Hot products, Maryland-madeToto Mechali is preparing to...

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April 11, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Hot products, Maryland-made

Toto Mechali is preparing to hang up his tool belt and tie on the chef's apron for good. Mr. Mechali and his wife, Miki, produce Mama Vida products, ranging from Toto's Gourmet Salsa to gourmet chili to Spanish delight (a vegetable medley with eggplant) to the newest product, Black Beandido dip.

Mr. Mechali, who also runs a construction company in Baltimore, was raised in Morocco; his mother is Spanish and his father French-Moroccan. "I've always enjoyed eating salsa and spicy food," he says. But commercial salsa didn't please him, so he told his wife, "I'm going to call my mother and see how she does it."

The result was so popular among family, friends and acquaintances that the Mechalis decided to look for a way to produce more. "It started as a joke," Mr. Mechali says. "We thought, 'We'll never get this thing in the stores.' "

But someone persuaded them to display their salsa at the Fancy Food Show in New York, and there they met buyers from food companies in Maryland and around the country. "They liked the way it looked and they liked the way it tasted," he recalls. Suddenly, "everyone was ordering two, three, four cases!"

The success of the salsa led Mr. Mechali to think, "Hey, there's a lot of other stuff my mother makes." Other products followed; soon to be introduced is Toto's Pepper Fiesta, based on a traditional Moroccan vegetable stew. "You can use it as a side dish, as a filler for omelets, or a sauce for pasta and grilled chicken," he says.

Mama Vida products are available at Graul's, Eddie's, and Sutton Place Gourmet in Washington and in Pikesville. Mr. Mechali doesn't expect to be in the construction business too much longer. "This is our future," he says. These days most people are getting the connection: What you eat really can affect the way you feel -- and in helping to ward off serious illness, maybe even prolong your life.

But knowing that and putting it into practice in the kitchen may be two different things. That's where a cookbook like the new Reader's Digest "Live Longer Cookbook" (Reader's Digest, 1993, can come in handy.

The 500 recipes in the book include full nutritional breakdowns, along with preparation times and there's a section called the "Commonsense Guide to Living Longer" that talks about nutrients and health benefits, calories and fat, exercise and diet and other nutrition issues.

But the recipes are far from lean and grim: chicken with sage and corn bread crust, leg of lamb with lime-honey marinade, risotto primavera, sweet potatoes roasted with garlic, herbed spiral bread, and chocolate-chestnut Bavarian cream, to sample a few of the chapters.

There's also this recipe, which could be the highlight of a weekend breakfast or brunch:

@Sesame-Cheddar scones

Makes 8 scones.

1 1/4 cups sifted unbleached flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter or margarine, cut into bits

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

2/3 cup skim milk

1 large egg white

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add the shortening and butter and blend with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal; mix in the cheese.

In a medium-sized bowl, blend 1/2 cup of the milk with the egg white; add to the flour mixture and stir until combined enough to gather into a ball, adding more of the milk if needed. Lightly knead the dough on a floured surface, then pat or roll it into a 9-inch round that is 1/2 -inch thick.

Place the dough on the baking sheet. Brush the top with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cut it into eight wedges and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Each scone has 235 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of total fat, 7 grams of protein, 29 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, 320 milligrams of sodium and 16 milligrams of cholesterol.

"I can see clearly now" is getting to be the theme song of more and more manufacturers, who are producing see-through products in fields as far-ranging as soap and soft drinks. Now Miller Brewing Co. has taken up the theme with Miller Clear, a clear beer introduced this month in test markets.

The premium-priced beer is brewed, fermented and aged in the traditional manner, then put through an ultrapurification process make it clear. The beer has 122 calories per 12-ounce serving, but only half as many carbohydrates as other full-calorie beers, Miller says, which makes the beer flavorful without being heavy.

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