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Cooking tips on microwave cooking.

Once considered "a rich man's toy," the microwave owven has become the hottest-selling, coolest-cooking kithen appliance ever. In 1983, microwave-oven sales increased by 33 percent, and they're still on the incline. More than 6 million households will receive their first or second microwave ovens sometime this year.

The amazing growth of the microwave industry is good news for the consumer. Virtually all U.S. appliance manufacturers, plus many well-known foreign manufacturers, have their own lines of microwave ovens. This highly competitive battle for your dollar has resulted in an almost unlimited model and feature selection--beginning at prices below $150 and extending to deluxe units with memories, soft-touch controls and even built-in "voices" to tell you what to do next!

How does a microwave oven differ from a conventional, or convection, oven? Basically, all conventional ovens cook with heated air in the oven cavity and infrared radiation from the bake or broil heating elements. The microwave oven doesn't heat the air in the oven--it heats the food. An electronic transmitter within the oven, called a magnetron, generates high-frequency electromagnetic waves. These waves oscillate at about 2 1/2 billion times a second. When they encounter moisture (found in all food products), they cause the food molecules to oscillate at that same rate. The resulting friction generates heat. The oven stays cool; the food cooks fast.

Trapped within the oven, the microwaves seek out moisture, they bounce off foil and metallic utensils (generally not recommended by microwave-oven manufacturers except in limited and specific cases) and they pass through most glass or ceramic cookware as if it weren't there. Many plastic materials are also suitable as cooking utensils--as are paper plates.

Selecting a microwave-oven model that fits your lifestyle and budget should not be too difficult. Here are a few guidelines you may wish to consider:

First, microwave ovens are rated by "power output." A bottom-of-the-line model may sell for as little as $150. It will generally be rated at 400 to 450 watts output--simply put, it will bake a potato in about six minutes. The larger, more expensive microwave ovens are usually rated at 600 to 700 watts. In "potato talk," that's four minutes per potato (50 percent faster). But remember, if you cook large amounts of food (like six potatoes), that the microwave oven, unlike a conventional oven, will require more time--six times longer or 24 minutes.

Virtually any microwave oven cooks so fast that you'll have to follow recipes accurately. (Leftovers heated in a conventional oven will not be harmed by an additional five minutes or so in the oven, but an extra five minutes in the microwave oven may well result in a cinder rather than a snack!)

Many people still overlook the potential of their microwave ovens as the original cooking source, and use it instead to heat water for instant coffee, melt butter, heat up yesterday's leftovers or prepare a quick TV dinner from the freezer. (It's true that a microwave oven does not give meats the nice, brown appearance that comes only from radiant heat.) There are accessories such as "browning dishes" that sear in the color, special sauces that brown meats and even some microwave ovens (or combination microwave/conventional or convention ovens) that have conventional radiant-heat options to brown meats. Microwave owners will discover a host of microwave cookbooks and thousands of delightful, tasty recipes more easily--and more quickly--prepared in the microwave oven than by any other device.

Frozen vegetables, especially, are far more nitritious and flavorful when prepared by microwave. Example: You need add only two teaspoons of water to 12 ounces of frozen peas--the flavor and vitamins stay with the peas, instead of being poured down the drain, as in conventional stove-top cooking.

Although the microwave sales-people you contact will explain the features of specific models, here are a few you'll want: A "defrost cycle"--simply indispensable, it makes your freezer food supply as convenient as your refrigerator, regardless of how you prepare the finished dish. If you want the finest results from start-to-finish cooking, you'll also want "variable power levels." If you plan to prepare roasts and other meat dishes in your microwave, a "temperature probe" lets you select the exact inner-meat temperature you want. These are the essentials, after which come the special features, such as: touch controls, built-in memory, digital clock timers, revolving platforms (to turn foods automatically)--even recipe cards that remember your last successful roast turkey and preprogram the microwave for you! As always, you should compare warranties on products. Service calls on any appliance are expensive.

And once you get your microwave oven home, sit back and enjoy a baked potato every day for a week. I did!

Stuffed Onions

(Makes 4 servings) 4 large onions, peeled 1 10-oz. package frozen green peas 4 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped 1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons corn-oil margarine 1/4 cup hot water 1/2 teaspoon vegetable broth

Hollow out the center of each onion, leaving 1/4-in. thick shell. (Onion centers may be chopped and frozen for later use.) Combine peas, mushrooms, thyme and pepper. Place onion shells in 8" x 8" baking dish and fill each with one-fourth of the pea-and-mushroom stuffing. Dot each onion with 1/2 tablespoon margarine. Combine water and vegetable broth. Pour over onions. Cover dish with plastic wrap. Microwave at high 7 to 10 minutes or until tender. Rotate onions once. Baste with cooking liquid. Let stand, covered 3 minutes.

Mexican Corn Muffins (Makes 8 to 10 medium muffins) 1/2 cup unbleached flour 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal 1/2 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed 1/4 cup green pepper, chopped 1 tablespoon honey 2 teaspoons low-sodium baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt substitute 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 1/3 cup skim milk 1 egg, slightly beaten 1/4 cup saffler oil

Line each custard cup or microwave cupcake dish with two paper liners. When microwaving only 3 or 4 muffins in the cupcake dish, alternate cups for even baking. Place all muffin ingredients in bowl. Mix quickly and lightly only until particles are moistened. Fill cups half full. Cups of microwave dishes are small, so don't overfill. Arrange in ring when microwaving 3 or more muffins at a time. Rotate and rearrange after half the time. Remove from cups to wire rack immediately after baking. (Moist spots will dry on standing.) Muffins are the quickest of all breads to microwave. One muffin can be ready in less than 1 minute. Since muffins are best warm, microwave at serving time. Make up muffin batter and have on hand in the refrigerator. Muffin Chart--High Power 1 muffin 20-40 seconds 2 muffins 1/2-1-1/2 minutes 4 muffins 1-2-1/2 minutes 6 muffins 2-1/2-4-1/2 minutes

Brunch Fish

(makes 4 servings) 1 pound forzen flounder or sole fillets, partially thawed 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided Salt substitute and freshly ground pepper 1 large tomato, peeled and diced 1 small, ripe avocado, peeled and diced 2 scallions, sliced 4 slices whole-grain toast 1/4 cup low-fat, plain yogurt 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel, grated Watercress and lemon wedges for garnish

Microwave: Cut partially thawed fish into 4 portions. Palce in 8-inch round glass cake dish. Springle with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and season with salt-substitute and pepper. Mix tomato, avocado, scallions and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Spoon over fish. Cover tightly with Saran Wrap, turning back edge to vent. Microwave at 100 percent power 6-8 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Lift fish from baking dish with slotted spatula. Place on toast. Mix lowfat, plain yogurt, lemon peel and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Spoon over fish. Garnish with watercress and lemon wedges. Serve immediately.

Split Pea Soup

(Makes 6 to 8 servings) 1 quart low-sodium beef broth 1 quart hot water 2 cups (1 lb.) green split peas 1 medium onion, chopped 1/2 teaspoon basil 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 bay leaf 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-in. slices, including tops 2 medium carrots, very thinly sliced

combined water, broth, split peas, onion and seasonings in 5-quart casserole. Cover. Microwave at high 40 minutes, stirring several times during cooking. Add vegetables to broth and water, microwave uncovered 20 to 30 minutes or until soup is desired thickness and vegetables are tender. Stir several times during cooking. Remove bay leaf. Serve.

Cream of Potato Soup

(Makes 1 quart) 3 cups diced potatoes 2 stalks celery, sliced 1 small onion, chopped 1/4 cut water 1/2 teaspoon salt substitute 1 teaspoon parsley flakes 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon garnules 2 cups skim milk, divided 4 tablespoon flour

Combined potatoes, celery, onion, water, seasonings, and bouillon granules in 2-quart casserole. Cover. Microwave at high 7 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring after half the cooking time. Combined 1/4 cup milk with flour until smooth. Stir flour mixture and remaining milk into potato mixture. Microwaves at high uncovered 7 to 10 minutes, or until thickened, stirring several times during cooking.

Salamon Steaks

(makes 4 servings) 4 fresh salmon steaks Juice of one lemon 1/4 cup water 1 carrot, sliced 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 2 cloves 1 bay leaf Pepper to taste

Brush steaks with lemon juice. Combine poaching ingredients in 12" x 8" baking dish. cover with plastic wrap. Microwave at high 4-6 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Place fish in dish with thickest portions to outside, thin areas in centeR. Rearrange fish after half the cooking time. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, turning back one edge to form a vent. Microwave at high 5-7 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, rotating dish after half the cooking time.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:White, Don
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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