It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

When the microwave stopped working a week ago, I really believed we didn't use it very often, would not miss it, and could perhaps reclaim the counter space.

(Similarly, when half a tree fell on our only car during Superstorm Sandy, I thought, "The kid goes to school across the street and we both walk or bike to the train station. Who needs a car?" Anyone who needs groceries in the suburbs. And to go to karate lessons in the 'burbs. And doctor's appointments. And has elderly parents who live in different suburbs and have doctor's appointments. And. And. And.)

I don't cook with my microwave. No one cooks with their microwave. Bacon doesn't count. Heating a Hot Pocket is not cooking, and we don't even do that. The chicken nuggets go into the oven. (Well, actually, I do have a great recipe from Jean Anderson for microwave mushroom risotto that's very yummy.) The microwave does see a lot of defrosting action, but that can be mitigated with proper planning. Ignore the fact that if I could plan properly to begin with, I wouldn't be defrosting chicken breast and Italian sausage in the microwave at 5:55 each night.

Where the microwave has insidiously gripped the throat of my modern life with it's sticky, grippy tentacles is in reheating leftovers. Without a microwave, how would you re-heat a leftover bowl of chili and rice? Or salmon with peas and farfalle? Or half a pack of cooked breakfast sausage links? Or steamed broccoli? No wonder the cookbooks of the previous generation abounded with recipes for leftover noodles, rice, vegetables and meat.

So far we have:

  • used the 8-quart metal mixing bowl as an impromptu double boiler for the salmon farfalle (the 3-quart Pyrex bowl was too good an insulator); wow, that took a long time
  • placed a plate on top of the pot of boiling water and covered my son's salmon and peas because god forbid his food should be mixed together like normal people
  • wrapped the sausage in a tin foil packet and popped it into a toaster oven
  • chili on the stove over medium heat not to burn, add or pour over cold rice
  • re-boiled the rigatoni while heating the sausage and onions over a double boiler; son said they pasta tasted like eggs (perhaps the texture)
  • stared at the broccoli and moved on (yes, quiche, sigh)

We have bought a new microwave, and returned it the next day, because when we used it, the food remained cold, but the machine got a hot spot. Right now the parts are on order to fix the old microwave (not the old-old microwave, which mind you still works with one minor mechanical glitch, but that's used for photographic chemicals now).

Maybe I will pull out my grandmother's cookbooks.

Microwave Risotto

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup grated asiago (or romano) cheese

[All of this should be done UNCOVERED, on high.]

Put 2 T butter and 2 T olive oil in 2" deep 8-10" quiche dish. Microwave for 3 minutes (on high).

Add 1 cup chopped onions and microwave for 4 minutes.

Stir.

Add 1 cup of arborio rice and microwave for 4 minutes.

Stir.

Add 3 cups of chicken broth and 1 container (8 oz.) of mushrooms. Microwave for 9 minutes.

Stir.

Microwave 9 minutes.

My friend Dominus, who gave me this recipe, noted he often needed anther 9 minutes cooking time, as do I. I have (had) 600-Watt oven,

Add 1/2 cup grated romano, asiago, or similar cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir.

Le Cordon Bleu Professional Baking and The Culinary Institute of America Baking and Pastry

My final go-to volumes for basic cakes are two textbooks from Le Cordon Bleu and The Culinary Institute of America given to me by my aunt-by-marriage, food writer Anne Mendelson. Both focus on basic technique and recipes &emdash; building blocks &emdash; rather than a specific dessert. Meant to be used in a retail or commercial bakery, the yields are usually triple a home recipe (six dozen cupcakes or six nine-inch cake layers). Very useful for wedding cakes, and other situations calling for insane amounts of cake.

Interestingly enough, they don't have the same recipes. From Gisslen's book, I bake the spice cake and angel food cake. From the CIA cookbook, I bake the lemon chiffon cake, creme anglaise, German buttercream, and cream cheese icing (which is equal weights of cream cheese and butter, and less powdered sugar). I refer to both for basic research when I need a new cake or sweet yeast bread recipe; they provide me with good ideas and point me in the direction to go.

From these basic recipes, both show how to build ever-more complex pastries up to architectural wonders.

If you don't want or need six dozen cupcakes (or you need twelve dozen, or four fifteen-inch layers), Professional Baking has a chart of how much batter to use for any size layer. Both teach scaling (how to increase and decrease a recipe for more or fewer servings) and basic recipe ratios. The also cover most baking ingredients, from all-purpose flour through lychees, and equipment from measuring spoons through steam-injection ovens.

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