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Making sandwiches at high speed can still get results that rise above routine.

Without stretching the pantry budget, have a bit of fun with easy but imaginative combinations of ingredients. Try this one for the lunch boxes or for a fast, nutritious snack for anyone (and remember that dried plums are what you used to call prunes). This recipe is from the California Dried Plum Board.

Peanut Butter, Banana and Dried Plum Sandwiches

  • 4 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 medium banana, sliced
  • 1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried plums, pitted and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

    On each of two bread slices, spread 2 tablespoons peanut butter. Top with banana slices and dried plums. Mix honey with cinnamon if desired. Drizzle honey over dried plums. Top each with remaining bread slices.

    Makes 2 sandwiches.

    PLUS-SIZE PASTA

    It’s hard to resist these gigantic pastas from the Cooperativa Pastai Gragnanesi, a group of artisan pastamakers in southern Italy. These monster shapes are fun to look at, and they taste great. The shells (in Italian, lumaconi) would be ideal for stuffing; the monster corkscrews (aka fusilloni) will twist and turn their way through the thickest sauce. They are just two of several shapes available; each 17.6-ounce bag is $3.65 to $3.90, plus shipping, from San Francisco’s A.G. Ferrari Foods.

    Details: (877) 878-2783 or www.agferrari.com .

    SWEET ON RUM

    The world of flavored spirits continues to grow with Bacardi O, an orange-flavored rum. But oranges and tangerines aren’t the only overtones here; this stuff is sweet. We liked sipping it but acknowledged that it might be too sweet for straight-ahead cocktails such as martinis. But it would be a perfect fit in fruitier drinks such as sangria. Each 750-milliliter bottle of 70-proof liqueur comes with its own recipes and costs about $13.

    SIZZLING SET

    A colleague noted that the names of Walnut Acres’ new certified organic salsas – ”Midnight Sun,” ”Sweet Southwestern Peach” and ”Fiesta Cilantro” – sound more like gothic romance novels. But although these mellow salsas rarely generate the heat of those novels’ steamier passages, they taste good and are nicely seasoned. Fiesta Cilantro boasts a medium heat, Midnight Sun is a mild salsa starring black beans, and the peach is mild and sweet. Each 15-ounce bottle costs $4 at Sunset Foods.

    RARE FINDS

    Find yourself drawn to the unusual offerings – cassava, jackfruit, prickly pears – in the ever-expanding supermarket produce section• ”The Exotic Fruit and Vegetable Handbook,” by Oona van den Berg (Sterling, $24.95), provides a useful primer on more than 70 different items. (”Exotic” might be a relative term: Watermelon, figs and dates are listed here, too.) The book also has 50 recipes, although it’s worth noting that some are as exotic as the ingredients – such as pomelo and king prawn salad, and caramelized pineapple with burnt Cointreau syrup. The book is at some Barnes and Noble bookstores and at www.amazon.com .

    A CHILLING DISCOVERY

    Contrary to what some people might believe, there is a time limit on how long food can sit at room temperature before becoming dangerous to eat.

    Cooked food must be chilled within two hours. Scientists have found that bacteria begin to grow in numbers that can make you ill after about two hours at room temperature.

    But that means that the food must be chilled below 40 degrees by the end of two hours, not merely in the refrigerator and beginning to cool. Large quantities of food, such as soups and turkeys, take a while to chill. Food-safety experts recommend dividing the food and packing it in small containers so that it reaches an internal temperature of 40 degrees more quickly.

    STARBUCKS ICE CREAM

    Here’s one more reason to eat ice cream: Starbucks Coffee Mud Pie.

    The coffee company continues to expand its line of rich, coffee-flavored ice creams. The newest flavor features crushed chocolate sandwich cookies in coffee ice cream.

    Other Starbucks flavors are Classic Coffee, Brownies au Caramel, Java Toffee, Java Chip, Coffee Almond Fudge and Low Fat Latte. A quart retails for about $4.60 in supermarkets.

    Send food and nutrition news to A La Carte, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Fax: (412) 320-7966. Or e-mail [email protected] .

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