Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Can You Do With a Microwave and a Barrel of Monkeys?

This Daily Skinny returns to the good old days of explaining stuff. I sort of got on a kick of revealing the stupidity of various claims, but I am returning to my roots. For you to get the most of this Daily Skinny, you will need:

1/3 cup of water in a 2 cup microwave safe container
A saltine cracker
¼ pound or so of frozen hamburger
A microwave
A monkey wrench
Some rice krispy treats
An “adult” to supervise you
A barrel of monkeys (the toy -real monkeys do not come in barrels)
A large knife. Like the kind used in late night murder mysteries- except serrated
Oh! and you may also need some band-aids

I was recently grilling some wonderful slabs of cow, and it happened. I got talking, forgot about the hamburgers, and the heat on my grill got waaay to high. Luckily I pulled the burgers off the grill before the outside burned, but since they had only been in there a few minutes I was afraid the middle might still be raw even though the outside had sort of a Cajun look to it. Of course, the only thing worse than a burned hamburger is one that is both burned and raw. (What can I say, I have a gift.) It is then that my grilling companion sagely counsels, “Don’t worry; you can just put them in the microwave. After all, they do cook from the inside-out”.

If your supervising adult is now nodding self-importantly, use your monkey wrench on them. Although I do make an effort to be nice to my guests, the unwritten rule of the house is: ”If you make a crazy claim, you’d better have some evidence”. Incidentally, it is not a good marriage strategy to demand evidence from your wife for everything she says… In my mind, I am just being inquisitive. In her mind I am calling her a liar. Anyway, I have digressed…

Microwaves do NOT cook from the inside out. But admittedly, microwaves are mystical things. How DO they work?

A special type of vacuum tube, called a magnetron (This sounds like either an X-men or a Transformer, but it isn’t). For the geeks out there, it is actually a type of diode. Anyway, the magnetron converts electric power into very short radio waves called microwave radiation, (that makes sense…). These radio waves shoot out of the magnetron at 2450 Megahertz. At that frequency, power is readily absorbed by water, fats and sugars. These waves go through a waveguide (a funky machined pipe) that carries it into the microwave oven cavity, where it bounces around. The microwaves cause the water molecules in food to vibrate, which creates the heat that cooks the food. This is why foods high in water content, heat up faster than other foods. Microwaves cook faster than ovens because they are only heating the food-not the whole huge oven and everything in it. A regular oven works by heating the air around food, and waiting for that air to heat the food.

Try it!
1. Eat a rice krispy treat
2. Cook your 1/3 cup of water in the microwave for 30 seconds, and then notice how hot it is. (Depending on your microwave, it could be pretty hot.)
3. Cook your saltine cracker for 30 seconds then eat it. The water will have gained much more heat. You have just demonstrated that water rich items cook faster in microwaves!

Although heat is produced directly in the food, microwave ovens do not cook food from the "inside-out." When thick foods are cooked, the outer layers are heated and cooked primarily by microwaves while the inside is cooked mainly by the conduction of heat from the hot outer layers. If you want to be real nerdy about it, microwaves do penetrate a little into the food, but it is still NOT heating from the inside out. (The microwaves move from the outside-in.)

So where did the idea that microwaves cook from the inside out come from? In a microwave, the air in the oven is at room temperature so the temperature of the food surface is cooler than food in a conventional oven where the food is heated by hot air. This may have lead some people to think the heat was “inside” the food.  Although these might be the same people who think the actors are inside the TV.

Want to test it for yourself? If a microwave cooks from the inside-out, then something partially cooked should be warm in the center, and much cooler on the surface, right?

1. Eat a rice krispy treat
2. Cook your frozen hamburger in the microwave for 1 minute
3. Take your big serrated knife, and cut the chunk of hamburger in half.

Notice that the outside is squishy, while the center is still frozen solid! My grilling buddy is busted! The only way to cook food from the inside out would be if there were a heat source inside the food!

Want to have more fun with your microwave? I’m not going to tell you what happens. You’ll have to be adventurous on your own. Try some of the following:

Safe to Nuke: Most likely won't cause permanent problems in you or the microwave.

1. Marshmallow peeps
2. A bar of soap
3. Eggs
4. Twinkies

Probably Safe to Nuke: I (or someone I know) has done this safely, but there are some risks.

1. Place a wooden tooth pick standing up in your oven and light the top on fire (you only need a small flame). You could stick it in between the clip of a plastic pencil top, or in a cork. Your oven will be blackened, but this will wash right off. If you want to protect a small microwave from melting, put a glass bowl over the toothpick.

2. Nuke cd’s. This one is classic and fun. Try a silver CD and a green or gold or blue CD-R. Don’t use your favorite Donny Osmond cd because it won’t work after this.

3. Cook a Christmas tree ornament (a metal one).

4. A light bulb. Don’t nuke it for very long, or the bulb will break. Stick to maybe 10 seconds. To prevent breakage, you could put the lightbulb in a bowl of water, but it’s not quite as cool.

5. Cut a grape in half. Not all the way, just leave a little skin between the two halves. Place the cut grape on a plate - round sides down, flat (cut) side up, still attached or just touching if severed. Start the microwave.

6. If you have an old flat bottomed microwave, you can also do grape races! Take some vegetable oil and grease the bottom of the microwave, then take some grapes and line them up at one end of the microwave with the holes pointing towards the wall they are lined up against. Take bets, and then turn the microwave on to see which one gets the farthest or gets to the other side fastest.

Cool but Not Safe Nuke: You may hurt yourself and/or your microwave.

1. Firecracker. Don’t light it. Let the microwave do the work.

2. Make a strip of aluminum foil (22 x 1 cm ) into a bracelet shape, wrapping the two ends tightly into each other. Put it on an old glass plate that you would be okay with destroying. The foil will melt right into the glass plate. and fold it like shown below. Don’t let this one run for too long because it is going to suck a lot of power. Stick to 10-20 seconds or you could kill your microwave. You may wish to wear sunglasses while you watch this.

3. Never ever put an ice-pack in the microwave. The ingredient that lowers the temperature is ammonium nitrate. It is an explosive, and the explosions will ruin both you and your microwave. You might think it will be cool, however you are not likely to live through it.

Happy Cooking!

1 comment:

Heather said...

I did the marshmellow. It melted a little around the bottom and stil looked perfectly white on the outside but when I cut the marshmellow it was brown in the middle. I dont get it.