Skeptics Can Avoid Using Plastics

There's been considerable hysteria lately about the dangers of microwaving food in plastic containers or using plastic microwave wrap for covering foods being microwaved.

Are they safe? Or do they, as is now being claimed by a number of consumer advocates and food journalists, break down at high temperatures into carcinogens that migrate into the food?

The truth is, the jury's still out. The manufacturers of microwave plastic wraps and containers assure us that their products are safe. More significant, however, is the fact that the International Microwave Power Institute (IMPI) supports their position--so far, at least, since this group has issued no disclaimers or warnings.

Still, many microwavers remain skeptical. So what's the microwave cook to do until the verdict is in?

Here are a few suggestions.

First, draw up a list of those plastic items that should never be used for microwaving. These include:

--Melamine dinnerware (it can char and turn brittle).

--Styrofoam (it may melt).

--Plastic storage containers not formulated for microwave use.

--Plastic deli containers or the tubs in which butter, margarine and dessert toppings are packaged. They may break down chemically into hazardous-to-your-health compounds.

--The tear-off plastic bags used at supermarket fruit and vegetable counters (again, they're chemically unstable and unsafe).

--Plastic cookware not manufacturered specifically for microwave use.

--Plastic food wraps not marked microwaveable or microwave-safe.

And here's another tip. Don't recycle the plastic containers in which commercially frozen microwave entrees, side dishes and dinners are packed. They aren't geared for multiple microwavings and dishwashings.

If you're still skittish, you can use non-plastic containers and lids that are known to be microwave-safe--glass ovenware, for example, and glass ceramic. Also known as Pyroceram, glass ceramic has the added advantage of being flameproof, meaning that it can move from stove top to microwave or from microwave to broiler--terrific whenever something needs a quick browning before or after microwaving. The following recipes use just such containers.

SCALLOPED HAM, CORN AND ZUCCHINI

3/4 pound small zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 (17-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 (8-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained

3 cups 1/2-inch cubed lean cooked ham

1/4 cup half and half

1/4 teaspoon salt, about

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Optional topping: 1 cup seasoned bread cubes or poultry stuffing mix tossed with 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Mix zucchini, onion and sweet red pepper in 3-quart glass ceramic or ovenware glass casserole that has lid. Dot with butter. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 6 to 7 minutes until zucchini is tender-crisp.

Stir in cream-style and kernel corn, ham, half and half, salt and pepper. Cover with lid and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 8 to 9 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes, until bubbly and hot in center. Adjust salt as needed.

Sprinkle evenly with topping and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH (100% power) 3 to 4 minutes, rotating casserole 180 degrees after 2 minutes. Let stand, uncovered, 1 minute to crisp topping. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

XIN-XIM

(Peppery Brazilian Shrimp Stew)

1/3 cup dried shrimp, rinsed and soaked 1 hour in 1/3 cup cold water

1 1/2 pounds medium shelled and deveined shrimp

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

Dash ground turmeric

1 large onion, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground Cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Dash ground cinnamon

Dash ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

1/4 cup coarsely chopped blanched, roasted, unsalted peanuts

Hot cooked rice

Drain dried shrimp, reserving liquid. Finely mince shrimp and set aside.

Toss fresh shrimp with lime juice and set aside.

Mix olive oil and turmeric in 2-quart glass ceramic or ovenware glass casserole that has lid. Add onion and garlic. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 3 1/2 to 4 minutes until onion pieces are translucent.

Add dried shrimp and reserved liquid, tomato puree, coconut milk, coriander, Cayenne pepper, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover with lid and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 5 to 6 minutes, stirring at half time, until mixture boils. Stir again, cover and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 4 minutes to mellow flavors.

Add fresh shrimp. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 3 to 4 minutes, stirring every minute until shrimp are just cooked. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts and ladle over hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.

Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.

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