Stocking the Kitchen
Just because your cooking time is limited doesn't mean you should skimp when it comes to purchasing quality cooking equipment. It's easier to work quickly and efficiently in a well-organized, properly equipped kitchen. For the cook whose main goal is to prepare quality home-cooked meals in a hurry, there are a few appliances that are essential.
Cooking food in a microwave oven (instead of in a conventional oven or on the stovetop) has several advantages: it reduces cooking time, uses less energy, and doesn't heat up the kitchen. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the microwave oven celebrated its sixtieth birthday in 2007, in many homes it is still used primarily to reheat leftovers, or cook fast food such as pizza. However, a microwave can dramatically shorten cooking times at every meal.
An invention based on radar-related technology developed in World War II, the first commercial microwave oven was released in 1947 by the Raytheon Company. Called the “Radarange,” it stood over five feet tall, weighed more than 750 pounds, and cost thousands of dollars.
A microwave oven cooks food when the microwaves hit the food, causing water molecules in the food to vibrate and produce heat. This makes it perfect for cooking food with a high liquid content, such as soups and casseroles, or for boiling rice and vegetables.
And nothing beats a microwave for making chocolate-based desserts such as Microwave Fudge or Fast Chocolate Fondue. It's so much easier to melt heat-sensitive chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally, than to stand over the stovetop constantly stirring and adjusting the temperature to prevent the chocolate from scorching.
A microwave will help with the preliminary stages of cooking a meal, such as thawing or defrosting frozen food, blanching vegetables, quickly boiling water, or reheating rice. Within certain limits, you can even prepare complete meals in a microwave. Just remember that, since the microwave cooks food from the outside inward, it's important to make sure that meat, poultry, and seafood are thoroughly cooked.
The precise cooking times needed to microwave food will depend on the model of microwave you are using — everything from the wattage level to the microwave stirrer can affect the amount of time it takes for food to cook. There can even be differences in cooking times between two microwaves of the same make and model, as “hot spots” develop over time. When a recipe calls for cooking food in the microwave, always start with the minimum cooking time given, and then continue cooking at shorter intervals as needed until the food is cooked.
Adjusting recipes can be a little tricky when you're cooking with a microwave, since exact cooking times depend on the quantity of food being cooked. When doubling a recipe, increase the cooking time by at least 50 percent, and check carefully to make sure the food is thoroughly done.
Mixing and Processing Food
A blender is the ultimate timesaving device, used for everything from chopping onions to crushing ice and puréeing vegetables for soup.
As with the microwave, the culinary possibilities of the blender are sometimes over-looked. While the blender's main claim to fame is liquefying ingredients for smoothies and mixed drinks, it can also be used to make sauces (such as Italian pesto or cold tomato sauce) and cold soups.
Another useful tool is a mini food processor. Much less expensive than higher-end models designed to perform complex tasks such as making bread dough, a mini food processor is excellent for mincing garlic, chopping herbs, grating cheese, and crushing bread crumbs. The size and shape of its work bowl makes a mini food processor more efficient than a blender at performing these tasks when you're only using a small quantity of food.