Whether you’re in a manic midweek rush or just don’t fancy slaving over a hot stove, the lure of a ready-meal is sometimes too tempting to resist. But why settle for peeling back the plastic from disappointing, pre-prepared dishes when you can quickly whip up a tastier alternative? Read on for Jack’s top tips for making microwave meals with fresh ingredients.
Getting to know your microwave
Jack says: ‘I first ventured into microwave cooking last year, as my friends all gave up chocolate, wine and sugar for Lent, and, wanting to set myself a challenge, I promptly gave up my oven. I hunted in charity shops for battered copies of 1970s microwave cookbooks, and set about it with gusto. The little blue box in the corner of the kitchen, previously used only to revive forgotten cups of coffee, suddenly became a whole new challenge.
Like any new relationship, we had to learn each other’s quirks and foibles, and many exploded eggs and soup volcanoes later, we were starting to understand each other. The response from my readers was phenomenal – grateful for quick and easy meals with little washing-up, portable jars of lunch to take to sparsely equipped office kitchens and on shift work, and awakening the sleeping boxes in the corners of kitchens up and down the country. Viva la microwave meals – with a difference.’
Need to buy a microwave? Read our on-test team’s best microwaves.
Jack’s top tips
Always avoid metal
Never ever, ever put anything metal in the microwave, or any crockery with a metal trim. Metal reflects the microwaves and catches fire – with my firefighter hat on, it’s a common cause of kitchen fires, and kitchen fires quickly turn into house fires. If in doubt, leave it out.
Cover with cling film
When cooking dishes with a high liquid content, such as pasta, rice or soups, cover with cling film and pierce to contain the liquid and allow the heat to escape – this prevents messy explosions! I stand anything like this in a bowl to catch any escaping liquid and keep the bottom of my microwave clean.
Pierce for a perfect poach
For a perfect microwave-poached egg, crack it into a fat-bottomed mug, then pierce the yolk with a knife or fork – this is really important. The yolk cooks faster than the white, so leaving the membrane intact will cause your yolk to make a bid for freedom under the pressure. When pierced, cook it on medium for three 30-second bursts. If you’re cooking it with other food, you can use high, as the more things there are in a microwave, the less microwaves each one absorbs and the more gently everything cooks.
In case of spills or dried-on food, simply place a slice of lemon in a bowl of water, and ping in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove the lemon and rub it over any stains or baked-on residue to loosen it.
Jack’s microwave recipes
Microwave kale & chilli eggs
Hearty, delicious, vegetarian and ready in just 15 minutes – this recipe couldn’t tick more boxes if it tried. If you think you’ll miss the meat in this kidney bean chilli, add a little chopped chorizo or salami at the beginning of cooking.
Microwave mac ‘n’ cheese
If you thought pasta always goes mushy in the microwave, think again! Jack’s mouth-watering meal for one can be easily doubled – if you can bear to share, that is. You can even take it to work: simply pack the components separately, then pop in the microwave at the first signs of a pre-lunch tummy rumble.
Microwave bacon & bean casserole
Get two of your five-a-day in one seriously speedy weeknight dinner. Shop-bought baked beans make a delicious addition to this solo stew with streaky bacon, and they thicken the sauce while adding flavour.
Microwave peanut butter & jam brownies
Fancy a freshly baked brownie without the long wait? A few storecupboard ingredients and just 15 minutes are all you need to make this chocolatey sweet treat, which beats a plain old mug cake any day. It’s microwave magic!
Microwave penne pappa al pomodoro
This perfect personal portion of pasta can be on the table in a mere 25 minutes, with a rich garlic and herb tomato sauce that would have any Italian mama fooled into thinking you’d been slaving over a hot stove.
An Indian-inspired rice dish that will become your go-to recipe for using up leftover vegetables lurking in your fridge. Spiced with cumin, cinnamon and cardamom, this fast and flavour-packed one-pot makes a quick and easy midweek meal.
Microwave recipes and advice
Are you a fan of shop-bought ready-meals, or would you rather cook from scratch? What are your top tips for cooking in the microwave? Let us know in the comments below.