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Archive for the ‘microwaving’ Category

Over time, I have discovered there is a small thing I can do that will greatly increase the chances I feel motivated enough to cook the meal I have in mind for the next day. It isn’t hard. It doesn’t even involve will power. All I have to do is set out the ingredients I will need for the next night the night or morning before. For example, two nights ago I made sweet potato risotto. Here’s what my setup looked like:

Prep for sweet potato risotto

So in the picture, you see bulk arborio rice (never goes bad – saves money!), the dregs of a week-old bottle of white wine I saved for this purpose (but carefully stored in the fridge), some rosemary I dried, sweet potatoes (were on sale at King Soopers for 79 cents a pound!), bulk vegetarian chicken broth powder (more on this in another post), parmesan cheese, garlic, nutmeg, onion, etc. Note I’ve also carefully placed the cookbook open to the appropriate page with a nice friendly picture of the finished product gently, yet firmly, urging me to cook my own d*** dinner rather than another box of mac and cheese.

Somehow the sight of this when I get home is very motivating. I don’t know why this is, I’ve just noticed it is. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll actually cook it (let’s face it — we all come home exhausted most nights), but I’ve noticed it helps a lot, and it definitely helps me get ahead of the game when I get home from work. Sometimes I even pre-measure the spices into little bowls.

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention a quick thing about cooking recipes that you learned in home ec but probably forgot: Prep, chop, measure, and cut all your ingredients before you start cooking. This will save you much grief and help ensure your recipe comes out as it should. Here’s what my stove looks like just before I started cooking (and yes, I microwaved my sweet potatoes before mashing — the book with the microwave cooking table is open in the back of this photo).

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Sweet potato risotto: Ready to rock and roll

Total time from start to finish: about 1:30. I know that’s  a lot for most people, but if I’d cooked and mashed my sweet potatoes ahead of time, it would have been a lot less. And I had my lunch all ready to go for today, and didn’t have to cook tonight — in fact, I had so much left over, I had my friend Dave Peascoe over to share a meal of the leftovers. And If I was tired of risotto, I could just freeze it for later. Here’s the finished product:

Finished sweet potato risotto

And here’s a simple, home-cooked meal all put together: sweet potato risotto garnished with rosemary and parmesan cheese, spinach with craisins (the house salad), and a cup of homemade (not from the box endorsed by Bill Cosby) vanilla pudding I made the night before. Bellisimo! The rosemary and nutmeg really make this risotto quite delightful. And no, in spite of the color, it doesn’t have saffron. This is a sweet-potatoes-only party.

A home meal cooked well

If you’d like to make this risotto yourself, it is from the Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1st ed.), but you can find the recipe here.

Happy home cooking!

Jen

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The blogger's faithful servant -- with display styling inspired by Vanna White

The blogger's faithful servant. Display inspired by blogger's favorite gameshow: The Price is Right. 'That's right, Bob, it's the Sharp Carousel 1500. . . "

I love my microwave — it’s a trusted member of the Frazer household (unlike certain oven timers I could mention). There’s so much more to the microwave than nuking leftovers, popcorn, and frozen dinners. In spite of the somewhat dubious reputation the microwave enjoys (my mother insisted I not stare directly into the microwave as I was attempting to boil water growing up, but the metal grates you see in the front window are smaller than the wavelength of the microwaves, thus making it impossible for them to pass through), it is a busy cook’s best friend.

The New York Times picked up on this in an excellent, must-read article they wrote last year:

For any vegetable you would parboil or steam, the microwave works as well or better, and is faster. Put the vegetable in a bowl with a tiny bit of water (or sometimes none), cover and zap.

It seems that the microwave is a genius at cooking vegetables, but there are two other fantastic things about the microwave.

1. It’s faster than most other cooking methods. No oven to preheat. No heating element to warm up.

2. It’s more energy-efficient than most other heating methods. That means you save $$$.

Most of your standard cookbooks like Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker have a vegetable cooking table, and within in is a column for microwaving. Familiarize yourself with this section and remember it next time you’re grabbing vegetables for dinner. Even better, nuke your vegetables and then add a simple sauce to jazz them up. I’ll post more on that later, but if all else fails, a little salt, pepper, and butter will do the trick. Never serve steamed vegetables without some adornment. Unseasoned cooked vegetables (and particularly unseasoned over-cooked vegetables) are a major reason people don’t eat vegetables. Just say no.

In addition to the methods covered in the NYT, here are some specific uses I find the microwave excels at:

  • (Pre-)Cooking potatoes — Many recipes call for cooked potatoes. Don’t mess around with a pot of boiling water. Pop open your microwave. One potato pricked with a fork, covered with a paper towel, microwaved for a few minutes, turned, microwaved again, will be cooked well enough for most uses. Then you just slice it in half and cut or flake with a fork as desired. That’s a few minutes in the microwave versus 30-60 minutes on the stove or in the oven. You do the math. I do this all the time when making potato masala, otherwise known as samosa filling. The skin should peel off pretty easily, but be careful — it’s gonna be one hot potato. One other caution: don’t peel the potato until after you’ve microwaved it. If you do, the whole potato gets a tough exterior shell that’s almost impossible to remove. Trust me — I’ve done this.
  • Rice and grains — I haven’t done this very much yet, but America’s Test Kitchens Family Cookbook has a whole table on cooking grains and they heartily endorse microwaving. I tried it with wild rice but I pretty much never got the stuff cooked. I don’t blame that entirely on the microwave, though. I live at about 5,430 feet. Water boils at like 200 degrees here.
  • Heating water for tea — I know I probably seem like a super-Scrooge here, but I don’t even own a teapot for boiling tea. I heat all my cups in the microwave. It’s faster, it turns itself off when the water’s done, and it saves me money on energy. I find 2:15 does the trick in my microwave. I realize, however, this method lacks the sensory appeal of the whistling kettle. I present it as an option.
  • Making boiled custard/puddings — The NYT says that microwaves are great for making pudding. I haven’t done that yet, but our family’s southern Christmas treat “Boiled Custard”, which used to be made by slaving over a hot stove for hours, was converted to a microwave version that has been perfected by my Great Aunt Ethel, culinary genius. (Coincidentally, if you want to check out my Great Aunt Ethel’s cookbook, “From Pilot Knob to Main Street”, you can do so here. And yes, the boiled custard recipe is in the book.)

And I’m sure you, dear readers, have others. What ways have you used a microwave to save you time/money/sanity?

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