Many of the world’s greatest chefs are men. I am not one of them. The kindest thing you can say about my cooking is that it usually leaves a low body count.
But today, fellow writer Sam Mittelsteadt and I are cooking in front of friends, family and two truly surprised dogs to answer the question of every culinarily challenged male: Can you really make meatloaf in a microwave oven?
Clueless men have long cherished the microwave as a way to skip all the . . . art of cooking and cut to the eating. Microwaves can heat food in seconds. But, as precision cooking instruments, they’re about as accurate as flamethrowers. Ever make an omelet? Remember me from the burn unit? Ever cook a dinner to find the plastic tray liquefied and the gravy still lunar-surface cold? Well, fret no more! "A Man, a Can, a Microwave: 50 Tasty Meals You Can Nuke in No Time" is a cookbook for chefs who like to set the clock, close the door and come back when it’s over.
"This gives guys a way to make something that’s healthy and, at the same time, simple and good," author David Joachim said. "I looked for recipes that were practical with a microwave but were also dishes that a guy would say ‘I’d want to eat that.’ "
Joachim’s 50 recipes range from staples such as meatloaf, pork chops and sloppy Joe to unexpected offerings like Coconut Curried Chicken, Salmon Roll-Ups and Black ’n Orange Catfish. Entrees share the bill with appetizers and vegetable side dishes — and of course, male cookery would not be complete without a large dessert section, devoted to chocolate.
Good guy recipes are accessible, and fast.
"This is what makes microwaves popular with men," Joachim said. "They want to know: ‘How long will this take?’ " Most require only a 15- to 30-minute commitment, which keeps it competitive with, say, getting in the car and hitting the drive-through at Carl’s Jr.
Halfway through the recipe, I enter a horrible No Man’s Land: My meatloaf is a squishy, pinkish mass, and it’s too late to put the ingredients back in the can and pretend this ugly episode never happened. "A Man, a Can" helps novice guys through their doubts by keeping recipes simple. You won’t see a lot of baste or saute instructions because . . . well, I just had to look up "saute."
"Most guys 20 to 40 don’t have that basic cooking knowledge handed down from their elders," Joachim said. So he assembled and created recipes with easy ingredient lists ("If it’s over 10 items, forget it") and formatted recipes like a technical manual.
"Guys like tools, so we made the book a tool," Joachim said with a chuckle. "We also made it spill-proof and virtually indestructible."
Nutrition was also a concern. "Because we’re working with Men’s Health, we wanted to control fat and sodium content. Certain recipes may be higher in fat or in sodium, but overall they have lower fat and sodium levels and mirror how a balanced diet should be approached."
My Maximum Microloaf is, at first, difficult to approach — hiding shyly beneath a layer of grease. But once drained, it cuts well and actually tastes like the meatloaf that made America proud. (See recipes.) Sam’s Sam-IYam Casserole, a synthesis of yams, brown sugar and evaporated milk, is moist and tasty but feels less like a vegetable dish than freerange pumpkin pie. The Chocolate Bread Pudding required extra time to . . . coagulate. But it wasn’t bad for something that began the day as Hershey’s Syrup and raisin bread.
Julia Child might turn her nose up at such fare — but who invites her over? For guys who want to eat outside the Styrofoam box, "A Man, a Can, a Microwave" is an accessible step toward a brave new world.