Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sherri's Helpful Hints

Kitchen Tips

How to Season Cast Iron

To season a new skillet, Dutch oven, griddle, etc., rub the pan inside and out with lard, vegetable shortening or canola oil. Bake it at 350 degrees F for about one hour.

Over the next few days, repeat the process. After you begin using the pan, clean it with water and a sponge. Avoid using soap, which can eventually undermine the effect of the seasoning. Immediately after washing the pan, dry it with heat, either on the burner of the stove or in a warm oven. This guards against rust.

Convection Ovens

Convection ovens use fans to move hot air around, which helps speed cooking times. Generally, food prepared in a convection oven cooks 25 percent faster than it would in a conventional oven. The rapid moving of hot air also browns foods more evenly, locks in juices on roasts, and eliminates the hot spots found in conventional ovens.

To convert conventional oven recipes for a convection oven - heat the convection oven to 25 degrees F lower than the recipe calls for. Also, expect food to be done in 25 percent less time than it would be in a conventional oven. Start checking for doneness about 10 minutes before the food is scheduled to be done, and even sooner for foods that cook for extended periods, such as roasts.

To choose the pans - no special pans are required for convection cooking, but baking sheets and roasting pans with low sides will allow food to cook more quickly and brown more evenly.

To roast meats by convection - place the meat directly on the oven rack and position a drip pan on the lowest rack. The forced hot air will seal the outside surface of the meat to help lock in juices. Thus, the meat will drip less and brown more evenly, so you won't need to turn it or baste it as you would in a conventional oven.

Cooking baked foods by convection - a convection oven will dry out the surface of food, creating a thicker crust on baked foods. As a general rule, use convection for breads, pies or other foods where a thicker crust is desirable. When no crust is desirable, as in cakes and rich desserts that have a high moisture and fat content, it's best to stick with conventional oven cooking. Pastries and meringues cooked by convection could set at a tilt due to circulating air currents.


Cazuelas: Cazuelas are glazed or unglazed Mexican pots which are used for long, slow cooking. There may be concern about the lead content of the glazes (the black liquid that floats on top contains lead). It is preferable to buy glazed cazuelas from reputable dealers. The unglazed pots are NOT safe.

Woods for Grilling

MESQUITE: This wood produces a sweet smoke that gives a great flavor to grilled meats. When grilling with mesquite, be sure to use aged wood because the green wood is too oily. Do not use this wood for lengthy smoking or barbecuing of meats. Instead, use hickory or pecan wood. Mesquite beans may also be used.

HICKORY: Known for a full, robust flavor. Often associated with Southern cooking, especially ham. Great with beef, chicken, pork, ribs or sausage.

APPLEWOOD: Imparts a more subtle smoke flavor. Use with pork, chicken or mild sausages like bratwurst.

MESQUITE: Provides a slightly sharper taste. This is the wood used in many of the famous Texas pit barbecues. Avoid adding large quantities, as it can sometimes result in a bitter edge when over used. Try it with almost any food, from turkey to steak.

CHERRYWOOD: Adds a smooth, lighter flavor. Goes well with lamb, vegetables, and duck.

Experiment with mixing more than one type of wood. If you like the taste that hickory gives your food, but find it too strong, try combining it with some cherry wood.

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