Faster Rice-A-Roni

To prepare Rice-A-Roni, you first fry the mixture of rice and bits of vermicelli in some butter or margarine (browning the vermicelli gives the mixture a bit of toasty flavor), then you add water and the seasonings and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.

Not anymore, if you're in a hurry — or if you don't value that bit of toasty flavor. Welcome new Rice-A-Roni Quick Serve, in a bag that yields two servings in the microwave in 6 minutes, and new Rice-A-Roni single-serve cups, which microwave in 3 ½ minutes.

Of course, neither microwave product is the same as the original. But the two microwave products aren't the same, either. The most obvious difference among the three is that the original (browned) version is tan, and the two microwave products are yellow (the single-cup version the yellowest). And there are flavor differences that Mr. Tidbit won't attempt to describe.

But the most peculiar difference is in the fat content of the products as prepared. The directions for the three-serving original box call for two tablespoons of butter or margarine (for frying). Oddly, the two-serving bag calls for adding the same amount of butter or margarine. No fat is added to the single-serve cup. So, as prepared, the fat content of a serving (that's 1 cup in all three cases) from the original mix is 9 grams, from the two-serving bag is 11 grams and from the single-serve cup is 1 gram.

Shelf price of the original box was $1.19 at one store, the two-serving bag was $1.69 and the single-serve cup was $1.19. Adding 15 cents for butter or margarine as called for, the price of a serving from the original box was 45 cents, that from the two-serving bag was 92 cents, and the cup was $1.19.

Questionable Peeps

Only one variety of Peeps hadn't sold out at a store Mr. Tidbit visited some time after Easter, but there was lots of it on the clearance shelf. It was Peeps Mystery Chicks, with an unrevealed flavor. (The wrapper asked "Sweet? Salty? Savory? Zesty? What?") Apparently the idea of winding up with broccoli Peeps or maybe gefilte fish Peeps didn't appeal to lots of folks. (The flavor was fruit punch.)

Al Sicherman