Few gifts are more welcome than those you make yourself. Yet few of us have time to spare, especially at Christmastime, when the days seem to whiz by on fast-forward.
Here's a way to get a jump on the season. Why not use the microwave oven to put up a few glistening jars of marmalade or Lemon Curd? They can be prepared before the holiday madness, then tied up and sprigged with holly at the very last minute.
The great advantage of microwave marmalades is that you don't have to stir a steamy kettle nonstop. No old-time method, moreover, can touch the microwave for producing jewel-bright marmalades with fresh citrus flavor. Best of all, there's little chance of the marmalade's scorching in the microwave. For best results follow these guidelines.
--Follow recipes to the letter. Do not substitute one citrus fruit for another. They are not interchangeable.
--Do not double or triple recipes, great as the temptation may be. If you want more marmalade or Lemon Curd, simply boil up another batch or two. It's a breeze with the microwave.
--Always use the casserole size recommended. For marmalade, it should be at least four times the volume of the ingredients placed into it and about four inches deep to reduce the risk of boil-over. Also monitor the marmalade's progress through the oven door. Sugar molecules attract microwaves, so the marmalade will bubble up furiously.
-- Because sugar mixtures heat unevenly in the microwave, the surest way to determine doneness is to use the old-fashioned sheeting test, which follows in the recipes.
2 large thick-skinned oranges
1 large lemon
1 cup water
3 cups sugar, about
Peel oranges and lemon, trim off inner white membrane so peel is about 3/8-inch thick, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Section fruit, discarding pith and seeds but reserving juice.
Combine peel, juice and fruit in food processor, add 1/2 cup water and process 1 minute until peel is finely chopped. Add remaining 1/2 cup water and measure fruit mixture. For each 1 cup, measure out and reserve 1 cup sugar.
Place fruit mixture in 5-quart microwave-safe casserole at least 4 inches deep, cover with lid or vented plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 8 to 9 minutes, stirring at half time, until mixture boils.
Mix in reserved sugar and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until thick and glistening. Begin testing for doneness after 20 minutes by spooning little of hot marmalade onto large metal spoon, cooling slightly, then tilting. If drops slide together in single sheet, marmalade is done (microwave thermometer will register 218 to 220 degrees).
Using thick pot holders, remove casserole to heat-resistant surface and stir 1 minute. With large metal spoon, quickly skim off foam, stirring marmalade occasionally.
Ladle marmalade at once into hot, sterilized half-pint preserving jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and seal. Cool, check seals, then label and store in cool, dark, dry place. Allow marmalade to mellow several weeks before using. Makes 7 half-pints.
Note: Valencia oranges are recommended for this recipe.
Here's another welcome Christmas gift that is even easier to make. This "cheese" is delicious spread on English muffins or quick breads or used to fill cakes, bite-size cream puffs or tarts. This modern version of the old English classic proves the microwave's efficiency. You don't need a double boiler and you don't have to stand and stir to make the Lemon Curd silky.
2/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
Mix lemon juice, grated zest and sugar in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Add butter, cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 4 1/2 to 5 minutes, whisking after 2 minutes, until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Whisk again.
Beat eggs until frothy and blend in about 1/2 cup hot lemon mixture. Stir back into casserole and whisk well.
Cover with wax paper and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 4 1/2 to 5 minutes, whisking every 2 minutes, until as thick as mayonnaise. Do not boil or mixture will curdle. In ovens of 700 watts or more, check edges of mixture each time before whisking. If edges begin to bubble, reduce power level to MEDIUM-LOW (30% power) for remaining cooking time.
When Lemon Curd is cooked, whisk well and ladle into hot, sterilized half-pint preserving jars. Cover and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Makes about 4 half-pints.
Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.