Ah, freshman year — when makeshift kitchens consisted of a microwave, mini-fridge and a contraband blender. Hard times indeed but those who resigned to living off of Lean Cuisine and Top Ramen have only themselves to blame. Because when it’s not ruining your gold-rimmed plates or pulsating invisible radiation into the air, the humble microwave is a box for culinary brilliance.
Anything can be made in a microwave — from tasty omelets to soft brownies — and none of it needs to come from a frozen box. If there’s no time for an Everybody’s Kitchen breakfast feast, or if you’re sick of Clif bars, there is no better tool for a fast, yummy breakfast than the microwave.
Three easy breakfasts are eggs, toast and oatmeal. Eggs are a great way to get some early morning protein, and yolks are like weird-consistency yellow multivitamins. Liquid eggs, such as Egg Beaters, are a great alternative and are a little easier to work with.
All it takes to have a microwave-made omelet is a mug or bowl and some cooking spray. Spray down the mug or bowl and add the eggs or liquid eggs. Beat the eggs, then microwave for 60 seconds. Take out, stir and add your mix-ins. Salt, cheese and spinach are just a few tasty options. Microwave for another 30 seconds, or until the mixture is set, and let cool for a few moments, then devour.
You might have once tried to make toast in the microwave, winding up with a soggy mess or a monster crouton. Although bread doesn’t really toast in the microwave, it can easily be made into a hot piece of bread that’s stiff but not brick-dry. The trick is to swaddle both sides of the bread in a paper towel or napkin, microwave for 15 seconds, then flip and microwave for 15 more. Let cool for a few moments, then eat. This also works with English muffins, pita bread and other carb-loaded goods.
Oatmeal, however, is the true breakfast of champions. Pair with some eggs or Greek yogurt and you have a long-lasting powerhouse. Quaker may have its army of sugar-saturated, microwave-friendly instant packs, but you can make a far tastier bowl if you take just an extra minute or two. Get some Quick Oats and add milk or water, microwave for one minute, but keep an eye on it — oats can bubble over. Take out and stir. Now, add in anything your little heart desires — cinnamon, bananas, chocolate chips, peanut butter or all of the above. Microwave for another 30 seconds, splash in a little extra milk if desired and eat. You’ll never go back to the freeze-dried apple chunks again.
Although its reputation would bediffer, microwaves are also quite capable of cooking beef, chicken and fish. If you know what you’re doing (or know how to use Google), you can craft tasty, little plates of gourmet cuisine. But it does take finesse and possibly a few failed attempts to master microwave salmon steak duxelles. Take the modern route and choose Ziploc.
Ziploc Zip ‘n Steam bags are the best thing to happen to easy cooking since the crock pot. You can throw your meat and vegetables all into the baggie, add in your spices and oils and heat according to the directions (which are printed on each bag). Sit back and revel in a delicious, healthy and effortless dinner. You can even add frozen meat and vegetables, so keep a stash of frozen chicken breasts in your freezer and you will be in business. Just a word of warning though: If the meat is frozen, there will be water at the bottom of the bag when it’s done, so be careful of scalding liquid.
Now, for dessert. Ever get a late-night craving for brownies? If you have any kind of cake or brownie mix, you can make a personal cake right in your microwave. All you need is a can of soda. First, spritz a bowl or mug with cooking spray. Spoon as much of the mix as you want to eat into the bowl. Add enough soda (both diet and regular work) so that it has the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with a napkin and place in the microwave. Time will vary depending on how much mix you used, but start with 60 seconds and keep an eye on it. Add more time as needed, until you have a perfect little mini-cake. Take it out a little early for a fudgier alternative. Cool Whip is optional.
And who says protein powder is just a utilitarian post-workout supplement? For athletes who have whey protein powder, just combine a scoop with a little milk, liquid egg whites or water, and you will be seconds away from a protein brownie (or blondie)! If you are feeling extra frisky, add in peanut butter, spices or any 21 Choices mix-in.
Now you have no excuse for complaining to Mom that you can never get a good meal — unless you’re just trying to score some cash or cookies. With only your standard microwave and refrigerator, a year’s worth of decent food is at your fingertips. So next time you feel like procrastinating on your paper, forget that traumatizing SpaghettiO’s episode and make friends with the microwave.
Mimi Honeycutt is a sophomore majoring in print journalism. Her column “Gingersnaps” runs Wednesdays.