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December 8, 2003

Not Suitable For Microwave Use

Have you ever seen a stupid microwave trick? I don't consider myself an expert, but I've done a few in my time. In highschool my siblings and I would explode whole raw eggs in the microwave. During university, I made grape halves arc in the microwave. More recently I've managed to get cut green beans and carrot cubes to arc too. By far, my stupidest microwave trick has been to burn - and I mean entirely carbonize - food in the microwave. Twice. It would have been funny had I been trying to do it, but regrettably both instances were simply mistakes.

Yes, you can actually seriously burn food in the microwave, in case you haven't proven it to yourself yet. The first time I accomplished this feat I was still pretty much a novice at cooking, and burned a bowl of white rice. At home, we normally cooked a large bowl of rice simply by putting a predetermined amount of water in a bowl with another predetermined amount of rice, and cooking it on high for 11:11. Simple, and pretty much foolproof. I tried the same setting on a single serving of rice, and ended up with a small bowl of inedible white rice with a black tumor of carbon protruding from its middle. I thought I had learned my lesson then, but just a few weeks ago it became pungently apparent that I did not.

Christmastime is a time of tradition in our household. Mostly, it's a tradition of food. With so many delicious edibles appearing only during the holiday season, we try our best to enjoy them while we can. Clementine and/or mandarin oranges are one favourite, as is eggnog. President's Choice puts out a few delicacies that we rather enjoy, such as their Candy Cane with Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream, and a newer creation, their Stuffing Breaded Turkey Fingers. The latter we enjoy as a convenience meal, and as an excuse to consume even more cranberry sauce before (and after) the usual Christmas feasts. This year they finally appeared in late November, at which point we enthusiastically picked up a box and took them home.

At the time my entire family was just recovering from the stomach flu, and our daughter was additionally getting over bronchitis and cutting a molar. Needless to say, she was a bit grumpy at times over a period of about a week. When we got home from the grocery store that night, she wanted nothing to do with the dinner we had picked up, and was adamant that she was going to have a PC Turkey Finger. Well, I had absolutely no problem with that, except that the turkey fingers take about 20 minutes to cook in the toaster oven, and I knew that she wasn't going to be happy to wait 20 seconds, let alone 20 minutes. I decided to try a shortcut. Cue foreboding music.

The cooking directions for the turkey fingers cautions that they are "not recommended for microwave." Well, of course not - who wants their turkey fingers with soggy stuffing? In the interest of shaving precious minutes off of the time it would normally take to cook a turkey finger, I decided that my daughter would rather have a soggy finger sooner than a perfectly crispy finger in 20 minutes. I took one finger, set it on a microwave-safe plastic plate, and put it in our microwave to cook for just over four minutes. I guesstimated that four minutes would be long enough to both defrost it and actually cook the meat, seeing as the simple act of defrosting frozen poultry usually results in half of it being cooked anyways.

Well, ignoring "not recommended for microwave" turned out to be my first mistake. The second mistake came soon thereafter when I turned my attention back to my own dinner, instead of keeping it on the turkey finger getting irradiated behind me. About two minutes later, I suddenly noticed a smell and a haze in the air. I turned around, and to my utter horror, the contents of the microwave were no longer visible: only a rolling cloud of dense, yellow smoke was visible, and it was eagerly pouring out of every orifice of my microwave.

Panicking, I turned on the range hood fan and jabbed at the microwave's cancel button. Even with the kitchen billowing in nasty yellow smoke, our smoke detector had not noticed it yet. Thinking that I could at least avoid announcing our plight to the neighbourhood, I rushed to the breaker panel to de-power the detectors, but they started shrieking just seconds later. Once silenced, I noticed that the smoke was heading towards our open 2-storey foyer, and upstairs. Hoping to avoid having the entire house smell of burnt plastic and turkey finger, I frantically waved a blanket at the smoke hoping to blow it out the back patio door my wife had opened.

No such luck - it just wasn't moving, and it was rather nasty to breathe. I ordered my wife and daughter to the basement for breathable air, and hurried around the house opening windows and turning the furnace off and all the exhaust fans on. Once that was complete, I had nothing more to do than wait for the smoke to clear, and eat dinner. I grabbed our dinner and headed to the basement for a picnic.

When all was said and done, our living room faintly reeked of burnt food and plastic. Our microwave had suffered the most, and was caked in a yellowy film that reeked of smoke. Despite washing, scrubbing, abrading, soaking, vinegaring, and even steaming, only moderate progress has been made in cleaning it out, and each time we run it we still detect an odour that suggests stale cigarettes. The plastic plate was a total write-off, as was the turkey finger. The middle of the finger had erupted into an angry black blister of greasy carbon, and had melted the plate directly underneath. No such damage was apparent to the microwave, although if it had it would have been the perfect excuse to replace it with something that doesn't smell each time it gets used.

Thankfully, as time goes on the smell continues to fade, and the memory of a failed, blackened shortcut around a 20-minute cook time slowly disappears with it. You can count on one thing, however: if I ever read that a certain food is "not recommended for microwave", you'd better believe that I'm going to heed that warning. My daughter may complain, but I'd rather stall her for 20 minutes than repeat my stupid microwave trick again.