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Microwave Cookery

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Please note for safety, do not use normal cling film in a microwave, and purchase special microwave film

Oven settings and cooking times - Timings of microwave cookery cannot be precise, since much depends on the density and composition of the food and on its starting temperature. For example, some ingredients may have come straight from the freezer or the refrigerator and will take longer to cook. Regard also has to be given to the quantity of food being cooked at any one time and voltage fluctuations. Just as conventional cookers vary in temperature at particular settings, so microwave ovens vary in speed of cooking. Try out a recipe first, compare the time it takes with that given in the recipe, then adjust cooking times according to your oven's performance. The recipe times have been worked out for an average oven of 600-650 watts output. But the wattage of your own oven may be as high as 800 or as low as 400 watts. You will have to cut down the cooking times on the higher rated models and increase them on those with a lower output. Where recipe instructions state high, this is the maximum speed on your oven. Medium indicates 70% of the full power and may be marked medium or roast. Low indicates 50% power and may also be marked defrost, simmer or low. In addition some ovens have a very low setting for gently thawing or keeping food warm. On a single speed 500 watt oven, increase timings on high, adhere to the timings on medium and cut the times a little on low. Timings on single setting ovens of more than 650 watts should be reduced by a minute or two on high, cut by a quarter on medium and by half on low. It is also helpful to give rest periods of 30 seconds every 2 minutes when adapting low instructions to high single setting ovens.

It is better to allow too little than too much time, as undercooked food can always be returned to the oven, whereas nothing can put it right if it is overcooked. Many foods continue cooking after removal from the oven and this is indicated in the recipes. The number of servings is given for each recipe. If you wish to halve the recipe, not only must you halve the ingredients, but the cooking time must also be reduced. Allow one-third of the stated cooking time, test and continue cooking if necessary. As a rule of thumb, high settings are used for poultry, fish, fruit, sauces and soups. Medium is best for egg and cheese dishes, tender meat and sweets. Low is used for defrosting, egg custards and tough meat.

Sauces and preserves - Direct heat is the enemy of a good sauce. When conventionally prepared in a saucepan, continuous stirring is required if lumps are to be avoided. Magical microwave has no direct heat, so that saucepans cannot bum on the bottom. Roux based sauces are cooked in the well tried traditional sequence, but each step is carried out in the microwave oven. Bowls must be large to prevent boiling over and sauce should be stirred every half minute. A good basic sauce should be smooth and have a silky sheen. This is exactly the result you will have when sauces are cooked by microwave. If cornflour is used in place of flour, only half the weight in ratio to the liquid should be used. Stir the cornflour into part of the cold liquid before adding to the remaining mixture, and then bring to the boil, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens. Fruit sauces can also be thickened with arrowroot, applying the same method. Emulsified sauces are normally prepared in a double saucepan on the conventional hob. There is no need for this in microwave cookery, but it is imperative not to overcook, because this type of sauce curdles easily. Make up the smallest quantities that you require and use a medium or low setting if you have an oven with variable control.

Hollandaise and similar egg and butter based sauces should be cooked in the serving jug, making it easier to pour and preventing waste. Make sure that the jug is large enough.

Jams should also be cooked in the largest available bowl which must be resistant to high temperature cooking. Approximately 5 pounds can be made at any one time, although it is often convenient to make `just enough for tea'. Fruit with high pectin content should be softened before the sugar is added and a pre-soak period is helpful in producing a better gel. Fruit curds and cheeses are simple to make but do not keep very well, so unless you own a freezer, make only the quantity needed for fairly immediate use. Unless jam is to be stored for a very long time, old fashioned waxed discs and jam pot covers are not necessary. A loose covering of microwave plastic film placed on each filled pot then microwaved for a minute will, when cool form a perfect seal.

Soups and appetizers - All types of soup can be prepared in the microwave oven and up to 4 pints can be cooked at one time. Empty canned soup directly into individual bowls, adding an extra tablespoon of water to each. It will only take a minute or two to heat each serving, whether it is in a tureen or individual bowls. The soup is ready when large bubbles form round the edge of the bowl. Stir the soup before serving to distribute the heat evenly. Dehydrated packet soups should be reconstituted in the serving bowl and brought near to boiling point. Dried soups containing pieces of vegetable such as peas, carrots, rice and noodles should be cooked either on high and then rested a few moments before completing cooking or reduced to low. Homemade soups are usually cooked on high and time can be saved by adding only half of the given quantity of liquid during most of the cooking time and the rest just before serving. This is also convenient for freezer storage. Soups can be cooked and frozen with half of the given quantity of liquid. When required, place the frozen soup in a tureen or serving bowl and heat on high until thawed. Stir in the remaining liquid and cook on medium until the soup is bubbling. Soup will cook faster if covered and this also prevents splashing when thick soups come to the boil. Homemade soups can be cooked in tureens or serving bowls if these are made of china, heat-resistant glass or other microwave proof material. If the dish has no lid, cover loosely with a piece of plastic microwave cling film.

Appetizers and starters are quick to prepare and even quicker to reheat. Pate or cream cheese piled onto cold toast, dry biscuits or stuffed into bouchees and popped into the microwave oven for a few seconds, are delicious. Prawns, shrimps, snails and oysters can be cooked and dressed in many guises. Hot spiced grapefruit or orange are favourites among the fruit starters and artichokes, palm hearts or asparagus are the best of the vegetables for hors d'oevres. For a cocktail party or light buffet serve a selection of appetizers. Choose canapés, bouchees, coquilles and other tasty dishes which can be prepared well in advance and heated through in the microwave oven just before serving.

Fish and shellfish - Fish is no less than superb cooked by microwave. Its moist and delicate texture should not be spoilt by conventional dry heat which may cause the flesh to toughen. In the microwave oven fish can be cooked without the addition of butter or salt, an advantage for those on low salt or low fat diets. Only add liquid if it is to be cooked in a sauce or a court bouillon. Add a sprinkling of lemon juice to soften the bones so providing extra calcium, but leave the salt to seasoning at the table. Shellfish retain more vitamins cooked in the microwave oven because of the speed of cooking and should be cooked until tender. Never, however, overcook any form of fish or the protein in this highly nutritious food will toughen.

Egg, cheese and light supper dishes - Versatile eggs can be cooked in dozens of different ways, either on their own or combined with other ingredients. Egg yolks and egg whites cook at different speeds, so in microwave cookery extra care must be taken to ensure even results. Water will slow cooking down enabling shelled eggs to poach perfectly, provided they are completely immersed. Eggs in their shells will burst if cooked in the microwave oven, but a refrigerated egg may be brought to room temperature if it is put in the microwave oven for not more than 5 seconds. This will lessen the chances of cracking if it is to be soft boiled in boiling water on the hob. Egg yolks are enclosed in a thin membrane which should be lightly punctured when frying eggs in the microwave oven on high. Ideally medium is the correct setting and at this speed, puncturing should not be necessary.

Fry eggs in a little butter in a pre-heated browning skillet. Scrambled eggs are lighter and fluffier when cooked in a bowl at high or medium. Stir frequently and do not overcook. Serve the scrambled eggs as soon as they are set but not dry. Baked egg custards should be cooked in a dish of boiling water and all such delicately textured dishes will be improved if a glass of water is placed at the back of the oven.

Cheese should never be overcooked as it becomes tough. When it is the main ingredient, preferably cook on medium or low. High setting ovens will require much shorter cooking times and you will find that you can obtain good results if you split the cooking time into three periods, allowing a few seconds rest between each. When cheese is used as a garnish or in a sauce, add it during the final moments of cooking. Eggs and cheese in composite dishes will produce perfect results, but unfortunately soufflés are only successful when cooked in an oven with variable control.

Rice and pasta often form the basis of light one-course meals. Both should be cooked in the microwave oven in a large volume of boiling salted water. A knob of butter should be dissolved in the water when cooking pasta to prevent the pieces sticking together. Rice will treble its volume when cooked but since it freezes well. Any surplus can be stored for reheating at a future time.

Meat and poultry - Tender cuts of meat cook well in the microwave oven. Tougher cheaper cuts which conventionally would be used in casseroles and stews, must first be tenderized to help break down the fibres. High speed microwave ovens should be used for chops and steaks in conjunction with either the built-in grill or the browning skillet. At this speed tougher cuts must be marinated or minced, but will cook successfully on low in ovens with variable control. Meat should be cut into even sized pieces and stirred occasionally during cooking. Microwaves cook mostly round the outside of the plate, so arrange chops or larger pieces of meat with the thinner parts towards the centre. Microwaves cook through the outer 2 inches simultaneously and the inner meat is cooked by conduction - the effect of each heat layer on its cooler neighbour, so that any food more than 4 inches in diameter will take longer to cook. Joints of beef which may be required rare are therefore easy to cook in a microwave oven. Brown the joint after cooking under a hot grill or use the built-in grill if your oven has one. Poultry weighing up to 3 lb. Or pieces of chicken will cook evenly, but larger birds should have either rest periods or a lowering of the cooking speed to ensure they cook through. Heat is retained in large pieces of meat, so that joints and whole poultry should be left to rest for several minutes to allow the heat to redistribute before carving.

The microwave oven is frequently used for defrosting. Many foods can be thawed and reheated or cooked in one sequence. Both meat and chicken should be thawed before cooking unless they are first cut into very thin pieces. Use the guide given in the oven handbook as defrosting systems vary. Generally speaking defrost large joints on a medium setting and small joints on a low setting. Meat should be removed from the oven while the centre is still frozen and a standing time allowed for the internal temperature to become even. A 3 lb. Joint will take approximately 30 minutes on low plus a standing time of up to 1 hour. A larger joint will take 20-25 minutes and require a standing time of up to 2 hours.

Similar rules apply to poultry but remember to remove the giblets from a frozen bird and cook them separately. A standing time is not usually necessary; a short soak in cold water will complete defrosting if any large crystals remain in the cavity.

On ovens without variable control of over 650 watts output cook for 1 minute per pound of frozen meat or poultry and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary. You will find that the total time from freezer to table is the same whichever method of microwave thawing is used.

Vegetables - Vegetables cooked by microwave look better, taste better and excel those cooked by any other method. All the colour is retained, so that they are pleasing to the eye. The speed of cooking in a minimal amount of water reduces the vitamin loss and there is little chance of overcooking resulting in tasteless vegetables. Microwaved vegetables retain their shape and may be cooked whole, sliced or shredded. Individual preferences can be accommodated, since the oven can be switched off at any point during the cooking period, allowing portions of food to be cooked according to taste.

Vegetables enclosed in skin such as potatoes and peppers, must be pricked or scored to prevent bursting, but then may be cooked whole on the oven shelf. Tomatoes, which have a high moisture content, should be halved before cooking. With the exception of fresh leeks and frozen chopped spinach, which need no additional moisture, cook sliced vegetables with 4-6 tablespoons water, adding the salt to the water. Vegetables should be covered with a lid or plastic microwave film to retain the moisture - the trapped steam will accelerate cooking.

Little extra cooking time will be required for frozen vegetables, as they will have been partially softened in pre-freeze blanching. Stir vegetables occasionally during cooking to distribute the heat or give a good shake if covered with plastic film. If you are pre-cooking vegetables for serving several hours later, remember to undercook slightly. Always avoid overcooking vegetables, particularly whole runner or French beans, cabbage and jacket potatoes, as this causes the vegetables to become dry. Most vegetables can be cooked on a high setting. Sauces should be cooked separately and poured over the vegetable, and then the whole dish can be reheated.

Cakes, desserts and bread - Watching a cake rise in the microwave oven is as spectacular as witnessing an Olympic high diver. You hold your breath and wonder if it will be successful and inevitably it is. Chocolate cakes, ginger cakes and fruit cakes require no embellishment, but because the microwave oven does not brown, some form of decoration is needed on plain cake mixtures. Icings and frostings, almond paste, nuts, jam, glace cherries are just a few suggestions. If you are in a hurry either add a few drops of lemon colouring to the basic mixture or brown the cake lightly under the grill. Cake dishes may either be greased and lined in the conventional way or lined with microwave plastic film loosely fitted inside the container. Cakes are cooked when just dry on top.

Nearly all desserts can be prepared by microwave whether they are jellies, creams, charlottes or crumbles. Pastry should first be baked blind, weighting the centre with a saucer resting on a piece of absorbent kitchen paper. Continue cooking after filling if necessary.

Proving and rising bread dough’s may be hastened by giving a few seconds in the microwave oven intermittently. To obtain a crusty finish, either put the bread into a hot conventional oven for a few minutes or brown under the grill. Both bread and cakes should be baked in deep containers. If containers are too shallow, the mixture will rise and topple over the sides. Add a little extra liquid to bread and cake mixtures to obtain the best results in microwave cookers.

Candies and cookies - Home made confectionery is always exciting to make. Many recipes are based on syrups and if these boil over in the microwave oven, cleaning up is far easier than when a similar disaster occurs on the conventional hob.

Nevertheless, many recipes call for exact temperatures and these must be tested with a sugar thermometer. This must never be left in the microwave oven by mistake, as it would either damage the magnetron or itself. Reliable tests can also be made by dropping a little of the mixture into cold water.

Choose cookie and biscuits mixtures that have some coloured ingredients or decorate when cool. Bake biscuit mixtures in a box and cut into squares after cooking or form into separate balls or shapes and bake a few at a time on a sheet of non-stick vegetable parchment. Candies and biscuits often appear undercooked when in fact they are ready. Leave them to cool before testing and then give an extra boost in the microwave oven if necessary. When a recipe calls for chocolate chips or bits, any chocolate can be substituted, but you may find that plain chocolate melts more evenly than milk chocolate. Some special chocolate dots are available which are extremely slow to melt, but these are most impressive when incorporated into plain cookie mixtures. Light corn syrup is halfway between golden syrup and glucose syrup. If neither light corn syrup nor glucose syrup is obtainable golden syrup may be substituted.