Between the obvious uses of a microwave -- eheating dinner -- and the impossibilities -- boiling eggs, baking an angel food cake and deep-frying -- there is hardly a recipe that can't be converted to microwave cooking. You just need to know the rules.
The easiest way to adapt a family recipe to the microwave is to find a similar recipe in your oven's cookbook, following the book's suggested cooking techniques, times and power levels. If you cannot find a microwave recipe, follow these general guidelines:
* Use recipes that contain foods that microwave well. Naturally moist foods such as vegetables, fruits, chicken and seafood are ideal. Saucy foods and rich foods also microwave well because of their high sugar, fat or water content.
* Choose recipes with cooking methods that are adaptable to microwave cooking: roasting, stewing, steaming and baking, for instance. Deep-frying or baking anything that needs heat or air to rise (angel food cake, popovers) is not adaptable.
* Reduce liquid by one-fourth; there is less evaporation in a microwave. Sometimes liquid can be omitted.
* Use less seasoning. It is recommended to use one-half the conventional amount. You can always adjust seasoning before serving.
* Omit or reduce cooking oils or fats. Fats attract energy away from other foods and may slow cooking times. Remove any excess grease when possible. Browning meat in oil may be omitted.
* Stirring or arrangement may differ from conventional methods and may or may not be necessary. In general, the optimal shape for microwaving is the doughnut -- in other words, the food arranged with a hole in the middle and the bulk on the outside. That means shrimp should be in a circle, with their tails pointed toward the center. Or broccoli should be ringed around its platter; even hamburgers should have a thumbprint in the middle for more even cooking.
* Select proper dish (glass or pyroceramic) and size using old cookware as a guide: 1-quart saucepan to 1-quart casserole.
* Select appropriate power levels and reduce cooking times. Reduce the cooking time to 1/4 for 100 percent or high (conventional oven 375 to 450 degrees); 1/3 for 70 percent or medium-high (conventional oven 350 to 375 degrees); 1/2 for 50 percent or medium (conventional oven 300 to 325 degrees); and 3/4 for 30 percent or low (conventional oven 200 to 275 degrees). Some recipes may only require power level and time conversion. Whenever you test a converted recipe, note the steps taken for future reference. Unlike cooking in a conventional oven, time depends on how much food is in the microwave, not just how large the food is. Reheating time is roughly 1/4 to 1/3 cooking time.
Although microwave cooking is an easy and delicious way to prepare most foods, there are a few foods that should be prepared conventionally to obtain satisfactory results, i.e.:
* Fried foods tend not to crisp. Cooking oil may become dangerously hot.
* Crusty foods such as pizza, popovers and two-crust pies become soggy or will not form a crust.
* Yeast breads and souffle's cannot be converted. Use a specially tested microwave recipe.
* Never cook something that is tightly closed or sealed -- an egg in the shell, for instance. It can explode.
* Do not process home-canned foods in a microwave.
Here is a sample conversion, a conventional recipe with suggestions for cooking it in a microwave. CHICKEN SPERANZA (4 servings) 4 chicken breast halves or a 2 1/2- to 3-pound cut up fryer 1/4 cup olive oil 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced 1 large onion, sliced 1 medium green pepper, chopped 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced 1 teaspoon basil 1 to 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon salt 4-ounce jar pimiento, chopped 16-ounce can plum tomatoes 8-ounce can tomato sauce 1/2 cup dry red wine (unsalted) 1/4 pound Italian pepperoni, sliced 2 medium zucchini, sliced (optional)
Brown chicken in olive oil in large skillet, remove. Add garlic, onions, peppers and mushrooms. Saute' until soft. Add chicken, sprinkle with herbs, salt and pimientos. Cover with tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine and pepperoni. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer, covered, 35 to 45 minutes. In last 5 minutes of cooking, add zucchini, if desired. Cover to steam gently. Serve with rice or pasta. MICROWAVE CHANGES
* Reduce oil to 1 tablespoon (for flavoring)
* Reduce garlic to 1 to 2 cloves
* Drain tomatoes (reserve liquid to use if needed)
* Omit salt
* May reduce herbs to 1/2 the amount (for milder flavor)
* No need to brown chicken
* Microwave vegetables until soft 2 to 3 minutes on high (100 percent)
* Arrange meatiest portions around the outside. Use large, shallow pan with cover, or microwave-tested plastic wrap
* Microwave high (100 percent) to boil (5 minutes). Reduce to medium-high (70 percent) 14 to 18 minute period. Always use least amount of time first.
* Add zucchini when chicken comes out of oven. Let stand 10 minutes.
These are basic guidelines to use for most simple recipes. Some recipes, such as cakes, eggs, custards and sauces, may require methods designed especially for microwave cooking. It would be wise to consult a microwave cookbook before converting.