A few weeks ago, I got a call from a woman in Atlanta who wanted to send a meal to an Austin family experiencing the loss of a loved one. She was looking for a service that would deliver a home-cooked meal for four to six people at a reasonable price. I was at a loss as to where to send her. There are some restaurants that deliver and more than one company that will deliver restaurant meals to homes, but that wasn't what she wanted. Caterers would have a difficult time making money on such a small order, and personal chefs generally cook several meals in the client's home so those were out. In the recent past, there were two local outfits that delivered meals on a contract or an individual basis, but both went out of business. Grocery stores are getting into the prepared meal business in a big way, but currently I don't know of any company that will deliver pre-cooked meals to a customer's home. I have no idea how much of a market there is for such a service, but if readers know of any, I'd like to hear about it.

Three talented chefs from the same local restaurant company have recently been turning signature recipes into airplane tickets to the Big Apple. Jeffrey's chef du cuisine Alma Alcocer-Thomas parlayed an original duck dish into a trip to New York City for the Maple Leaf Farms duck contest in October. Shoreline Grill chef Dan Haverty's winning recipe from the 1997 Texas Beef Challenge earned him an early January trip to New York to present a dinner at the James Beard House. And this week, Jeffrey's executive chef David Garrido was in New York, preparing a venison dish in the Cervena Plates Cuisine Competition. National recognition for Austin chefs reflects well on the entire local restaurant community.

Never fear, there's still plenty of time to find the ideal Valentine's gift for your sweet babboo. Nosh on aphrodisiac delights and purchase an original heart-shaped work of art at La Peña's Toma Mi Corazon preview party this Sunday at Las Manitas (211 Congress, 472-8031) with a silent auction at 227 Congress immediately following... Order a batch of scrumptious brownies, either fudge nut or fat-free, to benefit the scholarship fund of the Associ-ation for Women in Communications. The brownies will be prepared by My Friend's Place (2700 Anderson, 419-1111) at a cost of $13 (picked up) and $15 (delivered). Call AWIC at 416-5825 or 453-2822 before the ordering deadline on Monday, February 9. They'll take cash, checks, or credit cards, and delivery is available in Austin, Westlake, and Dripping Springs... Dine, dance, and shop at the Austin Waldorf School fundraiser on Saturday, February 14, 6-11pm at the Ben Hur Shrine, 4300 Westbank Dr. Dance to the music of Suzi Stern Luna, enjoy dinner from the Living Arts Kitchen and bid on an interesting selection of auction items. Call the Waldorf School (8702 S. View Rd., 288-5942) for ticket information... Lure the object of your affections to Becker Vineyards (three miles west of Stonewall, off Hwy 290W on Jenschke Lane, 800/WIN-WINE), where you can savor the dazzling debut of the 1996 Becker Estate Merlot and the 1996 Texas Merlot paired with handmade chocolates by Frans Hendriks, chef/owner of Bistro Time in San Antonio. Enjoy the wine and chocolate pairing from 10am-5pm on Saturday, February 14, and noon-5pm on Sunday, February 15... Surprise your nature-loving lover with a "Rio Grande Gourmet Raft Trip" led by Francois Maeder, chef/owner of Crumpets Restaurant (5800 Broadway, 210/821-5600) in San Antonio and Far Flung Adventures of Terlingua. The three day, 20-mile treks begin at Lajitas in Big Bend National Park. At dinnertime, chef Maeder sets up a riverside kitchen and transforms the contents of numerous ice chests into a sophisticated gourmet repast. Spring trips are scheduled for February 20-22, March 13-15, April 3-5, and April 24-26. The cost is $625 per person. Write or call for reservations.

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