Just in time for the holidays, I've learned a new cooking tip from a friend--cookbook author and microwave specialist Barbara Harris of Portland.
To quickly bone a chicken breast, she said, microwave it at High (100% power) just until it's slightly warm, about 30 seconds. This softens the chicken so that it is more easily released from the bone.
I tried this with four bone-in chicken breasts, cooking them for one to two minutes before boning; it works. It doesn't matter if you remove the skin before microwaving or not. Since bone-in chicken breasts usually are a better buy than boned breasts, this is a valuable tip.
Once the breasts are boned, try one of the spicy recipes below for memorable entertaining. And don't forget the other ways the microwave can add convenience to holiday cooking.
The Scorch-Free Way
Use it for melting chocolate for candy and baked items. Choose it for cooking traditional holiday sauces and gravies the scorch-free microwave way. Make cranberry and other fruit relish in the microwave. Or try this suggestion:
--Many festive warm drinks start with apple cider and can be microwaved one or two at a time. Add a dash of rum to a cup of hot cider, top with a pat of butter and dash of nutmeg to make hot buttered rum, or stir in orange juice, cinnamon, apple slices and, if desired, some brandy or whiskey to make wassail.
CHICKEN BREASTS DIABLE
1 1/2 cups soft whole-wheat bread cubes, 3 slices
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
1/4 cup spicy brown or Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Hot cooked rice
Place bread cubes in 1-quart shallow microwave casserole or shallow microwave pie plate. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 to 4 minutes, stirring every minute. When finished, most cubes should be dry and firm. Process in blender or food processor or place in plastic bag and crush with rolling pin into fine crumbs.
Arrange chicken in even layer in 12x8-inch oblong microwave dish. Stir together mustard, wine, lemon juice, Worcestershire, garlic and cayenne pepper in medium mixing bowl. Mix until smooth, then pour evenly over chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap, venting at one corner.
Microwave at HIGH 7 to 10 minutes, rotating dish, if necessary, after 3 minutes. When done, chicken will look white throughout with no trace of pink. Spoon 2 or 3 tablespoons sauce over reserved crumbs and, with fingers, rub mixture to moisten evenly. Sprinkle moistened crumbs over chicken breasts, then spoon some additional sauce over them just before serving. Serve with rice. Makes 4 servings.
For this party-sized recipe, you can make the tomato sauce ahead of time. At the last minute, reheat it, then combine with the meat and tortellini.
SPICY CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE TORTELLINI
1 cup chopped onions
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut in chunks
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound sweet Italian sausage links
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
1 pound tortellini
Grated Parmesan cheese
Place onions in 3-quart microwave casserole. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 5 to 8 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes, until wilted and translucent. Add tomatoes and stir.
Stir together 1/4 cup olive oil, flour, basil, oregano, garlic, pepper flakes, pepper, salt and sugar in small bowl. Pour mixture over tomatoes and onions and stir well. Cover and microwave at HIGH 12 to 16 minutes, stirring after 6 minutes, until thickened. Set aside.
Place sausages in 1 1/2-quart microwave dish. Cover with plastic wrap, venting one corner. Microwave at HIGH 10 to 14 minutes, rearranging after 5 minutes, until firm and cooked through. Cool briefly, then slice links crosswise into half-inch pieces.
Cut chicken into bite-size chunks with scissors or sharp knife. Discard any sausage drippings and place chicken on same plate as sausages. Microwave at HIGH 6 to 9 minutes, stirring to redistribute every 3 minutes, until all traces of pink disappear. Add chicken, juices and sausage slices to tomato sauce. If necessary reheat at HIGH until sauce is hot.
Measure 2 quarts water in 3-quart microwave casserole. Cover and microwave at HIGH 12 to 16 minutes, until boiling. (Begin with hottest tap water to shorten time.) Add tortellini and continue microwaving, covered, at HIGH until tender, about 8 to 15 minutes. Stir after about half of time and, to prevent boiling over, remove cover after water returns to boil.
Drain well and toss with olive oil or butter. Serve chicken and sausage over tortellini and sprinkle with Parmesan. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Note: With microwaving there is no danger of pasta sticking to pan, use about 1/2 as much water as when boiling conventionally. Before cooking, check package directions and generally follow boiling time given on package. Fresh pasta takes about 1/2 the time as dry, packaged imported tortellini.