New Year, New Microwave

There’s probably somebody somewhere who refers to them as “microwave ovens,” but I don’t know this person. Instead, I know several persons, all of them very good cooks, many of them with quite spacious kitchens, who refuse to have a microwave in the house. And I’m not talking about the health nuts. I’m talking about people who insist that microwaves are at worst the end of culinary civilization, at best yet more kitchen clutter, good for nothing except reheating coffee and making popcorn.

Well Pooey on that, as stepdaughter Celia used to say. I wouldn’t be without one and I’m not particularly gadget prone. In fact most of my cooking equipment is either


vintage stove, with cook

Bill manning the Strand Universal kitchen stove.

Or primitive

wood fired clay bake oven with stockpot and covered roast

The outdoor clay oven. Beans in the pot, pork roast in the pan, coals banked at the back to boost heat for the first few hours of cooking. The wooden door is lined with flashing to keep it from getting burned.

We didn’t choose the current incumbent it because it was a turbocharged 1300 watts, or because it was black and chrome, thus more or less matching the kitchen decor. We chose it because it was the only mid-sized unit that would fit on the shelf as currently configured.

This selection method worked out very well with the dishwasher. When we did the kitchen back in 1995, the Asko was the only one that would fit under the 34 inch counter top (unless you count dishwasher drawers, already available but out of our financial reach – which alas they still are). Fifteen years later, it’s still going strong, quietly, efficiently…

Where was I ?

Oh, the micro.

Panasonic microwave oven

Our current microwave - and, it must be admitted, a few other gadgets I’d be hard pressed to do without.

So far so good, except for its being way too powerful for some of the uses I’m used to. The defrost is little short of amazing, but a full cup of room temperature liquid will boil if you push the beverage button and fail to extract the cup in roughly half the pre-measured time.

There are 10 power levels. As far as I can tell, level 6 is about equal to full power on our old one. Fortunately 1 and 2 are still low enough to make melting chocolate the same tidy, near-foolproof breeze it was with the previous machine.

Chocolate (and caramel) aside, we mostly use this handy appliance to defrost and reheat, so it sounds at first as though the naysayers are right. They’re not; defrosting and reheating are huge, because they make it so much easier to eat well locally all year ‘round, even in the frost belt.

From late fall to mid-summer, the freezer is our reliable source of home grown tomatoes and sweet corn, harvest vegetable soups and stews, a good supply of local meat, and plenty of leftover lasagna, cassoulet, etc. the slow food version of heat n’ eat fast food.

Defrosting can of course be accomplished by always knowing what you want far enough ahead of time to allow complete thawing at room temperature. This is not how we operate, and I well remember the pre-micro days: Become fed up with how long it’s taking to thaw whatever by immersing the container in cool water. Switch to warm water. Become fed up. Put it in a saucepan over low heat. Poke and prod and pry at the slowly dwindling frozen lump while the rising sea of already-thawed material inexorably overcooks. Personally, I’d rather put the frozen item in the machine, go do something else and come back in 5 to 10 minutes to find the job accomplished.

Reheating is equally gratifying, for more or less the same reasons. Whatever it is reheats quickly, all of it at the same time, and unlike things reheated on stove or in oven, it’s  unlikely to dry out while doing so. Of course that’s why micros are lousy to cook with – unless you want to do a lot of waterless steaming – and may explain why the anti’s are so down on them. Nothing dries out, but nothing reduces either. Nothing browns and genuine crispness simply isn’t happening.

* Illustrated oven building instructions here, should you be looking for a project.

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  • Susan Scheid Said,

    We are green with envy, here, with our doddering old microwave. Your description of defrosting without one is spot on, for all the reasons you state. Our old model is so bad, we end up with the bowls of hot water in the sink, anyway! Hmmm, do I see New Year’s resolution one gazillion coming on, as in so buy a new microwave, already?

  • Oh, man, I now have a raging case of kitchen stove envy! 🙂

  • Ali Said,

    I too have kitchen stove envy. And I agree with you about the microwave. My freezers are full of frozen home-grown produce and locally raised meat, I’m full of good intentions, and as I’m driving home I’m thinking “damn, I forgot to defrost the pork chops”….

  • Sue Hart Said,

    so many uses so little time

  • Vee Said,

    Forget the microwave…that stove…those colors…the graphics. Just wonderful.

  • Eric Larson Said,

    I would add to that list of uses for a microwave the warming of those instruments of pain relief, basically a cloth bag with some kind of clay within, that ease the knotty neck, soothe the distempered deltoids, or the abused abductors. We do not have one being two of the ‘health nuts’ about it, but I do love those wonderful items, referred to in our house as ‘warmy things.’

    Never mind the health nut part; I’m completely in love with the term “warmy things”

  • kellypea Said,

    I cannot recall how I ended up here, but found your site last night and not able to sleep past 3am or so, began to click around. It seems we’re in opposite corners of the country, so I’m enjoying reading about your planting zones and thoughts about climate change. Cooking is more my area, though, and as far as microwaves go, I’ll share what my old Physics professor once said about microwave “ovens.” Evidently, we all are subjected to far more damaging energy from vacuum cleaners and even light switches! Although I rarely do any kind of real cooking in mine, I agree that it heats the cup of coffee that is cold before I finish it, and saves time and the clean-up of another dish (and use of our valuable water). But goodness — your stove…it’s beautiful!

    Well, however you got here, welcome! And thanks for weighing in on the micro.(Nice observation about the water angle.) Didn’t realize back when I posted this that the stove would be such an attraction but now I’m beginning to think it deserves a post of its own.

  • MimiR Said,

    Following the link trail…

    That is EXACTLY what I use my microwave for–plus melting butter, steaming veggies, and tea. It’s a huge time saver.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE your stove. 🙂

    Hi there MimiR, thanks for adding those 3 good uses – the micro’s GREAT for melting small amounts of butter.
    I shall give your regards to the stove, though by now I’m afraid it may be getting a little bit full of itself!

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