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They're Hot to Buy Her Plastic Pot

With one microwave and several pots, Cook-Zen inventor Machiko Chiba turned out 13 dishes in 45 minutes in her Tokyo kitchen.
With one microwave and several pots, Cook-Zen inventor Machiko Chiba turned out 13 dishes in 45 minutes in her Tokyo kitchen. (By Jeremy Sutton-hibbert)
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By Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Among other modern, time-saving strategies, Japan's domestic powerhouse Harumi Kurihara advocates the use of a microwave oven for steaming vegetables.

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But her country's biggest proponent of the microwave has to be Machiko Chiba, a cookbook author, teacher and restaurant consultant who spent a decade developing the Cook-Zen microwave pot. It has been a hit in Japan, where her accompanying cookbooks have gone through 14 reprints in just two years. And after she conducted a demonstration at Williams-Sonoma in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan last year, serving food that had all been made in the Cook-Zen, O magazine featured the product. "It sold out in one month in the United States," Chiba says. (It's now back in stock.)

The polypropylene pot uses interlocking parts and an adjustable steam vent to cook foods more evenly, a claim that bore itself out in tests in my own kitchen. But what I did was nothing compared to what I saw Chiba do last fall in her Tokyo kitchen.

Her favorite recipe: roast beef. Roast beef, from the microwave? It's true. Chiba used beautiful beef cheeks, something you can pick up in any good market in Japan, and topped them with sprigs of thyme before microwaving them for five minutes (medium-rare). They turned out rosy, tender and juicy.

She microwaved a whole onion in its skin, then slipped off the peel to chop the vegetable for one dish. For another, she peeled strips of skin from kabocha squash, scraped out the seeds, cubed and nuked the squash, then tossed it with mayonnaise. So simple, so good. She also cooked salmon, rice with eel, eggplant two ways, carrots, peppers and more.

It was a juggling act involving at least four Cook-Zens, one assistant (who mostly tidied up) and one microwave. Between the dings of the microwave, she'd pull out one Cook-Zen, remove the contents and put in another. I counted 13 finished dishes in her spread, which she cooked in about 45 minutes. Take that, Rachael Ray.

The Cook-Zen is available athttp://www.target.com,http://www.amazon.comandhttp://www.korin.comfor $60, including a 30-page recipe booklet. A separate cookbook that includes 80 recipes costs $18.

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