Making the most of your microwave
Ring-shaped moulds are ideal for making cakes in a microwave oven, as mixtures cook quickly and evenly. If you don’t have a mould, use an ordinary microwave-safe mould or dish and place a jam jar in the centre, half-filled with water.
Rashers of bacon cook quickly and cleanly by microwave. Place the rashers side by side on a piece of kitchen paper and fold over or place another piece of kitchen paper on top. The timing depends on the thickness and size of the slices, but 30 seconds on High (100 per cent power) is usually enough for one rasher, or 45 seconds for two.
Easy hollandaise sauce
Place 25g (1oz) butter in a 570ml (1 pint) heatproof jug. Cook on High (100 per cent power) for 30 seconds or until melted. Beat in 2 egg yolks. Microwave for a further 15 seconds, then beat hard until it becomes smooth. Gradually add a further 25g (1 oz) butter in small pieces, beating hard until thick and smooth. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper and it’s ready to serve.
Getting dough to rise
For faster rising, place bread dough in a bowl covered with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and cook for three or four 15-second bursts on High (100 per cent power) until doubled in size-alter the length of the bursts if necessary, depending on the dough. Allow five to ten minutes standing time between bursts.
Adapting conventional recipes for a microwave oven is largely a matter of trial and error, but there are some rough guidelines you can follow. For quickly cooked dishes, use High (100 per cent power) for about a quarter of the conventional time. For slower dishes such as casseroles, cook on Medium (50 per cent power) for about half the conventional time. Always use microwave-proof containers instead of conventional pots and pans.
To soften hard butter
Unwrap the butter and microwave it on the Defrost setting. A 250g (9oz) block straight from the fridge usually needs about one minute.
Plumping up dried fruit
With a microwave, there’s no need to soak dried fruit for hours before using it in a recipe. Instead, put it in a bowl, cover with water, fruit juice or cold tea, and microwave on High (100 per cent power) for three minutes. Leave the fruit to stand until cool, pour off the excess liquid, and use as required.
Brown sugar gone hard?
Sprinkle it lightly with a little water and place it in a strong plastic bag. Tie the bag loosely and microwave on High (100 per cent power) for 20-60 seconds.
Spreading jam on a cake
Warm jam in the microwave for a few seconds before attempting to spread it, and you won’t pull up crumbs or tear the top of the cake.
Marzipan or almond paste
You’ll find the paste easier to handle if you microwave it on High (100 per cent power) for a few 20-second bursts before rolling it out.
You can use your microwave oven to make nuts that are hard to crack, open more easily. Place about 150g (5oz) of whole nuts in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl together with about 70ml (4tbsp) of water. Heat, covered, on High (100 per cent power) for two to three minutes, when the water should be boiling. Allow to stand for a minute, drain, and crack with a nutcracker.
To prevent tears and make peeling easier, trim off the ends of the onions, but do not peel. Place on kitchen paper on the floor of the oven and microwave on High (100 per cent power) for a minute. Remove the skin and chop or slice.
Ripening an avocado
Avocados that are still a little unripe can quickly be softened in a microwave oven. Place whole, unpeeled fruit on the bottom of the oven, and heat on High (100 per cent power) for a minute, or until slightly soft. Allow to cool completely, then peel and slice.
MICROWAVE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q What is the point of the standing times given in some microwave recipes?
A Standing time applies only to certain foods, particularly meat, eggs and cakes. The temperature of the food remains high and it carries on cooking during this time, even though you’ve taken it out of the oven. Standing time depends on the size and density of the dish, so it’s safest to follow the instructions in your recipe.
Q I’ve noticed that some microwave ovens have a temperature probe. What is this used for?
A The probe is useful for cooking joints of meat, casseroles, jams, and any foods which need to be cooked at a fairly precise temperature. The probe is pushed into the food so that when it reaches a set temperature the power switches off automatically.
Q Can I cook my Christmas turkey in the microwave oven?
A This depends on the size of the bird and the capacity of your oven. A 650-watt model should take a bird weighing up to 5.4kg (121b), but check the manufacturer’s instruction book for details. For a brown, crispy skin, transfer the turkey to a conventional oven for the final 15 minutes, or sprinkle it with sweet paprika before microwaving.
Q How can I make cakes look more appetising if they don’t brown in the microwave?
A Use soft, dark brown sugar or golden caster sugar instead of white, or substitute wholemeal flour for white, if possible. Look for recipes that allow the addition of chocolate, cocoa, treacle or spices; or add a little yellow food colour to a sponge cake mix. Or just sprinkle the top with toasted nuts or brown sugar after cooking.