I guess I’m not really fond of many small appliances or kitchen gadgets.  There seem to be a lot that just take up drawer space or counter space and don’t work that well.   In many ways the microwave has mostly been just a “gadget” in my kitchen.  Most of the microwave recipes that I found were just not that good: edible, but that’s about it. Many of the early cookbooks that I looked at seemed to suggest that anything could be cooked well in the microwave.  Admittedly, I’ve not looked at a lot of newer ones because they seemed so uncritical about what does or does not cook well in the microwave.  So for me it was for melting chocolate, making popcorn, heating a cup of water….

I’ve revised my opinion slightly after finding the Microwave Gourmet cookbook by Barbara Kafka.  This author is a traditionally trained chef, and approached the microwave in a very skeptical frame of mind, and that has produced a useful microwave cookbook.  There is no hesitation in saying what NOT to cook in the microwave.

One of the really useful features of this book  is a dictionary where you can look things you might want to know about cooking in the microwave, and find times, suggested container sizes in which to cook it.  I’ve use this more than almost any other part of the book, except possibly the information on how to arrange foods in containers in order to have them cook properly.

I’ve tried the microwave risotto, and it’s not bad for times when you don’t want to spend the time standing by the stove stirring for 25 minutes or so.  (I’m anxious to compare the results of this with the Cook’s Illustrated simplified risotto.)

The most-used recipe in that book for me is the one for quick chicken broth or stock.  I’m mostly a stove-top or oven stock maker, but this is great when you don’t have canned stock or want some really good broth for soup.  Here is the recipe:

Use bones (carcass from the roast chicken, or necks, backs, wings, or giblets (except liver).  You can collect these in the freezer until you have enough, or if you’re lucky, you can buy backs cheaply and make this whenever you need to.

  • 2 pounds chicken
  • 4 cups water

For 4 cups, place the bones and water in a 2-quart dish and cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap.  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes.  (Cook 40 minutes for broth that will jell.)

For 2 cups, use 1 pound bones, and 2 cups water.  Cook for 20 minutes.

This cookbook has directions for making  the classic stocks and broths in the microwave–including vegetable and fish/seafood broths.  Although I’m sure I will not give up the stove-top or oven long, slow preparation of stock I think that I’ll turn to the microwave more frequently, especially in hot weather.  I’ve not done a side-by-side tasting of each method, but this is certainly better than canned!

I’ve also cooked chicken in the microwave according to instructions in this book and been pleased with the results.  I use chicken thighs instead of breasts, but instructions/times can be found in the Dictionary section of this cookbook.  An unexpected benefit of cooking the chicken this way  is some very good strong broth; just enough to make one good  serving of chicken soup.  To me the texture of the chicken is a bit different when done in the microwave– more chewy, but not tough, or disagreeable at all (I actually like that “chew”).  I expect that I’ll be using the microwave more often to cook chicken now.

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