Microwave takes 1/4 to 1/3 time of oven

When microwaves became a standard kitchen appliance in the 1980s, I got on the bandwagon and learned how to use one, even writing a small cookbook on the subject.

However, I must confess that microwave cooking has never been my strong suit. When my cooking school kitchen was being designed, the original plans included an expensive, built-in microwave perched above the cook-top. I knew there was no way I would utilize all the features of such a high-end, handsome appliance. Instead, I chose a smaller and less expensive model; it is tucked away in a less conspicuous area and suits my purposes just fine.

However, I do use the microwave for some specific chores. Like you, I depend on the microwave to thaw and reheat foods. Also, I no longer use the double boiler to melt chocolate; the microwave is much quicker and less messy. But as for actually cooking in the microwave, I readily admit I am no expert on that.

So you can imagine my dilemma when I received the following question.

When our entire family comes for dinner, there are about 25 of us, and many people bring dishes to cook or heat up. Sorry to say, I have only one oven and frequently that isn't enough space for everything. I need to know how to figure out the time needed to cook in the microwave when I know the time and temperature in the oven. Is there a ratio?

Although I did not know the answer to this question, I do have a friend who is a microwave expert, Carolyn Dobson, and knew she would have the answer. Although Carolyn resides in Florida, a quick e-mail to her resulted in the answer I needed. Here is what she wrote:

"Cooking in the microwave takes about one-fourth to one-third of the time at the same 'temperature' in the microwave. For example, if your recipe indicates an hour at 350 degrees, it would be about 70 percent power (or medium high) for about 15 minutes or until the food was hot and bubbly. Of course, like cooking foods conventionally, a person should check on it in the microwave as microwave wattage can vary so much. A 1,200-watt microwave will cook much quicker than an 800-watt microwave, so the time may vary a bit. Remember, wattage is like degrees — high or 100 percent power is like a 450- to 500-degree oven. Medium or 50 percent power is much like a 300-degree oven."

Carolyn also indicated that the type of food may cause variation in the cooking time. For example, if the food is very liquid, it is wise to heat it a minute or two at high power and then turn it down for the rest of the time.