(Available at major retailers and online at http://www.ziploc.com/steamerbags for $15.99 for 30 medium or 14 large bags)

Once produce companies began selling washed-and-ready-to-eat vegetables in microwave-friendly steamer bags, it was only a matter of time before somebody started selling the bags themselves directly to consumers. The time has come.

Ziploc’s just-launched Zip’n Steam bags take all the guessing out of microwave steaming. Each bag is printed with directions for using it to steam a variety of fresh or frozen vegetables, as well as shrimp, fish, chicken and hot dogs.

Fresh asparagus, for example, takes about 2½ minutes. Two frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts take about 7 minutes.

The gist here is speed and ease. Steaming already is a speedy cooking method. Doing it in the microwave is even faster.

For example, steaming 5 ounces of broccoli on the stovetop took about 15 minutes, which included bringing the water to a boil and dressing the broccoli with lemon zest and sesame oil. With Zip’n Steam, just 6 minutes.

The bags also allow you to season your food first, then add it to the bag and cook. This also means the bags can be used to prep meals in advance, refrigerating or freezing them until needed.

The company is aware that consumers have concerns about the safety of microwaving food that is in contact with plastic. They say these bags have been formulated to not leach any material into the food.

NEW GEAR: Lodge’s Pro-Logic Cast-iron Pizza Pan

(Available at retailers nationwide and for $42.95 at http://www.lodgemfg.com )

The secret to good flatbread and tortillas (not to mention amazing pancakes) is a heavy flat griddle.

Unfortunately many griddles, including the widely available rectangular cast-iron models, are too narrow to accommodate large flatbreads and usually lack handles, making it a challenge to work with them.

Now cast iron king Lodge has the solution. The company’s 14-inch seasoned cast-iron pizza pan is forehead-slapping good. It is perfect for nearly any size flatbread, tortilla, pancake and, yes, even pizza.

Though not technically a griddle, the Lodge pizza pan excels as one. Its generous round cooking area makes it a pleasure to cook on. And its upright handles make it a cinch to carry.

Also, unlike the two-burner rectangular models, which create hot spots, the pizza pan is conveniently designed for one burner.

And for those with a hankering for some outdoor cooking, the pan is equally happy on a stove or over charcoal or open flame.

ON THE BOOKSHELF: “Roadfood Sandwiches,” by Jane and Michael Stern (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, $14.95)

With their latest book, Jane and Michael Stern don’t just tell you where to get great grub, they also give you the recipes to make it.

Drawing on their decades of wanderlust scouring the nation for great diners, shops and other small-time sources of superb roadfood, the Sterns have assembled more than 100 recipes (and the stories behind them) in their new book, “Roadfood Sandwiches.”

Which means now you can replicate the fried bologna sandwich from G & R Tavern in Waldo, Ohio. Or the Hoosier Reuben from Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis (which combines corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island dressing between slices of rye).

The Sterns, known for their books and articles chronicling the nation’s best roadfood, in this book include the stories behind the diners and recipes, and tell them with the usual wit and charm fans have come to expect from the couple.

And to help you keep your cooking authentic, the Sterns include sources for mail ordering condiments and other items that might otherwise be hard to find in some parts of the country.


Thanks to California’s sunny San Joaquin Valley, which supplies about 60 percent of the nation’s peaches, the fuzzy fruits can be found coast to coast April through September. But July and August are their glory season, when heat and sunshine have filled them with sugar.

And here’s the secret to getting the best peach – color, not softness, indicates ripeness. Locate the groove left by the branch on the top of the peach and examine the two lobes. One should be blazing red (“Where it got all nice and tan,” says Chuck Geyer, manager of Westmoreland Berry Farm in Oak Grove, Va.), and the other deep yellow-orange. Any trace of green means it was picked too early.

“The leaves are the sugar factory and once the fruit is removed from the leaves, there’s no more sugar,” Geyer says. “Peaches don’t get riper, they just get soft.”

If you’re what peach professionals call a “leaner,” someone who likes peaches so soft that only leaning forward saves your shirt, then leave them out for a couple days in a cool place, away from direct sunlight. They’re perfect when they give slightly if squeezed.

Peaches can be refrigerated for 10 days (avoid plastic bags, which speed deterioration).

Or cut around the diameter, dip the halves in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, and place sugar-side down on the grill. Cook until dark brown and caramelized around the edges, then serve alongside the burgers and ribs. Even better, save them for dessert with lots of vanilla ice cream.