I spent quite a few years of my life standing in department store aisles giving cooking demonstrations using Corning products in the microwave. Recently, after a spate of watching televised cooking programs, I became aware of how little time was spent on air using the microwave. Sure, Ina Garten occasionally melts butter in hers, ditto Jacques Pepin, but so many people have at least one of these grand appliances in the kitchen and perhaps in the family room. Visions of popped popcorn pop into my head.
Before I get too wound up in my subject I need a show of hands. How many of you have at least one three-piece glass bowl set? (Gosh, here I see even more positive responses than from the popcorn poppers.) These sets usually were made up of one-quart, one-and-a-half-quart, and two-and-a-half-quart clear or decorated bowls. They nested nicely. And maybe you have what I call the Paul Bunyan—a four-quart baby into which you can nest the threesome. I remember an even larger set in one of the catalogs I get. Imagine all that storage with such a small footprint. And imagine how often you use one or more of the bowls if you’re a typical cook cooking a typical meal.
Next, check your cupboards. I hope you’ll also find one or two glass pie plates; they’re part of my story today. And you win the Order of the Golden Whisk Award if you also have a two-quart Pyrex casserole with a cover.
Eating More Vegetables? Good for You
Common sense tells me that you might be buying, cooking, and serving more vegetables these days. And why not? Every food article I read loudly proclaims the health benefits of using meat as a side dish or in small amounts to season a dish. Bits of sausage or cubes of roasted chicken combined with pasta or rice in a salad are good examples of this trend. Nowadays, making steamed, baked, braised, or roasted vegetables the star of the dinner plate is “in.” So I’m passing along a couple of my favorite vegetable recipes with tips for microwave-cooking each.
Cauliflower My Way
I didn’t grow up eating much cauliflower but I now perk up when I read a recipe for that vegetable. I’ve grown to love it in all its guises (and disguises).
Remember those bowl sets I mentioned? They are the ideal “pot” for cauliflower. I usually buy about a two-pound head and sometimes cut it into florets, along with the trimmed core, of about one-inch pieces. However, you can, after trimming and slashing the remaining stem, cook it whole. at makes a dramatic presentation. Here goes:
- 1 two-pound (more or less) cauliflower
- 1 c. spring or filtered water
- 3/4 c. Italian dressing made with good olive oil and red wine
- Vinegar, salt, and fresh ground pepper
- 1 1⁄2 c. Panko breadcrumbs, crushed
- Olive oil for sautéing the crumbs
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. Reggiano Parmigiano
- 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, drained (omit salt if using)
The trimmed cauliflower should fit into the 2 1⁄2-quart glass bowl. I always rinse the cauliflower under running water. Pat dry. Pour the spring or filtered water over the vegetable. Invert the 1 1⁄2-quart bowl over the vegetable making a cozy steamer. If you do have that 4-quart bowl, invert it over the 2 1⁄2-quart bowl and you have a deep “hangover” that makes the larger bowl easy to lift (with hot pads) off the smaller bowl to check doneness. And remember to use the larger (or smaller or a glass cover) as a shield as you remove it so the steam goes away from you.
Microwave at full power for about 8 to 12 minutes depending on the cauliflower’s size. Using a thin metal or wooden spreader, and, using oven mitts, push down on the side of the smaller bowl closest to you to release the steam away from you. Check on doneness. If you are going to puree the vegetable, you might want to cook a little longer.
Serving options: cut the vegetable in wedges like a pie, and serve as a salad (maybe topped with chopped greens) with a dressing of your choice. But my favorite way to serve it is at warm room temperature (as they do vegetable dishes in Italy) on a platter. I first drain the water remaining in the cooking bowl and move the vegetable to a round platter. I whisk the Italian dressing ingredients and brush the cauliflower with that. In a small skillet, I sauté the bread crumbs in a little oil and then add the cheese. I arrange the anchovies like spokes in a wheel over the vegetable and then sprinkle the warm breadcrumbs over the entire vegetable. I cut wedges as you would a Bundt cake, making sure each diner gets an anchovy (or not). I pass any leftover dressing in a cruet.
Stand-Ins for Spuds
A nice way to serve cauliflower is to convert the cooked vegetable to a puree. Scrape into the bowl of a food processor along with a quarter cup of crème fraiche, sour cream, or plain ole heavy cream, along with (all of this is optional) a couple of cloves of roasted garlic or maybe some sautéed shallots or leeks. When you’ve a lovely puree, you can pile this into the round bowl you used for cooking. Just before serving reheat the vegetable in the microwave, add salt and white pepper to taste, and a knob of butter. And you can also fold in some mashed potatoes to make a super combo. Just mash the potatoes separately with a potato masher or mixer, not in the processor.
I can just imagine the raves you’ll get.
The Missing Two Words
Here I am writing about the microwave and there’s been no mention of those two dreaded words: plastic wrap. When you cover a dish with that stuff and heat it in the microwave the wrap warps and sags. You want to cover a dish tightly so it will steam and cook faster, but long-time instructions for microwaving with plastic wrap are “vent one corner.” Heck, that means the dish will take longer to cook. And the tugging and pulling of the heated wrap often results in a steam burn. Ouch, and pass me that aloe plant.
Let’s face the facts: plastic is a petroleum product and the fumes when heating the wrap must land somewhere. Not on my zucchini, thank you. While I certainly use plastic wrap for storing leftovers, when microwave cooking I’d rather use things like glass pie plates upended over a smaller bowl or merely sitting atop a dish. The glass is easy to remove and the steam is easy to avoid. That covered casserole I mentioned earlier ranks with my covered Corningware casseroles as microwave perfection, meaning you can steam away and serve from the dish. But you can also use those round covers to top a pie plate or a bowl. Microwave-safe dinnerware yields saucers and plates that can be used as lids, and often the serving bowls topped with the dinner plates make dandy microwave “cookware.”
And if you have a rectangular dish, try covering it with another rectangular dish. It’s doable but tricky. Try adapting the recipe and use a casserole with a glass lid. Barring that, try covering the rectangular dish with wax paper or parchment paper. Cover the entire contents and allow overhang on all sides. It won’t trap all the steam but it will prevent spatters. Add some additional cooking time to compensate for that steam loss.
Here’s a favorite recipe that uses the “stacking” idea. The squares make a delicious hors d’oeuvres or side vegetable for something like braised chicken, ribs or a ham steak. (If you use the round two-quart casserole with lid, you’ll have some squares and some curved pieces—all delicious.)
You might have all these ingredients right there in your kitchen. Go ahead, make these today and enjoy the mini feast. Check out your baking dishes. I hope you have two oblong microwave-safe baking dishes. This is a great recipe because you concoct, cook, and serve all in the same pan.
- 2 (15-oz.) cans artichoke hearts, well drained (press down on them)
- 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 4 or 5 leeks (white portion only), chopped, or 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1⁄2 c. Panko bread crumbs
- 9 beaten eggs
- 1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper or a good dash Tabasco
- Salt to taste
- 1⁄2 tsp. crumbled dried oregano (I use a tiny bit more)
- 1 lb. white sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Use two 2-quart oblong glass dishes for this, and use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients. Preheat your regular oven to 375-degrees. You’ll use it to finish the dish.
Melt the butter in one of the oblong dishes in the microwave. Remove 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and mix in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and reserve.
Put the chopped leeks (or onion) in the dish with the melted butter and stir well. Place the pan in the microwave and carefully place the other 2-quart dish over it. Cook on high for two minutes, stir after one minute. Stir in the artichoke hearts then the rest of the ingredients and mix well with the wooden spoon. Sprinkle on those reserved breadcrumbs and cook on high, again covered with the glass pan, for 12 minutes. If you don’t have a turntable in your oven, you’ll want to rotate the dish a quarter turn every 3 minutes.
To “crisp” the top, finish baking for 5 minutes in the preheated conventional oven.
But Wait, There’s More
There’s another word I haven’t used (so far) in this homage to microwave cooking and that’s “nuke.” These days I think we all want to “zap” that word out of our vocabulary.