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Quick tips to make meals in minutes

Jillianne Pierce is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Jillianne is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida and currently contributes to national travel, art and fashion publicat...

Make meals in minutes

To most of us, a microwave is a kitchen appliance used for reheating premade meals, such as leftovers and frozen foods, for melting chocolate, or making a -œbaked- potato. But the microwave can be used to create substantial meals, too. Here are a few quick tips for microwave cooking and three super fast recipes - especially appreciated during the hustle-bustle of the holiday season.

Woman Cooking in the Microwave

Microwave to the rescue

Susan Adams, MS, RD, LDN is an assistant professor of nutrition programs in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Adams discovered microwave cooking when she and her husband were moving to a new home and hadn't yet gotten a range top stove. Here are some of her expert tips on how to use your microwave to prepare entire meals in minutes – from scratch!

Time is a factor

Because microwave ovens cook foods faster than conventional ovens, cooking times will be different. The time it takes different foods to cook is dependent on size and number of food items prepared.

For instance, cooking one baked potato may take about five or six minutes, but two baked potatoes may take seven or eight minutes. Since the number of micro-waves doesn't change, the more food, the longer the cooking time.

According to Adams, microwave cooking is ideal for one or two person families because "at some point, with the addition of more food, the time advantage of cooking with a microwave is eliminated."

Make sure it's cooked

"Since microwaves excite molecules within the food (and this increased molecular activity is how the heat for cooking is produced), the food does not always cook evenly," says Adams.

Microwave cooking requires constant stirring and attention to ensure even cooking throughout. If your microwave does not have a carousel to spin the food during cooking, remember to rotate the dish a few times manually.

Also, check the final temperature of the cooked product to assure food safety and doneness. Remember that thin, flat foods cook faster than large chunks and that liquids and foods that are high in fat tend to cook quickly.

In addition, be sure to cut your foods – such as diced vegetables or pieces of meat, fish or poultry – to uniform sizes to ensure even cooking.

Use microwave-safe dishes

Not all containers or dishware can be put in the microwave. Ceramic, china, glass and earthenware can be used in a microwave, but watch out for metal parts or metal glazes on dishware.
Check your containers and dishware and only use ones that say "microwave-safe." Some plastic and paper products can also be used in the microwave but may soften and lose their shape when heated.

And some experts say that plastic should never be used in the microwave due to the potential for chemicals in the plastic to leak into the food. The containers labeled "microwave-safe" have been approved by the FDA because the amount of leakage is minimal – the plastic containers not labeled "microwave-safe" have not been tested or approved.

Eat your veggies

"Vegetable preparation is superior in the microwave because fresh vegetables can be cooked in very little water and will retain their color, taste and nutrients.

Because fresh vegetables are prepared with little water, they will retain their water soluble vitamin content to a higher degree than vegetables that are cooked on the stovetop, particularly in boiling water. "Corn-on-the-cob can even be cooked in the microwave by cooking the corn in its own husk," suggests Adams.

Many frozen vegetables have microwave directions on their packages and most microwaves come with a manual providing directions to properly cook vegetables – and many other foods.

Recipes for microwave cooking


Beefy Bell Peppers

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 large green bell peppers
3/4 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 (7-ounce) box Spanish rice mix
1 (14-ounce) can petite-cut Italian-style diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can Italian-style tomato sauce
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
2 teaspoons olive oil

Directions:
1. Cut off the tops of the peppers and rip out and discard the core. Chop enough of the pepper tops to equal about 1/4 cup.

2. Stand the whole peppers upright in an 8-inch square microwave-safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, or until peppers soften.

3. Move the peppers onto a plate and pour the water out of the dish. Put the onion, garlic, chopped pepper and oil in the dish and stir until the veggies are well-coated. Microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft.

4. Stir in the beef and microwave for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring a few times, until the meat is just browned around the edges. Stir in the rice (without the seasoning pack) and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Stir in the seasoning pack, tomatoes (with juice) and 1 cup water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until rice is tender.

6. Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture, mounding the tops. Put the stuffed peppers back into the dish and pour tomato sauce over the tops. Cook, uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes, until sauce was hot.

Garden Lasagna

Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium
1 (15-ounce) can zucchini in tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
8 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons jarred pesto
Once half (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 (16-ounce) container low-fat ricotta cheese
1-1/2 cups shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg white
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, mix together the tomato sauce, zucchini (with sauce), mushrooms and pesto. In another bowl, mix the spinach, ricotta, half the mozzarella, half the Parmesan, the egg white, oregano, salt and pepper.

2. Spread on a layer of the tomato sauce over the bottom of an 8-inch square microwave-safe dish. Add a layer of 2 noodles. Cover the noodles with 1/3 of the spinach-cheese mixture. Spoon 1/4 of the sauce over the cheese, again making sure no dry noodle is showing. Repeat layers of noodles, cheese and sauce to make a total of 4 layers of noodles.

3. Top the final layer of noodles with the remaining sauce. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 to 13 minutes, until noodles are almost tender. Scatter the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over top and cook, uncovered, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cheese is melted, the sauce is bubbly and the noodles are tender. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Wicked Double Fudge

Makes 64 pieces

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (12-ounce) package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, leaving a little overhanging for handles. Coat the foil with cooking spray.

2. Put the peanut butter chips, 1/2 can of the condensed milk and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or just until it can be stirred smooth. (The chips can over-harden if cooked too long, so be sure to stir every 30 seconds). Scrape into the pan and spread into an even layer.

3. Clean out the bowl and dump in the chocolate chips, the remaining 1/2 can condensed milk and the remaining vanilla. Microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Scrape into the pan and spread into an even layer over the peanut butter layer. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until firm.

4. Grab the foul handles and lift the whole brick of fudge out of the pan. Spread out the foil edges and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares. Store loosely covered at room temperature (your best bet for the best taste) for up to a week or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

*Recipes adapted from A Man, A Can, A Microwave, a book by David Joachim and the editors of Men's Health Magazine. Published by Rodale.

More meals in minutes


Christmas candy in the microwave
Microwave shortcuts for the holidays
Microwave Au Gratin Potatoes
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