Real Simple magazine, the only magazine with a solecism in the title, has come up with a list of “14 Who Knew? Uses for your Microwave.” A few of them actually work but most are either wrong or downright silly.
Remember that a microwave really doesn’t cook anything very well: all it does is cause water molecules to vibrate and turn into steam. There is no browning or other cooking taking place.
To test some of these ideas, we bought garlic at Stop and Shop and some nice broccoli at Village Market.
Here are the ones that are completely nuts
4. Baking potatoes – Yes, you can heat up a baking potato in a microwave, but it doesn’t make a “baked potato.” Not only is the skin not crisp, the texture is really disgusting: like a mashed potato in a flabby skin. We covered this in detail in an article last year. We also found that the microwaved potato had a pretty wimpy taste, too. See picture in the slide show.
7. Proofing yeast doughs – Put the dough in the microwave on very low power very carefully for 3 minutes, let rest and repeat? You have a good chance you’ll kill the yeast! Just leave the dough in a warm place for the usual time, maybe under a heat lamp. Rushing dough rising will make the texture much less interesting, and the flavor more yeasty.
10. Roasting garlic – This is a real disaster. Using their recipe, you add olive oil and water to a head of garlic that you’ve cut the top off and cook at medium power for 7 minutes or so. You end up with steamed garlic which is neither browned nor caramelized. If you heat the garlic at full power, you get a burnt lump and garlicky smoke in your microwave. Better to do this slowly in the oven where you can watch it, in foil if you like.
11. Partially cooking foods for the grill – Cooking veggies in the microwave leads to limp tasteless veggies. They also suggests melting marshmallows for S’mores. As if the taste from the fire wasn’t part of the dish? And what a mess!
12. Getting more juice from citrus fruits – They suggest heating the cold, refrigerated fruits for 20 seconds before squeezing them. Leaving them out on the counter for a few minutes has the same effect. And you can do this after squeezing and then squeeze a little more. And an overly microwaved lemon might explode like a Chinese watermelon!
13. Toasting nuts – They suggest heating nuts for 3 minutes on high with stirring every minute. We were able to get more uniformly toasted nuts without burning them in 2 minutes on the stove in a small fry pan. And stirring inside a microwave is really awkward. See picture in the slide show.
14. Cooking vegetables – RS says you can cook any vegetable without water in the microwave by just laying the vegetables in a dish and covering with plastic wrap. The slide show has a picture of pieces of limp, dessicated looking broccoli spears cooked that way for 2 minutes. Forget it. Cook your vegetables in a steamer, or roast them.
2. Cooking an entire dinner in under 10 minutes. Preposterous. Given the terrible results with potatoes and vegetables, we’d hardly commit a $20 piece of salmon to this science experiment. Cook your salmon by poaching as usual. Probably will take under 20 minutes and you have a lot better control in an oven or on a stovetop than in a cramped microwave.
Ideas that actually work
5. Softening brown sugar – Add a few drops of water and microwave the bag. But if you keep your sugar tightly sealed in a plastic bag, you’ll never need to do this.
6. Decrystallizing honey – This will work, too. So will setting the jar in warm water.
- Disinfecting/deodorizing sponges – Hot soapy water will do this, and you probably use it every time you use the sponge to wipe up anything greasy.
- Disinfecting plastic cutting boards – Our cutting board is too big for a microwave anyway, but they suggest washing the board well, rubbing it with the cut side of a lemon and heating it for one minute. This might leave baked lemon juice on the board, but the disinfecting took place when you washed it.
- Heating up health aids – You can heat up gel packs in your microwave, if they have no foil on them.
- Warming up beauty products – You can warm up a hot oil conditioning pack for your hair in about 20 seconds. OK you can do this if you want, but these last two have nothing to do with cooking or food.
In general, you will find that a microwave is good for melting butter and chocolate and heating up milk for baking, and for making popcorn. Most of the ideas in the RS article either don’t work, or are kind of silly.
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