4. MICROWAVING"Microwaving cooks essentially by steaming," says Victoria Wise, chef and author of The Well-Filled Microwave (Workman Publishing, 1996). "And like steaming, it lends itself to low-fat or no-fat cooking. The foods that do well this way are vegetables, which retain their color along with their nutrients, and fish and chicken, which plump up well compared to beef and pork." Wise uses a 750-watt Panasonic model with a carousel that turns food, helping to cook it more evenly. The power of the microwave depends on the wattage per square foot of internal oven space: the higher the wattage and smaller the oven, the more powerful.
Best candidates: Beets, broccoli, fish, chicken, potatoes, spinach, carrots, cauliflower and apples.
Equipment: A medium-size, 750-plus-watt model with either a carousel to turn the food or a convection system that disperses the waves evenly throughout the oven will suit most needs. (A good one to try: Amana Radarange F1340 with 1,000 watts, 10 power levels and a 12.6-inch turntable for even heating, $209.)
Remember to use microwave-safe glass, ceramic or plastic cooking vessels. Most glass bowls and baking dishes are safe, Wise says, and ceramic and plastic items will say on the bottom and in the packaging if they are microwave safe. Never put metal, Styrofoam or plastic deli containers in the microwave.
- Cover food to contain the steam and moisture, which gives food its succulence. Although some manuals suggest using plastic wrap to cover, some studies show that molecules from the wrap can travel into the food. Use covered casserole dishes or cover with a flat, glass plate.
- You can cook two dishes at once by stacking them.
- Flash cook veggies to retain nutrients: 6 medium beets, cut up (12 minutes), 2 large sweet potatoes or yams (14 minutes), medium to large cauliflower or broccoli, cut into florets (6 minutes), 2 large bunches of spinach (3 minutes).
Try this: Wise recommends this basic fish recipe: Place 1 3/4-2 pounds of fish fillet (such as halibut, cod or snapper) in a large microwave-safe dish. Prepare a marinade of your preference (or try a combo of olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and crumbled bay leaf). Add marinade to fish and set aside for 20 minutes. Cover the dish and microwave on high for 4-9 minutes (depending on thickness of fillet) until juices are clear and fish flakes in center. Remove and let cool for 2 minutes.
For quick, homemade applesauce, Wise cuts two pounds of peeled apples into 1/2-inch chunks, puts them in a large bowl and sprinkles them with sugar, cinnamon and a splash of lime juice. Microwave on high for 10 minutes.
5. PRESSURE COOKINGFood cooked in a pressure cooker requires very little water and time, which means that vitamins and minerals are kept intact. The cooker seals in steam created by the boiling liquid, which intensifies the flavors. This means that you won't need to add any oil or fat for taste or richness. You barely need to season the food either. Soups and stews that would usually take hours to simmer on the stove or a whole chicken can be ready in 15 minutes, rice in five and most vegetables in about three.
Best candidates: Artichokes, potatoes, beans, beef, chicken, lamb, risotto, soups and stews.
Equipment: There are three types of pressure cookers: the old-fashioned "jiggler" or weight-valve; the developed weight-valve; and the spring-valve. All of these valves serve as a pressure regulator and tell you when it's time to adjust the heat. (They all feature safety valves that allow excess pressure to escape, and most have safety locks that make them impossible to open until the pressure has fully dropped.) The spring-valve is the most precise and easiest for beginners to use. Pressure cookers range in price from $30-$300. (The Duromatic Non-Stick Pressure Cooker Frypan from Kuhn Rikon doubles as a conventional frying pan. It holds 2.1 quarts and is 9 inches wide. Made of stainless steel, this spring-valve model has a unique titanium nonstick system and a "helper handle" for easy lifting, and comes with a cookbook. $156; call 800-662-5882 for info.)
- Use a timer when pressure cooking. This method cooks so quickly that every second really counts.
- Don't fill your cooker more than two-thirds full. When cooking foods that expand, such as beans or rice, fill only halfway to allow for the buildup of steam and pressure.
- Be very careful when opening the lid. Never put your face over the pot because of the heat of the steam.
Try this: Beef Stew With Orange and Rosemary: In a 5-quart pressure cooker, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on high heat. Add 1 1/2 pounds lean beef cut up into 1-inch cubes and cook until well browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. Reduce heat and add 1 chopped onion, 1 clove garlic and 2 tablespoons beef broth. Cook about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup more of beef broth, 1/2 cup dry red wine, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, one bay leaf and black pepper to taste. Stir well to dissolve tomato paste. Add beef. Close lid and bring pressure to high. Reduce heat as needed. Cook for 15 minutes.
This article originally appeared on Shape.com.
Find more stories like this on diets, fitness, healthy eating and recipes at Shape.com