The Best Meals to Make With Your Microwave
Whether you're in a dorm, a hotel or a fit of laziness.
When you’re living an oven-free life, dining out is a huge part of the fun. But when you want to eat something homemade — and not even delivery or room service will suffice — it’s time to turn to your existing appliances — namely, the microwave. Armed with a little elbow grease, a microwave and mini fridge, you can whip up home-cooked meals like it’s your home kitchen. We’re talking loaded baked potatoes, noodle bowls, quesadillas and mac and cheese — and even possibly a homemade cake.
When it comes to microwave-friendly meals, one dish comes to mind before all others. Baked potatoes are an easy microwave meal for home cooks, and a go-to recipe for chefs on the road, too. Since leaving his native Australia, executive chef Peter Smith, who oversees the food and beverage program at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, has logged plenty of miles. His go-to travel recipe for the microwave is a loaded baked sweet potato, complete with bacon crumbles on top. He’s fine-tuned his recipe over the years to make his ideal of a sweet-savory DIY entrée:
Wash and scrub a medium sweet potato (or yam), poke holes in the sweet potato with a fork (so it doesn’t explode), then rub it with about a tablespoon of oil and salt to taste. Place the bacon slices on the same plate as the potato, then microwave for 7 to 9 minutes until the bacon is crispy (watch it to make sure it doesn’t burn) and the potato is tender. Once the bacon cools, crumble it and reserve. Slice the potato in half and use a fork to fluff up the insides, then sprinkle cheese on top and microwave for another 30 seconds. Top with sour cream, bacon bits and chopped fresh chives.
Mug it up
There are entire cookbooks devoted to cooking meals in mugs in the microwave, and for good reason: It’s an easy and quick way to make a meal for one. When Stephanie Ormond, general manager of Kinston, North Carolina’s Mother Earth Motor Lodge, needs to make the most of a quick lunch break (or finds herself on the road), her go-to meal is mac ‘n’ cheese in a mug.
“I take a taller coffee mug and put the pasta, water, salt and usually butter,” she says. “Microwave for about three-and-a-half minutes or until the pasta is tender; you may need to ‘fork drain’ the excess water.” Then she adds shredded cheese (she calls her favorite, Sargento 4-State Cheddar, a game-changer) and microwaves the lot for another 30 seconds or until the cheese is melted and gooey.
The mug is also a great tool for crafting single-serving desserts. Sate your sweet tooth with this Instant Chocolate Cake (pictured); Trisha’s sweet-meets-savory Peanut Butter Mug Cake with Chocolate Icing and Potato Chips; or use this Basic Mug Cakes recipe to whip up variations like confetti cake or strawberry shortcake.
Capitalize on the bowl trend with a rice, noodle or grain bowl. Make a batch of Perfect Microwave Rice or stock up on microwave pouches of rice, then top a bowlful with a medley of add-ons such as pickles, kimchi, sliced and julienned raw veggies, beans or pre-baked tofu, then drizzle with hot sauce, nut butter or soy sauce.
Mark Allison, the former Dean of Culinary at Johnson and Wales Charlotte and current Executive Chef of Culinary Innovation for Cabarrus Health Alliance, likes to make Asian-style breakfast noodles by microwaving noodles such as soba or udon with stock for two to two-and-a-half minutes (or until noodles are tender). You can then serve them in the broth like a noodle soup, or strain most of the stock and put noodles on a plate. Customize your dish with mix-ins like soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil or sriracha, and pad out the meal with cubes of pre-baked tofu or steam-in-a-bag veggies.
Don’t skip breakfast
Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you have to settle for a granola bar or instant oatmeal for breakfast (try this recipe for Microwave Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal — pictured up top — instead). You can even make a hot cooked breakfast like bacon and scrambled eggs.
Allison makes bacon and eggs on the road by lining the microwave plate with two pieces of paper towel, topping it with four slices of bacon, and covering it with another two pieces of towel and nuking it for two minutes. Check to make sure it’s cooked and crisp, if it’s not, cook for another minute. Carefully remove the bacon and paper towel and put bacon onto a plate. For the eggs, crack two eggs into a cereal bowl or disposable coffee cup, whisk with a fork and place in microwave and cover with a paper towel. Cook on high for one minute, whisk again, then cook for another 45 to 60 seconds, keeping a close eye to ensure they don’t overcook. Serve with the bacon.
Use Allison’s technique to make scrambled eggs below to whip up breakfast tacos or mix with rice and veggies for a DIY take on breakfast fried rice.
Rely on rotisserie
Rotisserie chicken is a weeknight dinner all-star, so don’t forget about this convenient ingredient for your hotel room pantry too. Shred chicken and use it to make quesadillas (just sprinkle cheese and chicken on one half of the microwave, fold the quesadilla in half and microwave until the cheese is melty), nestle it into tacos, garnish microwaved pasta or grain bowls with it, then refrigerate the leftover chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches or wraps the next day.
Know what not to do
Since there’s no on-site dining at Mother Earth Motor Lodge, Ormond says that guests often pick up groceries to prepare meals in their room. That doesn’t mean that all meals are created equal as far as the hotel is concerned. After one guest made poached salmon in their microwave, it took three days to air out the room before it could be put back into reservation rotation. Think twice before microwaving any kind of fish or shellfish or strong-odor foods such as garlic.
And during one extended stay at Mother Earth Motor Lodge, visiting baseball teams managed to set not one, but two microwaves on fire. Ormond says, “Spread the word: don’t put metal in a microwave!” Ditto that for aluminum foil, take-out containers (plastic and Styrofoam), newspapers, plastic bags and paper bags.
Some foods just shouldn’t go in the microwave, either. Allison recommends avoiding putting eggs in their shells or hot peppers in the microwave, as both can explode (not to mention make a huge mess).