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There is No Microwave

March 4, 2010

Something about this week has me swimming against the current.  First I sang the praises of Walmart (and was not alone) and then I suggested that Albany actually has wonderful wings (and should get over its inferiority complex).  Yesterday I had to spend a bit more time clarifying my position on the Walmart post to counter some of the initial resistance.  Luckily there hasn’t seemed to be much fallout on the wing front.

Today’s contrary position: I do not own a microwave.  I do not believe in them.

I suppose it would be more correct to say that my family does not own a microwave because I will not permit one in the house.  These poor souls are condemned to live a life without a modern appliance that many families could not live without.

How could I be so heartless?
How does my family eat?

Well, there are really two things at play.  The first is reasonable and the second is crazy.  The reasonable side says that microwave ovens do not do a particularly good job.  Yes, there may be a few things that they do admirably well.
–       Soften butter
–       Cook bacon
–       Boil water

I even heard one brilliant microwave suggestion, I believe from Albany John, that involved using the device as a deep fryer.  And while I was intrigued by frying tasty treats in a super-large Pyrex® measuring cup filled with super-heated microwaved peanut oil, the whole exercise sounded decidedly unsafe.

With the exception of the frying, these things are perfectly easy to do using conventional cooking methods.  They may take a little more time, but the end result is improved.
–       Butter left out at room temperature won’t melt
–       Oven-baked bacon yields more delicious rendered fat
–       Kettle-boiled water stays warmer longer

Plus eliminating a microwave saves us precious counter space.

Personally, I don’t generally think about not having a microwave, until I am confronted with one outside the home and struggle to figure out how to make the damn thing work.  Mrs. Fussy on the other hand, thinks about not having a microwave a lot.

The problem is that when one owns a microwave, one is tempted to use the microwave.  And let me tell you, microwaved sweet potatoes are unrecognizable as the same vegetable as these.  Mine take well over an hour.  But they are worth it.

The same can be said for virtually any other food.  Making popcorn on the stovetop is easy, quick and satisfying.

Those of course are some of the reasonable arguments for avoiding the microwave.  Here is the less reasonable position.

Do you know how if someone tells you something again and again over a long period of time, you are inclined to believe it, regardless of whether it is true?  I find this especially to be the case if the person in question is an authority figure, like an employer or a parent.

Well, my mom has always been convinced that microwaves (and red M&M’S) cause cancer.

And yes, I know it’s crazy. Feel free to show me any proof you have to the contrary.  It doesn’t really matter.  I will still stand far away from any operating microwave oven.  I get that from my mother.  And she’s messed my mind up.  But I still love her.

Out of idle curiosity, what do you use your microwave for anyhow?

32 Comments leave one →
  1. tsetzer permalink
    March 4, 2010 10:56 am

    When I moved to NY (temporarily….5 years ago!) I did not have a microwave. Guests would come to stay in my extra bedroom and go looking for the microwave when they were doing whatever one does with the microwave. It didn’t dawn on me that I did not have one. When I decided to stay here and did a full kitchen appliance remodel I was talked into getting a microwave installed over the gas stove. It does a lot of other cooking functions which I have yet to explore. I do boil water now and again but since I only use one cup I would rather not have a unitasking teakettle on the stove top.

    I don’t use the toaster either…..but I cook every day.

  2. Ellie permalink
    March 4, 2010 10:57 am

    I use my microwave for frozen veggies. I need to buy frozen veggies. I don’t have time to market with my job and the odd hours I put in. I do however like to eat veggies. So I buy the frozen because they last longer, and I can eat them at my own pace.

  3. Mama Ass permalink
    March 4, 2010 11:29 am

    Our lives are a quick food disaster, but I’ll spare you.
    I don’t like to boil water in the microwave. That’s dumb.
    But I do find the steam-in-the-bag veggies work great in the microwave and it saves on clean-up.
    Reheating soup and chili is a pot saver.
    Honestly it’s more about not having to wash the pot.
    And we do like microwave popcorn as we send it for snack in containers during school and it gets made while I am multitasking.

  4. beck permalink
    March 4, 2010 11:30 am

    I wouldn’t call my microwave a kitchen essential and could certainly make do without it, but it does come in handy sometimes.

    I know you’ve stated before that you’re opposed to leftovers, but I am not, and the microwave is just fine at heating up certain leftovers, such as soups. It’s not so good at others, for which I use the stove. I also use it to heat up a mug of water for tea, which is probably sacrilege to serious tea lovers, but it’s just fine for me. I also like using the microwave to steam vegetables, both fresh and frozen.

    I don’t like microwave popcorn; it never seems to cook evenly and I’m either left with nasty, burnt popcorn or some good popcorn and lots of unpopped kernals. My favorite way to soften butter is to leave it on the stovetop while the oven preheats. Of course, that doesn’t work if you aren’t using the oven for a particular recipe, but if you are it’s perfect.

    I’d have missed a microwave at work much more than I would miss it at home, since I only had a 25 minute lunch break at my last job and I prefer to eat hot food.

    • March 4, 2010 11:44 am

      I have melted more sticks of butter onto my stove top from doing that than I care to think of. I am very easily distracted.

  5. kerosena permalink
    March 4, 2010 11:33 am

    I’ve lived both with and without a microwave. If it’s there, I’ll use it. If it’s not, no big deal.

    #1 use is the clock. Not even the timer, the clock. I glance at it countless times during the day. And yes, I realize that there are other ways to get the time.

    I have some stomach problems. I eat a lot of rice. I own a rice cooker, but the steamed white rice from Gold Key just tastes better. I’ve not found a better way of reheating rice than microwaving. It’s also good for reheating plain pasta.

    I also eat some frozen foods. Amy’s brand sells some nice, non-chemical, non-gmo, non-dairy meals like tofu lasagna and palak tofu. 5 minutes in the microwave vs. 40 minutes in the oven. This is an incredible convenience for me, and much preferred to a lunch of dry cereal or a nothing sandwich.

    • March 4, 2010 11:46 am

      Have you ever reheated rice in a double boiler? I sprinkle a little water on top of the rice, put it in a glass bowl with a cover and set it over a small pot of boiling water. The rice stays really nice and fluffy and moist like that. Works for mashed potatoes too.

      • Kerosena permalink
        March 4, 2010 6:03 pm

        Have not tried this method due to the ease of the put-bowl-in microwave-for-1-minute method :)

  6. March 4, 2010 11:34 am

    I can get behind this one. We have a microwave because it was already here but when we move, I likely will not incorporate a microwave into the next kitchen.

    Mostly I use ours to reheat my tea that I’ve forgotten about for the umpteenth time. It’s also good for melting chocolate. That’s pretty much it. I don’t like microwave reheated food so I am more likely to reheat food in a skillet anyway.

  7. Jill permalink
    March 4, 2010 2:13 pm

    instant oatmeal
    single cup of tea
    lean cuisines (some days you just have to eat fast, and without planning)
    reheating leftovers
    single serve popcorn
    steamed veggies
    softening butter (again, no planning)

    I agree with the earlier post – not having to clean a pot is a huge advantage.

  8. MiMi permalink
    March 4, 2010 3:19 pm

    Microwave popcorn for the grandkids
    Reheating cold coffee
    Boil Water for a single cup of tea
    reheating leftovers
    Melting chocolate/marshmallows
    Steaming vegetables

    But no, I don’t actually cook much of anything in it except vegetables and have on occasion bacon (for a quick and easy BLT.

  9. March 4, 2010 3:59 pm

    Pro microwave here. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. (But don’t put the baby in the microwave.)

    I have not been able to find a coffee maker that gets the stuff hot enough for me and manual methods tend to be too fussy plus burn the coffee if you leave it on a low flame. Microwaving to the proper temperature is the solution. Rght there is enough justification for me.

    Ditto heating up leftovers, or rewarming a lunch plate that cooled off because I got distracted posting to the fussy blog.

    And a microwave makes a great steamer for anything that you might reheat in a Chinese wok/bamboo basket, eg dim sum.

  10. March 4, 2010 6:52 pm

    Holy snap, people have a lot to say about microwaves!

    Thankfully, Albany John still hasn’t actually tried the deep frying in the microwave idea. Yet. Fingers crossed it stays that way. But he does whip up some mighty fine beans in there.

    I like it for microwaving popcorn. I could probably get an air-popper, but right now I have a doo-hickey that’ll pop kernels in the micro w/out oil, and boy do they taste light as anything.

  11. March 4, 2010 7:40 pm

    We don’t have a microwave. I don’t miss it for anything except when I’m craving White Castle. Frozen sliders just aren’t the same oven-baked.

    (Yes, I just admitted I occasionally crave White Castle.)

  12. March 4, 2010 9:11 pm

    Microwaves are good at a few things and very good at a couple things, but are the wrong choice for anything else. They’re not “ovens” nor a straight-up replacement for any other tool … other than a steamer. With the right method and some experience, a microwave is a great steamer. In fact, you can’t get it not to be a steamer. Pizza warmed in a microwave? Jamais. Who wants steamed pizza?

    How do you know you’re using the microwave only for things it’s good at? If a glass (or ceramic) vessel and a plastic wrap cover are involved, you’re on the reservation. And, yeah, there are consumer foods engineered for the microwave, but let’s leave those aside.

    Don’t see the advantage of boiling water in the micro instead of a kettle. The warming vessel will be too hot and hard to handle (and splashy), and while I can see the water roiling I don’t know it’s at 212 F. With a kettle I know when it hit the boil and how long it’s been since, and have a sense of how long the kettle holds heat. And I can bring it back to a boil in seconds with the twist of a knob. I think there are folks who gave the kettle’s job to the microwave years ago. Probably want to reverse that.

    Still have my battered copy of Barbara Kafka’s 1987 Microwave Gourmet. It was written when a powerful microwave was maybe 700w, and hasn’t been updated, so is less useful today. But I was lucky to work through it in its time, because it’s encyclopedic and turns a critical tester’s eye on exactly what this thing can do and what it can’t.

    Nobody needs a microwave, but it has its charms. Hot-beverage (or soup) warming is an example. What else lets you quickly raise the temp of a liquid without meaningful reduction and without placing it in a separate metal vessel that must be watched, then cleaned? Suppose you already put the mashed potatoes or a vegetable dish in its serving bowl, but something happened and the entrée took longer than expected. Plastic wrap cover and twenty seconds in the microwave corrects the serving temp at no cost, no loss. Everything’s right again.

    The other night I was at my Mom’s for dinner. Among many other things she was preparing cavatelli (gah-vah-DEE) and broccoli. All the burners were full, but she was still jockeying to steam the broccoli on the stove top. For what? There’s a microwave right above her that can do the job perfectly, and in the serving dish that the finished thing will go out in anyway.

    Dude. Knowing the microwave means knowing what you can safely delegate to it when time or space gets tight. It’s a second-class citizen to be sure, but a citizen nonetheless.


  13. phairhead permalink
    March 4, 2010 9:15 pm

    softening butter
    baking potatoes
    and shamefully, I admit, I love those steamed microwave veggies from Green Giant

  14. March 4, 2010 9:50 pm

    I use it to reheat leftovers but not for cooking. Occasionally a bag of popcorn will be popped, but not too much else.

    Your Mom could be right. Cancer has increased for sure over the recent years. It’s possible it could be a contributing factor….

  15. gpet permalink
    March 4, 2010 10:58 pm

    But what about fondue Prof Fussy?

    • March 5, 2010 12:55 am

      I am outing gpet as my oldest friend who I sometimes refer to as ADS.

      He is referring to a story from college days that I wrote about in this post.
      Truth be told, I used the microwave to accomplish a surprisingly delicious feat.
      But it was more a matter of necessity than choice.

  16. March 5, 2010 12:07 am

    Leftovers, my main staple. Also, the microwave is great for steamed dumplings.

  17. Elyse permalink
    March 5, 2010 8:30 am

    Haven’t owned a microwave in years, mostly due to space issues- though as we re-organize our kitchen we may have room for one eventually. Do I miss it? Sometimes, when I’m in a rush and need to heat up leftovers NOW. Usually we heat up leftovers in the oven though and it the texture is better, though it takes a lot longer.
    Not sure what else I’d use it for. I just don’t relate to all this talk of frozen veggies, lean cuisine and instant oatmeal. I don’t drink hot beverages.

    I have to say, though- I can’t live without a microwave at work because 80% of my lunches are leftovers.

  18. March 5, 2010 8:37 am

    Preparing oatmeal by the bowl. Steaming artichokes. Reheating leftovers. Also, Rick Bayless has great directions for reheating store-bought tortillas in his Mexican Everyday book.

  19. March 5, 2010 4:33 pm

    I’ve lived with and without one. I find that when I’m without one, I don’t miss it. Of course, if there’s one around, I will use it for some things — like when I need to thaw something very rapidly.

    More often than not, I prefer to heat things up in a toaster oven. I don’t really like the taste of most things microwaved and I get a little nervous about possible carcinogens.

    I recently got rid of my coffee maker too, and now solely use my French press. I’m not crazy about gadgets, but I swear by my rice cooker.

    The microwaves at my office, however, gets a lot of use from me. I love leftovers for lunch and most of them are kinda nasty cold, imho.

    I remember one time my mother stayed at my apartment before I lived with a microwave-owner, and she was perplexed. A year later, she went micro-free herself.

  20. tsetzer permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:40 pm

    Hooray for the toaster oven! I like to use that for smaller things and use the pizza stone in the oven for things that need crunch. Probably not the smallest carbon footprint but it is what it is.

    I am a gross toad that eats a lot of foods cold because they are not much better heated (grains, chicken, etc).

    The air popper is almost in the daily rotation.

  21. March 7, 2010 8:08 pm

    We just bought our first microwave today after living without one for a decade.

    With my new job, we’ve found ourselves eating crap on weeknights. I’ve been cooking more on Sundays for the week, and think it will actually be a tool to make weeknight dining a bit better.

    We’ll see how long before we want the space back!

  22. Katy permalink
    March 8, 2010 12:08 am

    I’ve been living microwave-free for two years, mostly by accident – I forget they exist! and partly necessity – tiny kitchens. Honestly, I never notice until a houseguest goes looking for one, and I cook a lot.

    That said, the one thing I wish I could zap: chocolate. No matter how slowly I double-boil, I almost always burn it. And chinese food!

  23. Ellen Whitby permalink
    March 11, 2010 11:06 pm

    Softening the ice cream when you can’t wait for it to sit on the counter.

  24. Phoebe permalink
    March 14, 2010 3:47 pm

    I’m surprised at how many people use it to heat up water for tea. You can put one cup worth of water in a teakettle, you know. It heats up really fast, and it stays warm longer (don’t ask me why, but it’s true). And as far as taking up space, I find I don’t use all 4 burners on my stove more than once a month and I cook quite a bit. Just put it to the side when you really need the space. That stupid “ding!”, or “BEEP!” just isn’t the same as a good old kettle whistle.

  25. April 27, 2010 10:17 am

    I’ve got a four and a half month old so the microwave is necessary. We use it for oatmeal in the morning, heating up water for my Neti Pot, occasionally melting butter (my wife has a habit of allowing the butter to explode all over the inside of the microwave), frozen veggies, heating leftovers. Popcorn is a stovetop only snack (we own a Whirly-Pop).

  26. glen beck permalink
    May 10, 2011 7:01 pm

    The best use of a microwave is to warm plates/dishes before plating. Just 40-60 seconds and they stay hot.

  27. August 25, 2011 12:30 am

    never really cared that much about microwaves until going to pastry school – theyre incredibly useful for a pastry chef. its one of those tools that kind of gets a bad wrap because people (usually) dont know how to use them properly. as far as i am concerned, unless you have a chocolate tempering machine – its the best way to melt chocolate. soften inverted sugar syrups, fats, etc..

    but day to day, i pretty much only use it for frozen veggies that im too lazy to steam in a pan. that and heating up left overs.


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