Most cooks yearn to use their microwave ovens creatively, but few are willing to attempt fussy recipes that require constant prodding and poking.
The microwave, they say, is supposed to make things quicker, easier, to help put a meal on the table fast. Fair enough. But what many cooks forget is that their microwave ovens are also superlative slow cookers.
Most stews and Swiss steaks only cook 30% to 50% faster in a microwave than they do on top of the stove or in a conventional oven. But they won't stick or scorch and need little attention. And that's good news to any cook.
Don't try to hurry either of the following recipes by using full power for the full time. If the steak and stew meat are to be succulent and so tender you can cut them with a fork, you must cook them slowly--even in the microwave. For only long exposure to moist heat magically converts tough sinew to tender gelatin.
BEEF AND VEGETABLE STEW
2 pounds boned beef chuck, cut in 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups beef broth or water, or 1 cup each
1 bay leaf
1 cup frozen small white onions (do not thaw)
1/2 pound medium carrots, peeled, halved and cut in 1-inch chunks
1/2 pound small white turnips, peeled and quartered
Dredge beef in mixture of flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Arrange in single layer in 4-quart casserole and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH (100% power) 5 minutes to seal in juices.
Add broth, remaining salt and pepper and bay leaf. Cover and microwave on HIGH 9 to 10 minutes, stirring at half time, until broth boils. Reduce power to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave, covered, 30 minutes.
Stir, then sprinkle onions, carrots and turnips evenly over stew, pushing down into liquid. Cover and microwave on MEDIUM 20 to 30 minutes, stirring at half time, until beef and vegetables are tender. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SWISS STEAK WITH VEGETABLES
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 to 3 pounds semi-boneless or boneless chuck steak, cut 1 1/2-inches thick
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 medium stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 1/2 cups beef broth or water blended with 3 tablespoons tomato paste
Mix flour with salt and pepper to taste and pound evenly into both sides of steak.
Place steak flat in 4-quart casserole, top with onion, carrots and celery and pour in broth mixture. Cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 18 to 20 minutes, rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until liquid boils.
Reduce power to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave, covered, 55 to 60 minutes, turning steak over and rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until steak is tender. Test for doneness in 2 to 3 places.
Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Lift steak to heated platter and top with vegetables. Skim fat from gravy. Season gravy with salt to taste. Spoon some gravy over meat and vegetables and pass remaining. Makes 6 servings.
Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times by about 15%.