Does anyone remember when microwaves weren't a standard part of the kitchen? It happens that 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the Amana Radarange, the first countertop microwave marketed to consumers.

I did a little research on this invention a few years ago, while writing a historical cookbook. Like Tupperware, it was an offshoot of World War II research. The British and U.S. militaries used short-wave radar to detect enemy aircraft, with the Massachusetts-based Raytheon Company supplying the magnetron tubes that made the radar function.

In 1945, Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer was standing in front of a magnetron tube and noticed that a candy bar in his pocket began to melt. Intrigued, he experimented and found he could cook a raw egg and pop kernels of popcorn in front of the tube, too. By 1947, Raytheon had the world's first microwave oven, called a "Radarange," the winning name in an employee contest.

Housed in a refrigerator-size cabinet, the ovens cost between $2,000 and $3,000, hardly affordable to most Americans. It wasn't until 1967, when Raytheon came out with a countertop oven under the Amana name that the microwave took off. Retailing at $495 ($3,043 in today's dollars), the original Amana Radarange weighed 90 pounds.

The microwave oven started the boom in frozen entrees. Those early TV dinners in aluminum trays took 30-40 minutes to heat in the oven — now it's only 5 minutes and lunch is served.

There was a lot of hype in the beginning that you could cook your whole Thanksgiving dinner in the microwave, but roasting meat and poultry isn't this appliance's strong suit. It does, however, have more potential than just popping popcorn or reheating leftovers.

I found that out when we moved in to our then-new house 21 years ago, as there was a delivery mix-up with our stove. Out of necessity I cooked family meals for two weeks using just our microwave — browning (or maybe "graying" is a more appropriate term) hamburger for spaghetti sauce, boiling pasta and rice, poaching chicken and heating casseroles.

It also saves energy, because it cooks faster and at a lower wattage than conventional ovens.

Amana has an online cookbook, "Fast Food Redefined: 40 Years Ago Amana Invented a New Way to Cook," available free at www.Amana.com/cookbook.

SPINACH DIP IN BREAD BOAT

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

4 slices ready-cooked bacon, chopped

1 5 1/2-ounce can diced water chestnuts, drained

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 loaf (about 1 pound) bread, unsliced

Remove spinach from package; place in 1-quart microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 3-4 minutes. Drain and squeeze spinach to remove liquid. Return spinach to bowl. Add cream cheese and remaining ingredients (except for bread) to spinach in bowl; mix well. Microwave on high, 2-3 minutes, stirring once or until mixture is heated through.

Using bread knife, slice top off bread loaf. Hollow out loaf, reserving bread. Slice reserved bread into cubes. Spoon spinach mixture into loaf. Serve warm with bread cubes. Makes 10-12 servings.


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