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The modern "Microwave" oven ?

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Is there really any good use for a Microwave oven in a Chowhound's kitchen?

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  1. GAAACK! Not this again.

    I use a microwave to make five liters of yogurt per week, to steam fish, to quick steam some vegetables, to do quick baked potatoes, to cook Asian fish or Mexican style soups (assembled and cooked bowl by bowl--so good for two people) and, often, to make rice (in a special mw vessel). Other uses include boiling a mug of water for tea, defatting ribs after smoking, melting butter or chocolate, heating quick sauces that need honey or sugar to be dissolved, heating cornstarch and water (where conrnstarch is needed and you don't want to deal with stirring and stirring over low heat).

    When my kitchen is going at full bore, its good to have an additional tool. But I also cook all the time: when I'm alone or just with my daughter, the mw can make prep and clean-up a lot easier.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      So, you are not a purist then?
      Do you have any concerns about health problems emanating from microwave use?
      I have mixed feelings about certain operations using the Mw. Do you think my concerns are unfounded?

      1. re: fruglescot

        It's a lot safer than a cell phone - do you use one of those? The microwave certainly has a place in a kitchen - if for nothing else than for heating up all those yummy retaurant leftovers!

        1. re: lupaglupa

          No, I don't use the cell phone. I work in a place with over 400 televisions bombarded with microwave satellite signals. I'm hopelesslyly trying to cut back on my exposure.

          1. re: fruglescot

            Microwaves don't have ionizing energy, so can not damage the genetic material of a cell. They heat by causing various molecules (mainly water in your food) to vibrate resulting in friction. The only known non-ionizing EMF that causes cancer is ultra-violet light and it is the most energetic of the non-ionizing frequencies. Microwaves are actually pretty far down on the list, as they rank below all forms of visible light and are considered radio waves. Don't get me wrong, microwaves can do physical damage to you if you are directly exposed to them, but the damage would be like that from contact with something that was too hot. Not a "radiation" burn as one would get gamma rays. (Yes, I know that all EMFs are forms of radiation)

        2. re: fruglescot

          I am DEFINITELY with Sam on this one. Health problems from the microwaves? Good grief. Even Jacque Pepin recommends the MW for pre-cooking baked potatoes if you're short on time (yes, you finish in the oven). I make a lot of chocolate deserts and will never again bother with a double boiler. The MW (at 50% power) is hands down the simplest way to melt chocolate.

          1. re: fruglescot

            Not a purist...I'll cheat, lie, and steal in kitchen terms as needed. But I'll also match my yogurt, potatoes, and steamed fish against anyone's.

            The health concerns are the MW itself and the plastic wrap used to cover the food. As a working research scientist, I simply haven't encountered any evidence that either or both are dangerous.

            [Out of curiosity, please let us know what you decide re: microwaves after this thread runs its course.]

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I agree with you on MW use but disagree about the plastics in a MW (and plastics in general).

              The FDA and many scientists says there's no health issues related to plastics in MW use (plastic wrap, containers, etc.). While I generally trust science, I retain a cautious skepticism. In particular, the FDA has become politicized and "flexible" in recent years...and what corp. or industry is ever going say they produce something that causes health issues.

              On a common sense point, anyone who has seen plastics degrade over time (become brittle, porous, dis-colored and funky) has to figure the chemicals that make up the plastic have to change and go somewhere. Is there proof this happens, or enough of a release to make you sick, over time of the release? I don't know but I figure why not be on the safe side?

              Any way, of course it's impossible to avoid plastic in everyday life but I try since it's not costly. With a MW, I use glass/Pyrex and fitted cover. If there isn't one, I use a plate and a wet power towel to create a seal... yes, I know, the paper towel has toxins too.

              1. re: ML8000

                I've lived and worked in international research institutes all my working life. The FDA? Plastics are simple polymers. Just what do they give off as they become funky?

            2. re: fruglescot

              Huh? What about refusing to use a microwave makes somebody a "purist"? It's a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a more recent invention than, say, the gas burner, but older than the quartz halogen bulb.

              The microwave works great for steaming and related applications. Anybody who uses it for those applications can claim the title of "purist" as much as anybody else (except those who forswear all modern inventions and cook their food on sticks over an open fire).

              As far as health concerns go, that issue was put to bed decades ago. Here are abstracts of a couple of more recent studies. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/98... , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/94...

              1. re: fruglescot

                What's your definition of "purist"? Someone who uses only gas or electricity? At one time, only those who used wood-burning stoves could have been called purists.

                I figure using the microwave more in warm weather is good for my comfort and good ecologically. I use the oven more in winter, when the heat has the dual purpose of warming the house.

                Of course, Industry spokesmen cannot be trusted. So I keep my distance from the microwave when it is doing its thing. But then, I also don't rest my elbow on the skillet when I'm cooking steak.

                1. re: mpalmer6c

                  Perhaps industry spokesman can't be trusted, but physicists can. This wavelength of photons does not do molecular damage at the genetic level.

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                How do you use the MW to make yogurt?

                1. re: Aromatherapy

                  Yes, Sam, can you please post on the Home Cooking board your microwave recipe for yogurt?

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Sorry for the interruption, but we've moved the recipe for microwave yogurt to the Home Cooking board. You can find it here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47429...

                    Thanks!

                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Well said Sam. As I have mentioned before, my mom's grandmother considered her gas range to be a newfangled and inferior contraption. For her important cooking she only used the wood burning oven on the back porch. She said that food just didn't taste right if it was cooked in a gas or electric oven.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    how long does it take to cook rice in the MW? there have been too many times that i've made a stir-fry and forgotten to look in the rice warmer to see if there was any left...waiting 20-30 minutes for the rice to cook while my stir-fry gets cold is not fun...

                    also, we live very close to our church so if they ever run out of rice for some church function they always call us...being able to do it quickly and painlessly would be great.

                    1. re: soypower

                      32 minutes at 40%, followed by 10 minutes rest.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        oh, so not any faster...but i guess it would help when counter space is limited...

                  2. Sam and jfood on the same page again.

                    Jfood views the MV as a major tool in the kitchen. He uses it to get from frozen to cookable in lots of cases. But he has yet to master the cooking aspect, other than vegetables. Burgers and meatballs are the biggest entries. A few minutes at 40% and they are ready for the sauce or the grill.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      Barbara Kafka has two wonderful MW cookbooks I recommend::

                      1. Microwave Gourmet Lifestyle Cookbook, 1989, W. Morrow (I have this one and use it often.)
                      2. Microwave Gourmet, 1998, Harper Collins
                      Each is worth at least a perusal.

                      1. re: Gio

                        jfood respects Kafka, may check out. thx

                        1. re: jfood

                          jf, "Microwave Gourmet" has two sections: a bunch of actual recipes, and an alphabetical encyclopedia dealing with how to use the microwave oven to deal with a whole bunch of specific foods. The first section is about as useful as any cookbook, which is to say: not very, except as a springboard for ideas. The second section, however, is the reason my tattered copy of the book sits on top of the microwave oven and not on the shelves with the other cookbooks. It is invaluable.

                          1. re: ozhead

                            Must second the recs for Barbara Kafka's MICROWAVE GOURMET. The chapter on preserves & jams alone is an eye-opener. This morning, I made a tiny amount of blackberry jelly with some antique berries that had been lost in the back of the fridge. At this time of year in AZ we have an abundance of citrus that makes easy, amazing marmalades. Recipe is not in the book but I'll post mine on the Home Cooking board for anyone who might be interested.

                            1. re: Sherri

                              Yes, please. Thank you.

                      2. re: jfood

                        i'm also pro ground meat in the MW...i'm slightly paranoid of raw ground meat, so when i cook meatballs or burgers, i like to throw them in the microwave afterwards just to make sure the centers get fully cooked. because my understanding is that the microwave cooks things from the inside out, whereas traditional cooking is outside in...can someone confirm this?

                        1. re: soypower

                          It's true about the cooking from the inside. Whether that helps for your burgers, that I can't tell.

                      3. Regarding microwaves and plastic vs. safety: Can I safely use that Ikea spatter guard without giving myself some sort of terminal disease?

                        Incidentally, I once saw some Easy Off Microwave Oven Cleaner packets discounted at my local market and purchased them. My teenaged nephews had stayed with me a week and had nuked all sorts of burritos and snacks in the MW without covering the food. When I opened the MW to use it a few days after they left, the inside looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Well these Easy Off packets smelled to high heaven of the cleaning solvent after nuking (you put a plastic envelope in the MW for a minute or two then open the packet and wipe the inside down with the paper towel inside) but when I was done 3 minutes later, the MW was cleared of all that baked on goo. It was much better that using that "boiled water in a mug" trick. I haven't seen them on the store shelves since. I sure hope they haven't been recalled due to health concerns :(

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: MysticYoYo

                          Soak a clean dish towel in a mixture of water and white vinegar, wring out lightly, and then microwave the towel for two minutes, watching to make sure that nothing "odd" happens to the towel. Wait five more minutes after the microwave shuts off to allow the towel to cool down and the vinegar steam to penetrate any buildup on the microwave walls, and then open the microwave and use the towel to wipe down the inside. Works for me.

                          1. re: MysticYoYo

                            I use a paper towel or cheapo paper plate as a splatter guard in the MW, if there's no cover..then it goes into the recycling bin. The least hassle in my view.

                            On whether plastics will give you a terminal disease...frankly I wouldn't sweat it, there's plenty of things that can do you harm. In all likelihood, it will take prolonged exposure...but why encourage it is my attitude.

                            re: Easy Off cleaner...it's probably like the MW buttered pop corn thing...you have to breath it every day for several hours for real harm but if you smell solvents, it's not good. I wouldn't be afraid to use it a couple of time a year...but not much more.

                          2. I'm curious fruglescot, what does being a "purist" (as you say above) have to do with using or not using a microwave?

                            Do you still use mortar and pestle? Are not a purist if you use a food processor?

                            Also, with respect to the title of you post, what exactly is a "modern" microwave?

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              And to add to that, do you not eat microwaved food AT ALL? Yet how could you possibly know all the time (restos friends homes)?! How do you re-heat ANYTHING?

                              1. re: chownewbie

                                And to add that ... even if you don't technically cook with it, a microwave is useful for zapping your kitchen sponge to keep it (relatively) germ free.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Sounds like the best use for a MW I know. Thanks
                                  The germs and bacteria on that sponge wont know what hit them..
                                  Confession; I use it sparingly for;
                                  heating water
                                  reheating my coffee
                                  for precooking potatoes before baking
                                  melting cheese on toast etc.
                                  thawing foods
                                  warming hamburg &hot dog buns
                                  ???? can't think of anything else ???
                                  OH YES
                                  as of tonight ...sterilizing sponges!

                                  but really, no cooking, although the "perfect rice" suggestion interests me.
                                  I never admitted to being a purist myself!

                                  1. re: fruglescot

                                    F

                                    jfood has seen an article that tsted best ways to clean a spngue and 1 minute on high in MV won.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Amen, and amen on the sponges! But the MW is truly useful for other things i I will let those who will, fight it out. Wait, I have to say I side with those who see it as a tool ike any other. So much for the "mouth shut" ethos.
                                      Cay

                                    2. re: fruglescot

                                      I don't use it for much, either:

                                      reheating/defrosting
                                      softening or melting butter for baking
                                      steaming veggies
                                      precooking potatoes
                                      oatmeal
                                      melting chocolate
                                      popcorn (not the microwave kind, just regular kernels)

                              2. Great tips about cleaning! One of the most important things about microwave ovens is their time- and energy-savings. If you can do something well in the oven, instead of heating up the big oven, or firing up the stove burners, and do it generally faster, then I think that is an argument for using a micro.

                                One thing I am always impressed with is the micro's ability to make excellent white rice, which frees up a crowded stovetop. Micros do a safe job of thawing, as well.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  Can you explain how to cook the rice in the MW sueatmo?
                                  Thanx

                                  1. re: fruglescot

                                    In a microwave rice cooker, of course! (Don't own one, but have used a friend's that works very well.)

                                    http://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Ware-640...

                                    1. re: fruglescot

                                      fs--Check to see if your micro has a rice button. Sharp ovens come with one, and it is an automatic cycle for rice. If it does not, then you can use this formula: 5 min. on high, and 15 on med (50%) power.

                                      You can also check either of Barbara Kafka's microwave cookbooks for detailed info. Unfortunately, her info is for 600 watt ovens, and most modern ovens are more powerful. Sam has said in a previous post, that it takes him 32 min. on 40 % power. It has never taken me that long, so perhaps he is cookiing a lot of rice. I seldom cook more or less than 1 c.

                                      Put your 1 c.rice in a covered casserole, and add 2 c. liquid. Pop it in the micro, and either hit the button, program it or handle it manually. When the cycle is finished, place a paper towel under the lid to absorb moisture. In a few minutes, fluff. Once you have success with this, you can absolutely depend on it. This works for white rice.

                                      For brown rice, consult a microwave cookbook. But I think it is something like 5 min. at full power and 30 min. at med.

                                  2. POPCORN!!!

                                    1. My microwave has been my favorite coffee warmer for at least thirty-plus years, and my favorite popcorn popper for nearly as long. I love it for making soup! Toss a chicken thigh or two in a covered casserole with as many veggies as I can find and a can of V-8 with eqaul amount of chicken broth and then amuse myself while the soup cooks itself. But now...!

                                      Has anyone else tried the "Simply Cooking" microwave steamer bags from Glad? Love them! I make stews in them -- toss in meat, veggies, slurry, spices of choice and maybe a bit of Kitchen Bouquet and nuke. Good stuff! And the bags make fantastic rice! Personally, I like it better than a rice cooker, and they take up zero counter space!

                                      My god, I'm turning into the world's laziest cook!

                                      1. Microwave ovens are great for re-heating thick, starchy foods; think refried black beans. Stovetop takes vigilance to prevent scorching and the oven takes much longer.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Sherri

                                          Yes!

                                        2. And it's really useful for reducing things like stock and tomato puree. Especially if you're apt to wander off and forget about the pot on the stove. Plus I like the flavor of fresh tomato puree cooked down in the MW (thanks to Barbara Kafka, Microwave Gourmet). Oh, and waterless applesauce and such.

                                          1. I can cook with the best of them, but as the mother of a teen in a 2 person household (excluding the chowhound hound) I am pretty much a short order cook and the MW is in use alot. It does the baked potato to go with a steak for the teen. I often have only 15 minutes to make a meal and it is quite useful. Today I used it to defrost some frozen seasoned chicken to make a quick Chinese chicken salad- had to rush off to the girlfriend... A pack of bagels goes in the freezer to be individually nuked at low power to thaw then toasted. I am in love with kabocha squash- 4 minutes to tender enuf to cube and use in a recipe. The great thing is that with veggies like kabocha or brussell sprouts (I guess hard ones) I need almost no water to cook them in a closed container. All nutrients preserved versus lost in water- even better then steaming over water.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: torty

                                              Re: nutrients: Harold McGee writes quite cogently and convincingly on the preservation of nutrients using the microwave. Reassuring, coming from the godfather of food chemistry!
                                              Cay

                                              1. re: torty

                                                All of these uses and ideas are so great! Thanks for sharing!

                                              2. the MW is the only way i use to steam frozen edamame. such a quick, delicious and nutritious snack!