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Crisp Crusts, Cranberry Conditions, Nut News


The usual fate of a microwave-zapped croissant, hard roll or pizza is to collapse into a flabby thing that quickly cools to a wooden consistency. But now you can produce brown, crisp, flaky pastry in your microwave. What has made the difference is a product from Australia called Microcrisp. You wrap a sheet of this gray film around anything that ought to be crisp, elevate it on a heat-proof surface and turn on the oven.

The wrap converts the microwave energy into "thermal" heat, the kind needed for browning. And the temperature zooms as high as 400 degrees. This browns and crisps even products not intended for microwaving. In the Times Test Kitchen, a frozen croissant was ready to eat in one minute. In 3 1/2 minutes, a frozen apple turnover puffed voluminously and became so crisp you could flake off crumbs with a knife. A loaf of garlic bread emerged from the oven crusty but soft inside and retained this texture when cool.

This month, Microcrisp is being launched throughout California, the first stage in its eventual spread through the United States. Packaged in rolls like foil or plastic wrap, it costs $2.99 to $3.49 a box, depending upon the store, and is available in supermarkets.

The box includes instructions for crisping a variety of products and an 800 number to call for assistance. Because the wrap produces such high heat, the food must be placed on a special heat-resistant rack. One has been manufactured to go with Microcrisp, but an overturned heat- and microwave-proof casserole will work just as well.

Packed 10 feet to a roll, the wrap is composed of the sort of paper used to wrap butter or margarine topped with adhesive, then a thin sprinkling of aluminum dust and a polyethylene coating. It cannot be used to brown meat but can be employed with crumb- or batter-coated products such as fish sticks.

Foods that do well with Microcrisp include frozen spring rolls, filo and puff pastry dishes, fruit Danish, doughnuts, frozen pizza, quiche, popcorn and French fries.

There's good news for pistachio lovers. California is harvesting a record crop of the nuts, the largest since the first commercial crop was produced in 1976. This year's production is estimated by the California Agricultural Statistics Service at 115 million pounds, topping the 1988 record of 93.4 million pounds. The harvest started after Labor Day and is winding up now.

Pistachios are an alternate-bearing crop--heavy one year, light the next. That's why in 1989, the harvest amounted to only 38.8 million pounds. With some 50,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley planted to pistachio trees, California is now the second-biggest producer in the world, after Iran.

The bumper crop should result in good prices. Trader Joe's, for example, is advertising the new crop at $2.69 a pound, one dollar lower than last year. If you stock up on the nuts, store them properly to prolong their freshness. Placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator, they'll last as long as a year; or seal and store them in the freezer. If the nuts should become soggy, toast them in a 200-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

The news for cranberry lovers is not quite so good. Heavy rains struck the growing areas in Massachusetts, washing some of the bogs away, and so this year's crop is lighter. (Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the major cranberry-growing areas, with a small portion of the crop coming from Oregon, Washington and Western Canada.) Although early volume is good, the supply is expected to dwindle by Christmas, the result of increased holiday demand. The Fresh Produce Council advises stocking up now. Store the berries in the freezer, where they'll remain in prime condition for Christmas relishes, salads, coffee cakes and desserts.

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