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Microwave Meal Magic - Make Meals in Minutes!!!
Mar 29, 2006 05:08 PM 7501 Views
(Updated Mar 29, 2006 05:08 PM)

Have you ever used your microwave to cook an entire meal? Using the microwave won't heat up your kitchen, more nutrients are retained during the cooking process, and some foods, like vegetables, have better taste and texture. These tips and recipes will make you a microwaving expert in no time.


Standing Time


Every microwave recipe has a specified standing time. The dish or casserole must stand on a solid surface to retain heat and finish cooking (DON'T use a cooling rack or trivet). Remember, microwave ovens cook by making water, sugar and fat molecules vibrate, creating heat. Standing time allows heat to spread, cooking to finish, and allows the temperature of the food to stabilize and moderate.


Doneness Tests


Every microwave oven will cook differently. Hot spots, differences in the stirrer blade (which circulates energy throughout the appliance), and variations in wattage all make a difference in cooking times. Pay careful attention to doneness tests as specified in the recipes. To be extra safe, use an instant read food thermometer to make sure your foods are at safe serving temperatures.


Food Temperature


Most foods are cooked starting at refrigerator or room temperature. Using frozen foods, unless specified, will change the cooking time and may affect the recipe quality.


Quantity


Microwave cooking times are directly related to amounts of food being cooked. When you double the quantity of a recipe, increase cooking time by at least 50%, and check carefully for doneness. As an example, two medium potatoes will take 5-7 minutes to cook, while four potatoes take 10-12 minutes.


Food Sizes and Shapes


Foods that are the same size and shape will cook more evenly in the microwave and will finish cooking at the same time, which means there will be no overcooked or undercooked sections. Foods with thick and thin sections should be arranged so the thin portions are toward the center of the dish. Microwaves penetrate the food from 3/4'' to 1-1/2''.


Stirring


Most microwave recipes direct you to stir the foods at least once during cooking time. This helps redistribute the heat so foods cook more evenly.


Rearranging Foods


Solid foods like pieces of meat or large vegetables may need to be rearranged or turned over during cooking. Corners or sides of casseroles and dishes will receive more energy, so the foods need to be turned and rearranged for even cooking. Placing food in a ring generally assures even cooking.


Browning


Foods typically don't brown in the microwave oven. Browning elements are available and may be a good investment if you do a lot of microwave cooking. Some foods, like meats, will turn brown because of carmelization of sugars and starches in the food. You can add browning agents to foods to increase appeal. Agents include soy sauce, Kitchen Bouquet, seasoning mixes, cinnamon and other spices, and glazes which use sugar.


Covering


Cover the food with microwave safe plastic or waxed paper if the recipe specifies. This helps hold in steam for fast and even cooking. Paper towels (don't use recycled paper towels!) are used to absorb spatters and moisture. Pay close attention to venting instructions. Venting prevents dangerous amounts of steam from building up in the dish.


Shielding


Shielding uses small pieces of foil to cover areas of the foods which are susceptible to overcooking. In the same way that you cover the edge of a pie crust to prevent overbrowning, in microwave cooking you can shield bones in meat and thinner pieces of food. Make sure foil pieces are at least 1'' away from oven walls and each other to avoid arcing.


HOW TO USE A MICROWAVE OVEN


The microwave oven is now an essential part of most kitchens. During the summer or other hot times of the year, it's an excellent appliance to use because it won't heat up your kitchen the way an oven will. Unfortunately, most people still use the microwave to heat coffee, melt butter or make popcorn. That's just fine - but the appliance can do so much more!


HOW THE OVEN WORKS


The microwave works when the high voltage is converted to waves of electromagnetic energy, which is a combination of electrical and magnetic energy. This energy is in the frequency band of radio waves, not x-rays. A wave guide and stirrer blade work together to make sure the energy reaches all areas of the oven interior. When the door is opened or the timer reaches zero, the energy automatically stops, so no microwave radiation leaves the oven. All ovens also have two independent systems that ensure the electrical activity stops as soon as the door is opened.


The microwaves make the water molecules contained in food vibrate and 'wiggle', which produces heat. This is what cooks the food, and also why the oven itself doesn't heat up. That's why foods that have a lot of water, like fruits and vegetables, cook more quickly. Foods high in fat and sugar also cook more quickly. Metal reflects the microwaves, and the energy passes through glass, plastic and paper. As soon as the microwave energy is absorbed by the food, it is converted to heat - so the microwave energy can't 'contaminate' the food.


Although heat is produced directly in the food, microwave energy doesn't cook food from the inside out. More dense foods like meat are cooked primarily by conduction of heat from the outer layers, which are heated by microwaves.


NEVER try to repair your own microwave. It is a complex appliance that includes a magnetron, high voltage transformer, thermal protectors, and complicated circuits.


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