DALLAS — The Pillsbury Bake-Off is an incredible experience. Besides covering the competition, food writers attended a daylong food news seminar co-sponsored by the Dallas Morning News. The classes are a wealth of information, but I treasure most the little nuggets of wisdom gleaned along the way.

One of those little nuggets was TST. This stands for taste, season and taste, a rule that many cooks forget, according to Cynthia Holub, the J.M. Smuckers Co.'s test kitchen chef.

In a seminar on "Pantry Intervention," Holub said even if you follow a recipe, a dish may still need a little more salt, pepper or whatever. So before you serve it, taste it, season a little, then taste again.

The second set of initials I learned: bd.

Have you ever sat at a round banquet table and wondered which drink and bread plate are yours? It's hard to tell where each place setting begins and ends. Here's what you do: Put your hands out, and form a circle with each index finger and thumb, making a lower-case b and d with your hands. The d, on your right hand, points to your drink. The b, on your left hand, is for your bread. This tip came from Karen Haram, the San Antonio Express-News food editor, as we sat down for lunch. Other things we learned:

• Marketing research shows an increase in home cooking, reversing the 30-plus year trend of people eating more meals away from home. And men and women actually eat the same amounts of chocolate; women just talk about it more.

• The energy drink boom is being fueled by "middlemen," the 20- to 35-year-old guys who still live with their parents and spend their leisure time on video games and fantasy football.

• Much of the "history" about Texas cowboys is more myth than truth, according to Robb Walsh, author of "The Texas Cowboy Cookbook." Since I happened to sit next to Walsh when we sampled some of his recipes, I also learned that I didn't put near enough gravy on my chicken fried steak, as far as Walsh was concerned.

• There are flavor differences in chocolate with varying percentages of cacao, such as 82 percent extra dark, or 62 percent semisweet. John Scharffenberger, former owner of Scharffen Berger Chocolate, added that a few good small chocolate makers are springing up, including one in Utah. He was referring to Amano Artisan Chocolate, which we featured in a Food section story last December.

• Cooktops and fridges are getting even more high-tech features.

We also had a chance to try the award-winning restaurant Craft. It's owned by Tom Colicchio, who serves as the head judge on Bravo's "Top Chef."

But some information eluded me. When I met Sandra Lee of the Food Network's "Semi-Homemade Cooking," I failed to ask her how she keeps her pristine white outfits from getting soiled and spattered while cooking on the show. Isn't she afraid of hot grease or dripping sauce?

While chatting with Lee after the award program, one reporter remarked that Lee had given Carolyn Gurtz a kiss on the cheek minutes before announcing her as the million-dollar prize winner. Did the kiss give Gurtz good luck, we wondered? Lee didn't even recall it. But later, as she bid us farewell, she leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. After she left, we joked that I should hurry out and buy a lottery ticket.


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