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Microwave . . .

A Solid Old Favorite With Flair

January 21, 1988|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

Although people don't eat heavy meat and potato meals as frequently as they used to, they still enjoy the combination--even if it's only as hamburger and fries at a fast food stop.

Serving a hearty beef sauce over a steaming baked potato is an easy way to serve meat and potatoes, and it is surely more nutritious than a burger and fries. If you make the sauce ahead, the dish gets to the table in minutes. A single potato, microwaved whole, cooks in one-tenth the time it takes to bake conventionally.

It's interesting to note that many people still ask questions about microwaving potatoes. Some folks have trouble adjusting to microwaved potatoes, especially after years of baking them conventionally. They say it's hard to get used to the potato's softer skin. Also, some have suggested that microwaved potatoes are moister on the inside than baked potatoes are. (I believe the moisture has more to do with the variety and age of the potato than to the cooking method.)

If you cook more than one potato, be sure they're similar in shape and size. Round potatoes cook more evenly than long thin ones. After scrubbing and piercing, arrange them evenly in a circle on paper towels in the microwave. Allowing about three minutes per potato, microwave about half the total time, then turn them over and rearrange before finishing. If, after the total time, you feel they're not quite done, continue cooking just until the insides of the potatoes are no longer firm. Remember that the wattage of the oven as well as size of potatoes controls the cooking time. Low-wattage ovens can take 4 or 5 minutes per potato or more.

To be sure the insides complete cooking, some microwave authorities recommend you wrap each potato individually in foil after they are removed from the oven. Or you can place the finished potatoes under a domed lid or an overturned bowl for a short standing period. Any of these covering methods keep the steam around the potatoes. The steam helps soften the potato.

SAUCY BEEFSTEAK-TOPPED POTATOES

1 pound flank steak or top sirloin

1 1/4 cups thinly sliced onions

3 cups strong beef broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 medium green pepper, cut into thin strips (slice long strips crosswise)

1 (2-ounce) jar sliced pimiento, undrained

4 medium potatoes (about 6 ounces each), scrubbed and pierced several times with fork

Partially freeze flank steak for easier slicing. Slice meat across grain into very thin strips.

Place steak strips and onions in 2-quart microwave casserole. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 4 to 7 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, just until meat is no longer pink and onions are almost tender.

Meanwhile, combine beef broth, soy sauce, garlic, sugar, black pepper and cornstarch in 1 1/2-quart measuring cup until no lumps remain. Add broth mixture to meat, cover and microwave at HIGH 8 to 11 minutes, whisking every 3 minutes until sauce thickens and becomes clear. (Move beef strips to one side while whisking sauce.) Stir well, then add green pepper and pimento. Cover and let stand while microwaving potatoes.

Arrange potatoes side by side in microwave on paper towels (towels absorb moisture from bottom of potatoes). Microwave at HIGH 12 to 15 minutes, turning over and reversing potato positions after 6 minutes, until potatoes feel soft in all areas. Remove from oven, cut open and fill generously with steak mixture. Serve additional steak mixture on side. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If sauce is made ahead, reserve some or all green pepper strips to add to reheated sauce before serving. Green pepper loses bright color with heating and storing.

TACO-TOPPED POTATOES

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup taco sauce (or 1 cup tomato sauce plus 2 ounces chopped green chiles)

4 medium potatoes (about 6 ounces each), scrubbed and pierced several times with fork

1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

Diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and additional shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Place ground beef and onion in 2-quart microwave casserole. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 5 to 8 minutes, stirring to break up beef every 2 minutes, until beef is no longer pink and onion is tender. Drain off fat. Stir taco sauce into meat. Cover and let stand while microwaving potatoes.

Arrange potatoes side by side in microwave on paper towel (towel absorbs moisture from bottom of potatoes). Microwave at HIGH 12 to 15 minutes, turning over and reversing potato positions after 6 minutes, until potatoes feel soft in all areas. Remove from oven, cut open and spoon cheese and sour cream over each potato. Divide meat sauce over tops, then garnish with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and more cheese as desired. Makes 4 servings.

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