Easy Livin' Microwave Cooking

A microwave instructor shares tips, secrets, & 200 easiest recipes for fast and delicious microwave meals

Karen K. Dwyer

St. Martin's Griffin

Easy Livin' Microwave Cooking
ANSWERS TO YOUR MICROWAVE QUESTIONS
 
 
WHAT ARE MICROWAVES, ANYWAY?
Microwaves are simply electromagnetic waves--similar to radio waves, only shorter. They are nonionizing, unlike X rays, and do not produce any harmful buildup.
Microwaves penetrate food and cause the liquid molecules in food to vibrate approximately 21/2 billion times per second. To illustrate how this works, rub your hands together very quickly. You will notice that heat is produced from the friction. This is the same principle under which microwave cooking operates. The water molecules, vibrating at 21/2 billion times per second, create friction. This friction produces heat that, in turn, causes the food to actually cook itself.
DO MICROWAVES STAY IN THE FOOD?
Microwaves are only a heating source. Just as no electricity remains in your food when the burner on your conventional range is turned off, so too no microwaves remain when your microwave oven is turned off. However, because the rapidly vibrating liquid molecules in the food do not stop vibrating immediately, the FOOD DOES CONTINUE TO COOK. This is a very important principle of microwave cooking called "standing time."
WHAT IS STANDING TIME?
Standing time is the time that the food continues to cook while the vibrating molecules slow down from the microwaving vibrations of 21/2 billion times per second. The microwave oven is shut off. No microwaves are in the food. BUT THEFOOD IS STILL COOKING! Simply speaking, "standing time" means "let the food stand there and continue to cook without the microwave oven operating."
Standing time is part of the recipe's cooking time. Most recipes will say something like this: Microwave 5 minutes, and let stand 2 minutes. The total cooking time of the food is really 7 minutes.
HOW DOES MY MICROWAVE OVEN WORK?
The power cord conducts electricity to a transformer in every microwave oven. The transformer converts low-voltage electricity into high-voltage electricity to empower the magnetron tube. The magnetron tube is the very heart of every microwave oven. (It is the primary and most expensive part of any microwave oven and, therefore, the reason why a lengthy warranty from the time of purchase on the magnetron tube is so important to a prospective buyer.)
The magnetron tube produces microwave energy and directs it down a feed tube into your microwave oven.
The microwaves bounce off the metal interior of your oven. (All microwave oven interiors are made of metal, but most are covered with acrylic.) Remember these three principles:
1. Microwaves are reflected by metal.
 
2. Microwaves pass through glass, paper, plastic, and wood products.
 
3. Microwaves are attracted to water, fat, and sugar.
WHAT UTENSILS OR DISHES SHOULD I USE IN MY MICROWAVE OVEN?
Remember that microwaves pass through paper, plastic, glass, and wood. Therefore, you may:
• Use any paper product: paper cups for hot beverages; paper plates; paper towels; waxed paper; and so on.
 
• Use any dishwasher-safe plastic containers: plastic bottles; plastic wraps; Styrofoam cups; or boil-in bags. DO NOT USE SOFT PLASTICS, which often melt from hot fat or sugar.
 
• Use any heatproof glass (Corning Ware; Fire King; ceramics; china; and pottery) that is safe for microwave cooking. DO NOT USE FINE CHINA, LEAD CRYSTAL, OR GLASS TRIMMED WITH METAL.
 
• Use wooden utensils or straw baskets for short-term heating only. Use toothpicks instead of metal skewers. DO NOT USE WOODEN PLATTERS OR CUTTING BOARDS for long-term cooking. When the water evaporates from the wood, the wooden piece will crack.
Remember that microwaves are reflected by metal. Therefore:
• Do not use metal utensils, except as specified in a convection microwave oven. Many new microwaves allow for the use of small amounts of foil to shield corners of foods, but CHECK YOUR OVEN'S INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
WHEN SHOULD FOODS BE COVERED?
Food should be covered when the recipe recommends it or when moisture or steam should be retained in cooking as in vegetables or casseroles.
Cover tightly means to use a matching lid or plastic wrap. (Leave a small edge turned back on the plastic wrap for a vent so the plastic doesn't split and so a burst of steam does not burn your hand.)
 
Cover loosely means to use waxed paper, a paper towel, or paper napkin. Moisture and steam must escape from breads and meats to prevent sogginess. Use waxed paper, especially when a sticky food may stick to a paper towel.
 
Microwave uncovered means the food needs drying rather than moisture and heats quickly. It usually will not spatter.
HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER TO USE THE SHORTEST AMOUNT OF TIME LISTED IN A MICROWAVE RECIPE OR THE LONGEST AMOUNT OF TIME?
Microwave ovens can be purchased in different sizes with varying wattages so a range of cooking times is always listed for each microwave recipe.
• 700-watt ovens cook the fastest. Use the shortest amount of time.
 
• 650/600-watt ovens cook quickly but not so fast as the 700-watt ovens. Use a time in the middle of the range of cooking times listed.
 
• 400/500-watt ovens are compact microwave ovens and, therefore, cook more slowly than the mid-size ovens. Use the longest cooking time listed. (Compact ovens often need 1/8 to ¼ more time than a general microwave recipe recommends.)
SHOULD I "ROTATE" OR TURN THE DISH WHEN MICROWAVING?
The ability of microwave ovens to cook evenly has improved greatly during the last five to ten years. Still, some microwave ovens have poor cooking patterns. All parts of the oven often do not receive the same amount of microwaves. The food will be cooked well on one side, and undercooked in the center and overcooked on the other side.
• If you notice the food does not cook evenly in your oven, rotate the dish ¼ turn part way through the cooking time of most recipes (or as directed) to ensure even cooking.
 
• If your microwave has a turntable, rotating the food may not be necessary.
WHAT SHAPES OF PANS AND FOODS WORK BEST FOR MICROWAVING?
Ring-shaped or round pans work best for microwaving because the microwaves can penetrate the food evenly from all sides.
Ring-shaped pans and foods allow the microwaves to reach the center of foods and, therefore, the center of the food cooks as quickly as the sides and bottom.
Whenever possible, shape foods such as hamburger and meat loaf into a ring or donut shape.
Arrange food in the oven so that the thicker edges are on the outside and the thin and delicate ends of drumsticks, asparagus, etc., are on the inside.
WHICH POWER LEVEL SHOULD I USE?
Just as you would not cook all of your foods in a regular or conventional oven at 500°F., so, too, you should not microwave all foods at HIGH (100%).
The various (and lower) power levels cycle the microwave energy on and off to allow for slower and more even cooking. (This allows time for the heat to spread to the cooler and uncooked areas.)
Although many microwave manufacturers have recently tried to standardize the names of the different power levels, many owners still have ovens with varying power-level names. Some microwave ovens even have percentages instead of names for the power levels.
Included in the following chart are the various names used for the different power levels and the percentage of microwave energy associated with each power level.
WHAT CAN I DO IF MY MICROWAVE OVEN HAS ONLY ONE POWER LEVEL?
You can reduce the power level HIGH (100%) to MEDIUM HIGH (70%) by placing a custard cup filled with 1 cup of water in the back of your oven. The water will attract some of the microwaves and produce the effect of lowering the power level. This method does not always work perfectly, but many have found it helpful.
Compact ovens (500 watts) may successfully substitute HIGH (100%) power for MEDIUM HIGH (70%) power because the wattages are equivalent.
WHAT ARE "SENSITIVE FOODS"?
Sensitive foods are foods that pop, curdle, or dry out when cooked at HIGH (100%) such as eggs, cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, mushrooms, or kidney beans. Any food containing these ingredients should be microwaved at MEDIUM HIGH (70%) or lower for any lengthy cooking.
WHAT IS SHIELDING, OR CAN I USE ALUMINUM FOIL IN MY MICROWAVE OVEN?
Shielding means to cover corners of square or rectangular baking dishes or bony pieces and edges of food with foil to prevent overcooking of these areas during microwaving.
• Never cover with foil more than ¼ of the food you are microwaving.
 
• Never allow the foil to touch the sides of the oven.
 
• Read the instruction book that comes with your microwave to determine if the manufacturer made the oven to allow for foil. (Check the section of your instruction book under poultry for details.)
For rectangular dishes, cut four 11/2- to 2-inch squares or triangles of aluminum foil to cover corners of food and pan, to prevent overcooking and hardening. (For cakes, breads, and bars: remove foil for the last 2 to 3 minutes of microwaving time.)
Wrap aluminum foil around small or bony pieces of meat or poultry to prevent them from overcooking and drying out. (Most meats and poultry pieces need shielding during only half the cooking time.)
HOW CAN I CONVERT MY CONVENTIONAL OVEN RECIPES TO MICROWAVE OVEN RECIPES?
• For best results, follow a similar recipe in a microwave cookbook using your own ingredients.
 
• Reduce the liquid slightly because very little liquid evaporates during cooking in a microwave oven. Reduce liquid ingredients by one or two tablespoons per cup, as a rule of thumb.
 
• Read the chapter introduction tips for microwaving in this book for quick ideas to adopt your own recipes for microwaving.
 
• Plan to reduce the time for conventional cooking by approximately 50 to 75 percent.
 
• Reduce the amount of your leavening agent (baking powder or soda) by 50 percent.
 
• Use very little salt on meats and vegetables before microwaving because salt tends to dry out foods during microwaving.
HOW DO I USE A TEMPERATURE PROBE?
The temperature probe is the heat-sensing accessory that comes with many microwave ovens. When it is attached to the microwave oven and programmed, the oven will automatically shut off when the internal temperature of the food reaches the temperature you programmed.
The probe must be inserted two thirds of the way into the center of the food for it to work accurately.
After inserting the probe into the food, program both the temperature and the power level on your microwave oven. (Many recipes have temperatures listed so you can use your probe.) During standing time your food will usually rise 10° to 15°F. more, so temperatures suggested will be lower than those used with a conventional meat thermometer.
The probe will not work for microwaving candy syrups because it programs only to 200°F.
WHAT IS A CONVECTION MICROWAVE?
A convection microwave is fully a convection oven and fully a microwave oven. Simply speaking, convection cooking is "fan-forced hot air." In a convection oven, hot air is circulated throughout the oven cavity by a high-speed fan. The moving air surrounds the food and quickly seals in the juices.
In a convection microwave the microwaves cycle on and off with this fan-forced hot air, producing traditionally browned and crisped foods in half the time of a regular/conventional oven.
Some convection microwave recipes are included in this cookbook, along with adaptations for combining your regular oven with your microwave oven to produce similar results. A variety of convection microwave oven settings are given with each recipe to correspond to the settings on different brands of microwave ovens.
MICROWAVE TERM EQUIVALENTS
HIGH = COOK = FULL POWER
MEDIUM HIGH = ROAST = REHEAT
MEDIUM = SIMMER
LOW = WARM
 
 
DO NOT COOK FOODS IN A METAL CONTAINER
except for a TV dinner (with foil covering removed).
EASY LIVIN' MICROWAVE COOKING. Copyright © 1989, 1985 by Karen Kangas Dwyer. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.