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Simply Entertaining: Taming foods that bite back

Thursday, May 17, 2001

By Mary Miller

As a food lover, I am not about to let an artistic display on my plate go to waste just because it looks pretty. I feel I must dig in.

Last year, I was out for lunch with my friend Jane with my favorite dish of seared tuna topped with crispy soba noodles in front of me. Just as my knife hit the tuna, a mass of noodles flew up and landed in my hair. Jane kindly picked it out and we finished our meal, with the remainder of the surely yummy soba noodles pushed to the side of my plate.


Mary Miller is a Fox Chapel-based registered dietitian and food writer. For questions or comments, she can be reached at marymar333@home.com.


Then last week I attended a luncheon where the dessert consisted of three small scoops of sorbet in a molded praline bowl. Instead of leaving well enough alone and just eating the sorbet, I had to taste the crisp holder, too. With my best table manners I attempted to cut into the sweet almond cup, only to have a large chunk of it take off toward me, bringing laughs from everyone at the table.

Most everyone has a similar experience, whether it be chasing dodgy meatballs, trying to gracefully tame a wild strand of pasta, or attempting to bite into a crusty piece of French bread.

Recipes using foods with pits, poppy seeds or spinach are notorious for causing problems either in eating or in removing every last bit from those pesky crevasses between teeth.

As the host, you can make things easier by avoiding foods that might be difficult for guests to pick up, to bite into, or to chew. As guests, we can learn the best way to tackle these foods without looking foolish.

Here are some hints for hard-to-handle foods:

Fish with bones. Try to pick away any visible bones before raising the fork to your mouth. Small bones that sneak by may, however, be removed from the mouth with your fingers.

Fresh artichokes. Remove the leaves one at a time, dipping the leaf into the sauce provided. It's OK to strip off the flesh with your teeth and discard the rest on the edge of your plate. Once the core is exposed, you can scrape away at the thistle at the base and eat the rest with a knife and fork.

Meats with the bone attached. (Examples: chicken legs and ribs.) At a fancy dinner, use a knife and fork. At an informal dinner such as a picnic, fingers are OK. Have your napkin close by for sticky fingers. Do not lick your fingers or pick your teeth in order to savor those last remnants of barbecue sauce. When fingers are used to eat food, the pit or bone is removed with the fingers.

Soup. Scoop the soup and push the spoon away from you. Sip soup from the spoon, gently tipping it towards your mouth. Never put the whole spoon in your mouth.

Spaghetti. Twist and spin with the fork. Bite off the stragglers as you eat from the fork, letting them fall back to the plate. Otherwise, you might be spinning for a long time. Take a few strands at a time.

Still unsure about some foods? The bottom line is ... if in doubt, follow your host. If you are unsure of whether to use a utensil or not, use one.

I love olives but at parties I often avoid the slippery little guys either because I don't want to pick them up with my fingers or I don't have a good place to put the pits. Pureeing them is a way to get great olive taste with no pitfalls.

Try this terrific spread on toasted slices of French baguette.


1 cup pitted Nicoise olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped, rinsed anchovy fillet
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor or blender. Process until pureed. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and process until incorporated.

Cover and refrigerate, up to one week. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Adapted from "Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen"

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