Lake Isle Press

Not Your TV Dinner

When Mario Batali predicted the top food and drink trends of 2013, he left something out. Yes, yes, foodies will probably start smacking their lips over line-caught fish and cruciferous vegetables. Big whoop. Did you know that last year, Cinghiale was supposed to be “the next great Italian swine” (in Batali’s words)? Something more revolutionary is sweeping the food scene, from the shrouded peaks of Le Cordon Bleu down to humble suburban kitchens: microwave cooking.

We’re not talking about popping in a frozen dinner or re-heating that lasagna from last night. Nor even about the parade of cookbooks promising delicious couldn’t-be-easier main courses. The gold lies in microwave cooking the Japanese way. Machiko Chiba shows us how with her Cook-Zen microwave cookpot and "The Cook-Zen Way to Eat."

Using the Cook-Zen cookpot is as easy as one, two, three: follow Machiko’s recipe, microwave it, and savor your finger-sucking dinner (or lunch or dessert). Made of thick, high quality polypropylene, the cookpot heats food quickly and evenly, locking moisture into ingredients so less water and oil is required. 

Microwave cooking has earned itself quite the stigma in the U.S., but to taste food cooked by the cookpot is to believe again. The Lake Isle Press team noshed and believed during the photo shoot for “The Cook-Zen Way to Eat.” The Asian-Style Spareribs, seasoned with a few ingredients and cooked for fourteen minutes, were succulent and tender. The Chile con Carne quenched that craving for rich, savory-sweet stew. The Rosemary Mushrooms and Zucchini were perfectly steamed: crunching, then melting in the mouth. (Some of these recipes are listed under our website's "Recipes" tab!)

Though people have called the Cook-Zen cookpot “magical,” there’s no hocus-pocus when it comes to the millions of units sold in Japan. And, last fall, Machiko taught a microwave-cooking workshop at Le Cordon Blue in London. “For Le Cordon Bleu to embrace the new method of cooking and to be able to teach that, is a step forward for all of us [microwave cooks],” said Machiko in a recent interview with Lake Isle Press. 

Machiko’s version of wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, fastened eyes and scheming minds like magnets. Colors whirl though the transparent agar shapes like dancers suspended mid-leap.

Normally, one has to train under master chefs for many years to make the candy. Formed in antique wooden molds, it’s pricey and coveted. By recreating the molds in plastic, Machiko does the unthinkable: brings wagashi to the people. With the Cook-Zen cookpot and molds, wagashi, according to Machiko, is, “surprisingly easy to make.” It can be made, “Only in a matter of few minutes.”

What up-and-coming chefs at Le-Cordon-Bleu saw is this: a rare exotic art form, wagashi, made newly accessible. In other words, it’s capitalization time, baby. “Many chefs, including the professors at Le Cordon Bleu, [have] already come forward to express their curiosity and interest in wagashi and its molds,” Machiko said. “These molds can be used to shape and make small sushi, other types of desserts, tapas, appetizers, [and] such. I believe that the easy-to-use molds can be applied in every day home cooking in many households because [they were] accepted by the Chefs around the world.”

And there you have your inside scoop on what to look for in 2013, folks. Go ahead, don’t be afraid to hold a dinner party for thirty people and cook mounds of gourmet food in just an hour. If they ask how you did it, you could humbly blame it on your new cookpot. Or, you could bring out some wagashi to top the meal off, and keep the secret to yourself. They’ll be finding out about it soon enough.  

By Heath Goldman







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