Pasta from the microwave?

Okay, you know I use my rice cooker to cook some kinds of pasta, but when Cook’s Illustrated  reviewed microwave pasta cookers and gave it a thumbs up, I had to try–I mean that should be even faster and easier than rice cooker, right?

from Amazon.com

I ordered the Fasta Pasta Microwave Cooker.  Delivered quickly, and needless to say, got tried out quickly. I’ve cooked both ravioli and capellini in it successfully.  Cooking times are obviously going to vary with the power of the microwave, but generally the times given on the included card have been very accurate.  It’s easy to move around as there are handles on both side.

The drain slots in the lid did not let the capellini slip through.  I’m really surprised–but I think that will be my method of choice for cooking pasta in the future.

(Image from Amazon.com, and should take you to page–however, I don’t have an affiliate association with them, so I get no remuneration if you order through here.)

Cooking beets…

The indexing project for The Polar Times has really taken over my life right now–which is not unexpected–but it does have its problems. I think any work where there is a deadline does that, but I need to get something for quick meals around here, and it has to meet my “hot weather” requirements!

Beets image from Swallowtail Garden seedsLooking over the Durham Farmers’ market this last week I was seeing lots of lovely beets–and with the weather warming up (from my point of view getting hot!) the cold beet soup came to mind as something that would be pretty easy, keep well, and is great in hot weather.

To prepare the beets for cooking, I cut off the tops (greens) a bit above where they attach to the root; some of the greens will go into the soup, but if there are extras, they are good as a vegetable, or an omelette filling.

Cutting the tops and leaving about an inch of the stems will keep the beets from bleeding and losing flavor.  If there is a slender root tip attached, I leave that on too.  Just scrub the beets with a fairly soft vegetable brush so that the skin is not broken–again, prevents bleeding.

No matter how you cook them, you can tell  they are done when they pierce easily with the tip of a small paring knife.   When done, the skins will slip off easily.  You can cook them a number of ways–One of my favorite ways is to roast them: well and good if it is a cool day but if it is not and you don’t want the oven on for an hour or so, then consider steaming (I use my rice cooker) or microwaving them (see below).  Test for doneness as above.

Roasting:  For four medium-large (about 6 ounce) beets, rub them with oil, place them in a covered casserole or wrap in foil and bake at 400° for about 1-1 ½ hours..  Cool them and then trim off the stems, roots and peel.

Steaming: Place the beets over simmering water and steam for about 1 hour, or until done. Cool, trim and peel. Baby beets will take about 20 minutes.  I sometimes do this using my rice cooker.

Microwave:  For the size beets mentioned above, put the unpeeled beets in a microwave-safe dish with a lid or cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Cook on high for 8 minutes and let rest for 5 minutes without uncovering.  Turn the beets microwave for 3 minutes on high and let stand again without removing the cover for 10 minutes.  Test for doneness with a small paring knife.  If they still offer some resistance to the knife, cover them again and microwave for an additional 3 minutes.  Cool, peel and go ahead with the recipe.

Grilling:  After peeling, slice medium raw beets about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, brush with oil and grill until tender. Very intense flavor. (I’ve not used grilled beets in the cold soup; I might if I ever have any “leftover” grilled beets, or manage to cook extras.)

Beet greens: Don’t forget the greens that you trimmed off before you cooked the roots! Some will go into the soup, but there might be more than you need or that.  Stem them like you would spinach–they are edible too.  If the stems are very large, cook them a bit before you put in the leaves.  They are excellent eating too. All they need is a quick braising, boiling, or steaming.  You can substitute beet greens in any recipe calling for chard.

The microwave in my kitchen

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.