Question: Can you give me some information about the ginger plant? We have three plants growing in our yard. Can we use the tubers in cooking, or are they not the edible type? Also, how do you prepare ginger and what is its nutritional content?
Answer: Since the Southern California climate is not conducive to raising edible ginger, the plants in your yard are probably the ornamental variety, with tubers that cannot be used for cooking.
To use ginger root, peel the skin with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Then slice, dice, mince, grate or shred as directed in the recipe. The Japanese oroshigane, a grater especially for ginger, can be purchased in many Oriental markets. A 2x1-inch piece of ginger root yields about three tablespoons grated ginger (lightly packed) or a quarter-cup minced ginger.
"Nutritive Value of American Foods in Common Units," U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook No. 456, gives nutritional information for a pound of ginger root, but such small amounts are used in recipes that calorie or vitamin contribution would be very minimal.
Q: There have been articles and broadcasts about the contamination in chicken. We are told that it is safe to eat if cooked thoroughly. My question is, must it be cooked in a regular or a toaster oven by conventional heat, or can it be made safely by cooking it in a microwave?
A: According to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, microwave ovens may be used to cook chicken, but because the ovens differ in power levels, it is best to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. They also recommend using a meat thermometer designed for the microwave, covering the poultry while cooking, and turning the dish or rearranging the pieces during cooking. Chicken is thoroughly cooked when the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.
In "Basic Microwaving" (Publication Arts: 1978) Barbara Methven gives the following general instructions. "Plain microwaved chicken is similar to poached, but it steams quickly in its own natural juices without additional liquid. Use it in any recipe calling for cooked chicken: main dishes, salads or sandwiches. To minimize calories, remove skin and excess fat before cooking.
"Arrange chicken with meatiest parts to outside of dish. If desired, season with pinch of parsley, tarragon or crumbled bay leaf. Cover tightly with plastic wrap vented at one edge of dish. Microwave at HIGH power for half the cooking time. Rearrange chicken so that areas which appear less cooked are to outside of dish. Replace plastic wrap and microwave remaining time."
Methven provides the following timetable for cooking. "Piece" may refer to a leg, breast or thigh. Times are guidelines at HIGH power for full-powered microwave ovens and will need to be increased for lower wattage ovens. Use of a microwave meat thermometer is recommended.
1 piece--2 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes
2 pieces--6 to 6 1/2 minutes
3 pieces--7 1/2 to 8 1/2 minutes
4 pieces--9 to 10 minutes
1 quarter--7 1/2 to 9 minutes
2 quarters--13 to 13 1/2 minutes
1 chicken, cut up--5 1/2 to 7 1/2 minutes per pound
Q: You ran a chicken pot pie recipe that called for a teaspoon of chicken base. Can you please tell me what that is and where to buy it?
A: We used powdered chicken flavor base in the recipe, available in the spice sections of most supermarkets.