poor jicama, for it doesn't seem to have its own personality. When asked to describe this crunchy, sweet vegetable from Mexico and South America, most people say it's a cross between an apple and a potato. For salads, use it like a water chestnut, they say, to add crunch, or grate it like a daikon radish. Never have we heard anyone say that an Asian pear tastes like jicama (but it does).

In these days of carb avoidance, jicama (HEE-kah-mah) comes to the rescue of those hankering for the crackle that used to come from croutons or potato chips. At just 3.5 carbohydrates for a third of a cup, slivers of jicama add taste and body to salads and wraps, plus thicker sticks are sturdy enough to scoop up creamy dips or guacamole.

Jicama, sometimes called a yam bean or a Mexican turnip, isn't the prettiest veggie in the produce section. The bulbous brown orb looks more like a dusty stone than something to eat. Indeed, it does grow underground and is a relative of the sweet potato. Carve away the rough exterior to reveal a creamy, white flesh, slightly watery but still firm.

In its native habitat, slices of jicama are sold by street vendors with a squeeze of lime juice and a shake of hot chili powder. Mexico City's version of the New York pretzel.

Besides its many uses as a raw veggie, it can be cooked in stir-fries or baked, boiled or fried, just like a potato. Jicama is also a good addition to slaws.

Oh, yeah, and for those people who still count calories, fat and fiber: A cup is about 50 calories with no fat and 6 grams of fiber. Jicama is available year-round and should be stored in a cool, dry place, which will keep it in good condition for about three weeks. Expect to pay about $1.49 a pound (which equals about one cup shredded). Look for jicama in the produce section of your grocery store.

ingrained flavor

Open a box of Uncle Ben's new Flavorful Rice and you'll find something is missing: the seasoning packet.

That is because the leading rice brand has infused the flavors into the rice grains themselves. It took researchers more than a decade to figure out how to put the flavors into the grain. To accomplish its goal, the company had to grow an entirely new strain of rice.

Flavorful Rice comes in seven varieties and is available in grocery stores nationwide for a suggested retail price of $1.29 for a 6.2-ounce box.

vidalia concern

Researchers in Georgia are scrambling to identify a mystery disease threatening the state's $75-million Vidalia onion crop. Lesions are appearing on the leaves of onion plants in seed beds, and scientists want to determine if they are related to the disease that has plagued peanut and tobacco crops. Vidalias, like Walla Walla and Maui onions, have become popular nationwide because of their sweetness. The blight shouldn't affect this year's crop but could create problems if not controlled, says Reid Torrance, a University of Georgia extension coordinator in Tattnall County, the state's largest Vidalia-producing county.

pasta and sauce

Creating a perfect Italian meal means not only finding the perfect wine to accompany your pasta, but also finding the perfect sauce.

Barilla, which makes both pasta and sauces, offers these suggestions:

+ Use chunkier, meatier sauces on ridged, shaped pasta, such as penne and rigatoni.

+ Pair smooth shapes, such as mostaccioli and ziti, with light sauces such as olive oil or simple fresh tomato.

+ Use robust sauces on fettuccine.

+ Pair linguine with pesto, tomato sauces, oil-based sauces or fish-based sauces.

cooking class

Be careful about cooking whole chickens in slow cookers. Food-safety experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture disagree with slow-cooker manufacturers that the appliances heat the chicken quickly enough to prevent bacteria from flourishing. There is no data to support the manufacturer's claims and until there is, it's best to cut whole chickens into pieces before putting them into your Crockpot.

this web site cooks

www.beerchurch.com

Their motto is "because beer is good and you are worthy."

So, sure, they hoist a few.

"Beer is good," writes Kendall Jones in "More About Us." Beer is part of our culture, he says. "We hope to instill in people a sense of social responsibility that includes drinking responsibly. Drinking can lead to some bad things."

Like forgetting where you were last night.

There's a link to the Universal Life Church Web site, which can ordain you "easy, fast and free," and then you can perform marriages. They won't be legal, but the happy couple will probably be grateful the morning after.

stackable chocolate

Hershey's gets some inspiration from Pringles for its new Swoops, wave-shaped slices of chocolate candy that fit together much like the potato chips in canisters. Each box of Swoops contains three snack-sized containers of six chocolate slices each. We sampled Hershey's milk chocolate and York peppermint and deem them fit for school lunches or office desk drawers or people who don't mind paying more than the price of a candy bar for something less. Other varieties include Almond Joy and Reese's. A box of three packs sells for about $2.

Compiled by JANET K. KEELER from staff and wire reports

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