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You Can Microwave a Lot More Than Popcorn -- And Here's How

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Who has a perfect "driving record" when it comes to using a microwave? If you do, please take a bow and offer to write a guest post on how you got so smart -- or so lucky. The rest of us have stories of gargantuan messes, and an occasional scary episode of sparks, or even fires. A few safety rules and cooking tips can put you on the road to easy and incident-free microwaving. Plus, check out the microwave cheesecake dessert recipe at the end!

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      First, the safety rules

          • NO metal - Never put metal in a microwave.  Although in rare instances it is not dangerous, metal typically sparks and causes fires that will ruin your microwave, and possibly cause other damage and physical harm.  Some types of aluminum foil (if unwrinkled) may be OK in a microwave, but if you look at all the restrictions on their safe use, I think you’ll agree that type of foil isn't worth the effort or the risk.
          • Heating liquids – Water can “erupt” if microwaved over its boiling point (212 degrees).  Avoid being splattered with boiling water by using a measuring cup or other container with sloped sides and stopping the microwave periodically to gently stir the water.  Also, if you're adding a teabag or other ingredient to the water, do it before the water has boiled.  For heating liquids other than water, keep in mind that a microwave heats all food (liquids, solids and mixtures such as stews) from the inside out.  Microwaved food tends to be much hotter in the center than toward the sides of the container.  You can even out the temperature by stirring the food being heated periodically while it is heating. 
          • Covering food – Microwaving creates steam that needs to escape. Don't use a tightly closed cover – leave a corner or slit open in the cover, or between the dish and the cover, to allow steam to escape. Also, the bowl may be hot, so use a potholder or towel.
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            For more information on microwave cooking safety, check out this fact sheet

          Next, the tips 

          • Containers & covers - With all the scientific information on plastics leaching into food, I think it’s best to use microwave-safe glassware. But if you do use plastic wrap or waxed paper, make sure it is microwave safe. Don't use foam or take-out plastic containers - they aren't microwave-safe.
          • Power - The microwave's power (wattage) determines how quickly it heats your food. When following directions on a package or using a recipe that gives a particular microwave setting or time for microwaving food, be prepared to make adjustments if your microwave is particularly weak or powerful. You may find the wattage on a label in your microwave or if you have the make and model, you can look up the wattage online at the manufacturer's website. If you can't find the wattage yourself, here is a handy test.

          • Don’t bother to try it- Microwave cooking is not well suited to baking with flour or cooking pasta.  Even defrosting pizza or heating food containing crust, bread or cake (such as quiche) is better done in an oven or toaster oven. 
          • Microwaving vegetables is a healthy option - Microwaved vegetables (properly cooked) retain vitamins that end up in the water if you boil or steam them. Use only 1-2 teaspoons of water and a closed container with just a tiny opening to let out steam. Cook the vegetables for as short a time as possible to retain their crunch and vitamins. Microwaved foods left covered continue to cook, so when they are done to perfection, remove the veggies from the container before they go limp. Alternatively, microwave them to just before done, and then let them sit for a minute or two to finish cooking in the covered container. This method works well for small cut carrots or broccoli.
          • Microwaves melt chocolate wonderfully - Start with a short amount of time on a low-medium setting, adding time or raising the power if necessary. Here are 3 photos that show how chocolate melts in the microwave quickly, and at a relatively low setting.  On the left in each picture are chocolate chips from the bag.  On the right are the chips I melted in my microwave, at medium (50%) power.  Bowl on the right was heated for 30 second at 50% power.

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                Same bowls - and 1 more minute at 50% power.

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                    Chips were solid-looking until I started stirring them. With 30 more seconds at 50% (2 1/2 minutes total time), the chips melted completely.

                      2011-10-05-microwavedchocolate2.jpg

                    And now that you know how to microwave safely and well...

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                        Easy microwave single serving cheesecakes - Try this cheesecake recipe, with step-by-step instructions and pictures. Each cheesecake costs less than $2 and they are simply delicious. Enjoy!