Somewhere between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, I realized that I was using the microwave oven for three things: reheating mugs of tea, scalding milk for béchamel, and I forget the third thing. This realization came at about the same time as my decision to stop zapping tea. There’s nothing wrong with reheating tea in a microwave, I suppose; but (long story short) I was tired of having to turn off the dishwasher every time I refilled my mug. Since the dishwasher is almost always on (its cycle can run for as long as two hours), and I am almost always refilling my mug — and because it wasn’t exactly unusual for me to forget to turn the dishwasher back on — you can see how the conflict got to be tiresome.
I bought a stainless steel kettle at Feldman’s and kept it on a flame tamer over the stove’s lowest setting. (Now I pour steeped tea directly into it, without troubling a fréquentable teapot.) As for the milk-scalding, I also bought, and also at Feldman’s, a stainless steel pan that is really an overgrown measuring cup. It holds a pint, but although it is honest it is not substantial: scalding milk is what it seems to have been designed to do.
Now that I didn’t need the microwave oven for anything (except that third thing, which I couldn’t remember), I woke up to the fact that there are toaster ovens so big that they are not toaster ovens anymore, but real ovens. And I really needed a second conventional oven. I was probably never going to have a second wall-mounted oven in this kitchen, but now I saw my way around that.
Why doI need a second oven? To serve dinner rolls alongside a roast chicken. To serve a savory soufflé before a roast chicken. To bake frozen croissants for breakfast, at 350º, while cooking bacon in the best of all possible ways, in a 400º oven. The list is not endless, or even particularly long, but if I was tired of forgetting to turn the dishwasher back on after reheating a mug of tea, I was a hundred times more tired of not being able to plan certain menus because I had only one oven.
Early in life, I was told that gas ovens (such as the one built into my kitchen wall) are best for roasting meat, and that electric ovens are preferred for baking breads and cakes. Whether this is true or not, I think it’s true. Even so, I’ll probably continue to bake banana bread in the gas oven. It’s cheaper, for one thing; we pay for electricity but not for gas. And even if we paid for gas, it would probably still be cheaper. But after I’d replaced the microwave with the unit shown above, yesterday afternoon, a loaf of banana bread seemed to be the perfect choice for a shakedown cruise. Truth to tell, I was quite a bit more surprised that the oven worked, and that the banana bread tasted as good as it did, than I was that my grandson was born with all his fingers and toes &c the day before. Thjs may be because I was far more directly involved with the installation of the new oven.
The microwave oven turned out to be a never-entirely-satisfactory convenience. Like many cooks of my vintage, I gave Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet a college try, going so far as to buy one of those peculiar porcelain platters with metal studs that were supposed to facilitate the browning of meat (wasn’t that what they were for?). For six months or so, I had a crush on the idea of baking potatoes in eleven minutes. Most seriously, I made extensive use, over several years, of Bread in Half the Time.
But now that I don’t spend so much time in the kitchen, I’m less interested in saving time when I do. The mircrowave oven may be an appliance with a great future, but for the moment I’m going to store it in the past, to be pulled out now and then only for the odd comparison to Twitter, which sometimes seems also to be an appliance that I can’t find a place for.
I would never have gotten rid of the microwave oven just for the sake of it. But I’m pleased by the residual buzz of having disposed of the object of Julia Child’s sweetly disingenuous dismissal:
Microwaving. I wouldn’t be without my microwave oven, but I rarely use it for real cooking. I like having complete control over my food — I want to turn it, smell it, poke it, stir it about, and hover over its every state. Although the microwave does not let me participate fully, I do love it for rewarming, defrosting, and sometimes for starting up or finishing off. However, I know how popular microwave ovens have become and that many people adore them. I’m delighted to see, therefore, a growing number of excellent books on the subject available in supermarkets and bookstores.
The third thing was nachos. Which I need like a hole in the head. Something tells me that the new oven is going to make much better ones.