Janet Sadlack looks back on 10 years of presenting cooking seminars at FMCA international conventions.
By Janet Sadlack, C9626
In the summer of 1995 a representative from Sharp Electronics Corporation called to see if I could help out with seminars at a Family Motor Coach Association convention in Minot, North Dakota. I had been teaching, writing, and developing recipes for microwave ovens for years, and had done some work with microwave-convection ovens. But until that time I had never been inside a motorhome or heard anything about motorhome rallies. I couldn’t imagine at the time what impact this opportunity would have on my life.
Now, 10 years later, I can only say, “What a great experience it has been!” Initially I gave classes for FMCA’s summer conventions (I had a part-time high school teaching job that kept me in Minnesota in winter), going first to Minot and then to Billings, Montana. Patti Smith from Sharp, the real “trailblazer” of microwave-convection classes at motorhome rallies, continued to give classes at the winter conventions. In 1997 Patti and I team-taught two seminars at the Columbus, Ohio, convention. After that, we usually alternated; I went to the summer conventions while she covered the winter events. In 2000 I gave up my teaching position and started giving classes at winter conventions, as well as at some area rallies and manufacturer pre-rallies. Last year my schedule included more than 40 microwave-convection classes.
In 1995 Sharp was the main oven brand being used in motorhomes. Much of the technology in the ovens had been around since 1980 when several companies introduced countertop microwave-convection ovens. The development of an “over-the-range” microwave-convection oven in 1983 was perfect for RVs, where cupboard space is precious. It could serve as an oven, a broiler, a microwave, and a speed-cook combination cooking appliance, as well as provide the light and hood fan needed for the cook top.
The microwave-convection ovens used in 1995 were quite similar to those available today. Convection cooking offered heat similar to a regular oven. The fan that circulates the hot air is what makes it “convection” and allows for two-layer cooking. Convection heat was combined with microwave energy to reduce cooking times in half when using the combination settings. These combination settings were usually called low-mix or bake and high-mix or roast, just as they are today in most ovens. Sensor settings, where the oven senses the humidity (steam) during microwave cooking and then determines the remaining time, were included on most units. There are a few more food categories on ovens today, but the concept remains very similar. The “Compu” settings also were available on early ovens. These settings are predetermined cooking times for commonly prepared foods that are stored in the oven’s computer. One simply inputs the quantity and pushes the button that corresponds to the food. Today’s ovens have a few more selections but use the same technology that was available then.
One change has been the discontinuation of the microwave oven probe, which could be used to preset an internal temperature, at which time the oven would shut off when the temperature was reached. These were handy, but most consumers never used them.
Today most turntable ovens come with an on/off switch so you have the turntable on for most cooking, but can turn it off for larger pans that do not rotate. When the turntable is off, foods need to be manually turned about one-third of the way through the cooking time to ensure even cooking and heating.
Ovens today are set slightly differently than in 1995. It is almost impossible now to accidentally microwave an item once the convection oven is preheated. In 2000 a class attendee in Brunswick, Maine, brought me her biscuits to see what she had done wrong. They were lightly browned and would have made good hockey pucks! She obviously had preheated the oven, but then got confused when setting the next step and accidentally microwaved the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes. On today’s ovens the user must clear the oven before it can microwave after preheating.
More color choices are available in today’s microwave-convection ovens, although black remains the dominant color. Stainless steel is being seen in more coaches, and occasionally white is used.
As the motorhome market has grown and more units feature microwave-convection ovens, additional brands and choices have become available. Although the ovens still cook very similar to a regular oven, some have a stationary shelf rather than a turntable; some allow for one layer of cooking, and some for two; some have touch controls and some come with dials; some offer two combination settings and some have only one combination; some perform well with the same temperature and time as a regular oven, and some need to have the cooking temperature lowered 25 degrees so the top does not overcook before the bottom is done.
Teaching has become more complex, as I try to address the major variables in class and follow up with individuals after the session. At FMCA’s Albuquerque, New Mexico, convention in 2004, separate beginner classes were offered for Sharp and GE oven owners. These have been very successful and the class sizes continue to grow. The basics covered in these classes prepare attendees for the more creative microwave-convection seminars offered later in the convention.
Technology for teaching has improved during these 10 years as well. In the early classes, often 800 to 1,000 people were in attendance, and the rooms’ acoustics did not always lend themselves to good sound. An overhead mirror helped reflect cooking steps and techniques, but usually the back half of the class could not see. Today the work surface is video projected onto a screen and a computer with PowerPoint software is used to enhance the teaching, showing step-by-step how to set the oven. Updates in sound systems and microphones help make the sound better even in a less-than-ideal setting. Seminar volunteers are always appreciated as they take the finished food around the room for an up-close look and smell. (One time a few folks in the audience even got an up-close taste as well, as the plate of cookies came back empty!)
In the early days we often held a drawing at the end of the class in which folks could “win” the prepared foods. Now, 10 years later, that is almost impossible because of liability insurance requirements for vendors. Usually the food is cut into small pieces and available for sampling after the class.
Changes in coach interiors affect how the oven performs. As more electrical gadgets are added to make life on the road comfortable, it sometimes is difficult to quickly heat an oven to high temperatures in parks equipped with older wiring. Use the generator for any baking above 400 degrees and for broiling; it’s a smart way to always be assured of quick heating.
Also, be aware of where the overhead vent fan is placed in relation to the oven. If it is too close to the oven, it will pull the heated air out of the oven when the oven door is opened to add or check on food. On coaches with slideouts, the vent is sometimes fine when the slide is out, but may be too close when the slideout is not used. If in doubt, always turn off the fan before opening the oven door. With higher interior ceilings in some coaches today, be sure the oven is placed at a level where you can easily check and remove foods. One class participant who called herself “height challenged” said that she keeps a small hand mirror nearby so that she can see the top surface of foods without needing to use a step stool.
Another big change in cooking on the road is the cookware that is available. In 1995 we recommended metal and glass for convection heat, glass and plastic for microwave cooking, and glass and some high-heat plastics for combination cooking. With the introduction of lightweight, unbreakable silicone cookware in the U.S. market approximately five years ago, a practical choice was added that can be used for all three types of cooking. Plus, the flexible nature of the pans makes them easy to tuck into small spaces. Since my teaching schedule sometimes demands that I fly from one place to another, this cookware is wonderful for packing in a suitcase . . . the lid will always press shut.
With turntable ovens, a good baking sheet that can be used with both microwave and convection heat is valuable. Since there was nothing available in the marketplace, I found a Teflon-coated fiberglass material being used in the bakery industry for lining pans that could be used in all types of cooking. The manufacturer now custom cuts the material into circles that are the perfect size for the turntable and rack. They can be left on the turntable to help keep the oven clean or rolled up and stored in an empty paper towel tube. Besides using them as a baking sheet, the fiberglass pieces conveniently cover the turntable when broiling, as any meat drippings wipe off easily from the nonstick surface.
Many of us have changed our cooking habits in the last 10 years, and this is reflected in the class recipes. Many use low-fat ingredients and incorporate more grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit. Since storage space is limited in a motorhome, recipes are developed to achieve maximum flavor with minimum ingredients. Convenience foods are appreciated, but sometimes a full container adds more sodium and/or calories than desired. Partial containers with directions to store extras maintain the convenience and healthy aspects of recipes.
Even though we try to eat more healthful foods, there is always high demand for casseroles that can be toted to potluck gatherings, hors d’oeuvres to share at happy hour get-togethers, and yummy desserts to satisfy sweet-tooth cravings. After receiving many requests for more recipes that use the combination settings, I published Easy Microwave-Convection Cooking in 2000. There are a few other microwave-convection books available, but they are written for the convection ovens that are part of a kitchen range. Those ovens cook differently, since they are on 220-volt-AC power rather than the 110-volt-AC power that is present in motorhomes. Most of the “home” ovens do not have the extra microwave energy available to achieve the speed combo settings.
These past 10 years have included some of the most challenging and rewarding times of my life (other than helping to raise three children). The oven will do so much, and it is a joy to see class participants discover the potential for themselves. I always encourage people to try things while still on the convention grounds so they can come back to the booth with questions. One does not have to cook; just place water in an oven-safe dish and practice the settings. A class makes the learning easier. Many people arrive up to an hour early to get a good seat, and they usually start sharing experiences with the people around them. Class handouts are good reminders about setting the oven, especially after having the motorhome in storage for several months.
At one area rally, two people sat together in the front row in both of my classes and came to the booth several times with additional questions. I asked if they often traveled together and they said, “No, we just met here . . . we are parked next to each other and met when we discovered we were both going to the microwave-convection class. Each night we have cooked dinner together and between us try to remember what we learned in class.” At another rally, a participant came to the booth and said, “I was in your class yesterday and had never used my oven in 10 years. I tried it last night and it works!” A recent e-mail from another class attendee said, “After seven years of having my oven, I started using high-mix and low-mix and love the way it speeds up the cooking!” Men are often present in the class. One wife said, “We have the agreement that he cooks on the road; I cook at home!” Many people come back to a class each time they are at a rally. They say, “We always learn something new and love the additional recipes.”
With such wonderful people in the seminars I teach, I feel very blessed that I was asked to participate in my first FMCA convention in Minot 10 years ago!
Janet Sadlack teaches classes at FMCA events, using major brands of microwave-convection ovens. She also works with TriStar Distributing giving classes at club and pre-rallies for manufacturers that use Sharp ovens. In Minot, check the convention program for listings of her scheduled cooking seminars. Information about Janet’s cookbook, Easy Microwave-Convection Cooking, can be found on page 188 of the July issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine or at www.microwaveconnect.com.
Ribs And Potatoes
This recipe, from my seminar at the 1998 convention in Ogden, Utah, shows how easy it is to cook two items at once using a combination setting. It makes approximately two servings.
8-ounce boneless country-style ribs
2 onion slices
2 medium baking potatoes
1/2-cup favorite barbecue sauce
1. Arrange ribs and potatoes on opposite sides of shallow silicone or glass baking dish. Top ribs with onion slices and place them on low rack in oven. 2. COMBO-ROAST with high-mix setting at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn meat and potatoes over, sliding onion slices under ribs. Spoon about half the sauce onto ribs and spread evenly. 3. Continue to COMBO-ROAST with high-mix setting at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes or until ribs and potatoes are done. Microwave remaining sauce for 30 to 40 seconds or until hot and serve with ribs.
TIP: In step 3, place the dish with the sauce on a hot pad to protect it when microwaving in a hot oven.
Nutrition info/serving: 368 calories, 26 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fat, 316 milligrams sodium, 73 milligrams cholesterol, 2.5 grams dietary fiber.
Saucy Chicken And Stuffing Bake
Chicken breasts and stuffing cook together for an easy supper dish to share with others. The high-mix combination speeds the cooking for the following recipe, which makes approximately six servings.
1-1/2 cups hot water
2 cups chicken-flavored saucepan-type stuffing
1/4-cup dried cranberries
1/2-can (10-3/4-ounce size) cream of chicken soup
1/2-cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons white wine, if desired
20-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, quartered
1. Preheat microwave-convection oven to 375 degrees. 2. Combine water, stuffing mix, and cranberries in bowl and mix well. Set aside. 3. Stir together soup, sour cream, and wine in 8-inch-square silicone or glass baking dish. Add chicken and stir lightly to combine with soup mixture. Spoon stuffing over chicken mixture. Place on low rack in oven. 4. COMBO-ROAST with high-mix setting at 375 degrees for 22 to 25 minutes or until chicken is done.
TIP: Freeze the leftover canned soup to use another day in a casserole or to add to another favorite soup.
Nutrition info/serving: 295 calories, 291 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 712 milligrams sodium, 0.4 gram dietary fiber.
Peachy Blueberry Cobbler
Take advantage of fresh fruit from local produce stands and turn it into a quick cobbler by using refrigerated dinner roll dough. The combination setting reduces the cooking time by about half in this recipe, which was a favorite from the Ames, Iowa, convention in 1999. It makes approximately eight servings.
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups sliced fresh peaches
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 8-ounce package refrigerated crescent dinner roll dough
1 tablespoon cinnamon-sugar
1. MICROWAVE (100 percent) margarine in small dish for 20 to 30 seconds or until melted; set aside. Combine blueberries, peaches, sugar, and cornstarch in 8-inch or 9-inch round silicone or glass baking dish; mix well. 2. MICROWAVE (100 percent), uncovered, six to seven minutes or until mixture starts to boil, stirring once. 3. Preheat microwave-convection oven to 375 degrees. 4. Remove wrapping from roll dough, but do not unroll. Instead, cut into eight slices. With cut-sides up, use kitchen shears to cut almost through each slice twice to form quarters. Place dough, cut-sides up, on hot fruit near edge of dish, opening cut edges. Brush with melted margarine and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Place dish on low rack in oven. 5. COMBO-BAKE with low-mix setting for 13 to 15 minutes or until topping is browned and no longer doughy. Serve warm or cold.
TIP: If the fruit is frozen, increase the microwave time in step 2 to nine to 11 minutes.
Nutrition info/serving: 220 calories, 3 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 239 milligrams sodium, 1.5 grams dietary fiber.