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Microwave Cooking Part 1 - The Basics

Microwave ovens play an important role in the hectic lives so many of us lead today. They're fast, convenient, energy-efficient, low-maintenance, and affordable. Many families now have more than one microwave oven, and use them every day... even if only to heat frozen pastries in the kitchen or popcorn in the family room.

Utility experts tell us that microwave cooking uses 30% to 70% less power than conventional methods. With gas and electric ovens, much of the heat ends up warming air rather than heating food. Microwaving is far more efficient, saving you money and reducing the impact of cooking on the environment . Microwave ovens don't need to be pre-heated, and that saves both time and energy.

Microwave ovens can reduce overall cooking time up to 75%! One dish can often be used for mixing, cooking, and serving. They not only cook faster, they really can cook some things better.

Vegetables cook beautifully, keeping their vibrant color and natural aroma better than with most other cooking methods. They retain more vitamins and minerals because of the shorter cooking time with little or no added water. Foods with high moisture content, like fish and most seafood cook extremely well in a microwave oven. Microwave cooking also requires very little oil. Clean-up is easier... there's seldom any baked-on fat or grease to deal with.

A microwave oven can't replace your conventional oven, frying pans and stove-top cooking. It's not a substitute for cooking methods like grilling or broiling a steak or baking bread. Some foods will always taste better when fried, grilled, or slow -cooked.  But... microwave ovens can be used for more than heating frozen dinners and re-heating leftovers.

Microwave ovens are available in many sizes, with a staggering assortment of features, functions, and power configurations, from a variety of manufacturers, with price tags to fit any budget.

The first commercial microwave ovens, produced in 1947, were over 5 feet tall, cost about $5000 and required a plumbing installation for cooling. As steady improvements and refinements produced smaller, less expensive ovens, restaurant and institutional use increased. They were soon widely used by the commercial food industry.

The first microwave oven designed for home use was a 24-inch built-in oven, produced by the Tappan Stove Company around 1955. At $1295, they were considered a luxury and sales were moderate. In 1967, Amana introduced the first domestic countertop microwave oven. Priced at just under $500, the 115 volt "Radarange" was smaller, more reliable, and more affordable than it's predecessors. Microwave cooking had arrived and microwave ovens would soon become a standard fixture and in home kitchens.

Litton Industries and several of other appliance makers soon entered the microwave oven market. Technology expanded, features improved, and prices decreased. In the early to mid-1970s Litton introduced larger microwave ovens and electronic touch controls. Sharp Electronics introduced rotating carousel turntables. GE Appliances gave back our counter-space in 1978, with the introduction of it's SpaceMaker®, the first over-the-range microwave oven.

By 1976, 60% of all US households owned microwave ovens. More kitchens had microwave ovens than dishwashers. Today they are a practical necessity in nearly every home kitchen. Over 95% of US households have a microwave oven. There are an estimated 200 million in use worldwide.

Amana's 1967 Radarange of had just two control knobs - one for cooking up to five minutes and another for cooking up to 25 minutes plus a start button and light on/off button.

Sharp Over the Range Convection Microwave Oven - 850W - Black - R1870
Today's microwave ovens have easy to use control panels with one touch key pads for everything from "quick-minute" to "turbo-defrost" to programmed recipes, at prices that are much lower than their pioneering ancestor's. Powerful new models are packed with features and options that make cooking even faster and easier, like programmed weight-based cooking... enter the weight and kind of which food you want to cook and the oven determines the power setting and the cooking time. Probes and sensors prevent over-cooking by gauging whether food is cooked thoroughly. Some models include browning units, much like broilers in a conventional oven. Microwave Convection Ovens combine radiant heat with microwaves to speed up cooking and provide crusty baked goods and juicier roasted meat. Smaller new ovens now have about 600 to 800 watts of cooking power. Average family size models now have 1000 to 1200 watts.

In spite of all the new sensors, one-touch controls, and high-tech extras, and regardless of all those cookbooks full of recipes supplied with new ovens, many people still use their microwave ovens mostly to heat a cup of coffee, zap a bowl of instant oatmeal or nuke a bag of popcorn. According to consumer surveys, microwave ovens are used mainly for reheating leftovers and heating individual food items, mostly snack foods. Consumers are buying ready-to-nuke versions of everything from nachos to sandwiches to full course microwave dinners.

There are so many other everyday uses for a microwave oven... so many ways to ways to simplify cooking.
Here's a list of things microwave ovens can do really well... uses that are often overlooked.

Things you can do with a microwave oven

Things you SHOULD NOT DO with a microwave oven

The Panasonic Microwave Oven, shown above, is available at Cooking.Com
This 2.2 cu. ft., 1250 watt microwave oven features Panasonic's Inverter Technology that provides true microwave power and "soft" penetration of energy for even food temperatures and textures so delicate foods can simmer without overcooking the edges and surface. Other features include One-Touch Sensor Cooking keys, Turbo Defrost, a Keep Warm button that pulses low microwave power so gravies, stews and desserts remain warm without overcooking, a Quick Minute button for reheating small portions, a Popcorn key that pops without scorching and more. This Cooking.com best seller qualifies for$4.99 shipping!

Recommended microwave accessories...

Microwave Breakfast Sandwich Maker
Cook a delicious breakfast sandwich in 2 minutes or less with this clever microwave dish that cooks eggs and breakfast meats simultaneously. It includes two lift-out cups to poach eggs, plus a grill section for meat.

Microwave Popcorn Popper
This glass popper makes 2 qt. of low fat, healthy (no oil necessary) popcorn your favorite kernels. Use on stovetop or in microwave and serve right from the popper. Save money buying unpopped corn in jars instead of microwave popcorn packets.

See also -
Microwave Cooking, Part 2 - Cooking Vegetables and Fruit, Recipes Included

Microwave Cooking, Part 3 - Defrosting and Reheating

Microwave Cooking, Part Four - Cooking Meals, Recipes Included

The Sharp Over the Range Convection Microwave Oven shown in this article is available online at Unbeatable Sale.com. This oven combines the browning, broiling, roasting, crisping and baking capabilities of a conventional oven with the speedy cooking of a microwave. The generous 1.1 cubic foot stainless steel interior can handle most any dish, and 850 watts of cooking power ensure meals are cooked quickly and evenly.

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