Microwave saves time in tax season crunch


Last year we used a pricey CPA to do our taxes and turns out he missed a few deductions, so back to the do-it-yourself methods this year. Since I’m a DIY kind of gal anyway, TurboTax was fine by me. The upside is saving money; downside is investing time and experiencing that angst/tension thing that develops between me and my husband in the process. Enter comfort food: the tax time remedy for teeth grinding and number-crunch cursing.

Trying not to resort to lots of takeout food, dinners that consist in large part of dessert, or the old mac-and-cheese fallback, I turned to my microwave. It’s always helped me put together tasty and healthy meals when time is a factor. Here are a few easy recipes to save the day. To avoid messy cleanups (another time waster) cover food with a microwave-safe lid that allows steam to escape during cooking. Remove carefully, as food will be hot. Tax time is dangerous enough without scalding yourself.

Indian pea soup

Thick and rich yet low in fat, this soup is a tasty way to warm up on a cool night. Serve with some chunky bread. Recipe from “Plugged In” by Lora Brody; makes 8 servings.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 1/2 cups dried split peas, rinsed and picked over for pebbles

5 cups chicken, beef or vegetable broth

5 to 10 drops hot sauce, to taste

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place oil in a large microwave-safe bowl. Add onion, garlic and carrots; cover and microwave on high power for 4 minutes. Add cumin, ginger, turmeric, peas and broth; cover again and microwave on high for 15 minutes. Stir; add additional broth or water if mixture is too thick. Microwave on high until peas are soft all the way through but still hold their shape, another 10 to 15 minutes. Season with hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste and serve hot. Soup can be pureed for a smoother consistency.

Snow pea and sesame rice pilaf

This crunchy and savory side can be prepared in 45 minutes or less; you can get a couple of calculations done during the main cooking time or put some meat or fish on the grill. Recipe from Gourmet magazine; makes enough for 2 servings.

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

3 scallions, sliced thin

1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1/3 cup long grain rice (if you have it, brown rice gives extra nutrients)

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted lightly

In a microwave-safe bowl combine the oil, butter, onion, scallions and ginger; microwave mixture at high power for 2 minutes or until onion is softened. Stir in the rice, stirring until it is coated with oil mixture. Add broth; microwave, covered, at high power, for 5 minutes. Microwave mixture at medium or 50 percent power for 12 to 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Uncover pilaf carefully; stir in snow peas. Let pilaf stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then stir in the sesame seeds and serve.

Chicken cacciatore

This is Italian comfort food, but you don’t have to be Italian to love it. Boil some pasta on the stovetop while the chicken cooks in the microwave. This savory dish comes from the “Microwave Cookbook” by Pat Jester; makes 4 servings.

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 medium onion, sliced and separated into rings

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano

3-pound broiler-fryer chicken, cut up (discard backs)

16-ounce jar spaghetti sauce

Hot cooked pasta

Grated Parmesan cheese

In a microwave-safe 12-by-7 baking dish, combine butter, onion, garlic and oregano. Cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave at high power for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring once. Turn chicken pieces over in butter mixture to coat. Arrange chicken, skin down, with meaty pieces toward outside of dish. Spoon spaghetti sauce over chicken, coating completely. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 12 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up and spoon sauce over chicken. Cover with vented plastic wrap again and microwave on high for 12 to 14 minutes or until tender. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta; sprinkle with cheese.

Citrus salmon

This easy entree is quick and flavorful. Be careful not to overcook, or the fish will be tough and dry. Microwave some buttered green peas to accompany the fish, or add a salad. Recipe from “Plugged In” by Lora Brody; makes 4 servings.

One-pound fillet of salmon, skin removed

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 orange, sliced, for garnish

Chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Sprinkle both sides of salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl to form a paste. Add orange juice concentrate, lemon juice and brown sugar; stir well until all ingredients are dissolved. Pour half the sauce into the bottom of a microwave-safe dish. Place salmon on top of the sauce. Pour more sauce over salmon. Cover dish with plastic wrap and poke holes in the wrap to allow steam to escape. Microwave on high power until fish is completely cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Place fillet on a serving plate, spoon over the cooking liquid, and garnish with orange slices and parsley.

Mix-in-the-dish chocolate cake

I read recently that the likelihood we will eat a piece of cake on April 15 is 100 percent. Everyone deserves a little chocolate comfort at tax time. This not only cooks fast, the cleanup is a snap because you use only the dish you are baking in. This recipe from “The Microwave Cookbook” makes 6 servings.

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup milk

In an 8-inch microwave-safe baking dish, combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; mix well. Make a space in the center of the dry ingredients; add in order: lemon juice, oil, egg and vanilla. Stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Gradually add milk; stir slowly to blend, then mix with a fork until batter is smooth and well mixed. Microwave, uncovered, at 30 percent or medium low power for 6 minutes. Give dish a quarter turn if not rotated. Microwave on high power for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, giving dish a quarter turn once. When done, top of cake will be slightly moist and spring back when touched in center. A toothpick inserted in center of cake should come out clean. Cool on wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.