Microwave Cooking for One is not the name of an upcoming indie rom-com or the title of Miranda July’s next collection of short stories. It’s a real cookbook. It came out in 1986, over 40 years after the accidental invention of the microwave, to address the needs of individuals living in “modern households” (so, unmarried, childless heathens undeserving of a stove-cooked meal). Now, it holds top spots on “saddest cookbooks ever” lists and in the current age of artisanal jams and small-batch pickles, no self-righteous foodie would dare to go near it. Although, with a recipe for something called “hot orange drink,” can you really blame them? But where many saw a pitiful relic of the ’80s, I saw an opportunity. And with Valentine’s Day drawing near, a challenge emerged: would it be possible to whip up an impressive meal using only this humble device? 70 minutes of electromagnetic radiation later, I had my answer.

With all due respect to Microwave Cooking for One, the culinary arts, like Johnny Depp’s film career, have come a long way since 1986. So instead of consulting the book, I turned to the Internet in search of wisdom. Ironically, for every Buzzfeed article making fun of Microwave Cooking for One there’s a how-to on the very same subject. I settled on risotto, a finicky dish that would truly put the idea to the test. And for desert, a decadent, molten chocolate cake with a secret ingredient, Nutella. With a plan in place, it was time to get nuking.

For years I’ve cooked risotto with the assumption that a good one is the product of laborious, feverish stirring. So it was with great pessimism that I placed a bowl of uncooked rice, mushy onions and vegetable stock into the microwave and punched in the cooking time. 20 minutes later, it was ready and the texture was the perfect balance of liquid and sticky. It was the culinary equivalent of learning Santa didn’t exist. Somewhere, Ina Garten’s left eye started twitching.

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Next up, dessert. As I watched the simple batter rise up and out of the cup in just 80 seconds, I actually giggled like a kid playing with the easy-bake oven my Soviet upbringing never allowed me to have. While the cake was a bit too spongy to pass for gourmet, fresh raspberries and that dollop of Nutella saved it. It won’t become my signature dish, but it was good enough that the next day while watching Project Runway reruns, I ran down to the kitchen during the commercial break to make it again.

Fair warning: Microwave cooking isn’t well suited to control freaks. Once the door closes and the timer is set, there’s very little to do but helplessly stare at the rotating dish and let the ’wave do the work. But if you’re in search of a new party trick, I promise the recipes below won’t disappoint. As for the leftovers? You know what to do.


Mushroom & leek risotto

3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 leek, washed and finely chopped
1 cup of Arborio rice
2 ½ cups of stock
½ cup of white wine
¼ stick of butter
¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese (optional)
¼ cup of chives or spring onions to garnish

Step 1: Chop leeks, shallots and garlic, and place into a microwave safe dish. Add butter. Resist the urge to sauté.

Step 2: Microwave on high for 6 minutes.

Step 3: Add 1 cup of Arborio rice

Step 4: Microwave the rice, leeks, shallots and garlic for 1 minute.

Step 5: Add 1 ½ cups of stock and ½ cup of white wine. Microwave on high for 6 minutes.

Step 6: Add chopped mushrooms and 1 more cup of stock. Microwave for another 2-3 minutes. Depending on the risotto’s consistency, microwave for an additional minute or two.

Finish: Stir in enough butter to make Paula Dean smile. Top with chopped chives and grated parmesan cheese.

Chocolate cake

¼ cup of all-purpose flour
¼ tsp of baking powder
2 tbsp of sugar
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp of cocoa powder
2 tbsp of oil
1/3 cup of milk
1 heaping spoon of Nutella
fresh raspberries to garnish

Step 1: Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

Step 2: Add milk and oil. Stir to combine

Step 3: Pour into an 8-ounce microwave safe mug and add a dollop of Nutella.

Step 3: Microwave on high for 80 seconds.

Finish: Top with fresh raspberries and serve.

Special thanks to my culinary co-conspirator, Brendan Rotz, for giving up his Saturday to stare into a microwave with me.

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