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Microwave Cooking Part 1 - The Basics

Guest Author - Sandy Moyer

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

  • Get more juice from citrus fruit...
    Gently warm a lemon, lime, or orange before squeezing by hand or using a juicer - Heat on full power for about 10 seconds.

  • Plump and soften raisins and other dried fruit ...
    Place the fruit in a small bowl; sprinkle with water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on full power for 30 to 40 seconds.

  • Peel peaches or tomatoes...
    Pour water into a deep microwavable bowl or a glass measuring cup. Bring to a boil. Drop tomatoes or peaches in the water for only a few seconds each. The skin will loosen and peel off easily.

  • Make applesauce....
    For 4 to 6 servings - wash, core, and quarter two pounds of apples. Do not peel. Use MacIntosh, Jonathan, Empire, Cortland or a mixture of these varieties. Microwave in a covered, 3-quart glass casserole on full power for 12 to 14 minutes. Process in a food mill for smooth applesauce. While it's still warm, add some brown sugar and a little cinnamon.

  • Dry fresh herbs..
    Lay a small bunch of fresh herbs between paper towels . Microwave on full power for 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool, then check to see if they are dry enough to crumble. If not, continue to microwave, 30 seconds at a time, until the herbs are completely dried. Store in an airtight container.

  • Peel onions...
    Place onions on a covered microwave-safe plate and cook for 1 to 2 minutes at full power.

  • Remove outer skin from garlic cloves...
    Put the cloves in a custard cup and microwave at 80% power for 30 seconds. Allow the cloves to cool enough so you can handle them, then lift away the skin.

  • Blanch fresh vegetables before freezing ...
    Prepare the vegetables as desired - wash, chop, peel, slice, etc. - then place in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a small amount of water, cover, and microwave on full power for 3 to 4 minutes per pound, stopping to stir and re-arrange halfway through. Drain, then immediately plunge the hot vegetables into ice cold water to quickly cool. Drain again, then pack the vegetables in zippered storage bags and freeze.

  • Make refrigerated butter or margarine spreadable...
    Microwave 1 stick of butter or margarine for 20 seconds at 50% power.

  • Melt butter, margarine or solid shortening...
    Microwave 1 stick of butter or margarine or 1/2 cup of shortening on full power for 45 seconds to 1 minute .

  • Soften refrigerated cream cheese to use in a recipe...
    No need to let it stand at room temperature first. Unwrap an 8 oz. package of cream cheese and microwave at 50% power for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.

  • Make rock-hard ice cream easier to scoop...
    Microwave a full half gallon container for 30 seconds on full power to soften it just enough for scooping.

  • Toast coconut...
    Spread coconut in a thin layer on a microwave safe pie plate or on a paper plate. Microwave on full power for 2 to 3 minutes or until light golden brown. Watch closely to prevent over-browning.

  • Blanch almonds...
    Microwave a cup water until it begins to boil. Place almonds in a separate cup. Add enough boiling water to cover the almonds and then microwave on full power for 30 seconds. Drain and rub off the almond skins.

  • Toast sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sliced or slivered almonds....
    Place a layer of seeds or nuts on a microwave safe plate that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Microwave seeds for 3 to 4 minutes on full power and nuts for 3 to 5 minutes on full power. Stop to toss gently or stir often. Brown very lightly since they will continue to darken as they cool.

  • Melt caramel...
    Place 7 oz. of unwrapped caramels in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon water. Microwave, uncovered, on full power for 1- 1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds or until the caramel is melted and smooth.

  • Melt baking chocolate...
    Place one or two squares at a time, each broken in half, in a microwave safe cup. Microwave, uncovered, on 50% power for 2 to 3 minutes. After the first minute, stop to stir and check it about every 20 seconds As soon as most of the chocolate is melted, stir to finish. Even a slight amount or excess time can cause scorching.

  • Make smooth sauces and gravies...
    Click on the picture below for a simple recipe for a basic white sauce and cheese sauce made in a microwave oven.


  • Soften brown sugar...
    Place hardened brown sugar in a plastic bag. Add a slice of soft white bread or about a quarter of a fresh apple. Close the bag tightly and microwave on full power for 20 seconds. Discard the bread or apple and stir the sugar.

  • Liquefy honey that has crystallized and hardened...
    Microwave at 50% power, stopping to check at 15 second intervals. Crystallized honey will liquefy quickly. Total time depends on the amount and the condition of the honey.

  • Heat pancake and waffle syrup...
    Place an uncapped bottle of syrup or a filled syrup pitcher in the microwave. Microwave on full power, usually for only 35 to 45 seconds, depending on the amount of syrup.

  • Make croutons and dry breadcrumbs...
    Microwave 4 cups of bread cubes or bread crumbs for 5 to 7 minutes at full power.

  • Soften tortillas...
    Loosely wrap a stack of 3 to 4 corn or flour tortillas in waxed paper. Microwave on full power for 15 to 25 seconds.

  • Freshen chips and snack crackers...
    Microwave, uncovered, for about one minute on full power.

  • Cook healthier bacon...
    Use a microwave bacon grill designed so that fats drains away as the meat cooks.

    Nordic Ware 10.5-in. Microwave Microwave Bacon/Meat Grill

  • By using a microwave oven for what it does best, in combination with other cooking methods, you can streamline meal preparation.

    Reduce grill time by at least half.
    Pre-cook chicken, ribs or chops in the microwave in minutes, then finish it on a hot grill.

    For a quick, homemade spaghetti dinner, cook the sauce in the microwave oven while the pasta cooks on the stove. Click Here for a microwave spaghetti sauce recipe.

  • Remove splatters and odors from your microwave oven...
    Add the juice and peel of one lemon to a small bowl of water. Heat on full power for 5 minutes, then wipe the oven interior with damp cloth.


Things you SHOULD NOT DO with a microwave oven

  • Do not heat baby's bottle in a microwave oven. Due to the possibility of uneven heating and hot spots, microwaving formula or milk for baby is not recommended. Use a microwave oven to heat water in a 2-cup glass measuring cup or in a deep, narrow bowl. Place the filled bottle in the hot water to heat instead.

  • Do not leave the kitchen while popping a bag of microwave popcorn. Just a slight amount or extra time can scorch popcorn. Heat buildup can cause a fire. Set the timer according to the package instructions, using the shortest recommended time. Stop heating and remove the bag of popped corn from the microwave oven when the popping slows down.

  • Do not use a microwave oven to cook stuffed chops or stuffed poultry. The meat inside may not cook completely.

  • Do not uncover microwaved foods by lifting the side of the lid or the edge of the wrap that's closest to you. To prevent burns, uncover hot food by lifting the farthest edge and pulling it back towards you to carefully release steam.

  • Do not salt food before cooking in a microwave oven. Salt draws moisture to the surface and forms a layer that slows the penetration of microwaves and increases the required cooking time. It can also make meat and vegetables tough and less juicy. Salt immediately after cooking instead.

  • Do not cook eggs in their shells in a microwave oven. Steam that builds up inside the shell may cause the egg to explode.

  • Do not attempt to deep-fry in 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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Content copyright © 2014 by Sandy Moyer. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Sandy Moyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Allyson Elizabeth D´Angelo for details.

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