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Cooking with convection Oven option is gaining popularity

Convection ovens don't get much respect -- at least, that is, not in a lot of American kitchens that have them.

The convection option, utilizing a fan to blow air around as the food bakes, has been the method of choice among commercial bakers for years. And it's become a much more common option in home ovens, too.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers report almost triple growth since the year 2000.

In the home, convection is usually presented as an option in a conventional oven (sometimes called a radiant or thermal oven). Using the convection option is usually a simple matter of pressing a button.

Why use it? A convection oven can provide faster cooking, more even cooking and better browning.

But a surprising number of people don't bother.

Even Carol Wade of Buffalo, known for the fabulous 1,000-plus cookies she bakes at holiday time, doesn't use the convection feature of the "very nice" Wolfe oven in her very own home.

She had, she said, a couple of bad experiences with burning and went back to using the stove as a conventional (or radiant) oven. "To tell the truth, I forgot about it," she says.

Her husband Cliff Madell, however, likes to use convection to cook meat and moist chicken.

Some people are afraid of convection; some don't like change.

"If a woman has been baking cookies for 30 years, she's not going to mess with a convection oven," says Rick Gradwohl, assistant manager of Orville's on Bailey Avenue, where the convection option is available on both electric and gas ovens. "But most restaurants use convection ovens, and it's getting more popular in homes because more people are watching food on television to see what chefs are doing. Then they want to duplicate it."

Gradwohl says he cooks with convection in his own home all the time. "The Thanksgiving turkey definitely comes out a little nicer."

Even Beatrice Ojakangas -- writer of some 25 cookbooks, including "Cooking with Convection" published by Broadway Books in 2005 -- had trouble selling her publisher on convection.

"They thought it was a '50s thing," she says.

But Ojakangas remains an enthusiast with some five (count 'em five!) ovens in her Minnesota home. "It's like the surround-sound of modern music systems -- convection cooking produces 'surround heat,' " she says.

Another enthusiast is Debbie Clark, owner of Delish on Elmwood Avenue. Clark uses commercial-size convection ovens as a matter of course, but she uses a smaller one in her home kitchen, as well. "People are always asking me about them," she says.

The fan makes baking a little different, she admits. Clark likes to tell the story about the time she started to bake some small cream puffs and looked through the oven window to see them flying all around like snowflakes.

"I just opened the oven door and grabbed them one at a time," she says, chuckling.

She also points out that the fan makes a difference with other baking procedures, too. Parchment paper can be a problem. The baker should weigh it down (perhaps with a fork). Otherwise, it blows up and sticks to the baked goods.

Convection should be used wisely, she says. "There's no point in using convection if you're cooking something you have to cover. It also doesn't work well with foods cooked in a water bath or with dense items like cheesecake."

One of the reasons people fear convection: Ovens are not standardized. Some ovens (people call "true convection ovens") utilize a separate heat source to heat the air; some do not.

Some automatically calculate and adjust the temperature. (When cooking by convection, you usually lower the temperature 25 degrees.)

Settings differ, too. Some ovens have a separate setting called "convection bake" or "convection roast." So here comes the bad news: You have to read your manual.

You also have to experiment, Clark says. "Don't do it when you're having a dinner party, try when you are relaxed and make notes for the next time."

And, since most ovens allow you to turn the convection off during cooking, other experts suggest to take advantage of that feature.

If you want a well-browned roast that's also slowly cooked, turn the convection on at the start or at the end, but off during the rest of the cooking.

The following recipes utilize another advantage of convection, called multirack or multilevel cookery. Three different dishes can be cooked at one time on their own racks with each of them preserving its unique taste.

The recipes make up a meal that can be cooked at one time. The rice goes in first; the chicken breasts 10 to 15 minutes later. Put the beans in 10 to 12 minutes before other dishes are finished cooking.

Arrange oven racks so they are evenly spaced. Preheat convection setting to 375 degrees.

>Roasted Green Beans

1 pound tender green beans, trimmed, cut in half on the diagonal
2 shallots, peeled, sliced
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat convection oven to 375 degrees. Toss vegetables with olive oil and spread onto baking sheet. Place in oven and bake 10-12 minutes or until beans are cooked tender-crisp. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 55 (1 percent from fat), protein 1.2 g, carbohydrates 11.7 g, fat 0.5 g (saturated 0.3 g), cholesterol 0.1 mg, sodium 52 mg, fiber 3.2 g


>Chicken Breasts with Sherry and Balsamic Marinade

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1/2 cup sherry
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced orange zest

Wash chicken breasts in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place in large zipper-style plastic bag; add sherry, vinegar and orange zest. Seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Shake bag to distribute marinade. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours, shifting bag from time to time to distribute marinade.

Preheat convection oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken skin-side up on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cook breasts about 25-30 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 221 (63 percent from fat), protein 17.9 g, carbohydrates 1.2 g, fat 15.5 g (saturated 4.3 g), cholesterol 90 mg, sodium 60 mg, fiber 0.3 g


>Rice with Apricots and Almonds

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup dried apricots, cut into small pieces
Handful fresh parsley leaves, washed, dried, minced
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat convection oven to 375 degrees. Place onion and rice in 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In small saucepan, heat broth and butter until warm; add to rice. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in oven; cook 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and carefully remove foil. Stir in apricots, parsley and almonds. Return to oven and cook an additional 10-12 minutes or until liquid is evaporated and rice is fluffy. Makes 8 servings.


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