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ZAP! : Microcooking continues to make waves now that affordable subcompact ovens are here. Simple features, bright colors seem to attract many new microwave buyers.

July 31, 1986|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Countdown--Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one. Five minutes, zap!

Out comes a baked potato. Slash it open and hot steam puffs up--ready to melt away a golden dab of butter if one should want it.

Microwave owners know this is no magic. Microwave baking a potato in about five minutes--as opposed to almost an hour in the conventional oven--is just one of the countless time-saving conveniences a microwave oven provides.

Users will also tell you about their smooth microwave melted chocolate, how you can soften brown sugar from a hard-rock state and how to get the crispiest bacon ever . . . "two slices in two minutes, three slices in three, four in four. . . ."

And then again, no one can argue with them about the microwave's most useful ability: reheating foods. Why dirty a pot, heat up a stove--or the whole kitchen--when one can instantly revive leftovers beautifully in the microwave?

Microwave ovens are still hot. Aside from reheating, increased use stems from warming of baby foods and formulas by mothers, heating of frozen entrees by singles, pizza warming and popcorn popping, the current rage.

The big question is--particularly applied to consumers who have had their ovens for years--is the microwave being used not just for reheating but also for cooking more than popcorn, potatoes and bacon? One bit of evidence is the burgeoning microwave cookware industry and the reported leap in sales of these products this year. You'll see store shelves bursting with all sorts of microwave cookware, from casseroles to bundt pans to steamers. Taking support from industry surveys that showed people are actually cooking in their units, manufacturers have surged into the market with goods made of plastic, glass, ceramic and disposable paper materials.

JUMP STARTS HERE Another indication is the increasing number of students in microwave cooking classes, according to Billie Sedan of Kitchen Consultants, who is also project director for J.C. Penney. She explained: "Over the last three years, J.C. Penney has held over 25,000 microwave cooking schools. The 375,000 customers attending have collected some wonderful recipes while learning how to get the most out of their microwave ovens." She also said many students are taking micro-convection classes being offered by the store. Sedan foresees a growing interest in these combination ovens that can produce excellent dishes.

It is also widely believed that microwave oven sales have continued to pick up due to the increasing number of affordable compact units. Favored by singles, college students and smaller young and older families, the compact models are also making a hit as a second unit for people who own vacation homes. Improved technology in the magnetron tube, the microwave's lifeline, has brought down the prices of these smaller basic models. Going a step further in design are the "Half Pints" from Sharp Electronics Corp. These subcompact models, the first to come in decorator colors, are available in wine red, pastel blue, pastel yellow, pastel pink and white with pink accents.

Cookbooks With Exciting Recipes

Inspired by the interest in microwave cookery, new cookbooks filled with more exciting recipes have also appeared. Cookbook topics are being geared to the way people are eating today. Barbara Methven's "Microwaving Light and Healthy" (Prentice Hall Press: $14.95) is a collection of microwave recipes that offer reduced levels of fats, cholesterol, sugars and sodium.

Methven said: "Microwave oven owners who want to cook for health and fitness have a head start. Chicken, fish and vegetables are among the foods the microwave oven cooks best." Providing a chapter on attractive vegetable recipes, Methven explains that vegetables cooked in the microwave are not only tender-crisp but retain their vitamins and useful fiber as well.

Janet Sadlack, editor of Microwave Times, a recipe subscription magazine from Burnsville, Minn., said: "The microwave fits in really well in giving a change in today's life style, with people using less fat rather than greasy foods."

One of the newest microwave cookbooks may turn women off because of its title. However, I found it to be one of the best around as the recipes were quite flavorful and innovative and the authors offer wonderful tips and microwave basics for novice cooks. "For Men Only: Mastering the Microwave" (Barron's: $12.95) was written by Cici Williamson, syndicated microwave columnist, and John Kelly, a retired naval officer and engineer who loves to cook and to eat. A sampling from their book includes Chicken Thighs Diablo with ginger-garlic, Cajun meat loaf, hot sausage quiche and skewered barbecue shrimp. The book is highlighted by recipes from President Reagan, Bob Hope and other famous men.

Will microwave ovens continue to make waves in the future?

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