January 8, 1997 in Food

Power Up The Nuke Microwaves Are Often Exiled To The Culinary Junk Heap, But They Excel At Cooking Many Dishes

Jennifer Lowe Orange County Register
 
Tags:recipe

It pops corn perfectly. Zaps a cup of cold coffee. Nukes the kids’ oatmeal.

But guess what? That hunk of electronics hogging counter space in 80 to 90 percent of America’s kitchens is being used for cooking, not just zapping and nuking.

The microwave oven - once heralded as the wave of the future, then relegated to Orville Redenbacher duty - has found new audiences. According to a study from Corning Consumer Product Co., makers of Corningware, microwave oven use is up more than 20 percent.

Teenagers love the microwave. Surveys show that as many as 90 percent of youngsters ages 12 to 18 cook in the microwave. They like it because it’s quick, requires little cleanup, and really takes little knowhow. Young adults, who never learned to cook like their mothers, also turn to the microwave for its convenience.

Microwave manufacturers acknowledge their product isn’t perfect. It doesn’t cook some things well at all. It’s pretty much agreed the microwave doesn’t brown meat well, heat evenly or warm bread.

So focus on what it does cook well, says Victoria Wise, co-author of one of several recent microwave cookbooks.

“We include recipes for dishes that we judge to be superior,” Wise and her co-author, Susanna Hoffman, write in “The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook” (Workman). “Some foods, in fact, fare better in the microwave than by conventional cooking methods.”

Wise says the microwave excels at:

Vegetables: “Almost all vegetables, though there are a few we didn’t like - we never got asparagus or green beans to work well. And I don’t like how a microwave does globe artichokes, though baby artichokes, yes.”

Seafood: “The microwave rises to the pinnacle when it comes to cooking seafood,” the authors write. “Poaching, steaming, braising - exactly the treatments that turn out fish and shellfish best are the microwave’s forte.”

Desserts: “What we stumbled upon and were greatly surprised when researching was desserts,” Wise says. “Once you give up the idea of cakes and cookies and start casting about … (you find) poached fruit, jams, candies, dessert sauces. And actually we had great success with a whole range of cakes that were not flour-based.”

Wise suggests using the microwave to supplement your regular stovetop cooking. “It’s easier to clean up and much quicker for lots of things,” she says.

What may seem a bit odd for the zap-and-nuke user, though, is the length of time required for some of the recipes. While some come in at less than 10 minutes, others take 20 to 30 minutes of microwaving, with stops for turning or stirring.

And regular cooking in the microwave has its limits. It would be tough to cook for more than six or eight people, because large dishes don’t fit in most microwaves.

“Most of our research indicates people are using microwaves for reheating, defrosting and doing vegetables,” says Jean E. Kozar, editor of “Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook” (MacMillan).

“They are reheating a lot of takeout food from delis and supermarkets, which have microwave directions.”

The Crocker cookbook includes microwave directions for about 10 percent of its 950 recipes and offers a section on microwave cooking tips.

The microwaves of today offer many conveniences, from programmable buttons to popcorn-only buttons.

And, yes, microwaves are getting bigger. “People don’t want that teeny little thing; they want something that will hold a dish,” says Carolyn Verweyst, a Whirlpool Corp. spokeswoman.

Whatever its size, here are a few dishes from “The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook” to try in your own oven:

Acorn Squash Soup With Ginger, Lime and Cream

3 pounds acorn squash (or other hard squash or pumpkin), halved and seeded

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, cut in half lengthwise

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons whipping cream

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

Place the squash halves, cut sides up, on a large plate or dish. Cover and microwave on high for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Place onion, ginger, coriander, allspice, salt, butter and 3 cups water in a large bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Remove the ginger pieces.

Scoop the pulp out of the squash halves and add to the spice mixture. Puree the mixture in a food processor or food mill, then return it to the bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 6 minutes, or until heated through. Stir in the lime juice and cream, sprinkle the cilantro over the top, and serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings.

Portuguese Shrimp

6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

3 medium tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup dry white vermouth or dry white wine

1-3/4 pounds large or jumbo shrimp, deveined with shells left on

Gremolata:

Zest of 2 medium lemons

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

3 large cloves garlic, peeled

Mix together garlic, tomatoes, thyme, salt, mustard, oil and vermouth in dish large enough to hold shrimp in 1 heaping layer. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 10 minutes, or until tomatoes soften.

Meanwhile, make gremolata by finely chopping lemon zest, parsley and garlic with chef’s knife or in food processor. Set aside.

When tomato mixture is done, add shrimp, toss to mix and microwave, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes. Stir and continue to microwave, uncovered, on high for 2 minutes more, or until shrimp turn pink and firm. Sprinkle gremolata over top and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Very Vanilla Tapioca Pudding

4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Stir together the tapioca, sugar and milk in a large bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 10 minutes, or until steaming but not quite boiling.

Uncover the bowl, stir, and continue to microwave, uncovered, on high for 7 minutes more, or until thickened but still quite liquid.

Beat the eggs into the tapioca mixture, whisking briskly, and microwave, uncovered, on high for 1 minute. Remove and stir in the vanilla.

Let cool to room temperature and serve, or refrigerate for several hours to chill.

Yield: 4 servings.

Halibut in a Warm Herb-Olive Vinaigrette

2 pounds halibut steaks or fillets, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup herb-olive vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Place the halibut in a dish large enough to hold it without crowding. Sprinkle the salt over both sides of the fish. Spread the vinaigrette over the fish and microwave, uncovered, on high for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the fish flakes when prodded with a fork.

Remove and let stand 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Herb-Olive Vinaigrette

8 large green olives, pitted and finely chopped

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano leaves

1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Yield: 1 cup.

Hong Kong Vegetable Steam Wilt

4 cups (14 ounces) shredded napa cabbage

7 cups mixed vegetables, such as carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, red bell peppers, celery and scallions, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips or pieces 1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine, or 2 tablespoons mild vinegar mixed with 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup soy sauce

Place all the vegetables in a large bowl or dish. Add the sherry and soy sauce and toss to mix.

Cover the bowl and microwave on high for 9 minutes, or until the cabbage is wilted and the hard vegetables are tender but still crunchy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Red Bell Pepper Spread

1/4 cup pine nuts

3 medium (about 1 pound) red bell peppers

4 medium cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place pine nuts on a plate and microwave, uncovered, on high, 3 minutes or until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.

Place peppers in a dish large enough to hold them without them touching each other. Cover and microwave on high 15 minutes, or until skins loosen. Remove and let stand at least 5 minutes (longer is OK). Peel off skins, then remove stems and seeds.

Puree peppers with nuts, garlic, cheese, oil and salt in a food processor. Use right away, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze.

Yield: About 1-1/2 cups.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MICROWAVE POINTERS Some things to keep in mind while cooking in the microwave, from “The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook” and “Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook”: Always use microwave-safe cookware. Don’t use metal, Styrofoam, plastic deli containers or common ceramic or plastic ware. Covering food is important; more than 80 percent of dishes cooked in the microwave need to be covered. Lids are best. There is debate about using plastic wrap, since some studies indicate molecules from plastic wrap can travel into the food. Be careful not to burn yourself from hot dishes or the steam from a dish as you remove the lid. Microwaves like moisture, sugar and fat in food, so foods with these ingredients cook more quickly. Always allow foods to stand after taking them out of the oven, to finish the cooking or distribute heat evenly. The colder the food, the longer the cooking time. The more food, the longer the cooking time. Check food at the minimum cooking time specified to see how it’s doing. If your microwave doesn’t have a turntable, rotate the dish a half- or quarter-turn as it cooks. Orange County Register

This sidebar appeared with the story: MICROWAVE POINTERS Some things to keep in mind while cooking in the microwave, from “The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook” and “Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook”: Always use microwave-safe cookware. Don’t use metal, Styrofoam, plastic deli containers or common ceramic or plastic ware. Covering food is important; more than 80 percent of dishes cooked in the microwave need to be covered. Lids are best. There is debate about using plastic wrap, since some studies indicate molecules from plastic wrap can travel into the food. Be careful not to burn yourself from hot dishes or the steam from a dish as you remove the lid. Microwaves like moisture, sugar and fat in food, so foods with these ingredients cook more quickly. Always allow foods to stand after taking them out of the oven, to finish the cooking or distribute heat evenly. The colder the food, the longer the cooking time. The more food, the longer the cooking time. Check food at the minimum cooking time specified to see how it’s doing. If your microwave doesn’t have a turntable, rotate the dish a half- or quarter-turn as it cooks. Orange County Register


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