Introduction: How to Cook an Impressive Meal
...without even using a stove.
Make this colorful meal with a microwave oven and a counter-top electric grill. Impress and flatter the vegetarian in your life, with a hearty grilled mushroom, alongside steamed asparagus and saffron rice. Or substitute a chicken breast, for a more conventional meal.
These instructions are suitable for those who don't cook at all, but would like to make a nice meal for someone. This meal would be good for a first at-home date. It is not gourmet food, but it will impress a new girlfriend, especially if you make the mushroom option for a vegetarian. This meal will NOT impress corporate executives, foreign dignitaries, or your mother in-law.
As a vegetarian for health reasons, I have often found that non-vegetarians are confused and befuddled when it comes to cooking without meat. This recipe works great with giant mushrooms or with regular old chicken, and anybody can cook it, even if you've never cooked anything before in your life
Note: Most of the people I know who call themselves vegetarians will eat eggs and dairy products, but some won't. Vegan usually refers to a more strict diet, where the person will not eat anything even remotely animal-related, which means no milk, no cheese, no whey, no eggs, sometimes even no honey. Also, many vegetarians and vegans will not eat vegetables prepared in a pan that was used to cook meat.
Before you cook for someone who says they are a vegetarian or a vegan, make sure of that individual person's rules. Don't be embarrassed to ask. They will be flattered that you took the time to ask, and if you successfully cook for them, they will definitely be impressed at your effort. Trust me, you don't want to work hard on a meal and find out that the person you made it for can't eat it.
Step 1: Get Ready
Clean your kitchen, empty out your sink, and make sure that all of the bowls and knives and spoons you will need are clean and ready.
Large microwave safe bowl (2 liter)
Medium microwave safe bowl (1.5 liter)
Large microwave safe plate (or lid for the large bowl)
Medium microwave safe plate (or lid for the medium bowl)
Large mixing bowl (2 liter)
Measuring cup(s) for liquids
One large resealable bag (gallon)
Make sure you have all of the ingredients:
One fresh red bell pepper
One package of saffron rice (brand doesn't matter)
2 tbsp (tablespoons) Margarine
One bunch of fresh asparagus
Two skinless chicken breasts
OR Two giant mushrooms
Â½ cup of plain bread crumbs
3 tbsp (tablespoon) of parmesan cheese
1 tsp (teaspoon) of poultry seasoning
Â½ tsp (teaspoon) of paprika
One can of pineapple chunks
One can of mandarin oranges
Fresh seedless red grapes
Choosing peppers: Get the darkest red pepper you can find. You want a firm pepper with a fresh looking stem. Don't get it if it has any soft spots or mold. Check the end of the pepper because often that's the first part that gets moldy.
Choosing asparagus: If you have a choice, pick the slenderest stalks, because they will be more tender. Don't buy moldy or rubbery asparagus. It should be firm and clean, and the buds at the tip should not look like flowers; they should be closed up tight.
Choosing mushrooms: Make sure to get smooth mushrooms, they should not be wrinkly on the top, nor should they look dried out. If you can, you should look at the underside of the mushrooms. Keep in mind that fresher mushrooms have lighter colored fins on the bottom. Compare several, and you will probably see a difference. Stale mushrooms will have a dusky black underside, and the fins will be damaged and crumbly. Stay away from slimy or moldy mushrooms.
Choosing grapes: Pick firm grapes, without mold. Green, flexible stems are better than dried out, brown ones. The end of the grape where it joins the vine should not be slimy or discolored.
If you're using frozen chicken breast, put it in the refrigerator the night before you're going to cook it, so it can defrost completely. (Don't ever defrost chicken outside of the fridge, because it can go bad very quickly, and you won't know it until you're sick from it. That's not the kind of impressive meal you want to be remembered for.)
Step 2: Saffron Rice
Put the canned fruit and fresh grapes in the refrigerator before you start this step.
This delicious rice is great for people who don't cook because the seasoning is already included. My grocery store had two kinds, the brand you choose doesn't matter. (Important Note: Double check to make sure the ingredients in any prepackaged foods are totally vegetarian.)
Read the package, and put the required amount of HOT water into a medium sized microwave safe bowl.
Pour in the contents of the rice package.
Add 1 tbsp (tablespoon) of margarine. (If you're using margarine sticks, they are marked with lines at each tablespoon, just cut off one section, as shown in the photo.)
Cover the bowl with a lid or a medium sized microwave safe plate. I don't have special lids, so I use plates. Be careful when removing the lid because boiling hot steam is going to come out. Always use a heat-resistant pad or oven mitt.
Microwave on HIGH for three minutes. Then, turn the power down to MEDIUM and microwave for another 13 minutes, then add the peppers from step three and cook for four more minutes. If your package of rice has different cooking times, you can follow them instead of these. Just put the peppers in four minutes before the rice is done.
You can see the cooking process in the photos. No matter what brand of rice you prepare, it should look very similar when it's cooked. After the peppers have been added, it's finished cooking and you take it out of the microwave, leave the lid on, and just set it aside while you finish preparing the other items.
Go to step three, and prepare the red pepper as soon as you start the rice cooking.
Step 3: Red Bell Pepper
Wash the pepper.
Using a sharp knife, cut a circle around the stem.
Cut a straight line from the circle, down the outside of each lobe of the pepper, until the cuts meet at the bottom point, as shown in the photos.
Pull the pepper apart gently. The stem and seeds should mostly just fall right out. Remove any remaining stem and seeds from the inside of the pepper.
Slice up two thirds of the pepper, very thinly. Then cut the slices crosswise, to make small pieces. Put these into the rice when there is four minutes left for it to cook. Just put the pepper right on top of the rice, you don't even have to stir it or anything.
The last photo in this series shows the cooked peppers on top of the rice. At this point, just cover the dish and set it aside.
Slice up the remaining third of the pepper into thicker slices. Then, cut them in half, so they are small enough to eat with a fork, but large enough to eat with your fingers if you prefer. Put these pieces into the fridge, to chill.
Step 4: Asparagus
Wash the asparagus, leaving the bands on.
Cut off the bottom third of the asparagus, and discard it.
Remove the bands and wash the asparagus tips again.
Gently arrange the spears in a large microwave safe bowl. Be careful not to break them.
Add Â¼ cup of water to the bottom of the bowl. The asparagus will not lie in the water, but the steam will cook it anyway.
Put one tbsp (tablespoon) of margarine in the bowl. You can use real butter, but the recipe will not be vegan friendly anymore.
Cover it with a large microwave safe plate, and set it aside until it's time to cook.
The asparagus should go into the microwave four minutes before the last item will be done, so it will be hot when it is served. Cooking it for only four minutes, leaves it crisp and fresh tasting. There is no better way to cook asparagus than in the microwave. Steaming it on a conventional stove leaches away the flavor.
This is the best asparagus you will ever taste.
Step 5: Bread Crumb Mixture
This bread crumb and parmesan mixture will help keep your chicken or mushrooms moist and yummy.
In a large resealable bag, shake together:
Â½ cup of bread crumbs
3 tbsp (tablespoons) of parmesan cheese
1 tsp (teaspoon) of poultry seasoning
Â½ tsp (teaspoon) of paprika
Step 6: OR Chicken
Wash the chicken breasts with clean water in the sink. Afterward, clean the area with soap and water, to prevent salmonella from spreading around your kitchen.
Put a chicken breast in the bag, seal it up, and roll it around until it's covered with the seasoned bread crumb mixture. Take it out, set it on a plate, and do the same with the second chicken breast.
Plug in the electric grill and wait for it to warm up. Because of the open front and sides of the grill, it's good to move the food around, so it cooks evenly. We're going to move things every three minutes.
After the grill is ready, spoon some of the extra breading onto the grill and spread it out.
Put the breasts on the grill, with the thickest part at the back, as shown in the photos. Close the lid and cook for three minutes.
By the way: Wash the chicken plate thoroughly and dry it before putting anything back on it, including the cooked chicken.
Shift the breast from the back of the grill to the front, close the lid and cook for another three minutes.
Shift the breast from the back to the front again, close the lid and cook for three minutes more.
Put the asparagus in the microwave and cook on HIGH for four minutes.
Turn the breasts around, so the outside edges are on the inside, close the lid and cook for a final three minutes.
Note: This process takes more than twelve minutes, because you don't count the time you spend shifting things around as cooking time.
When you think it's finished, cut into the thickest breast, to make sure they are cooked all the way through. Cooked chicken is not pink, the breast should be white all the way through.
Step 7: OR Mushrooms
Wash the mushrooms thoroughly.
Slice off the stems, so the caps can lay flat in the grill.
Plug in the electric grill and wait for it to warm up.
Put a mushroom in the bag with the seasoned bread crumb mixture and roll it around until it's covered. Take it out, set it on a plate with the stem up, and do the same with the second mushroom.
Put the mushrooms on the grill at the same time, stem side up. Cook for three minutes.
Put the asparagus in the microwave and cook on HIGH for four minutes.
Check to make sure the mushrooms are cooking evenly. Rearrange them if necessary. Cook for three more minutes.
Important Note: Eat the mushrooms while they are still hot. If allowed to cool, they will get soggy and rubbery.
This recipe for mushrooms is VEGETARIAN. If you want to make it totally VEGAN, you will have to leave out the parmesan cheese. You'll probably want to add a strong spice, like garlic or onion to the bread crumb mixture, to make up for the lost flavor. Also, read the ingredients on the margarine, to make sure that it does not have whey in it. Check that your breadcrumbs don't have eggs, milk, or whey in them. AND check the saffron rice to make absolutely sure it doesn't have any surprising ingredients like whey - you never know.
If you have a vegetarian or vegan friend, they will definitely be impressed that you took the time and effort to make them a meal that they can eat without worry. Please don't ever lie to a vegetarian and tell them that something is safe if you don't know for sure.
Step 8: Fruit Mix
Whenever you have time while cooking the other items, take the fruit out from the fridge.
Pour the whole can of pineapple chunks and liquid into a large mixing bowl.
Add the can of mandarin oranges, again including the liquid.
Wash the grapes, pull off a bunch of good ones, and mix them in with the other fruit.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or with a plate and put it in the freezer.
By the time you are done preparing and eating dinner, the fruit will be icy-cold and delicious. If you know it's going to be a long time, put the fruit in the fridge instead, because you don't want it to actually have time to freeze.
I know canned fruit may sound lame, but mixed together like this, it looks beautiful, it's delicious, and it is vegan safe. There is no milk or whey, or any hidden ingredient that can ruin the meal on you. Speaking from experience, vegetarians and vegans like food that they can identify at a glance, and eat without worry.
Step 9: Serving
To impress someone with a meal, you will need to purposefully arrange it so that it is attractive. Don't just dump everything on the plate.
If you really have no idea what to do, follow these instructions and look at the photos:
Mix the red peppers into the rice at the last minute, before serving. Put the yellow and red rice to one side of the plate, with the grilled item.
Then, balance them with the slender green shoots of asparagus to the other side.
Finally, add some pieces of fresh red pepper from the fridge.
Serve immediately, while the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold.
For dessert, serve the chilled fruit in dessert bowls, small juice glasses, or wine glasses as shown in the photo.
This meal would go well with a crisp white wine, with some oomph, like a Pinot Grigio. The asparagus will have a pretty strong flavor, so you'll need something to balance that. But the mushroom or chicken will have a relatively light flavor, and you don't want to overpower it. Also, I find Pinot Grigio goes well with acidic fruit, like the oranges and pineapple. A sweet wine might not match so well.
If you really want to impress someone, cook the meal that you're going to serve for yourself first, and make sure that you like it before you serve it to someone else.