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How to survive with only a microwave?

Okay, so I'm stuck all summer in a place where they won't permit any cooking equipment (not even a toaster) other than a microwave. Lame I know, but anyway I've gotten to the point where eating out all the time is straining my budget and getting to be a little tiring.

So I've decided to give the microwave a chance, and I'm wondering what suggestions everyone has for preparing good food with a microwave. You know, like real dishes, not the various comfort foods and TV dinners that microwaves are usually used for. Any techniques to share? I can't even get fish from the freezer aisle to cook properly in a microwave, because it either ends up overcooking or part of it is left raw.

Also, a long time ago I saw an infomerical for Brown & Crisp on TV. Does anyone actually use those, and do they work well? Thanks!

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  1. Mark Bittman had an article in the New York Times (April 2) about discovering the uses of the microwave, which he had previously scoffed. Loads of readers posted comments with things they cook in the microwave, everything from eggs to fish. Sorry I don't really have techniques to offer. Part of the problem is that microwaves vary enough that you need to experiment with yours a little before finding the right times and settings for things. I cook vegetables in mine. It's an acceptable (if not ideal) way to bake a potato. It melts cheese, so I use it to make nachos and lazy tuna melts. Etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: weem

      Yeah, my family usually microwaved vegetables when I was growing up, so I'm not as worried about that. I'm more worried about cooking main dishes, particularly those that are meat-based.

    2. Not even a blender? With a blender you could make all sorts of chilled soups and smoothies. Summer is a great time for fresh fruit and veggies. Salads are quick to prepare. I'd leave the microwave for popping popcorn,making quesadillas, heating up water or some Amy's Kitchen or Trader Joes frozen goodies. I also "bake" sweet potatos in the microwave. A quick filling snack with complex carbs- great for breakfast.

      1 Reply
      1. re: drmimi

        Yes, I can have a blender. Don't have one right now, but I do plan on getting one. But I also do want cooked meals as I need some meat in my diet.

      2. When we built a new house upstate, I was holding out for a professional stove, so I cooked everything in a microwave for about a year. Well I did have a bunsen burner kind of thing too but you can boil things in the microwave just as easy. The thing was, someone at work was selling a convection microwave really cheap: I didn't even know what that meant but it was the greatest.Can't explain the technical end, but I'm really sorry the real estate people talked me into leaving it behind. It cooked just like an oven. Think it was GE. That's if you're allowed to get your own microwave? If you do, take it with you when you leave!

        2 Replies
        1. re: coll

          Convection microwave? Hmm...that's still technically a microwave, right? I might have to look into it...if it's not too expensive I might get one, but I can't run astray of the law around here...because getting a real oven or even a rice cooker would get me evicted.

          1. re: markml

            A convection microwave (or a 110v GE Advantium, which adds halogen lights) has both a magnetron (to generate microwaves) and a heating coil (to make hot air). When the heating coil is on it's a "real" oven; it browns the food, which is one thing a microwave can't really do. But it looks just like a microwave, so unless your landlord is really gunning for you...

        2. Here's a really great link to the episode of Ham on the Street where Duran focused on intresting microwaved creations:
          http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/show_...

          I've been dying to try the curry but i dont own a microwave, lol...

          1. I had some of the silver-coated paper for the micro, and it's junk.

            Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet cookbook has tons of recipes. Tell me what you eat, and I'll paraphrase some recipes for you. But for basic techniques, she makes a standard meatloaf recipe and bakes it in either a 9" loaf pan (100% power, 12 mins, let stand 10 mins, pour off grease; or in 5x3" ovals spaced around a platter (100% power, 4 mins). Mussels, 16-18/pound, in a 2-qt souffle dish, hinged end down, standing up, cover tightly with platic wrap (add garlic, oil) 100% power 3-1/2 to 5 mins, depending on the power of your unit. She's got a chicken curry that sounds good. She's got sections on stuffed veggies, fish, and soups as well.

            You can boil water and make couscous and mix in chopped fresh veggies for a salad. Kafka recommends stovetop for boiling pasta, but I think you could do one serving of something small like orzo or angel hair. Just use a big container and watch for boil-over.

            Weem is right, it's great at melting cheese! I use a double ply of plastic wrap, then slide it off on to a nice roll or some bread and make a BLT (bacon in the micro between paper towels).

            English muffin pizzas. Heat the sauce and melt the cheese separately, warm muffin, assemble. The microwave Uncle Ben's brown rice bag isn't too bad.

            2 Replies
            1. re: nemo

              Hi nemo, thanks. I love a BLT. I'll have to try your method.

              And for a snack, wrap sliced cheese (your choice, but something meltable like cheddar or jack) in a tortilla, and microwave it until it's melted. Add whatever ingredients you want to make it some sort of chowhound experience, or just enjoy the simple, comforting goodness of melted cheese in a tortilla.

              1. re: nemo

                I guess I'll try to get a copy of that book when I get a chance. So you say the Brown & Crisp doesn't work at all. That's unfortunate.

              2. Here's a helpful thread on microwave cooking that links the Bittman article mentioned above. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50525... Another one http://www.chowhound.com/topics/474110

                The Union of Concerned Scientists "Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" recommends the microwave as the most energy efficient kitchen appliance (the toaster oven, crockpot and pressure cooker were all good, too, but the microwave was best), so I recently picked up a cheap used copy of Kafka's "microwave gourmet." There's also Julie Sahni's "Moghul Microwave: Cooking Indian Food the Modern Way." I figured I'd try microwave cooking in July and August when it starts to get super hot out and I don't want to heat up my kitchen. Once I get into that, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'll be interested in hearing how your microwave cooking turns out, markml, so please let us know. Good luck!

                ~TDQ

                1 Reply
                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I've been thinking along similar lines. My oven really heats up my kitchen in the summer and then I start to want to use the airconditioner.

                  Even though I've gotten along fine all these years without one, I'm thinking now may be the time for a micro. So I'm appreciating all these ideas.

                2. A decent risotto, with it's endless variations, can be made in a mircowave. Heat and stir a few times. Skip the endless adding of stock and just add it all at once.

                  1. I cook artichokes and asparagus in the microwave. Squash works pretty well also. Sugar snap peas are perfect, just rinse, cover and nuke about 1 1/2 minutes. Potatoes are OK, but not as fluffy. Since you can boil water you can do rice and pastas. I sometimes do bacon but not wild about the outcome.

                    As said before, timing is tied to your particular machine. Cook in short times and constantly check until you get it right. Also wrapping in plastic wrap is important. It holds in steam and things don't get as dry. If you don't have a turntable, you must turn the food over and around through out the cooking. That makes the doneness more even.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Janet

                      I love microwaved artichokes. I put one in a dish with enough water to cover the bottom of the choke. Add some lemon juice and spice. Nuke for about ten minutes.

                    2. Iron's technically are not cooking equipment, but they can make a great grilled cheese sandwhich... just use some foil.

                      Also - I hesitate to use any plastic products in the microwave, there is some nasty stuff that can outgas. I will cover vegetables (not touching), but not with cheese or other high fat (or sugar) foods.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: firecooked

                        Make sure you watch it, though! We had a fire in my dorm from this while I was at USC - the guy got a phone call mid-grilling...

                      2. All vegetables can be perfectly steamed in a MW. Just rinse or wash and the residual water will do the rest. Artichokes are especially good and convenient. Baked and mashed potatoes--perfect if you aren't feeding lots of people. Individual hearty fish soups or stews. Oatmeal--perfect. Get a MW rice pot for perfect rice. Steaming or poaching fish is also perfect. Scrambled eggs! Couscous! I've tried the ribbed covered flat dish for burgers--not great but not all that bad. Plus I make large batches of yogurt in the MW.

                        1. If you have access to a fridge, go to costco and load up on the heat and serve things like butter chicken, etc. Also costco has pre-cooked bacon that is actually quite good in the MW.

                          Also I think with the pre-browned hamburger, you could make a bunch of different things -- spaghetti sauce, tacos, even hamburger helper in all its glory. Actually the stroganoff HH is not too bad.

                          Also I make great risotto in the MW, you do need a very tight fittng lid, but it is much, much better than one would expect.

                          If they will let you have a kettle or a coffeemaker then your the sky's the limit.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pengcast

                            Unfortunately, the nearest Costco is pretty far from me and I don't have a car or membership card. Are these "heat and serve" items a Costco-specific brand or can you find them in other supermarkets.

                          2. I'm probably one of the minority in that I use my microwave a lot...

                            I steam/cook veggies in it.
                            The uses for cooked veggies are endless... cook and puree into a soup, or puree
                            into a sauce for pasta (that can also cook in the micro). You can also make
                            ratatouille.

                            I poach chicken in chicken broth and it ends up really tender to eat on the spot or make chicken salad out of later.

                            Make a veggie soup - start micro-ing water and veggie broth with the trinity, then add other veggies and continue to cook.

                            Easy to cook eggs as scrambled or poach (be sure to puncture the yolk)

                            I've made bread pudding on a medium heat setting.

                            Quesadillas - sprinkle tortillas with cheese, heat for twenty seconds til softened; fold tortilla and cook another 15-20 til gooey and melted together.

                            Blackened fish in a cooking dish with a little fish stock if desired or spray with Pam.

                            Oatmeal, soy grits, polenta, couscous (do the water in the micro, then pour over and let stand, reheat in micro if desired).

                            Bean salads - cook beans in stock or water in micro, drain, season, and add other fresh ingredients and/or grains.

                            Bunuelos - sprinkled tortilla or brush w/ water or butter, then sprinkle heavily with cinnamon sugar and micro til the tortilla bubbles and it will get crispy as it cools slightly

                            Mock rice (or barley) pudding - cottage cheese, rice/barley, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nuked til gooey.

                            Or, if you feel like being a kid again, melt/cook a mini size candy bar til it gets slightly burnt and gooey.

                            1. Don't know what a "Brown & Crisp" microwave is (brandname?), but I have a GE Advantium. It cooks with microwave and/or halogen, and browns, fries, bakes, steams. Well, the only thing I don't think I could manage to make in it is an omelette. But.... I don't think it's available in a countertop model. However, a really creative electrician should be able to make you a wooden box to mount it in so you can take it with you. You can read about them here:
                              http://www.geappliances.com/products/...

                              Short of an Advantium, there are all sorts of gadgets that allow you to do pracically everything in a standard microwave. Egg poachers that work pretty well, bacon fryers that don't work any better than a stack of paper towels, steamers, popcorn makers. I've even seen an ad for an espresso coffee maker, though I have my doubts about that one.

                              I'm assuming you either have or will be buying your own, so my best advice is not to compromise on power. Get the highest power mocrowave you can find, but do make sure you can use it at any power level you like, ranging from 10% to 100%. And I would try very hard to find one with some sort of browning element built in.

                              Good luck! And think of yourself as an exception. You'll be using your microwave for more than reheating coffee...! '-)

                              1. I've cooked fish with an iron before. I wrapped the fish in foil and left the iron pressed on it. I would check on it occasionally and move it around. I was in one of those desperate situations where I had a beautiful piece of raw toro that I couldn't let it go to waste. I love my fish grilled or pan fried but had no stove and I refuse to put it in the microwave.

                                I also had great results with the microwave steaming products.

                                1. I just posted this fabulous recipe for microwaved hot fudge sauce I made up last year. I put it on my blog. http://theprincey.blogspot.com/2008/0.... So when you tire of all the healthy steamed veggies and fish you can make with a microwave, you can indulge with this.

                                  1. We're doing kitchen renovations so have been doing without stove/oven for a while. TJs has precooked microwavable rice in the freezer case and precooked lentils in the fridge case. Imagine Foods has some good soups in tetra packs (available at WFM). We've been eating lots of hummus, dolmas, Israeli salad, raw zucchini ribbons and red bell pepper slivers topped with pasta sauce.

                                    1. I cook almost exclusively with a microwave. No one mentioned that sausages cook nicely in a microwave. A smoked sausage does better than a fresh sausage. If I'm using a fresh sausage I usually incorporate it in a dish like tomato sauce or an omelette. If there is a casing, be sure to poke a few holes in it with a fork to let steam escape.

                                      Fish is wonderful in a microwave. Very nice this time of year is to wrap fish in grape leaves and microwave ... lovely flavor.

                                      Barbara Kafka's book is ok ... just ok ... if you have absolutely no experience with some items in a microwave ... unless have been updates it is an ancient book. I bought it with my first microwave in the 1990's and maybe used it, at most, a dozen times with those being in the first year. I don't like the way some of the recipes turn out.

                                      I'm just curious. Are you in some sort of open cooking area or shared kitchen? I had a condo re-do and lived out of a motel for a while. Have no clue if hot plates were allowed or not. For me it was don't ask, don't tell. I kept things simple though. One medium pot that I used both for boiling and frying. Then I'd cool off the hot plate, clean the pot and store them away in a suitcase during the day ... not that I'm saying to break the rules.

                                      Oh, about oatmeal ... 1/3 cup oatmeal, 2/3 cup of water ... depending on your microwave, start at microwaving one minute and add 30 second bursts until done.

                                      Most veggies as mentioned microwave nicely, expecially corn on the cob. Buy some waxed papaer, wrap corn in it and microwave until done ... or just microwave in the husk ... but it is kind of hard to de-husk hot corn.

                                      You can make a nice fruit crisp in the microwave ... mix fresh fruit with desired spices and a touch of sugar. Nuke a minute or so. Top with oatmeat mixed with butter and brown sugar and nuke a few seconds more ... or top with your favorite granola.

                                      You can even make a nice juice-based "jello". Sprinkle one cup of fruit juice with 1 packet of Knox gelatin. Heat another cup of juice in microwave until it boils. Add hot juice to gelatin mixture. Fold in fresh fruit if desired and chill.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: rworange

                                        While I would recommend the Kafka book, I haven't used it that much in recent years. Maybe it's because the microwave is in the dining area, so it is used more for reheating than primary cooking. But two of the dishes that stand out from the Kafka book are desserts, one a chocolate pudding, the other a polenta with fruit. For those recipes, a large glass measuring cup (2qt) is the cooking vessel of choice.

                                      2. We have a friend who is a really nice guy, but who, at best, would be described as The Anti-Foodie. He has a regular kitchen and two microwaves. One lives on the top of the oven, the other lives in the oven.
                                        One he uses for steaming vegetables until they beg for mercy.
                                        The other he uses for dry cooking meat.
                                        Microwaved steak and microwaved chicken could be cut up for a salad.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: shallots

                                          So he has to open the oven door to use the microwave?

                                        2. re fish - I cook fish on the defrost setting, directly on the serving plate - it cooks very gently and is good and moist (I only cook white fish like cod and plaice like this - not meaty or oily fish).

                                          1. If you can find Goya brand in the freezer section, look for a box of plantains. Grab a 50 cent can of Black Beans, and a bag of shredded mozz. Get the chill off the plantians and then cut them into thick rounds, flip on the end and use a spoon to make wells into the plantain. I sauteed the black beans in olive oil, crushed galic and chopped onion but you may be able to skip that step or just try melting the onions and garlic in a small bowl.
                                            Assembly:
                                            Spoon beans into plantain "cups"
                                            Top with shredded mozz
                                            Cover with wax paper
                                            Microwave for 4 minutes or until everything is melty and the plantains are cooked

                                            It was sooooooo good- a coworker gave me the recipe, she's from Peru and we were talking beans and rice, and the fact that her family doesn't eat a lot of sandwiches-bread is on the table but it's not the main meal, etc.

                                            Anyway- it was 981828% humidity here the other day (at least it felt like that) and I didn't want to turn on my oven, so I did it in the microwave. Worked fine and I'll do it again and again.

                                            1. Corn on the cobb does really well. Wrap in plastic wrap and nuculate for 2 minutes for one ear and another minute for each additional ear.

                                              The nuculator is great for steaming things. Just think of it as a giant steamer. Whatever can be steamed will do just fine. You'll just have to fine tune the timing on yours.

                                              Try fish again but put it between moist paper towel and into a freezer bag before doing so. Same with shrimp and even crab legs.

                                              Bacon is great. So are hot dogs.

                                              DT

                                              1. an interesting article with recipes in womens' health magazine http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrit...

                                                1. Get yourself a copy of Barbara Kafka's "Microwave Gourmet." You'll have to adjust the cooking times for today's more powerful ovens, but this book remains the gold standard on the subject. Plus, if you have questions for adapting a recipe (or anything else) you can ask her on bkafka.com.

                                                  1. Thanks everyone for the suggestions so far!

                                                    I know that a lot of people have suggested that fish cooks well in a microwave, but for some reason I've never gotten that to work right. I usually bake my fish...that if I had an oven. But the few times I've tried microwaving fish have been absolute disasters as it doesn't cook evenly, etc.

                                                    But I do like fish and seafood a lot, so any suggestions in that area are much appreciated. Other than that, I'm mostly a "red meat and potatoes" kind of person, although cooking any kind of red meat, much less a steak, decently in a microwave has to be nearly impossible I imagine.

                                                    For the people who suggested that I buy a new microwave, this is a possibility although I already have a microwave, so it'd have to be significantly better to warrant a purchase that I'd mostly use for a few months a year.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: markml

                                                      For fish / seafood, try this.

                                                      Take a piece of parchment paper twice as long as it is wide. Fold into a square. Cut out a half-heart. You know, like when you made Valentines in second grade.

                                                      Open up the heart-shaped piece of parchment. Put a big pat of butter and layer of veggies (carrots, celery, leeks, whatever) on one half. Top with a piece of fish. Fold back into a half-heart. Starting at the top, make overlapping folds / twists to seal up the package. Before you get to the pointy end, pour in a few tablespoons of white wine. Then finish up and twist the end closed.

                                                      Pop in the microwave until the whole thing blows up for a minute or two. Pull out and let rest. Some crusty bread and you've got a complete meal. Or you can microwave couscous, potatoes, or rice separately.

                                                      Really, nuking can do any wet-heat cooking method pretty well. Yeah, it takes some experimentation to make sure things come out right, but if you can steam it or boil it you can nuke it. What you're really going to miss is the Maillard factor that comes from hot dry heat. Browning is a big part of what's good to eat, and there's no way to do that in the microwave.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        That foil-wrapped moldy item in the fridge that I finally found has put me off making fish until all the fridge odors are gone, but i have gotten some good microwave fish recipes from the net.I think I did halibut. I do corn on the cob in paper towels, soaking the shucked ears in water for 10 minutes first. Bacon. Heck, as a single person, I'm now nuking rice in a bag and noodles. So much more forgiving in timing dishes, cuz they keep hot in the microwaved water, whilst you cook something else. [Long story omitted here how I replaced my corroded mw oven with one from freecycle that pulls more electricity, so if I run the toaster oven at the same time, the fuse flips.] I like buying frozen wontons and chicken broth; add some chives or green onion, soup! Does anyone still have Littonware? I have a couple of pieces and I love them. Microwave, spoon out portions onto plates, put the lid back on the remainder and directly into the fridge. Chop up broccoli and add 1/4 cup water cover and cook 4-6 minutes. Drain and toss with 2 T. olive oil, 1 T. lemon juice [I use the Minute Maid frozen lemon juice. 6 lemons! Doesn't spoil!] shallots and red pepper flakes. Since I've been microwaving chopped broccoli this way, I now find the stalks the tastier part; I used to throw them out.

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                          Ahh...I totally agree about food not cooked with dry heat methods lacking something...and now I know why: Maillard reaction. That's interesting, I learned something new.

                                                          I'll try your fish idea sometime. What kinds of fish work best?

                                                          1. re: markml

                                                            Salmon is my standby, but I've done it successfully with halibut and mahi, too. You want a fairly thick filet so that it doesn't overcook.

                                                        2. re: markml

                                                          Put fish fillets in a teriyaki marinade of soy sauce, honey or brown sugar, lots of grated ginger, and a bit of white wine. I put all in a glass pie pan and cover with plastic wrap. The whole thing goes into the MW for up to three minutes.

                                                        3. People used to swear by a dish made by Corning. They don't make it anymore, but if you can't buy a newer type of microwave that also works as a regular convection oven (it has an element hanging from the ceiling of the microwave), it may be worth buying the corning dish on ebay.

                                                          It was a type of corning dish, but with metal lining on the bottom. You would heat it empty, then add the meat. It was probably called a browning dish and it had feet on the bottom so that it did not rest on the glass plate on the bottom of the microwave. It had a lid, too, like most corning. I don't recall if you could see the metal, or if it was somehow incorporated into the surface.

                                                          1. I made a warm bacon salad from the microwave the other day.
                                                            Place bacon (I used turkey bacon) on plate and microwave until crispy.
                                                            Remove bacon, and using same plate (there will even be browned bits on it!) pour on some champange vinaigarette or balsamic vinaigarette (or whatever you want to whisk together!). Then microwave the vinaigarette on the plate about 30-45 seconds until it bubbles. It will pick up the browned bits and fat from the bacon.
                                                            Then pour the hot vinaigarette over the spinach salad and toss.
                                                            Sprinkle the bacon on top. And add any extra veggies you want, mushrooms, hardboiled eggs, etc.

                                                            You can poach an egg in the microwave too and could do a French-style lardon salad with frisee.

                                                            1. Once in a holiday home in Belgium when I had only a microwave I made a decent fake risotto in a big casserole dish. Wash rice and put it in the casserole with pieces of boneless skinless chicken and some chopped onion, celery, mushrooms, and green pepper. Leave room for the rice to swell, add enough water, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and zap until everything is done. Surprisingly good.

                                                              1. I've never had luck with microwave fish until I tried the Ziploc steamer bags. They are supposed to be some special plastic that doesn't release chemicals...

                                                                My favorite is a salmon fillet with orange marmalade thinned out with a little soy sauce, sesame seeds and green onions sliced on the diagonal. Do some broccoli in another one and you have dinner without the cleanup!

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Cowprintrabbit

                                                                  Ok, I tried experimenting with the Ziploc bags and a filet of basa fish with some olive oil...and produced "exploding fish in a bag". Yep, it actually exploded. Guess I'll try again sometime.

                                                                  1. re: markml

                                                                    Wow, the special steamer ones? That's even more spectacular than my flaming broccoli (that was in Pyrex) Sorry about that!

                                                                    I popped back in heere to say I just picked up one of those microwave rice cookers you find in Asian grocery stores. I had one in my dorm and loved it, but have no idea where it went (maybe it's with the aorable little wool army jacket that went missing from the same dorm...)

                                                                    We have a gas stove that uses propane tanks outside for fuel and it's soooo sloow to boil water. Can't figure that out - fire is fire! But I've been doing all kinds of rice dishes in my new steamer; it says it can do pasta, veggies too. It even has a special Dim Sum insert! Now if I could just find a good place to buy frozen hum bao and shu mai in Israel...

                                                                    1. re: Cowprintrabbit

                                                                      Yep...well the fish was at least edible, despite not looking very appetizing. The steam pressure caused it to explode, although I'm not sure why...maybe too much liquids in there.

                                                                      Interesting find on the microwave rice cooker. I'll look into those too if I get a chance.