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Things to consider when shopping for cookware

  • Published Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, at 5:16 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at 5:43 a.m.

Photos

Ultimate Cranberry Bars

Base:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Topping:

1 cup butter

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups pecans (12 oz.) toasted and cooled, then coarsely chopped

Garnish: 2 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped

Equipment: candy thermometer

1. For the base: Preheat over to 350 degrees. Line a 10x15 inch shallow baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the two short sides. Butter foil sides, but not the bottom.

2. Blend flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor, then add butter and pulse until mixture begins to form small pea-size lumps. Sprinkle into baking pan, then press down firmly to form an even layer. Bake in middle of oven about 15-17 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. Cool in pan on rack.

3. For the topping: Melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup and salt. Boil over moderately-high heat, stirring occassionally, until caramel registers 245 degrees on candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. Carefully stir in cranberries, then boil until caramel returns to 245 degress. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, then stir in pecans until well coated. Working quickly, spread caramel topping over base using a fork to distribute nuts and berries evenly. Cool completely.

4. Lift bars in foil from pan and transfer to a cutting board.

5. For the garnish: Place white chocolate in microwave-safe container and microwave on medium-high for 30 seconds, stirring every 10 seconds until melted. Transfer chocolate to a small, disposable pastry bag. Snip off a small opening at the end. Pipe chocolate decoratively over top. Let stand at room temperature about an hour or until chocolate sets. Cut into small squares or bars.

When I receive questions about cookware, I recall the first set of pans I purchased as a young bride. The shiny set seemed to be a bargain, but considering the food I destroyed in those pans – it cost me lots in wasted groceries to say nothing of my culinary confidence.

Learning to cook with my “bargain” purchase was frustrating. Most things scorched no matter how much I stirred, and my over-easy eggs always ended up scrambled as they would stick like glue to the bottom of the skillet. The skillet actually buckled and rocked when on the burner.

Now that I have confessed that I have had my share of blunders, I can answer with experience this first question.

My wife wants a good set of stainless steel pans for Christmas. I’ve been looking but they all look about the same but vary greatly in price. How do I choose? I do want to get her a set that will last awhile.

Stainless steel has lots going for it. It looks good and is easy to clean.

But you need to look for quality. All stainless steel pans are not equal. Stainless steel by itself is a poor conductor of heat and will not hold heat or distribute heat evenly.

Stainless pans that are “clad,” will have layers metal and one of them will be copper or other excellent heat-conducting metal, sandwiched between stainless steel. These pans will cook beautifully.

There are several good brands available locally at different price points.

My favorite cookware is designed by chefs of the Culinary Institute of America. Each piece is constructed of high-quality stainless steel with seven layers of metal, including a full layer of copper across the bottom and wrapped up the sides of the cookware to insure even cooking.

Regardless of what brand you select, pick up the pan to see how it feels in your hand. Before purchasing, look at how the pans are constructed. Is the handle well designed? Is it slightly arched, creating less stress on the wrist? Will the handle stay cool when the pan is on the burner? Will the cookware perform well on electric, induction and gas? Can it go in the oven? Will it clean easily? Can it be washed in the dishwasher? If the cookware is pricy, does it carry a lifetime warranty? Those are all questions that will help you make your selection.

What does it mean when a recipe says to cook in a non-reactive pan? I am not sure I know what kind of pan that is. And what happens if you use the wrong pan?

A non-reactive pan is one that does not react with an acid when an acidic food is cooked in it. Usually that means one made of stainless steel, enamel, ceramic or glass.

When tomatoes (or other acidic food) is cooked in an aluminum pan, the acid reacts with the metal and the pan discolors and turns dark. Manufacturers of aluminum pans tell us it is safe; however, it is somewhat controversial. That is one of the main selling points of stainless steel cookware – anything can be cooked in it.

To celebrate the Christmas season, I invite you to stop by 10 a.m. Saturday at Cooking at Bonnie’s Place, 9747 E. 21st St., Suite 139, for a complimentary demonstration and tasting of Ultimate Cranberry Bars, one of my most popular recipes from “Cooking With Bonnie: Farm to France.” It is a beautiful cookie with a buttery base, a cranberry-pecan caramel layer and a quick drizzle of white chocolate over the top.

Bonnie Aeschliman is a certified culinary professional who owns Cooking at Bonnie’s Place in Wichita.

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