- Wed, May 14, 2008
Late Spring Greetings from Soggy Nappanee…Hello again from scenic north central Indiana. Here’s hoping this writing finds each of you out and about with your units, enjoying great weather and camaraderie!
During our seemingly endless winter confinement this year, my wife and I became addicts to the Food Network. It’s a veritable cornucopia of cooking ideas; who would know you could do so many things with ginger? Or that the best bologna sandwiches in America are at a little back-woods roadside restaurant in Louisiana… 1” thick sliced smoked, fried bologna with coleslaw on it! MMMMmmm!
I admit that I’m probably not going to whip up 90% of the creations they have there, but it has given my wife and I some interesting ideas. Some worked out really well (my Italian Sausage and Peppers over fettuccini noodles), and some not so well (something my kids like to call the “Teriyaki Chicken Incident”).
My experimenting in the kitchen at home got me to thinking about experimenting with cooking while camping. We all have our camping favorites (they could film a food show featuring campfire cooking at almost any RV park), but cooking while camping can present some constraints you might not encounter at home… or does it? Can we still be adventurous in the kitchen when we are on the road? Sure we can; RV appliances are every bit as capable of cooking up a savory meal as your home kitchen is, and much of that is thanks to the magic of the “Microwave Oven”.
A microwave oven uses microwaves to heat food. Simply put, microwaves are radio waves. In the case of microwave ovens, the commonly used radio wave frequency is roughly 2,500 megahertz (2.5 gigahertz). Radio waves in this frequency range have an interesting property: they are absorbed by water, fats and sugars. When they are absorbed they are converted directly into atomic motion -- heat. Another interesting property of microwaves in this range is they are not absorbed by most plastics, glass or ceramics. Metal reflects microwaves, which is why metal pans do not work well in a microwave oven.
It is often said that microwave ovens cook food "from the inside out", but what exactly does that mean? Let's say you want to bake a cake in a conventional oven. Normally you would bake a cake around 350 degrees (F) or so, but what if you accidentally set the oven to 500 degrees instead? What is going to happen is that the outside of the cake will burn before the inside even gets warm. In a conventional oven, the heat has to migrate (by conduction) from the outside of the food toward the middle. You also have dry, hot air on the outside of the food evaporating moisture, so the outside ends up crispy and brown (for example, bread forms a crust) while the inside is moist.
In microwave cooking, the radio waves penetrate the food and excite water and fat molecules pretty much evenly throughout the food. No heat has to migrate toward the interior. There is heat everywhere all at once because the molecules are all excited together. Microwave ovens do have their little issues, though, since radio waves penetrate unevenly in thick pieces of food (they don't make it all the way to the middle). There are also "hot spots" caused by wave interference… you get the idea. The whole heating process is different because you are "exciting atoms" rather than "conducting heat."
The air in a microwave oven remains more or less at room temperature, so there is no way to form a crust. That is why microwavable pastries sometimes come with a little sleeve made out of foil and cardboard. You put the food in the sleeve and then microwave it. The sleeve reacts to microwave energy by becoming very hot. This exterior heat lets the crust become crispy as it would in a conventional oven.
Another variation of this appliance is the “Microwave/Convection” oven. This particular oven offers the best of both worlds; the speed and convenience of a microwave oven, with the browning and baking capabilities of a conventional oven. It’s all in the name of speed… we are the generation of the 5-minute baked potato, after all. The microwave portion of the oven uses microwaves to cook as previously described, while the convection portion uses fan circulated hot air to bake food like a conventional oven… just faster. The swirling heat in the oven makes for a more uniform cooking temperature throughout, giving quicker, more even baking… and that’s not just a lot of “hot air”!
It never ceases to amaze me how technology has become woven into the fabric of our daily lives. No longer do we have to build a fire and watch over it to have a great meal while out camping, even though there are some great recipes you can enjoy over an open fire! Through the miracle of microwaves, though, we can whip up a gourmet meal in no time… then fix some pop corn later when the movie is on!
Thanks for tuning in again this month. Take some time to watch the Food Network (if food is one of your favorite things), and check out the internet to see what kinds of recipes are out there that work specifically well with a microwave oven. Who knows, you might just turn up something you really love… or at least end up with a good “Teriyaki Chicken Incident” story tell for years to come!