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 microwave 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 percent, and check carefully for doneness. As an example, two medium potatoes will take 5 to 7 minutes to cook, while four potatoes take 10 to 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 the caramelization of sugars and starches in the food. You can add browning agents to foods to increase appeal. Agents include soy sauce, Kitchen Bouquet, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning mixes, cinnamon, and other spices, and glazes that 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 over-browning, 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.
Best Microwave Recipes
To make the best microwave recipes, you must know the wattage of your microwave oven. If you're not sure, here's an easy way to find out, according to the University of Tennessee. Fill a glass measuring cup with exactly one cup of lukewarm tap water. Microwave the water, uncovered, on HIGH until water begins to boil. If boiling occurs in less than three minutes, the wattage of your microwave is 600 to 700; three to four minutes, the wattage is 500 to 600; for more than four minutes, the oven wattage is less than 500 watts. Most microwave recipes are developed for ovens with more than 600 watts of power. If your oven's wattage is less than that, you will probably need to add more cooking time.
You may actually be surprised at what you can cook in a microwave. From meatloaf to spaghetti to scalloped potatoes to nachos to stir fry the options can be limitless. Just get creative and enjoy!