July 22, 2014

Admit it – You Love Your Microwave

Microwaves are one of the great conveniences of life. They heat up our coffee and lunch at work, make popcorn for snacks and heat up leftovers for a quick dinner.  While most of us admit to using the microwave for these tasks, there are fewer who find they truly cook meals using them.

“Everyone says that all they use it for is defrosting, reheating and making popcorn,” Johanna Burkhard says at a recent Microwave Myth Debunking session put on by Panasonic at Toronto’s Calphalon Culinary Centre, “but when I tell them to write down everything they’ve put into it over a week, they surprise themselves.”

Burkhard should know. She wrote the book on it. Or rather, one of the books on microwave cooking, hers being 125 Best Microwave Oven Recipes. Other best-sellers include The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook and Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka, regarded as the bible on the subject.

Your may find that you mostly melt chocolate or steam some broccoli in your microwave but Burkhard shows that you can whip up several fast and nutritious dishes, including perfectly cooked asparagus with Gorgonzola and pine nuts, Mediterranean chicken, and an especially tasty one-dish meal of spicy ginger salmon with steamed vegetables.

Go ahead, try it:

JOHANNA BURKHARD’S SPICY GINGER SALMON WITH STEAMED VEGETABLES – 3 tbsp (45mL) orange juice – 4 tsp (20mL) soy sauce – 1 tbsp (15mL) rice vinegar – 1 tbsp (15mL) packed brown sugar – 1 tsp (5mL) cornstarch – 2 tsp (10mL) minced fresh ginger – 1 small clove garlic, minced – ½ tsp (2mL) chili paste or to taste – 2 centre-cut salmon fillets (5 ozs/150g each), skin removed – 1 cup (250mL) thinly sliced mushrooms – 2 cups (500mL) shredded Swiss chard or spinach – ½ red bell pepper, cut into 2″ (5cm) thin strips – 1 green onion, finely sliced

1. In a glass measure, blend orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Add ginger, garlic and chili paste. Microwave on high for 1 to 1½ minutes, stirring once, until sauce comes to a full boil and thickens. Sauce will be quite thick. 2. Place salmon in an 8″ (2L) glass baking dish, pour prepared sauce overtop, cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap and turn back one corner to vent. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 3½ to 5 minutes or until fish is just opaque.

3. Layer with mushrooms, Swiss chard, red pepper and green onion. Cover and cook at medium for 3 to 4 minutes or until Swiss chard is just wilted and pepper is tender-crisp.  (I suggest serving this with rice.) Makes 2 servings.

Guidelines for Safe Microwave Use

Microwaves are so common a household appliance and have been in homes for so many years, most of us can’t remember a time when we weren’t “zapping” our food. Still, using an appliance daily, we can get careless with how we use it. These guidelines can help you “zap” safely.

Cookware, containers and wraps

Only use cookware that is specially labeled for use in the microwave oven. Never use cookware that has metal in its composition.

Use microwave-safe plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, glass, ceramic containers and white microwave-safe paper towels.

Silicone products can handle heat, and work well. But check product labeling before using silicone bakeware.

Don’t use plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, and other one-time use containers because they may contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which becomes soft and pliable, possibly allowing chemicals to transfer to food.

Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil.

Do not let plastic wrap touch foods while cooking.

Reheating

A microwave does not always cook evenly. Minimize any cool or hot spots by occasionally stirring during the heating process.

If you don’t have a rotating plate in your microwave, stirring is even more important as microwaves cook from the center, out.

Place a plain white paper towel (not brands made with recycled or colored paper printed with dyes), a white paper plate or microwave-safe lid over the food. That helps hold in moisture and contains any bubbling over or popping, splashing food – and extra cleaning time.

Cooking

Never deep-fry food. The temperature can get too high, creating a flash point.

The microwave is perfect for baking those last-minute potatoes. Use a fork to poke holes in the potato before cooking. Bake an average-size potato about 10 minutes or until soft to the touch, turning halfway through. Finish up in the oven for a crispy skin.

Defrosting

Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Do not use foam trays and plastic wraps because they are not heat-stable. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food.

Plan on immediately cooking foods that you defrost in the microwave. Do not pre-defrost food; some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during defrosting, and may speed bacteria development.

Use these tips along with your own common sense for safe microwave cooking. Also, when in doubt, check the user’s manual that comes with every microwave.