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Death to the Microwave

I remember the first time I saw a microwave. It was probably 1984.

My Uncle Boatie, my mother’s brother, had just bought one for my grandparents. The other adults were skeptical, but he, the early adopter, was enthusiastic. He offered to cook dinner that night and promised to have it done in a fraction of the time.

My brother and I served as his eager assistants. I was 12 and my brother was nine or ten, the perfect ages to excitedly embrace the new.

Armed with a shiny new microwave and the handy, accompanying cookbook the three of us set to make dinner in record time. I don’t remember what we made exactly. I do remember that my grandparents were roast beef and rice with gravy types. So at the very least the meal consisted of meat, starch, and vegetable. What I do remember is that it was inedible. Have you ever cooked a roast in a microwave? No, of course you haven't. You want to know why? Because it's a terrible idea. Boiling it would have been preferable, both to the meat and those of us doomed to dine on it. Gray and tough, it would have been kinder to serve shoe leather.

I distinctly remember the bread . I’m pretty sure we tried to make crescent rolls. You now crescent rolls, right? That can with the Pillsbury Dough Boy on it? You pop it on the counter and out comes this soft, pillowy dough with the perforated tear points that make perfect little triangles. You roll them up towards the point and then curve them in slightly. In the oven they bake up beautifully, nice and brown and flaky. It's the perfect cheat bread. If you've never made real bread before you could easily be convinced that making perfect bread and rolls was a snap.

These did not brown. For browning is something a microwave just can't do. But of course, we didn't know that yet. So we kept adding time thinking that they just needed a few more seconds to brown up perfectly. We overcooked them and ended up with crescent shaped blobs of dried plaster.

I’ve never tried to cook a meal in a microwave since. Sure, I’ve heated stuff up. I’ve defrosted things and ended up with a half cooked half frozen mess. I’ve blown stuff up and even sent a shower of sparks because I forgot that particular coffee mug had gold painted embellishments or that container still had a bit of foil clinging to it. In the end, though, I just think they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

I know David Chang makes full use of his and bully for him. I’m still not sure what I think of David. Like most career chefs his ego is far too out sized for what he does. Yes, he makes good food and I will be forever grateful for him teaching me how to make true ramen but that is tempered by once seeing him pout after not being recognized when he delivered a random Domino’s pizza. Seriously, David? Get a grip, Dude.

When we recently renovated our kitchen I was all too happy to trade the over the range microwave for a functioning fume hood. I’m happy to hear that the over the range is no longer in vogue and may even be considered now against code. It was a stupid idea only fit for kitchens where no actual cooking was going to take place. With the microwave gone the space over my range has opened up. I have room to work which is something that every kitchen needs.

Of course we still have a microwave. Two of them, in fact. Nana keeps one in her bedroom and my daughter, Thalia keeps one upstairs in hers. That's fine. As long as it's not taking up space in my kitchen, I don't care.

How do I re-heat stuff? I use the stove or the oven. It just takes a few more minutes, maybe a touch of oil or a splash of water, but I feel I have more control and don't have to worry about scorching my mouth on one bite and hitting ice on the second.

The Best Use of Leftovers Omelet

Samantha and I have two very different approaches to the empty space in our refrigerator. I don't like empty space. I feel best when the fridge is full and I know we have plenty of food on hand. A full fridge stresses Sam out. Not having space to put stuff gets to her and creates anxiety.

This omelet soothes both our needs, making use of the food I've so faithfully stored for later and making room for new food. How this omelet works for you depends entirely on what you've got. The one featured above was a mix of venison, kale, chicken, zucchini, peppers, onion, roasted beets, and smoked Gouda.

The simplest way to put this is take stock of what you've got on hand that's appropriate for an omelet. For me that's some kind of protein, various veggies, and cheese. Hey, you want to make an omelet with leftover spaghetti? It may not be my bag, but you do you.

Generally, the meat I have on hand is usually already cooked, often so are many of the veggies, but I start with what's not cooked and move from there. In this instance, I sauteed some onions with sliced peppers left over from the previous night's charcuterie board. The zucchini was a raw quarter Thalia had left from some dish she had made earlier in the week. I sliced that thin and added it to the skillet. Once that had cooked down a bit I added the roasted beets to warm them through. And yes, they did turn everything red but since it was all going inside an omelet I didn't really care. Finally, I added the venison and kale, left over from a previous dinner, and some cut up chicken thigh, also left over, There wasn't enough venison to satisfy my own personal idea of adequate protein so the chicken rounded it out. At the very end I hit it all with a splash of rice wine vinegar, to add a bit of acidity.

For the omelet I lightly scrambled 3 eggs with a pinch of salt. For Christmas two years ago Samantha bought me a pair of high carbon steel French saute pans. It was a peace offering over a long standing feud we'd held over a particular omelet pan. And it worked. I love these pans and keep them reserved for my more delicate work. If the cast iron skillet is my 1976 Chevy truck, then these pans are Aston Martins from the 1960s. They're light and fast, but completely devoid of any of the upgrades that James Bond used to make the Aston Martins famous. No smoke screens or hidden machine guns. Just a fast, light, and very agile pan.

Into that classic sports car of a saute pan I tossed a small knob of clarified butter. I like cooking with clarified butter over regular butter because removing the milk solids raises the smoke point. That's a fancy way of saying it doesn't burn as quickly. Because this pan distributes heat so well I kept the burner set at med-low. Once the butter melted I added the eggs to the pan and gave it a good swirl.

There has been much written about eggs and their proper cooking. I am by no means an expert, but I'm fairly happy with what I cook so here is my method: keep the pan moving. I don't really like to use a spatula to break up the eggs as they cook. I find that makes for lumpy omelets. I prefer to keep a good control on the heat, mainly by taking the pan away from the fire as needed. I shake the pan constantly allowing the eggs to set but not stick to the pan. Once the omelet is about three quarters of the way set I add my filling. Spoon in on one half of the omelet whatever concoction you've come up with. Over this I will layer some sliced cheese of little crumbles of soft goat cheese.

I fold the omelet as I slide it onto the plate. And, no, it is not completely set. I find the heat of the filling helps complete that and besides, I like my eggs just a little runny. Now is the time to add fresh cracked, black pepper, if you're into that sort of thing - which I certainly am. I don't like adding black pepper early in a dish's cooking. There's a certain point where the heat turns the pepper bitter, so I just wait and add it at the end. To make your omelet extra fancy hit it with some chopped scallion or a mince of some fresh parsley. Yeah, that's the good stuff.

My go to breakfast bread is a bagel. I like an Everything bagel split and toasted dry on the griddle. Personally, I like a nice dark toast on one side. You get get this perfectly crunchy toasted bite that gives way to soft bready bagel. It's the best of both worlds without two much of either.

The garnish in the photo is red and orange bell pepper that's been fried in olive oil and then put up in a jar for just such an occasion. Once I'm done telling you about all the things I use in my kitchen I promise to talk about the pantry items I keep and make. I just started making these fried peppers and, Dude, these are keepers.

Enjoy. I'll see you next week.

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