Fast cooking and convenience may be the main reasons people like microwave ovens, but there are other benefits.
Soups, sauces and stews cook more evenly in the microwave than on the stove. And since the bottom of the pan never burns, you don't need to dilute the stew with water to protect it from the intense heat.
Both of the following stews are cooked in layers, so you must not stir them but rather use special techniques to redistribute the heat.
For Polish Stew, use a reduced (MEDIUM) power level to "temper" the stew until it is evenly heated. Finish it quickly at HIGH power.
This stew is an adaptation of hunters' stew, traditionally made with kielbasa, a Polish sausage. You can also use smoked sausage, which is similar in size and often less expensive; but if you do so, increase the garlic. Chunks of sweet apple balance the sharpness of the sauerkraut in this recipe.
For Hamburger-and-Sausage Stew, make flat meat patties instead of plump meatballs to ensure that the patties in the center of the dish are cooked through. Hamburger-and-Sausage Stew is also cooked at a slightly reduced (MEDIUM HIGH) power level then finished at HIGH.
I discovered Hamburger-and-Sausage Stew when judging a microwave cooking contest several years ago. I liked it because it is made from plain ingredients, yet the combination of meats is unusual.
Stews, which usually are assembled in large amounts, microwave best in mid-size to full-size ovens. If the oven is wide but short, try to select a cooking dish that is shallow and wide rather than one that is deep and narrow.
POLISH SAUSAGE STEW
3 strips bacon, chopped
4 cups drained sauerkraut
1 pound Polish sausage, sliced diagonally 1-inch thick
1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 cups chopped, peeled apple
1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound tomatoes, cored and chopped
In small glass bowl, microwave bacon at HIGH (100% power) 2 1/2 to 4 minutes, until pieces are crisp and brown.
In 3-quart microwave casserole make layer using half of sauerkraut. Top with Polish sausage (arranging any larger pieces toward outside edges of dish), mushrooms and apple. Sprinkle apple layer with sage. Top with remaining sauerkraut, then onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes. Sprinkle bacon over top and, if desired, drizzle bacon fat over top. Cover and microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 30 to 35 minutes, until stew is evenly warm. Microwave at HIGH 15 to 18 more minutes, until hot and steamy.
Stew will settle to about 2/3 original size. Because of large volume, stew can stand 15 minutes or more without losing heat. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: If smoked sausage is used instead of kielbasa, increase garlic to 1 teaspoon.
1 pound lean ground beef
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup water
1 pound partially cooked or brown-and-serve sausage links
1/2 pound shredded or sliced Cheddar cheese
With hands, shape ground beef into 12 small, thin patties. In 2-quart microwave casserole, layer 1/2 each of beef patties, potatoes, carrots and onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 of salt, pepper and thyme. Repeat with remaining beef patties and layer remaining vegetables on top (patties should be completely covered with vegetables to prevent overcooking).
Add water then sprinkle top with remaining salt, pepper and thyme. Press layers down into casserole. Cover and microwave at MEDIUM HIGH (70% power) 20 to 25 minutes, until hot and almost cooked. Vegetables should be tender-crisp and most of meat patties should be brown.
Arrange sausage links, spoke fashion, on top. Microwave uncovered at HIGH (100% power) 8 to 10 minutes, until sausages are fully cooked. Sprinkle with cheese and microwave at HIGH about 1 minute longer, just until cheese starts to melt. Makes 6 to 8 servings.