10 Ways to Make Your Microwave Meals Less Depressing
Using a microwave shouldn't confine you to a lifetime of TV dinners and recipes from the Microwave Cooking for One cookbook. Here are 10 ways to transform your microwave meals from cringe-worthy to delectable!
Mug cakes are easy—especially once you've done them a few times. There's not a ton of time or effort involved, but the final product looks really impressive. (Remember that when you've got a date over. “Oh, hey, lemme just make you a cake real quick. No biggie.”)
It's also a good, entry-level way to teach yourself that just because you only have (or can use) one kitchen appliance, doesn't mean you can't have nice things.
Have a good spice rack.
A good spice rack is crucial to any kitchen, especially if you're only going to be cooking in the microwave. It doesn't even have to be expensive—most grocery stores these days sell cheap spices on the “bulk foods” aisle, so you can start small as you want and pay way less per ounce than buying by the bottle. Here's a good basic spice checklist if you've got no idea where to begin.
Steam your vegetables.
Steamed vegetables are a good, healthy standby. Make a shallow pool of water in a bowl, fill with vegetables, drape a damp towel or napkin over the top of the bowl, and nuke that sucker. This works with fresh vegetables or frozen, though if you go frozen, you'll have to cook longer and you'll probably want to check it a couple of times to make sure it's heating evenly.
Put your food on the edge of the carousel.
Assuming your microwave has a rotating tray (and that it actually rotates), put your food on the edge of the tray, instead of in the middle. Most microwaves have “hot spots,” and putting your food on the edge of the tray helps more of the food pass through them.
Put your food on the edge of the plate.
This is similar to the last tip, but different. You know how when you heat up a bowl of something in the microwave there's that big cold spot in the middle? There's a solution to that, and while it sounds like the reasoning of a toddler, or a drunk, it works. Leave the cold spot empty. Make a big “O” shape with your leftovers on the plate. The food will heat much more evenly, rotating carousel or not.
Some people scramble eggs over heat. Those people are wrong. You should scramble the egg in a cup. Just whip them, throw in some cheese or chives, and then throw them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
You can also poach them by putting 1/2 cup of water into a cup or bowl, cracking the eggs into it, covering the bowl, and heating them for a couple of minutes.
Bring food back to life.
Do your best Herbert West impression by using your microwave to re-animate food long past. Putting stale chips in the microwave on top of a towel will soak up moisture, making them crispy again. Stale crackers crisp up after 30 seconds, towel or no.
You can de-crystallize honey by heating it on low for a couple of minutes, and you can similarly breathe life into brown sugar that's gone hard.
Okay, this pointer might be kind of depressing, but it's less depressing than having stale chips.
Get a cookbook or two.
We've linked in the intro to a Cracked article about Microwave Cooking for One, a cookbook that may be saddled with the saddest title in literary history. But that doesn't mean that a little guidance has to hurt.
Check out Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet, or for an Indian twist, Julie Sahni's Moghul Microwave. Both come recommended by long-time New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, in an article where he writes about rediscovering his microwave.
Learn how to cook meats.
Using a microwave doesn't have to mean choosing between going vegetarian and eating Hot Pockets until you die. Microwaving meat isn't optimal, but it's definitely possible, and there are definitely some good guides out there for how to do everything from ground beef to chicken. And of course bacon, the Internet's Favorite Meat ™, cooks really well in the microwave.
Get all frou-frou with it.
Does anyone actually need to make their taco shells or toast their own nuts in a microwave? Probably not. But there are plenty of people out there who do those things who do have a functional oven, that they know how to use.
Food has always been about more than survival. It's about pleasure, even joy, if you do it right. Doing these things doesn't take much effort—you're still just throwing stuff in the microwave, after all—but the end result is a lot nicer than a Swanson's dinner, and you might be surprised how proud of yourself you feel when you're done.