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Lightening up for Hanukkah (aka Chanukah)

Tonight’s the first night of Chanukah, and not only haven’t I thought of presents, I haven’t thought of dinner. It’s also the night before my kid starts semester finals. So we’re probably going to do something fairly standard for supper and easy on the chef. As we have been all week, really (one of us–wonder whom?–got sick right after Thanksgiving and didn’t feel like getting fancy).

Typical Chanukah fare is known for two things: frying things in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (filled jelly doughnuts), and cheese or sour cream-based dishes. Healthy, no? Once a year, whether you need it or not…

I know, the oil’s a symbol of a miracle and the cheese represents a key military victory, but–oy. Fried foods and rich cheese dishes are a good way to get indigestion. Also enough poundage to start a new battalion. So as they say it would take a miracle and some military strategy to figure out something that fits the bill, tastes like a treat, and doesn’t impose a full-on doughnuts-and-hash-browns diet.

One of those miracles, as I see it, is the invention of Teflon, as in nonstick frying pans. Just being able to use a spoonful of oil instead of half-an-inch for the latkes is a huge improvement.

The other (you’re not surprised) is the invention of the microwave oven. The military strategy comes into it when you combine the two methods to make something brown easily and quickly in a lot less oil than the usual recipe. I’ve managed to do that for fish (fry on both sides first to brown, then nuke between plates to cook the middle gently), onions and mushrooms for omelets (nuke first to wilt, then fry), green beans and broccoli (for Szechuan stir-fries), and larger vegetables like red squash, eggplant or peppers (slice and nuke to cook through, frying optional if you want it to look browned). Any of those things might happen tonight as the frying requirement portion of the meal.

As if being sick weren’t enough, though, last week my microwave died–or at least the control panel did. Two years after I bought it. Not a miracle–as I discovered by looking it up online, Panasonic’s inverter models have had more than a few complaints on this score.

A typical lifespan for a modern 1000+ watt magnetron should be about 2000 hours, or 6 years at about maybe 45 minutes or an hour a day max of microwaving at full power. My other microwaves in the past decade–Sharp, Samsung–have lasted about 3-4 years each, which is also pretty disappointing, but given how aggressively I used them, I wasn’t so surprised. Still, they gave me 3-4 years of high use each. Certainly not two. And it wasn’t clear that it was the magnetron in this case.

The price for a new microwave is just less than the price of repair, not to mention the time without a working microwave oven. So I did something I’m not happy with, because it seems wasteful to just throw out a microwave after two years, and bought a new one from Sears–Sharp, not Panasonic again. About 1.8 cubic feet inside, and 1100 W. And it’s huge on my shrimpy kitchen counter, but at least I can cook bigger items in it than I would have been able to with the dinky models Target had.

Here’s what I learned in a week without a microwave oven:

1. I get a little dysfunctional for a day or so.

2. I can make basmati rice a lot more easily than I thought by the conventional 20-minute method of rinse-rice, bring-to-boil, cover-and-simmer-on-low. It comes out fine, I just have to pay more attention and not walk away.

3. I can make a slab of salmon or other fish almost as well on the stovetop as with my standard “indoor grilling” method (brown on both sides with garlic etc., then stick it between two plates and nuke for 1-2 minutes to cook the middle gently). The nuking part I substituted for by covering the frying pan after browning both sides, and turning the heat down to low or just above low, and it came out really well. But it took 15-20 minutes extra for a pound of fish. If you have the time, it’s fine. But if you’ve got an emergency dinner for your kid and her project partner, and the mother’s picking the other kid up in only 45 minutes, a microwave would be so much nicer.

4. I hate, absolutely hate, heating milk for coffee on the stove. Or  reheating coffee. Or reheating just about anything in a regular stainless steel pan. Not because heating it’s such a pain, but because scrubbing the pot afterward is.

5. You can’t reheat anything quickly on the stove without having to dirty a pan. Microwaving really does save on dishwashing, and it keeps things from scorching on the pans or plates you use.

6. It’s a good thing it’s winter here and cold (for LA, anyhow–60s daytime, 30s-40s nighttime) or I wouldn’t have been able to cope at all. I managed to cook a few things in the oven instead of the nonfunctional microwave last week, but it was a relief to be able to get back to microwaving. Just in time for Chanukah.

Here are a few links to my earlier Chanukah posts (with recipes or at least good-tasting ideas).

Not strictly for Chanukah but probably a good idea:

  • Ganache because chocolate is also clearly a Chanukah food
  • Spinach fritadas (a version with zucchini was listed in a post on Passover, but it works fine with spinach, and with flour instead of matzah meal if you want it for Chanukah)

Sometime this week I have designs on posting a chocolate devil’s food cake in the microwave, which I tried a couple of weeks ago, plus an attempt at sufganiyot, which I haven’t made since my kibbutz days.

Also rye bread–I made a dough Thursday just to try it and didn’t get a chance to bake it until Saturday evening because we had guests (the good part of this week). Because the dough was old it came out a little flatter than ideal, more like a heavy dark ciabatta, but it was crusty, covered in toasted sesame, and still slices and tastes pretty good after a few days. And it isn’t any harder to make than regular bread. I’ll try again with a younger dough, or maybe use a sourdough starter plus some extra yeast and flour, and see what happens.

In the meantime, Happy Chanukah! light the lights, sing the songs, dance around the table and don’t worry like this guy about dreidel being a too-simple game of tops that takes too long to finish. I mean, War and Spit (the card games, not actual war and spit) aren’t exactly for geniuses either, and kids like those.

2 Responses

  1. I used to heat my morning coffee creamer in the microwave. Then I discovered I could passively heat it in my Corelle creamer in hot, hot water set inside of my copper bottom small saucepan while I wait 5 minutes for the French press to ‘percolate’.

    • Makes sense–I’m just not that good that I can handle extra pots and pans in the morning, or really any time of day…hence the kvetch, which was really just about being thrown from whatever routine you’ve gotten down–I hadn’t realized how dependent I’d gotten. It’s good to have more than one strategy for doing things. Now I know I can adapt, it just takes me a day or so plus some strong coffee and stronger language while waiting for it!

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