How to Cook an Impressive Meal




About: I am a former zookeeper. One thing you may not know, zookeepers often have to make their own specialized tools, enclosures and supplies. It's just part of the job, because there aren't really any box store...

...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
Measuring spoons

One large resealable bag (gallon)

Cutting mat
Sharp knife

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

½ cup of plain bread crumbs
3 tbsp (tablespoon) of parmesan cheese
1 tsp (teaspoon) of poultry seasoning
½ 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 ¼ 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:

½ cup of bread crumbs
3 tbsp (tablespoons) of parmesan cheese
1 tsp (teaspoon) of poultry seasoning
½ 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.



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    26 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Fine deliberation out, outstanding credentials. Keep up the superior
    work. You're right! Those are all great ideas. I more than ever like the inspiration
    of the stuffed peppers. Plus, the mushroom is a little plain, so it could
    definitely use sprucing up with garlic & some grated cheese. I am a writer working for best resume writing service. you can check here.

    Mr. Geek

    10 years ago on Introduction

    i wish i new about this 2 years ago! Im 12, and an expert cook for my age. its great for young kids who cant use a stove! Some improvement ideas. you need some sauce, perhaps a can of chicken broth, thickened with baking flour. a great thing to do with that pepper would be to cut it in half, and put the rice in it for stuffed peppers. Through some garlic on that chicken. grated cheddar and mozzarella on that mushroom would be great! other then that great instructable +1!

    15 replies
    texabyteMr. Geek

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Never use caned broth. It's never as good as fresh homemade broth. also, if you cook the rice in the broth It turns out wonderfully.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Homemade broth takes a long time to make and all the ingredients required aren't exactly cheap either :) the instructable seems to be made for the inexperienced and making a broth is probably too much in one go. I'm not disputing your claim about the taste though ;)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Homemade broth or vegetable/chicken stock is very easy and quick to make, it's also almost FREE. All you need are the bones or leftover chicken from a Sunday lunch. You could use any kind of vegetable to make the stock, just break up the vegetables and/or the chicken, put everything into a large saucepan, cover with fresh cold water, season to taste and turn up the heat to simmer. Turn down as soon as it starts to simmer and put on a VERY low heat or it will become cloudy. Leave to heat as you carry on with the rest of your day, topping up the pan as you go. Leave a lid on to cook thoroughly. When finished - a couple of hours minimum - cool stock and remove the bones and bits using a filter like a colander or sieve. That's the base for your stock.
    Be imaginative, live long and prosper!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    There are some very good broths out there. I've never had much luck with making my own broth. Besides, the time and money it takes to make you own isn't worth any discernible difference (for me at least.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The only reason to make your own (and I make my own often) is to use left overs... the paper from the onions, the tops of the carrots, the water from boiling chicken, etc. If you use ingredients you paid for to make it, you are wasting time as well as money.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Well, by time I meant that people often make a stock, then use it to make a soup - only they threw away all of the good veggies that they bought to make the stock, which is extremely wasteful, and they spent time making stock when now they are going to repeat the process when they make the soup.

    Eric95Mr. Geek

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Aw, I envy you! I try to start cooking but I can never find the time! Do you have any tips for a starter? (I'm thirteen)

    Mr. GeekEric95

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    ummm..... as far as tips go, just cook a lot and you will get better, im almost thirteen myself and i can cook just about anything, just keep practicing... and another good thing, though it sounds really lame, is that i watch the cooking channel a lot, so i have a basic knowledge on "how to cook", and what comes next is learning to use flavor to make things actually taste good ;), also, try to find flavors you like, so you always have a back up if your dish tastes bad, i really like garlic on most things, and mint on anything that sweet (mint fudge brownies are the bomb). send me a message if you have want any more advice. Mr. Geek

    rustyjackMr. Geek

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

     Hey Mr. Geek I started out cooking at a young age and i'm now turning 14 soon you remind me of myself. I am really good at using my hands so cooking was great for me. The stuffed pepper idea was great. Im now making sushi soon for my family as a mothers day treat! Can't wait!! Good luck with your future cooking!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I recommend starting with seared meats such as lamb chops, salmon steaks, and most cuts of meat on the "less than hulking" side of the spectrum, moving on to stews and braising, then moving on to eggs (until you can make good eggs, "perfect eggs" are unattainable, as far as I know,), this should give you a stable base.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    {}  When you search for your recipe, use the word Easy or Simple in front and you will get some great recipes.  It also has tips and tricks just like those church cook books.  I'm not a beginner anymore and I still use it for ideas.

    hishealerMr. Geek

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I grill mushrooms like that sometimes, and I put garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese on it.  Yum!

    chriskarrMr. Geek

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Honestly, I thought that what he had in the spoon was garlic, then I read the package it came out of.

    weiblen.cMr. Geek

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You're right! Those are all great ideas. I especially like the idea of the stuffed peppers. Plus, the mushroom is a little plain, so it could definitely use sprucing up with garlic & some grated cheese. Thanks for your feedback. :) CW


    8 years ago on Step 2

    The brand/kind you buy does matter.  I was in a hurry the other day and purchased that other brand of yellow rice (the one you aren't using but is in the picture) without paying attention.  I thought it was just saffron rice, but when I cut the top off I noticed seasoning that was definitely not saffron.  I read the ingredient list and it was made with defatted chicken (I believe that is what it was).  That's a no-go for me as a vegetarian.  READ THE INGREDIENTS!!!

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Wow. Sorry about that oversight. I was pretty sure I did read the ingredients. I'll have to check them again. I have several vegetarian friends and I have eaten that brand in at least two of their homes. They will be very interested to know this. Correction: The brand doesn't matter as long as the ingredients are confirmed vegetarian.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Well thought out, excellent documentation. Keep up the good work.