Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Microwave Cooking

Yes, not everyone has all the pots and pans and parts for cooking as seen on “Iron Chef.” So for my daughter, and for others who may be working with limited resources, here are some recipe ideas that involve a microwave range and a minimum of other things.
Of course there are many other places to look for similarly simple microwave recipes. One good one is from the makers of Glad brand bags. Their site (http://www.glad.com/simplycooking/steaming.php) has neat (as in not messy) ideas. Another site is http://www.microwaverecipe.net/.
That said, here are some of my own tried-and-tested ideas. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary depending on the power of your microwave range. Be sure to use microwave-safe dishes in the range and be careful handling foods just out of the microwave, as they will be hot hot.
1 lb (440 grams) lean ground beef or ground turkey
1/2 cup crushed cracker crumbs
2 large eggs
½ cup ketchup
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped, or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
Mix ingredients in one bowl, form by hand into a loaf shape in a microwave-safe baking dish. Cook on high for 3 minutes, rotate the dish halfway and cook another three minutes, then rotate again and cook another 4 minutes. Let set in the range for 4 minutes before serving.

Sweet Potatoes
1 sweet potato
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sour cream (optional)
Wash and scrub potato. Poke the skin several times with a fork and place in the center of the range turntable. Cook on high 6 minutes. (add about 3 minutes for each additional potato if making more.)
Slice the potato in the middle and mash with a fork. Add the butter. Microwave an additional 30 seconds. Serve with the sour cream for a different taste.

Cauliflower with Mustard Sauce
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
½ cup real mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Place cauliflower into microwave-safe casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap and poke holes in it Microwave on high 6 minutes.
Combine mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl, then spread over the cauliflower. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top, microwave again about 2 minutes, or until cheese melts.


1 Tbsp. salad oil
1 Lb. (440 grams) lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 or 2 large cans (7 oz. each) diced green chiles 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) regular-strength chicken broth
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and ground coriander
2 teaspoons dry oregano leaves
1 large can (about 28 oz.) kidney beans, drained
Pour oil into a 3-quart microwave-safe casserole; tip casserole to coat bottom evenly with oil. Crumble meat into casserole; microwave, uncovered, on high setting for 3 minutes, stir, then cook for another 3 minutes. Add chiles, broth, tomatoes and liquid, spices and herbs, cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add beans and stir. Cook uncovered on high for 7-8 minutes, stir, and cook another 7-8 minutes. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with our cream or plain yogurt, cheddar cheese and fresh cilantro (coriander)

Chocolate Volcano Cupcake

4 Tablespoons cake flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa
(Or four Tablespoons of Nestle’s Quik or similar chocolate drink mix in place of the sugar and cocoa)
1 standard Hershey’s chocolate bar, broken into small bits (or a half-cup of chocolate morsels)
1 egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
1 microwave-safe cup or mug
Mix flour, sugar and cocoa, egg, milk and oil in the mug. Press the chocolate pieces into the center of the mixture with a spoon.
Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Wait one minute before opening the range, to let the cake rise, then settle. The chocolate pieces will be melted inside the cake.

I'll add more. Other recipe ideas are always welcome!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ethnic Pride and Joy

A good conversation re-starter is to ask other guests, "If you had to subsist for the rest of your life on just one country's cuisine, which country would you choose?"
Putting national pride aside for a moment, it would still be difficult to nail down any one country, I think, although French friends may disagree. Certainly, high up in the food chain (so to speak) would have to be Italian.
Keeping in mind that Italy is a long country that extends from waaay up in the alps to waay down into sunny Middle Earth, Italy certainly does have an excellent variety of foods and flavors, and can draw from a wide range of ingredients for a wholesome, well-balanaced, and delicious range of foods. I'm still not sure whether ramen and spaghetti have the same heritage, and certainly Italian wine can compete with the best in the world to wash down whatever bounty is offered.
Since Saint Valentine's Day is approaching, and love is in the air, to one degree or another, I wanted to set the table and dedicate a meal to love. And Italian is, to me, at least, the most romantic of cuisines. (Sorry French folks!)
Certainly there is plenty of pasta to choose from, but for this meal, I chose ravioli. These are little pockets of flavor, which could be cheese, meat, vegetable, or any combination, best served with a counterpoint sauce. In this case, the sauce is tomato-based (northern and central Italy), with garlic, mushrooms and Merlot. There are four cheeses (Mozarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Ricotta) in each little pasta puff.
And there are the meat balls. I'm not Italian, and I know there are all kinds of delicious variations on the ingredients, but these are ground beef (not hamburger), with three kinds of chopped onion, garlic, and colorful bell peppers, mushroom, egg, bread crumbs, whole black peppercorns, basil, cilantro, Italian parsley, thyme, rosemary, and a dash of salt, all squished together in golfball-sized balls and baked for about 45 minutes at 350F (160C). I found a zuchini hiding in the vegetable drawer, so I sliced that, blanched it, drained the water and added butter and grated Parmesan. For variety of color, texture and a range of vitamins and minerals, I built a little salad from a pile of sprouts, slices of bell pepper, some fresh herbs and spinach and a few baby tomatoes, cut in half and splashed with an oil-vinegar-parmesan dressing.
This, as with most Italianate food, should be washed down with a hearty red.
So what makes it a Valentine meal? Well, I forget, exactly, but maybe the red tomato sauce (tomatoes are also called love apples, after all!). Or maybe I was just in a romantic mood at the time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Soup's On

When I was in high school, I was pressed into cooking for myself and my sister. Something out of a can got boring very quickly. So I began to experiment and improvise. As much as I enjoy making things from scratch, I have to confess some very good things have been made with Campbell's soups as a base. Last night, I wanted something simple and came up with this one. It's a shrimp bisque with green peas over rice. Nothing fancy at all, but the taste is not bad.
Begin with Campbell's tomato soup. Add four tablespoons each of sour cream and cream cheese and blend it into the soup base, add a splash of white wine, and set it aside. Now simmer two cups of frozen peeled shrimp in a saucepan of water and white wine, with a dash of salt. This helps kill the "frozen" taste. Drain the shrimp and add to the soup mixture, and simmer the combination.
Cook a cup of frozen green peas. I just use water with a bit of salt, boil quickly, drain, then add a teaspoon of butter.
I usually have some leftover plain white rice in the freezer, but I'd just say that when you boil rice, replace about one-third of the water with sake and then boil. This really brings out the flavor.
The rest is easy.... remove the soup-shrimp from heat and spoon it over as much rice as you can handle. Sprinkle the green peas over the top and it's ready to eat.
To show off a little with the presentation, I spray olive oil in a bowl, then spoon rice into the bowl, pat it and turn it over into a bigger bowl. This adds appeal for other rice-related dishes like curries or stroganoff, too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Plain of Fancy

If you've ever watched Iron Chef or similar cooking-competition shows, you are probably impressed by the presentations and the often unconventional combinations of ingredients the contenders come up with. The innovations are a refreshing departure from the familiar meat-and-two-veg meals most of us are brought up on. The familiar, such as the roast beef, potatoes and gravy and peas here, are in the realm of "comfort food" we return to. But the unfamiliar, or the familiar put together in different ways, can be even more appealing. And it doesn't have to involve expensive ingredients or very complicated preparation. For example, consider the salmon dinner here. This is a salmon filet with blue cheese and blueberries. The baby potatoes are boiled, then seared and sprinkled with ground dried mushrooms. The asparagus is on a bed of bean sprouts. In the background is a very simple appetizer of tofu with soy sauce and a little ground ginger, sprinkled with chopped green onions.
I think we (men, women and children), should all learn as much as we can about how to prepare things from scratch, just as I think we should be able to tie our own shoes, build a fire, sew on a button or make good chocolate-chip cookies. But it does not mean I think we should always do everything from scratch just because we can. Watch the Iron Chef-type shows and you will see the featured chefs have assistants. There is a lot of chopping and blending and boiling and searing and such that takes a lot of time. And that's great.
But with this salmon dinner, for example, I used two pots--a small stainless saucepan with lid to boil, then sear the potatoes, and a small frypan with a lid to sear, then slow-simmer the salmon. The bean sprouts were simply rinsed and drained. The asparagus spears were individually flash frozen, so I "cooked" them by microwave for 30 seconds and sprinkled a little sesame oil on top. The potatoes were cut at quarters and about halfway through, boiled, then seared at high temperature with half olive oil and half canola oil, then sprinkled with salt and ground pepper and dried mushroom before serving. The salmon was also frozen, cut from a big slab. I sprayed the filet with olive oil and sprinkled the skin side with salt and pepper, squeezed a lemon and a lime over the top, then seared it skin-side down, adding a splash of white wine and covering, reducing the heat to simmer until it was done.
The "fancy" sauce is blue cheese, crumbled with a tablespoon of mayonaise (real, not salad dressing!), and a dribble of lemon juice. After spooning it over the salmon, I added several frozen blueberries. Yes, frozen.
The decoration is just salad herbs, a bit of red bell peper, and thin slices of the lemon and lime. It has the combination of eye appeal, color, texture, flavor variety, and healthful ingredients that all meals (ideally) should have, and cost perhaps $1 at most for the ingredients. I'd say that makes it almost qualify as "comfort food."