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Safely Microwave Quick and Easy Meals
Fast Family Dinners for the Rush Hour

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12-Minute Sombrero Supper
Quick Chicken Nuggets

(Family Features) - It's that frantic time of day - after work, after school, after day care, and after sports events - when you have to get dinner on the table. Overwhelming! It's more than enough to drive you to the fast food lane.

But relax! You own a microwave oven! In mere minutes, you can zap a nutritious, home-cooked, family-friendly dinner - even if the meat is still in the freezer when you get home.

The microwave oven has been called one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Over 90 percent of homes in America have at least one. In fact, if you have ever been without one for a few days, you find out just how much you rely on it. But most folks are using theirs only for reheating leftovers, defrosting food or making popcorn.

Loyalists testify that the microwave is great for cooking ground meats, poultry, and vegetables - three items that can make a fast, family dinner. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would like to add "safe" to that. Microwave ovens cook food to temperatures hot enough to kill bacteria, but they can cook food unevenly and leave "cold spots" where harmful bacteria survive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not cooking food to high enough temperatures to destroy bacteria is one of the top two causes of foodborne illness. For this reason, it is important to use a food thermometer to verify that foods reach USDA-recommended temperatures.

Know the wattage of your microwave

It's important to know the wattage of your oven when using cooking directions from various sources. Microwave ovens vary in wattage, and the higher the wattage of a microwave oven, the faster it will cook food.

If you don't know the wattage of your microwave oven, try looking inside the door, on the back of the oven, or in the owner's manual. If you can't find it, read the publication "Microwave Ovens and Food Safety" at www.fsis.usda.gov to learn how to use a "Time-to-Boil" test to estimate your oven's wattage. This publication also tells how to determine if a utensil is safe to use in a microwave oven.

Microwave frozen convenience foods until safely cooked

In addition to microwaving home-cooked foods safely, it's also very important to follow handling and cooking instructions on frozen convenience foods. Some frozen foods, such as breaded chicken cutlets, can look fully cooked. However, many people have gotten sick from such products that were undercooked. Just thawing them in the microwave isn't enough to make them safe. You must microwave such foods to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F to be safely cooked.

Microwave Safety Tips

Following the USDA's microwave recommendations will help you get dinner prepared speedily but safely.

  • Know your microwave's wattage.

  • Before freezing a package of ground beef, form it in a donut shape to thaw faster.

  • Remove frozen meat and poultry from packaging before thawing to avoid chemical contamination. Transfer the frozen meat or poultry to a microwave-safe dish.

  • Remove thawed portions of ground meat and transfer them to a plate; return frozen portion to the microwave for additional defrosting.

  • When thawing chicken parts, break them apart as they defrost and rotate them in the dish so that the frozen areas are to the outside of the dish.

  • Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave defrosting because some areas of the frozen food may get warm or begin to cook during the defrosting time. Do not hold partially cooked food to use later.

  • To remove fat from ground beef, crumble the meat into a hard-plastic colander set over a microwave-safe casserole. After microwaving, discard the fat that has drained into the casserole.

  • Cover food to create steam that helps destroy harmful bacteria.

  • Follow package directions to make sure all foods reach safe internal temperatures. Sometimes frozen foods look fully cooked, but they actually require cooking to be safe.

  • Microwave foods to safe minimum internal temperatures as measured with a food thermometer (165°F for poultry; 160°F for ground meats).

  • After microwaving, allow the food to rest so cooking is completed.

  • Use cooked meat and poultry within 4 days. Leftovers may be frozen.

Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

12-Minute Sombrero Supper

Ingredients
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • 1 (1.25-ounce) taco seasoning packet
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • Round tortilla chips
  • 1 cup shredded cheese

Preparation
    1. Crumble ground beef into a hard plastic colander set over a 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave on high 3 minutes. Stir to break up beef and scatter bell pepper over the top. Microwave on high 3 minutes.
    2. Discard fat that has drained into casserole dish, and transfer meat mixture into same casserole. Stir in taco seasoning and tomato sauce. Cover and microwave on high 3 minutes. Stir and add kidney beans. Re-cover and microwave on high 3 minutes. Test meat mixture with a food thermometer to make sure it reaches 160°F. Let mixture rest 2 minutes before serving.
    3. Two ways to serve: (1) Transfer meat mixture to the center of a large platter; or (2) divide the meat mixture among 4 individual plates. Surround the meat mixture with tortilla chips to resemble a hat brim. Scatter cheese over the meat mixture to resemble a straw hat, and serve hot.

Serves
Makes 4 servings

Notes, Tips & Suggestions
Tested in an 800-watt microwave oven

Serving suggestion: To make a complete meal, accompany the dish with a salad and a green vegetable.

Quick Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 cup dry herb stuffing
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dry basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Preparation
    1. Cut chicken into bite-size chunks. Place butter or margarine in a glass pie plate and microwave on high 1 minute, or until melted.
    2. Put dry stuffing on a piece of wax paper and crush with a rolling pin. Add cheese, basil and thyme; mix. Dip chicken chunks into melted butter and then roll in stuffing mixture.
    3. Arrange coated chicken in a single layer in a 2-quart rectangular glass dish. Cover with wax paper and microwave on high 3 minutes.
    4. Using a fork, move less-done chicken to the edges of the dish. Re-cover and microwave on high 3 to 4 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Let stand 2 minutes before serving.

Serves
Makes 4 to 6 servings

Notes, Tips & Suggestions
Tested in an 800-watt microwave oven

Serving suggestion: To make a complete meal, accompany the dish with side dishes of rice or potatoes and a green vegetable.

SOURCE: USDA



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