- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

If I didn’t have a job and three children to raise, I might like to savor the shop-till-you-drop sort of lifestyle that women in the magazines seem to lead. Instead, I wait until there are at least a dozen items our family desperately needs before I head to the mall. And that is especially the case in December.

This is when shopping gets frantic, when parking spaces are at a premium, when patience is slim, money is tight and people get really hungry at an inconvenient time like when you’ve finally selected the right-size turquoise sweater for Aunt Sue. Then your mind turns to reality and supper, you put down the sweater and head home.

To be able to shop and cook this holiday season, stock the pantry with canned soup you like, soup that is improved with a dash of sherry or a grinding of black pepper, and dinner is on its way.

Add toasty cheese pastries you make in minutes while the soup heats. Add a green salad and fresh fruit and you have a festive and satisfying midweek December meal.

Five time-shaving ways to use frozen puff pastry:

• A rustic pie. Roll out a thawed sheet of puff pastry to a quarter-inch thickness. Place this on a baking pan. Top with sliced fresh apples or pears, a good helping of sugar, dots of butter, a smidgen of cinnamon, then fold up the edges of the pastry so they almost cover the fruit. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and browned.

• Brie en croute. Wrap small rounds of cheese in the pastry, brush with beaten egg, then bake at 400 degrees until the pastry browns.

• Sausage en croute. Saute Italian sausage and peppers until the sausage is crumbly and browned. Drain well. Place this down the center of the frozen puff pastry, wrap the pastry around it like a burrito, place on a baking pan and bake, seam-side down, until the pastry browns.

• Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies brown.

• Place your favorite soup in oven-proof soup bowls. Brush the rims of the bowls with beaten egg. Cut rounds of puff pastry to cover the tops of the bowls. Crimp the edges so that the pastry is sealed in place. Cut a small vent hole in the pastry and brush the top with remaining egg. Bake at 350 degrees until the pastry tops are puffed and browned and the soup is hot.

Puffy cheese twists

Slice unbaked, thawed puff pastry sheets into 1/3-inch-wide strips. Holding a strip at each end and working quickly, dredge it in a shallow dish of pre-grated Parmesan cheese.

Turn one end of the strip clockwise to twist the strip into a gentle corkscrew. Place the strip on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining strips.

Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper or paprika on top, then bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until golden brown and aromatic, about 15 minutes.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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