Microwaves don't have the best culinary reputation. We associate them with frozen convenience meals and bleak office kitchens. That's too bad, however, because the ol' science oven can save you a lot of time and effort.
Photo by Susan Lucas Hoffman.
While living without a microwave is possible -- I did it for a whole year -- it isn't an experience I would describe as "the best". Below are just a few of the things I missed zapping during my time as a microwave-less lady.
- Steam artichokes: Artichokes are very fun to eat. Dipping the leaves in aioli -- or just like, mayonnaise -- and then scraping the creamy flesh off with your teeth is a tactile, pleasing experience. You know what isn't a pleasing experience? Anxiously waiting for half an hour or more while they take their sweet time steaming. Thankfully, Mark Bittman has a much faster way. Just place your choke of choice in a bowl with a little water, cover, and microwave it for six minutes.
- Boil water: They say a watched pot of water never boils, but if you put that water in a bowl or mug and stick it in the microwave, it will boil in a manner of minutes, no matter who's looking. Depending on the size of your microwave, this isn't a practical option for the amount of water you'll need to cook a whole spaghetti dinner, but zapping a portion of it can speed up the process. I've also used this when cooking sous vide, adding small portions of boiling water to the bath to help it reach its target temperature. It is, however, very important to put some sort of stick (like a wooden coffee stirrer or chopstick) in your boiling vessel, otherwise you risk super-heating your water and having it explode all over your microwave or, much worse, your face.
- Toast pine nuts: Toasted pine nuts are what make pesto truly magical -- cheese doesn't hurt either -- but they're a bit pricey, so great care should be taken to not burn them. As one would expect, Alton Brown has a great method for bringing out their nutty goodness without overcooking them: Just put 1/2 a cup of rinsed, salted pine nuts in a paper bag, fold the bag, and nuke 'em on high for about a minute. Let them cool, give them a little taste, and cook more if needed, 30 seconds at a time, until they're as toasty as you please.
- Cook spaghetti squash: Discovering spaghetti squash in my early 20s was something of a revelation. Though they don't have a ton of flavour on their own, the noodle-like vegetable strands are a perfect base for almost any sauce, and you get feel smug about increasing your plant intake. The one drawback, however, is that they can take up to an hour to cook in the oven, so a small amount of planning and forethought is involved. But once I realised they could be cooked in a microwave, my life was once again changed for the better. Just cut one in half, scoop out the seeds, and place the halves face down in a glass baking dish with about 2.5cm of water. Microwave for 10 minutes or so, until you're able to scrape the little strands out with a fork.
- "Bake" potatoes: Baked potatoes are delicious, but they can take forever in an oven. To cook everyone's favourite steak side in a manner of minutes, just pierce it with a fork a few times and microwave for about seven minutes (for a 225g potato). If you need to get that crispy, baked skin, just slather the hot potato in some oil and give it a quick broil. (You can also employ this method to make "twice baked" potatoes much more quickly, which is very good news.)
The one microwave shortcut I wouldn't recommend? Bacon. People who microwave their bacon are monsters.