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NEW 'WAVE COOKING.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

It's too darn hot. The last thing you feel like doing is heating up the kitchen or turning on the grill.

So rely on the microwave oven.

OK, we know what you're thinking: not a chance. You just use it for heating water or coffee, reheating leftovers and cooking packaged frozen dinners in a jiffy.

Cookbook authors and test kitchens have been touting the microwave's attributes for years, but some cooks never tuned in. Now just may be the time.

Although research shows that consumers use it mostly for defrosting, reheating, cooking popcorn and frozen meals, it's great for fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, fish (white fish, orange roughy, salmon, halibut and sole, to name some), chicken, custards, soups, potatoes, appetizers and more, notes Brigid Bowles, manager of consumer information testing, General Electric Appliances. ``It's also good for melting chocolate or butter and softening cream cheese,'' she says.

But don't use it for steaks or roasts. Bowles also avoids cakes in the microwave.

``I don't personally like the results. Brownies are OK, along with some muffins.''

In addition to always browning ground beef for spaghetti sauce and other dishes and cooking vegetable creations in the microwave oven, Bowles also favors it for making candies such as two-minute fudge and chocolate haystacks (her son's favorite).

Microwave ovens have come a long way in recent years, offering higher wattage, larger capacity and more features, including sensor and programmable options. Even so, microwave ovens are not going to replace conventional ovens or cooktops any time soon, say corporate microwave marketing managers at Panasonic and General Electric.

More people are using microwave ovens now than ever before, says Mary Sadankas, national marketing manager at Panasonic Microwave Ovens.

According to a 2001 study by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, 90.7 percent of U.S. households have a microwave oven in their homes with 4.1 percent of those having access to more than one oven. Last year, some 12.6 million microwave oven units of all kinds were shipped for sale. Many of those were sold to consumers replacing their 10- to 11-year old ovens or buying a microwave for a second location in the home.

Formerly skeptical of the microwave oven because he thought it resulted in dried-out and rubbery food, nationally syndicated TV chef Mr. Food (aka Art Ginsburg) is now a convert, thanks to the technology of the Panasonic Inverter microwave, which sparked his interest and exploration. In the last year, he teamed up with Panasonic to develop recipes and write a newsletter to help change perceptions.

The 3-year old Inverter technology improves the results of microwave defrosting, reheating and cooking by replacing the bulky transformer used in traditional microwave ovens with a less cumbersome and smaller circuit board, says Sadankas. With the Inverter, you get a truer power level in the oven, which means that if you set the oven for 60 percent power, the oven maintains that level the entire cooking time as opposed to traditional microwaves that cook only 60 percent of the time (cycling on and off) and idle 40 percent of the time.

The technology allows consumers to keep foods warm without overcooking them, simmer foods including gravies, sauces, etc. and defrost food 49 percent faster, all of which aren't possible in traditional microwaves, continues Sadankas. Breads, cakes and cupcakes also rise slightly. The technology is now available in 1.2-, 1.6- and 2.2-cubic-foot ovens, ranging from 1,100 to 1,300 watts.

Over-the-range microwaves are the fastest-growing category for General Electric, says Jerry Wolff, marketing manager, microwave ovens, General Electric Appliances. Although capacity and wattage of traditional microwave ovens has increased of late (a new GE Spacemaker microwave oven can now hold up to six dinner plates or three 9x13-inch casseroles and has 1,000 watts), the biggest news at General Electric these days pertains to technology.

The company is marketing trendy, new cooking units known as Advantium Speedcook ovens, available in above-the-cooktop or in-wall oven models for home cooks. Introduced two years ago, the Advantium uses Speedcook technology, a combination of halogen lighting and microwave power, to deliver oven-quality food up to four or eight times faster than a conventional oven, depending on the model you choose, notes Wolff.

With the Advantium, no preheating is required and foods (such as cookies, cakes and muffins) will turn out browned just as in a conventional oven. Chocolate chip cookies take 5 minutes instead of 16 to 18; crescent rolls take 4 1/2 minutes instead of 18 minutes; 3 or 4 chicken breasts take about 8 minutes instead of 30.

Because of its small capacity, the Advantium is recommended as a supplemental oven in the kitchen alongside a conventional oven.

Although the company is currently offering commercial Advantium free-standing ovens to restaurants and chains, consumers will have to wait awhile. An Advantium countertop model should be available to home cooks in the next 18 to 24 months, says Wolff.

So what's on the horizon? Panasonic has been marketing an SD microwave in Japan since May that will likely be introduced in the United States next year, says Sadankas. The SD uses a card that insets into a panel on the oven, allowing consumers to get all sorts of information.

Some units even claim to read bar codes on foods, but there's no standard and it's not practical at this point, says Wolff.

A report from the International Housewares Show in Chicago last January made note of a Samsung Internet-enabled microwave oven that allows the home cook to download recipes from its Web site onto a cartridge. The cartridge is inserted into the oven, setting the power level and cooking time for the recipe.

Until you get such an oven, fall back on these traditional microwave recipes and keep cool.

ORIENTAL CHICKEN AND CASHEWS

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 (6-ounce) boneless chicken breast halves, skinned and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sherry

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1 medium green pepper, cut into small chunks

1/2 cup cashews

Place oil in a 2-quart oblong glass baking dish. Microwave on high power 1 minute. Combine chicken, garlic, soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch and ginger; add to oil. Microwave on high power 3 to 4 minutes, stirring every minute.

Add green pepper and cashews. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high 3 to 5 minutes, until chicken is done and green pepper is crisp-tender; stir after 1 minute. Let stand 3 minutes before serving. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.

From ``The Microwave Cookbook,'' General Electric.

PEACH MELBA PARFAITS

1 (29-ounce) can peach halves, drained and chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, thinly sliced

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon peach schnapps (optional)

1 quart vanilla ice cream

1 cup whipped cream

1/2 pint fresh raspberries

1 bunch fresh mint (optional)

Place peaches, butter and brown sugar in a microwave-safe 8-inch square baking dish. Cook in microwave on high power 3 minutes. Stir in schnapps.

Scoop ice cream evenly into individual serving bowls or parfait glasses, then spoon peach mixture over top.

Dollop with whipped cream and garnish with fresh raspberries and mint sprigs. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From Mr. Food.

SPICY TACO SPREAD

1 pound lean ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1/3 cup chopped green pepper

3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Dash cayenne pepper

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

1 cup shredded lettuce

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

Tortilla chips

In a 1 1/2-quart casserole, combine ground beef, onion, peppers, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and thyme. Microwave on high power 4 to 7 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes; drain. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, remaining 1/4 teaspoon cumin and cayenne pepper. Microwave on high power 4 to 7 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes. Set aside.

In a 1-quart casserole, place cream cheese. Microwave on medium power 1 to 2 minutes; stir. Add parsley flakes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon chili powder. Mix well. Spread cream cheese on a large plate; sprinkle evenly with lettuce. Top with meat sauce and garnish with tomatoes. Serve with chips. Makes 12 servings.

From ``The Microwave Cookbook,'' General Electric.

CHILE-CHEESE BEAN DIP

1 (16-ounce) can refried beans

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup mild chunky-style salsa

1 (7-ounce) can diced green chiles

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce OR more to taste

Combine all ingredients in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart bowl. Stir to blend well. Cover with wax paper.

Cook in microwave oven on high power 3 minutes. Stir well. Cover and continue to cook 2 to 4 minutes, until cheese melts and dip is heated through. Serve with chips. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

From ``365 Quick & Easy Microwave Recipes,'' by Thelma Pressman, Harper & Row.

HOT BRIE AND CHUTNEY

Heat just before serving for best results.1 (9-ounce) glass jar chutney, preferably Major Grey's

1 (8-ounce) round Brie cheese

1/2 cup coarsely chopped salted roasted almonds

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Remove metal lid from jar of chutney. Cover jar with a paper towel. Cook in microwave oven on medium power 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until hot. Use mitt or pot holder to remove jar.

Place Brie in center of a 9-inch microwave-safe serving dish with rim. Cook on low power 4 to 4 1/2 minutes, turning plate if it appears to be heating unevenly, until cheese is very warm and just beginning to melt.

Stir chutney and pour over Brie. Sprinkle with almonds and green onions. Serve warm with crackers or French bread. Makes 8 servings.

ital!From ``365 Quick & Easy Microwave Recipes,'' by Thelma Pressman, Harper & Row.

HAM AND EGG CASSEROLE

3 cups white bread cubes, crusts removed

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

1 (4 1/2-ounce) jar sliced mushrooms, drained

1 cup cubed (1/2-inch cubes) cooked ham

4 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Dash hot sauce

In a 2-quart oblong glass baking dish, place cubed bread. Sprinkle cheese, green onions and mushrooms evenly over bread. Top with ham cubes.

In a small mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, dry mustard, pepper and hot sauce. Pour egg mixture over bread, cheese and ham. Cover with wax paper.

Microwave on high power 2 to 4 minutes. Microwave at medium power 6 to 9 minutes, until nearly set. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

From ``The Microwave Cookbook,'' General Electric.

HALIBUT WITH GREEN CHILE SALSA

1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds halibut OR other firm-fleshed white fish, cut 1-inch thick

Salt and pepper

1 (8-ounce) can green chile salsa

1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 (2-ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained

In a shallow glass baking dish just large enough to hold fish, arrange a single layer of sliced onion. Place fish on top. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon salsa over fish. Sprinkle tomato and cilantro on top.

Cover with wax paper. Cook in microwave oven on high power 5 1/2 to 6 minutes or until fish is just barely opaque throughout. Top fish with olive slices. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

From ``365 Quick & Easy Microwave Recipes,'' by Thelma Pressman, Harper & Row.

GUESS AGAIN CANDY CRUNCH

1/2 cup white chocolate candy melts for candy making (see Note)

1/2 cup extra-crunchy OR creamy peanut butter

1 cup plain bread crumbs

1 cup light OR dark chocolate candy melts for candy making (see Note)

1/4 cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Line large cookie sheet with wax paper. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine white chocolate candy melts and peanut butter. Microwave on medium power 2 minutes. Stir until melted and smooth. Add bread crumbs; mix well.

Place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Place another sheet of wax paper over mixture; pat or roll to form 1/4-inch thick rectangle. Remove top waxed paper.

Place 1/2 cup light chocolate candy melts in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium power 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Spread evenly over peanut butter layer on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons peanuts. Freeze 5 minutes or refrigerate 15 minutes to set chocolate.

Meanwhile, place remaining 1/2 cup light chocolate candy melts in same small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium 2 minutes. Stir until smooth.

Remove candy from freezer. Turn candy over; remove waxed paper. Spread light chocolate over candy. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons peanuts. Refrigerate 10 minutes or until firm. Break or cut into small pieces Serve cold. Makes 50 (1 1/4-inch) pieces.

NOTE: Chopped vanilla-flavored and chocolate-flavored candy coating or white vanilla chips and semisweet chocolate chips can be substituted for white and light chocolate candy melts for candy making.

This recipe won the innovation award at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in 2000 for Pat Parsons, Bakersfield.

QUICK-AS-A-WINK PESTO CHICKEN

4 boneless and skinless chicken breast halves, thawed if frozen

1/2 cup bottled pesto sauce

4 slices mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup sliced ripe olives (optional)

Place chicken breast halves on a microwave-safe platter. Cover with a single layer of thick paper towels and cook in microwave oven on high power 7 to 9 minutes, until no pink remains in chicken, but it is still juicy.

Uncover chicken and top each piece with a dollop of pesto sauce and 1 slice mozzarella. Return platter to microwave and cook on medium-high power about 2 to 3 minutes, until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with olives and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

From Mr. Food.

SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE

1 pound lean ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped

8 ounces thin spaghetti, broken into pieces

1 (28-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped and liquid reserved

1 1/2 cups tomato juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a 3-quart casserole, place meat, onion and celery. Cook in microwave oven on high power 5 minutes, stirring once to break up any lumps. Pour off fat.

Stir in spaghetti, tomatoes with liquid, tomato juice, sugar, Italian seasoning and salt. Cover with lid and cook on high power 5 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover and cook on high power 15 minutes or until pasta is tender but still firm. Let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over top and serve. Makes 4 servings.

From ``365 Quick & Easy Microwave Recipes,'' by Thelma Pressman, Harper & Row.

TORTILLA CHICKEN SOUP

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1 cup medium OR hot salsa

1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 (6-inch) flour tortillas, cut into 3x1/4-inch strips

1/2 cup finely shredded Cheddar cheese

1 to 2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a microwave-safe 2-quart bowl, combine chicken broth, water, salsa and chicken chunks; mix well. Cover and cook in microwave oven on medium-high power 13 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and mixture is hot. Remove from microwave and add tortilla strips; mix well. Sprinkle each bowl of soup with a little cheese and green onions just before serving. Add a dollop of sour cream, if desired. Makes 6 cups, about 3 to 4 servings.

From Mr. Food.

WARM HONEY-WALNUT SALAD

1/4 cup Italian salad dressing

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon peanut oil

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1 (8-ounce) package mixed baby greens

Place all ingredients except greens in a microwave-safe medium bowl. Heat in microwave oven on high power 1 1/2 minutes.

Stir, then toss with mixed greens. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

NOTE: This looks really great garnished with additional walnut halves, orange slices and red onion rings.

From Mr. Food.

MICRO MANAGEMENT

The microwave is super-fast, convenient and energy efficient. Following are a few tips for new microwave cooks or those who want to refresh their strategy.

With microwave ovens ranging in wattage (power output) from 600 to 1,000 watts of cooking power or even more these days, many microwave recipes now include a range of cooking times to compensate for differences, so figure on adjusting to your particular oven. Microwave recipes give guidelines - and cooks need to take responsibility for the dish as it is cooking, reminds Brigid Bowles of General Electric Appliances. The lower the wattage of your oven, the longer cooking will take.

If you don't know the wattage of your oven and the information isn't available in the use and care book that came with the oven (or you've lost it), use this test to determine what it is.

In a 2-cup glass measure, heat 1 cup tap water on high power. If the water boils in less than 3 minutes, your oven more than likely has 600 or more watts.

Arrange individual items like potatoes or custard cups in a ring (or spoke fashion) and allow space in between so energy can penetrate from all sides.

When it comes to covering foods, use wax paper to prevent spattering. To retain moisture in the food and to steam it, opt for covering with plastic wrap. Be sure to vent by turning back an edge to allow excess steam to escape, avoiding a big burst of steam when you uncover it. Plastic wrap can be used whenever a recipe specifies covering with a lid.

A turntable eliminates the need to move around and manipulate foods. However, when defrosting foods, be sure to check and separate items to facilitate the process.

While you can heat food in jars (remove the lids), avoid doing so in narrow neck jars (you get hot spots and uneven distribution of heat). Bowles advises against heating baby bottles or baby food in jars in the microwave.

Size and shape of the container will affect the microwave cooking time. A shallow casserole exposes more food surface and will require less time to cook than a taller utensil holding the same aount. Round shapes and rings cook more quickly since microwaves penetrate from all sides.

When cooking chicken in the microwave, top with seasonings or coatings such as a paprika or Southwest blend or barbecue sauce, to give it color and appeal, advises Bowles. Avoid overcooking so you don't wind up with a rubbery end result.

Whole potatoes are good candidates for microwave cooking although you end up with a more steamed appearance and a less fluffy, not as dry texture as when baked in a conventional oven. Many feel the time saved is worth the compromise.

You can toast nuts in a hurry in the microwave. Microwave 1/2 cup shelled nuts in a glass bowl on high 2 1/2 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. It's also great for drying fresh herbs (place on a paper towel) in only minutes, but watch carefully.

Refresh crackers and potato chips by placing 2 to 3 cups in a thin layer on a paper towel-lined plate. Heat on high power 15 to 20 seconds. Let stand 5 minutes to crisp.

Generally, depending on oven wattage and size and style of food, figure a potato will take 3 to 4 minutes; fish about 5 minutes per pound (lower wattages may take longer); 6 to 8 chicken pieces from 11 to 16 minutes.

Arrange thickest parts of foods toward the outside of the dish and thinner pieces toward the middle to prevent thinner pieces from overcooking.

To adapt familiar recipes to the microwave, reduce the liquid along with the seasonings. Also figure on reducing conventional cooking time by one-third to one-half, but check at the minimum time to avoid overcooking.

- Natalie Haughton

CAPTION(S):

8 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 3 -- cover -- color) ZAP IT!

Keep cool with microwave cooking

(4 -- 6 -- color) Use the microwave to keep the kitchen cool. Turn out Tortilla Chicken Soup and Warm Honey-Walnut Salad, above, and Oriental Chicken and Cashews, right, in a jiffy.

(7 -- color) Make a delicious ice cream toping in the microwave fast with peaches, butter, brown sugar.

(8) Guess Again Candy Crunch

Box: Micro Management (see text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Aug 22, 2001
Words:3424
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