By Rosseadelle Ganayo
From the humble college student with no time, a yuppie with access to the office kitchen/pantry, to the condo resident with appliance restrictions, the microwave is the modern day hero every hustler needs. But as everyone knows, with great power, comes great responsibility. And that responsibility is to maximize the microwave’s full potential for ultimate convenience. Without exploring the other features of these small, beeping, light-up boxes, well, you’re just missing a whole new world full of hacks!
More than providing joy that there’s still leftovers that can be heated up when eating out isn’t so inviting, there is so much more to the microwave than meets the eye. This is the real magic box. Because unlike the TV with its moving pictures, you can actually reach in and pull out something you can eat. Impress your friends (and yourself) by concocting meals and snacks with little effort that takes no time at all with these hacks!
If you’re out of the containers clearly labeled “microwave-safe” and don’t want a disaster of melting or exploding containers inside the microwave while trying the rest of the hacks, there is an easy way to test which containers you can use. Fill a small microwave-safe bowl/cup/mug with cold water and place inside the container you wish to test. Place in the microwave for one minute and touch. If the water is hot and the container being tested isn’t, it’s safe to use to microwave food. If the container you test turns warm, it’s not microwave-safe.
Ever reheated food and find that one spot is extremely hot, while another is still cold? There is an easy fix: know that the center of the microwave is a “dead spot” where there is minimal heat. Instead of placing the container in the middle, place it along the side and watch your food go around like a carousel ride as it is evenly heated. Alternatively, use a large plate and place an upside-down mug or bowl in the middle and spread the food around the mug.
The microwave does have the reputation of drying out your leftovers. This is because microwaves target the water molecules in your food to make the heat, which in turn can dry up the food. To avoid this, place a damp piece or paper towel over your food to cover it when heating up or place a glass of water beside the container of food.
You can now have breakfast without leaving a full sink of dirty dishes. Make one-bowl scrambled eggs or frittata by microwaving it for a few minutes. You can also poach eggs by placing an egg in a bowl of water and microwaving it for a minute.
Can’t master crispy bacon in a pan? Chef Mike-rowave is here to help. Drape your bacon strips over an upside down bowl and place the bowl over a plate (to catch all that bacon grease) then microwave for a few minutes, about 1 minute per strip. Just microwave longer with 1 minute intervals for thick-cut strips. Cover everything with paper towels to save time and minimize the mess of grease popping onto the microwave walls.
Here’s a tip to get more juice from citrus fruits to help you save time and money: Nuke them. Roll the citrus fruit of your choice onto a flat surface to soften the fruit. Place it in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds, or until the skin is warm and soft to the touch. Let it cool a bit so you can handle it and prepare to slice into the plumper fruit (warning: possible splash zone). The fruit will be softer and easier to squeeze and will give you so much more juice!
Let’s be real: nobody has time to preheat the oven and use it for about 20 minutes just to toast a handful of nuts to add to your breakfast or snack. And nobody has the patience to toast them in a pan on low heat to make sure they don’t burn either. Solution? Spread your nuts in an even single layer on a plate and pop them in a microwave for 5 to 8 minutes, stopping every minute to mix them up. They won’t have the same golden look, but it’s the toasty flavor they have that’s important.
Chips made with less mess and personalized flavors, without needing to leave the house, AND doesn’t require the dangers of splashing oil to turn crispy? Yes please. Just take any vegetable from potatoes, carrots, to sweet potatoes and slice them into thin rounds; pat the slices dry, season, and zap in the microwave for a few minutes until crispy with 1 minute intervals. Emergency homemade chips in a pinch!
Have a sweet tooth but don’t have the time to bake? Mug cakes are perfect single serve treats that take less than 5 minutes to make. Mix just a few spoonful of flour, sugar, baking powder, milk, egg, and oil in a mug then zap in a microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. You can also use box cake mix; follow the package instructions and spoon the batter in the mug then into the microwave! Boom, sugar craving satisfied and you don’t need to share since you just have enough for yourself.
Potato is best carb there is and there is no question why. The potato is the most versatile with the ability to transform into so many things because of all the different ways it can be prepared and cooked. Of course, you can also microwave it. Whip up some mashed potatoes or baked potatoes in a flash with no pots or preheating needed! Wrap some potatoes in damp paper towels and cook in the microwave 10 to 15 minutes. Mash the potatoes and add the usual or slice potatoes in half then top with butter, cheese, and other toppings then microwave until cheese is melted.
Not only can you reheat cold rice in the microwave from this morning or even last night, you can actually make a fresh batch of hot steaming rice for lunch – because you are worth it. It will only take 10 minutes to cook half a cup of rice in a cup of water in the microwave. Take it to the next level and make “fried” rice by adding bits of frozen vegetables and other flavorings that you can find in the pantry!
This one goes out to all the pasta lovers who love convenience. Just cover the pasta with enough water and microwave for 6 to 8 minutes and drain any excess water. From there, the world has provided an arsenal of convenient flavorings to add: pre-made pasta sauce from marinara, cheesy pesto, to creamy alfredo in jars are heaven-sent. Be simply classy with an aglio olio by just adding olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and a few chopped tomatoes. You can even make your own macaroni and cheese. After the flavor is added, zap for 1 to 2 minutes and enjoy the pasta life.
There is nothing quite like corn on the cob as an afternoon snack on a warm day, but no one really sells it in the metro, and it takes a while to make some, not to mention how annoying cleanly removing the husk and silk are… or so they say. The microwave says otherwise. Place the corn, husk and all, into the microwave for 4 to 6 minutes and let it cool. It will continue cooking and simmering. Cut the bottom and the ready to eat corn will slide out without a problem, so have your salt and butter at the ready!
Garlic is a flavor bomb that some sadly avoid because the process of just getting it is such a hassle and leaves hands sticky and smelly. Thankfully this hack requires no arm workout unlike shaking the garlic peel off in a jar (score!). Just separate the bulb into cloves and place in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Once the cloves are cool enough to touch, just squeeze the ends and the garlic will pop out of its skin without any of the sticky sap!
Why peel tomatoes, you ask? Because it makes a better, smoother tomato sauce and soup. Also, any bitter taste you may notice in a tomato is caused by the skin. So if you want to amaze people with your next-level home cook skills with a smooth tomato-based sauce or creamy tomato soup with no bitter after taste, peel your tomatoes – which is so quick and easy to do with the microwave. just place them in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, cool, and peel.
Sick of onions making you cry? Slice off the top and bottom of the onion in question and plop into the microwave for 30 seconds. The microwave will target and dry up the onion’s defense mechanism of tear-inducing juices. This will leave you free to project your own defense mechanism onto the onion as you chop it up with all your pent up emotions. Perfect for adding to any dish, or making a salsa.
Getting too full to finish all the fries in one sitting or leaving a bag of chips improperly sealed will no longer be a problem. Simply place the now stale or soggy snack in the microwave at 30-second intervals and they will once again regain the glory of their crispy youthfulness. You won’t have to endure a soggy fry or stale chips as a snack anymore!
If you’ve jumped onto the ‘self-sustaining’ bandwagon, chances are you’ve started your own mini garden growing your own vegetables and herbs. Make your herbs last longer by drying them up! Simply place them on a plate lined with paper towels and microwave in 30-second bursts for 2- 5 minutes. Then keep them in containers and use in your dishes!
Nothing is better than sliced bread. But sometimes we take bread for granted and leave it somewhere it can get stale and flavorless. The poor bread deserves better than to be thrown out after being neglected. Recapture stale bread’s tasty splendor by placing it in the microwave with a glass of water or covered in a damp paper towel and zap for about 10 to 20 seconds.
Nobody likes overcooked cookies because they are too crisp and hard (but no judgement if that is what you like). If you like your cookies soft and chewy, there is still hope! Just pop them in the microwave and after about 30 seconds to 1 minute, your tough cookie will soften up just right. Enjoy cookies how they were meant to be – warm and chewy.
There is nothing quite as annoying than having to stab at hardened clumps of brown sugar because you don’t have an airtight container to put it in before you needed it for a recipe. Remedy this grievance without effort by microwaving it covered with a damp paper towel for 10-second intervals.
Too tired or tied for time to soak any dry grains for a healthy meal the next day? Microwave will save you time and money – and encourage you to cook healthier – by helping you cook those grains (that are so much cheaper when bought in dry bulk). Simply place 3 cups of water for every cup of beans/lentils/seeds in a bowl with a pinch of baking soda then microwave for 15 minutes to let it boil (experiment with the water ratio depending on your grain). Then let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Grain bowls, here we come!
Who doesn’t love this sweet treat? It’s difficult to make from scratch and still takes too long to make using a shortcut method (boiling a can of condensed milk for 3-4 hours). Quick fix for the insatiable sweet tooth: place contents of 1 can of condensed milk in a bowl and microwave in 30–second bursts for 10 to 12 minutes, whisking after each burst. Keep a close eye on it because the condensed milk has a tendency to bubble up and rise during the bursts! Once it looks like a mess of clumped up sugar, you’re golden. All you need to do is whisk it smooth.
If you love homemade caramel sauce but want to avoid the perils that come with making it, the microwave is indeed your best friend. Nuke a bowl filled with sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice (whisked together) for 5 to 8 minutes until it starts to get golden. Take the bowl out, cool a bit and pour in some cream (don’t get scared at this point, but it’ll bubble furiously) then whisk in vanilla and butter. And just like that, your caramel sauce is ready to go!
Working with chocolate but aren’t confident enough to melt it over a double boiler? Trust Chef Mike-rowave to have your back. Melting chocolate could not be easier and without the threat of water splashing onto (therefore ruining) chocolate. Break your chocolate into even sized chunks and microwave in 1 minute bursts (30-second bursts for white chocolate). Stop nuking it when you see it’s almost completely melted. Just stir it at that point and it will completely melt smoothly without burning.
BONUS TIP! By now, you will have zapped and nuked three-fourths of your kitchen and pantry while testing out these hacks and more out there. Quite possibly, you will have encountered over heating something until it exploded or forgot to watch for anything overspilling into a sticky mess (don’t worry, we have been there too). Your microwave will be in need of some cleaning sooner or later, and the fastest way to get rid of smells and stains is to place a bowl of water with lemon juice and the lemon halves in the microwave and heat it for 5 minutes. Vinegar will also do but just be prepared for the vinegar smell for the first few minutes. Carefully take out the hot bowl and wipe it down. Ready for more nuking!
These small beeping light up boxes provide so much more than what meets the eye. While Gordon Ramsay may not recommend them for professional restaurants, surely he’d understand people with limitations and limited resources that need to eat. So experiment away and build your relationship with your microwave as you work your way to being a kitchen hacker!