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Food At It's Best

AV0CADO - The avocado will be soft and ready to eat in 3-5 days. Avoid mushy avocados with black spots.

BANANAS - Bananas will be perfectly ripe and sweet in a day or so when there is a tinge of green at the stem end, along with the scattered flecks of brown.

CELERY - For crisp, tender celery, avoid yellow leaves or woody stalks.  Green Pascal is less stringy and more flavorful than the paler Golden Self-Blanching.

CHEESE - Natural cheeses, like Edam, are much tastier and generally have fewer additives than processed cheeses.  However, be sure to trim away dyed wax or other outer coatings.

CHICKEN - Look for a plump, thick-skinned chicken. yellow skin is no guarantee of freshness - it only means the bird has been fed on corn.

EGGS - Brown eggs are as nutritious as white.  Check for cracks.

FISH - Whole fish doesn't dry out as quickly as fillets or steaks. Look for bright, bulging eyes, tight, shiny scales and firm, translucent flesh - and no "fishy" smell.  Reject fish with dull-looking flesh or a limp, mushy look.

LETTUCE - Lettuce should smell sweet, not bitter, and be free of brown edges.  The greener your lettuce, the tastier your salads.

ONIONS - The skin of onions should be paper-dry, bright and satiny - so buying them loose from a bin gives you the best selection.  Avoid onions that are sprouted or have soggy stem ends.

PAPAYA - A papaya one-third speckled with yellow will ripen in 2 days.

PEARS - Pears are sold slightly under ripe.  Buy blemish-free fruit and let it sit on top of the refrigerator for a couple of days.

PINEAPPLE - Pineapple is okay when there are no soft spots or brown leaves.

POTATOES - The best-quality potatoes are U.S. No. 1 Grade.  Long, oval Idahoes are ideal for baking; red "new" potatoes are great boiled.

ROAST - A well-marbled cut of meat makes a tender, juicy roast, but leaner cuts like top round would be more healthful.  Moist cooking methods help retain flavor.

SEEDS - The freshest seeds are sold in airtight packages. Keep them tightly sealed to prevent rancidity.

ZUCCHINI - A small or medium-size zucchini is the best.  The skin should be smooth.  Use at once, since it decays quickly.