Food & Drink

The Silver Lining

Yours might be a sad home of leftovers and Easy Mac, but chefs across the country are using the microwave to take their culinary exploits to new heights. (Yes, really.) But this ubiquitous appliance wasn’t born a chef’s favorite. According to Wired magazine, the microwave first came into existence in the 1940s. In 1945, engineer Percy Spencer discovered the heating effect of microwaves. and in 1947 Radarange built the first microwave, which stood at a staggering six feet and weighed a hefty 750 pounds. After two decades of redesign, households finally began to pick up the new invention when the price finally dropped from $2,000-$3,000 to $500 per unit. The inner workings of a microwave are even more complex than its expansive history. Here’s the mechanism in brief: The machine passes (you guessed it) microwaves over food, creating an alternating magnetic field. This causes the water molecules in food to realign — sort of like a magnet — and the movement causes the food to heat up. Though a staple in most households today, articles on the microwave’s negative effects (don’t stand too close!) flood news feeds regularly, and it continues to play second fiddle to bigger, flashier kitchen appliances, making it one of the most under-appreciated household fixtures of our time. But some of our favorite chefs and foodies not only understand the merits of a microwave, but make liberal use of the device in their own cooking. Here’s a list of their favorites, and ours: Artichoke lemon risotto — from Barbara Kafka, author of Microwave Gourmet, and James Beard award winner In a 2008 interview with The New York Times, Barbara Kafka told reporter Mark Bittman that the best item to microwave was “Vegetables. Their color is better, their flavor is better, you have no water dripping and there are studies that show they retain more vitamins.” So, in keeping with the microwave-pioneer’s words of wisdom, here’s her savory artichoke lemon risotto. Grab six tablespoons of olive oil, one cup of minced onion, two cups of Arborio rice, six cups of vegetable broth, one can of artichoke hearts, the zest and juice of two lemons and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Mix the onions and olive oil in a microwave-safe dish and put them in the microwave, uncovered, for three minutes. Add the broth, and cook the mixture for 12 minutes. Then add the artichokes, and cook for six minutes. Finally, add the lemon, cook the concoction for another two minutes, and salt as needed. The whole mixture serves six to eight people. Salmon with crème fraiche — from Beth Hensperger, author of Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook California-raised Hensperger learned her culinary art in the Bay Area’s Palo Alto, eventually moving on to Los Angeles’ Epicurious and then back to San Francisco to start her own catering company. For Hensperger’s salmon, you’ll need four sheets of parchment paper, two tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature), four (six- to eight-) ounce salmon fillets with the skin, eight tablespoons of crème fraiche, salt and freshly ground pepper, one cup of zucchini julienned, one cup of sliced white mushrooms and eight teaspoons of diced fresh dill. Fold each piece of paper in half, and spread the butter below the parchment’s crease and then put the salmon (seasoned with salt and pepper) on top. On each filet, add two tablespoons of crème fraiche and two teaspoons dill. Then divide the greens amongst the packets (the zucchini and the mushrooms) and season like the salmon, folding over the parchment when you’re done. Place the packets in the microwave, and cook on high for three minutes. ...

Restaurant Review: R-Gang Eatery

If R-Gang Eatery owner Richard Sweeney looks familiar, that’s because he is: The chef was unceremoniously booted from the fifth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in the show’s third episode. Sweeney, whose catchphrase on the show was “Keep it simple, stupid!” opened R-Gang with the aim of adding international flavor to retro-American dishes like burgers and macaroni and cheese. Sweeney hasn’t had the smoothest sailing — after his bumpy road to chefdom (he was a waiter and gym manager before getting into the culinary arts), and an even bumpier exit from “Top Chef,” the New York native opened R-Gang in June 2010 after serving as an executive chef for Confidential Restaurant + Loft, in downtown San Diego. R-Gang Eatery, located about 20 minutes from campus in Hillcrest, has a metallic exterior that doesn’t shy away from décor-kitsch with a massive neon sign. The cramped, aggressively under-lit interior doesn’t square with the exterior — the menu’s scrawled on the wall in hasty freehand; the old tablecloths evoke mom’s kitchen. The printed menu expounds on the exterior’s gimmick, with a prominent “As Seen on TV!” label. The food seems confused, too: dry, ground lamb Salisbury steak ($16) drenched in a heavy pool of cabernet and wild mushroom pan gravy shares the same “Supper” section on the menu as a mushy vegetable-infused duck potpie ($14) with an inconsistent crust. The heavy sauce of the former drenched the tender steak; it would have fared better with a lighter sauce. The potpie was equally difficult to eat, as the crust detached from the bottom half of dish as a single unit, rather than breaking off with a forkful of the homogenous and almost gelatinous interior. On the other hand, a menu frontrunner is the duck fat tater tots ($8). Stuffed with sautéed mushroom, roasted garlic and fontina and fried in duck fat, the potatoes bear little resemblance to their lumpy, undercooked schoolyard cousins. And they finally got the texture right — soft white filling contrasts nicely with a golden-brown and crispy breading, which came accompanied by a thick rosemary Dijon dipping sauce. R-Gang’s extra fixings fare no better than the entrees. The seasonal gingerbread vodka martini ($8) was an unsettling mixture of vanilla vodka, Frangelico, Bailey’s and ginger beer, which separated from the vodka a few minutes into the meal. The sweets selection follows the bacon-for-dessert trend of the moment: a chocolate-covered bacon sundae with vanilla gelato ice cream ($6), consisted of undercooked, leathery bacon coated with chunky semi-sweet chocolate that curdled with the ice-cold vanilla of the gelato. Occasionally over-attentive and zealous, rattling off entrees and desserts with practiced memorization, the wait staff would later disappear for 20-minute chunks of time. For the $20 that a regular sized meal would cost, the average penny-pinched college student would hope for better service. Sweeney’s restaurant doesn’t provide the comfort it professes to offer, but constitutes a confused, fussy and unsettling dining experience. While it’s a restaurant that’s quick to boast, we’re not sure what the fuss is all about. 3683 5th Avenue San Diego, CA  92103 (619) 677-2845 Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5p.m. – 11 p.m. Price Range: $5-$19 Recommended: Duck Fat Tater Tots ...