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Cooking for One: Finding great uses for fall's extra hour

Thursday, November 09, 2000

My Marlene Parrish

Every year about this time, I play a game with myself. When I set the clocks back to standard time, I've gained an hour. The game is to find the best and highest use of the "fall back" time, and the only rule is that I have to spend that hour in the kitchen.

OK, so maybe I could apply the time to more clever or sensual pursuits, but it's my game. You can do whatever you want with your 60 minutes.

Cleaning drawers was an option, but a low priority. Scoping out new recipes was more appealing (big surprise). The solo cook might want to check out the three finalists, keepers all. They were chosen just because they looked easy and sounded tasty. Fast was the bonus. But I wasn't racing against the turned-back clock or trying to set any performance records.

Everything would bake in a moderate oven. That's my little energy-saving statement.

First, I made a recipe demonstrated on the telly by Jacques Pepin. It's an amazingly simple tart shell or "crust" fashioned from crunched-up phyllo dough. This incredible crust is nothing more than dry phyllo sheets stacked, rolled into a cylinder and cut into strands like noodles. The phyllo linguini are fluffed up and tossed with butter and sugar, shaped and baked for 20 minutes. A miracle of shape and texture.

Fast forward. I later treated this crust as you would a large meringue -- topping the crunchy layer with fresh raspberries, bottled raspberry syrup and whipped topping. You could add a scoop of sorbet or ice cream.

Next time, I'll make individual phyllo discs. The process would be easier, not as messy and less humidity-sensitive than beating tons of egg whites for meringues.

Moving on. You know when you go the supermarket and buy grapes, how when you open the package about half of them are rolling loose off the stems on the bottom of the tray? I hate when that happens. Well, I found a nifty way to use loose grapes.

Chef Paul Bertolli of restaurant Oliveto in San Francisco combines wine grapes (he lives in wine country, but any red grapes will do) walnuts and mixed oil-cured black olives. He tosses the mixture with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and bakes this condiment in a wood-fired oven to serve with his spit-roasted ducks and chickens. Lacking both a wood-fired oven and spit-roasting paraphernalia, I baked it in said moderate oven with excellent results. Sort of a condiment, sort of a conserve -- I call it a side dish.

With the clock ticking down, I made a loaf of beer bread. The bread took all of 6 minutes to measure, stir and dump into a bread pan, including time to wrench open the seal on a flour sack sealed with double-strength epoxy cement. The recipe is from the Internet at Allrecipes.com.

Waiting for the bread to bake, I sat at the counter and read the newspaper. Not a bad way to spend an extra hour in the kitchen.

Phyllo Tart Shell

4 sheets phyllo dough
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel off 4 sheets of phyllo dough from the package, reserving the remaining sheets for another use.

Place the sheets on a cutting board and roll them into a long cylinder. Cut them crosswise into 3/8-inch strips. Transfer the strips to a cookie sheet.

Pick up and fluff the dry strips with your hands until they separate. Evenly dribble with butter and toss to coat, then sprinkle with sugar and toss again.

Gather the strips into the center of the tray. Place a flan ring upside down over the phyllo as a guide to form a uniform circumference. (You could just use your hands to push the strips into shape.) Even out the phyllo thickness if needed. Bake the disk for 20 minutes until crisp and slightly brown. Remove the flan ring and allow the pastry to cool on the sheet. Use as a base for sweetened fresh fruit as is or top with sorbet and whipped cream.

Grape, Walnut and Olive Conserve

Great recipe. Serve the condiment with anything roasted or broiled: chicken, duck, pork. I found the recipe in Fran McCullough's "The Best American Recipes 2000." Great book. Solo cooks might want to make a half recipe.

2 cups seedless red wine grapes or seedless Red Flame or other muscat grapes, stemmed
1 cup walnuts
1 cup mixed picholine and oilcured black olives
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 thyme sprigs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a small baking dish. Bake 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes about 4 cups, about 8 servings.

Beer Bread

The bread makes excellent toast and wonderful toasted cheese sandwiches. The flavor varies depending on what sort of beer you use. The recipe was tested using our house brew, Penn Pilsner Dark.

3 cups self-rising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12-ounce can or bottle beer

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a rack at the lower-middle level. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Gradually add the beer and stir with a wooden spoon until no more patches of white appear. Do not overbeat or the bread will toughen. The batter will be sticky. Transfer it evenly into the loaf pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a skewer plunged deep into the middle of the bread comes out clean. The top will be crunchy, the interior soft. Turn the bread out of the pan and cool on a rack. Use a sharp knife to slice. Makes one loaf.

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