THE BROWN SUGAR IS like a rock, the honey has crystallized and the lemons are too cold to squeeze for a lot of fresh juice. What to do? Turn to your microwave, of course.

Here are some quick-fix tips on how to use the microwave from "Better by Microwave" by Lori Longbotham and Marie Simons (Dutton, 1990, $19.95):

To soften hard brown sugar, remove the sugar from the package and place it and an apple wedge in a microwave-safe glass pie plate. Cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap and microwave on high power 20 to 30 seconds. Let stand, covered, for 20 seconds. Uncover and stir to remove the lumps.

To liquefy crystallized honey, microwave in a microwave-safe container twice the volume of the honey, uncovered, on high power for one to two minutes, or until the crystals disappear.

To soften a stick of hard butter to spreading consistency, microwave one stick on high power 20 to 40 seconds, checking every 10 seconds.

To warm up lemons, limes and oranges to give more juice, microwave one piece of fruit on high power for 15 seconds. For icy cold or refrigerated fruit, microwave for 30 seconds.

THE HOLIDAY SEASON finds many revelers up to their elbows in cookie dough, so if bakers have any last-minute problems making cookies, cakes or other seasonal sweets, the Land O' Lakes Holiday Baking Hotline is on standby. Questions will be answered from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., now until Dec. 23, at 1-800-782-9606.

Vegetarians can get a recipe for a meatless holiday dish by calling the People For Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Gobbler-Free" hot line after Dec. 17 at 1-800-673-8501 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Other vegan recipes for the holidays are available by calling PETA's literature department at 301-770-7444.


Congratulations to the five Washington-area chefs who recently won scholarships to Madeleine Kamman's prestigious School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards in California. Among the 32 chosen nationwide were David Hagedorn (West End Cafe), Robin Novack (Carlyle Grand Cafe), Lisa Joy, Brian Patterson and Martin Saylor. Applicants for the two-week professional cooking seminars had to submit a personal statement, a re'sume', two letters of recommendation and a seasonal menu using regional ingredients. "It was like the application for Harvard," said Hagedorn, whose four-course menu included the following:


David Hagedorn serves this dish surrounded by a ring of cardamom-scented rice flecked with nuts and dried fruit.

20 large fresh sea scallops

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup white wine

Shrimp butter (recipe follows)

20 snow pea pods, cut diagonally in half, lengthwise

1 red pepper, julienned

1 yellow pepper, julienned

1 green pepper, julienned

1 jicama, peeled and cut into julienne

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

1 bunch scallions

Flour the scallops lightly and saute' in the butter until brown on both sides. Set aside and deglaze the pan with the wine and the shrimp butter. Toss the vegetables in the pan and cover to steam vegetables slightly. (They should be barely al dente.) Divide the scallops among dinner plates, piled loosely. Place the vegetables free-form over the scallops. Cut the scallions on the bias into 3-inch strips and garnish the scallops with a sprinkling of parsley and the scallions.

Per serving: 341 calories, 12 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 17 gm saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 105 mg sodium.

SHRIMP BUTTER (5 servings)

1 stick unsalted butter

6 medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 clove garlic

Combine all the ingredients and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Per serving: 186 calories, 2 gm protein, .4 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 12 gm saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium.

POTATO AND APPLE LATKES (Makes about 12 latkes, serving 4)

Deciding whether to add a dollop of sour cream or applesauce to your latkes is no longer necessary since these savory cakes are good enough to eat without the sour cream, and the apples are already in the mix. Fanatics can still add both, however.

4 large baking potatoes

2 large applesSTART NOTE: Any reason to say type of apple? BobK. END NOTE

1/2 cup onion, peeled and diced

2 eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste

Salt, to taste

About 6 tablespoons peanut oil for frying

Peel and julienne the potatoes and apples and put in a large bowl. Add the diced onion and mix ingredients together with clean hands. Beat the eggs lightly and add the eggs, flour, cream and spices to the potato mixture. Use your hands to mix everything together so the strands of potato and apple don't break.

Form the latkes into 12 patties and place on waxed paper. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large frying pan and fry the latkes in batches over medium heat, leaving room between them and adding more oil to the pan as necessary. When they are crisp and golden, remove to a plate covered with paper towels, and keep warm in the oven while the other are cooking. Serve as soon as all the latkes are cooked.

Per latke: 143 calories, 2 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium. -- Kristin Eddy

CARRYING A SCALE around from holiday party to holiday party, or restaurant to restaurant, to weigh your food and try to limit calorie and fat intake is impractical, at the least.

So, if you are reluctant to undertake that eccentric step but still are determined to eat the 3- to 4-ounce portions most diets require, here's a tip: Carry a deck of cards.

Arlene Dym, nutrition editor of "Prevention" magazine, says to limit portions of meat, poultry and fish to the size of a deck of cards (you may not actually have to carry one if you have a good eye). That size will typically contain 3 to 4 ounces.

ATTENTION ALL DORITOS FANS: It's time for a moment of silence, to mourn the passing of the man who developed and perfected what has become the world's best-selling snack. Raymond L. Vandaveer, director of research for Frito Co. and senior research chemist for Frito-Lay, died in late October at the age of 82.

"His greatest reward was being recognized for what he did" and "he was quite proud of" his work in perfecting Doritos, Vandaveer's widow, Naomi, told Snack World magazine.

So, in the name of Raymond L. Vandaveer, indulge -- have some Doritos.