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A foodlorn reader writes:

This time of year, my sweet tooth just throbs. You get around Manhattan--who do you think makes the best dessert in town?

A trick question, to be sure, especially because peoples’ tastes in dessert vary more fiercely than in any other form of food. One man’s tiramisu is another woman’s slop; I, who find many desserts insufferably sweet, have often dined with people who are thrilled to take over for me after one bite. I love chocolate, but I’m hardly addicted to it, like dozens of people I could name (yes, mostly women). And impressive as they may be, I’m not always happy to deconstruct one of those vertical "tower" desserts, which can be hazardous to your clothes.

That said, the best desserts I’ve tasted in town over the last four or five months include anything Claudia Fleming feels like making at Gramercy Tavern (especially her tapioca/coconut mélange and her silken panna cotta); Marc Murphy’s blueberry crème fraîche ice cream and blueberry financier at La Fourchette; Larry Kolar’s/Andrew d’Amico’s baby grilled pumpkin stuffed with a cheesecake filling at Little Dove; anything David Ruggerio has ever put in front of me at any of his restaurants has been superb, and his desserts at Steak au Poivre are no exception; ditto Laurent Gras at the great Peacock Alley; for sheer rapturous simplicity, Costas Spiliadis’s goat’s milk yogurt cheese with dark wild honey at Milos is about as good as it gets; Maury Rubin’s passion fruit tarts at City Bakery; JUdson Grill’s signature ice cream soda, with fudge sauce and a big shot of Jack Daniels; and I can’t resist "Saint-Tropez"—a thick vanilla custard in glazed brioche—at Marquet Patisserie on East 12th Street.

Dear Tom: I keep running across recipes that call for "nonreactive pans," and I haven’t a clue whether my pans—Circulon and Calphalon—are "nonreactive." Please advise soon—I really want to make my own cranberry sauce for New Year's Eve. Best, Kathy

Fear not—both brands you mention are made of anodized aluminum, which is quite nonreactive. "Anodized" means that the aluminum has been completely sealed with an electro-chemical process. When you’re cooking any acidic foods—from tomatoes to cranberries to anything citric—you absolutely need a nonreactive pan: enamel, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum. "Reactive" pans are primarily plain aluminum, which can—and usually does—discolor a wide array of foods and sauces, and often impart an unpleasant metallic flavor. To put it bluntly, non-anodized aluminum pans may be the cheapest available, but don’t buy them, and as soon as you can, toss the ones you’ve got. They’ve become useless, and, some actually believe, dangerous.

Dear Tom:

What kind of cooking wine should I use?

Bud Saucier

Well, for starters, never use the swill sold as "cooking wine" in grocery stores. It’s horribly flabby in flavor, and often salted (probably to prevent tippling by the cook—I can think of no other reason). The old rule really applies: Always use (generally dry) wine in cooking that you would enjoy drinking. The same goes for sherry, port, cognac, vodka, and so on.

That said, I have to admit that I usually follow Julia Child’s suggestion and use dry French vermouth (Noilly Pratt is splendid) instead of white wine, unless more than a cup is required. Italian vermouths taste too oily and strenuous to me. In addition to being extremely inexpensive, dry vermouth "holds" much better than wine after it’s been opened—for weeks, actually—not that I’m above finishing off a bottle of decent wine that’s been uncorked for cooking.

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