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How to make a gourmet meal in the office microwave

It starts out innocently enough. One morning, while heating up my customary breakfast curry in the office microwave, I spot our managing editor Alicia leaving the kitchen with a plate of fluffy-looking scrambled eggs. It’s a perfectly acceptable breakfast dish, unhindered by the limits of our pint-sized office kitchen, and it gets me thinking about what we eat at work: the borderline-edible, the bizarre combos, and the somewhat unhealthy things we snack on simply because they don’t require any preparation. That afternoon, whilst editing a particularly delicious batch of photographs I begin to wonder: is it possible to make gourmet food in the office microwave?

In support of my new-found interest, Anelde issues a challenge: to survive a week on food cooked entirely in the microwave. As Barney Stintson would say, challenge accepted!

Monday

My preliminary research is both encouraging and a little nauseating. You can, according to the internet, make everything from risotto to meatloaf in the microwave, but the results are not always exactly appetising. The key, I decide, is to attempt reasonable, less ambitious recipes.

My first attempt at scrambled eggs is less than perfect. Failing to check them early enough, I end up with a rubbery frisbee, more reminiscent of an omelet than scrambled eggs. “Butter,” advises Jason, one of my colleagues. After several attempts, and some more chirping from the peanut gallery, I manage something rather tasty.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with chevin and fresh coriander
Whisk up two eggs with a dash of milk, and crumble in 1-2 teaspoons chevin and fresh coriander. Cook for 50 seconds, stir, and cook for another 40 seconds.

It’s meat-free Monday, so for lunch, I decide to explore the opportunities offered by tinned food.

Lunch: Lentils cooked in tomato with spinach, basil and feta
Make sure your office kitchen is equipped with a can-opener before you begin this one. Drain a tin of lentils and pour ¼ of the tin into a bowl. Cover with ¼ tin chopped tomatoes and 1 tin tomato paste, and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until warm through. Serve with fresh baby spinach leaves, feta and avocado.

The result: after making this recipe, I’m left with three half-empty tins, an almost-full bag of spinach and some feta, all of which have to fit into the fridge somehow. It’s a bit like Tetris, but I manage it somehow.

Tuesday
I am in trouble with the tea ladies. There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary here – there’s not a soul in the office who hasn’t triggered their wrath. And microwaving eggs, it seems, fuses substance to the side of the bowl in a fashion which makes it almost impossible for the dishwasher to get off. I apologise meekly and am granted a temporary pardon, until, that is, they see what I’ve made for breakfast this morning…

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cherry tomatoes and basil on rye
Chop 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes in half. Add to 2 eggs, a dash of milk and torn basil leaves. Season to taste. Cook for 1 min 40seconds, stirring a couple of times in between. Serve (eat) on rye bread.
 

Our copy editor, Linda, brought in a single potato one sad day, earlier this year. “It was all I could think of for lunch,” she told me mournfully. Come lunchtime, she went out for sushi instead, and the potato turned slowly green in her drawer. All the same, it gives me an idea. She also tells me that microwaving a potato doesn’t create the same change in the sugars as normal baking, meaning that it’s lower in calories. This is largely irrelevant, since I intend to stuff mine with cheddar and sour cream, but it’s nice to know, isn’t it?

Lunch: Baked potato, with kidney beans, coriander, corn, cheddar cheese and sour cream
Scrub and prick a medium-sized potato. Nuke for five minutes, turn, then heat for a further 4 minutes, before adding tinned kidney beans and sweetcorn (not the creamed one; it’s revolting), to taste. Top with grated cheddar cheese. Cook for another minute and a half, or until the cheese is melted. Garnish with sour cream and coriander.

The result: I managed to use up some of my leftover tomatoes and coriander, but now I’ve created two new tins and tubs. The office fridge is taking strain.

Snack: Baked apple with flaked almonds, raisins, honey and cinnamon
Core an apple. Pour a handful each of raisins and flaked almonds and a tablespoon of honey down the middle. Cook for three and a half minutes.

The result: Better than baking, as it turns out, as the skin remains soft, and the inside doesn’t become squishy. Looks a bit dishevelled though.

Wednesday

After mastering the scrambled variety, I figure the other varieties of eggs can’t be that difficult. On the first attempt, I hear an ominous popping from the microwave and open it to discover my egg yolk has exploded, and now resembles a small volcano.

Breakfast: Fried eggs on toast??
Melt a knob of butter and crack 2 eggs on top of it. Carefully prick the top of the egg yolks, to break the skin, and prevent them from exploding. Microwave them for 45 seconds, checking in between. Serve on toast spread with goats chevin and fresh basil, if, like me, you’re trying to use up all the stuff you have in the fridge.

Lunch: Pesto pasta with parmesan and cherry tomatoes
Prepare two-minute noodles according to packet instructions. Clean up the lake you have likely caused in the microwave, before the tea ladies spot it. Then stir in a quarter of a jar of pesto, and sprinkle with grated parmesan and chopped cherry tomatoes. I used Glutagon’s wheat-free spaghetti, which works just as well, though takes 6 minutes to cook through.

Thursday
I’ve always loved baked eggs (check out Sam Linsell’s gorgeous ones here) and when my brother Chris gives me some delicious chorizo from Super Meat, I have an idea.

Breakfast: Baked eggs with chorizo, cherry tomatoes and sage
Chop 4-5cm chorizo and a handful of cherry tomatoes and break two eggs over them. Cook for two minutes. Check and pop them back in again if the whites are still runny. Garnish with sage or whatever herb or condiment you have on hand.

The result: The flavour-packed chorizo makes this delicious. The exploding tomatoes leave the inside of the microwave looking like a crime scene; something I fail to notice until after I’ve diligently photographed my breakfast. Needless to say, the tea ladies are not happy with me.

“You must write that it makes a mess,” Natasha tells me. I bring Sweet Temptations toffees as a peace offering.

Lunch: Miso soup with bean sprouts, water chestnuts, corn and soya sauce
Pour a sachet of King Soba’s Mighty Miso into a bowl, add a cup of boiling water, and then a handful of fresh bean sprouts, ¼ tin water chestnuts, ¼ tin bamboo shoots and a dash of soya sauce. Microwave for 40 seconds or so.

The result: To be honest, I’m not so impressed with this one. I really love miso soup; it’s so hearty and warming, without being rich. This is a little insipid. More work is clearly needed.

Friday
On Fridays our neighbours over at Woolworths Taste are prone to playing exceedingly bad music. Extraordinary measures are required to fuel productive work.

Breakfast: French toast with honey, cinnamon and Greek yoghurt
Mix 2 eggs with a dash of milk and soak 2 slices of bread. Melt a knob of butter and then place the slices of bread on top. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stopping to turn in between. Serve with ample quantities of honey, cinnamon, yoghurt and strawberries.

Baby potatoes, I reason, must cook quicker than their full-size compatriots. As it turns out, the cooking time is not that much reduced, but they’re pretty tasty all the same.

Lunch: Baby potatoes with butter, sage and chevin
Melt a knob of butter in a bowl in the microwave. Rinse and prick 5 baby potatoes with a fork. Roll them in the butter, season with salt and pepper, and toss in a couple of sage leaves. Cook for 6-8 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Serve with goats chevin crumbled on top.

It’s Friday afternoon, and we all need a bit of sugar to keep going. Credit goes to our copy editor, Linda, for discovering this one, and to my flatmate’s mother, who reckoned it would be good with chocolate and nuts. Smart lady.

Snack: Mug brownie with Lindt chocolate and walnuts
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a mug in the microwave, then add ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup flour, 2 tablespoons cocoa and 2 tablespoons hot water. Stir well. Break in about 25g chocolate of your choice – we tried Lindt’s salted one – and a handful of chopped nuts. Cook in the microwave for 1 minute 40 seconds. Leave for 3 minutes to cool.

The result: This is a challenge, owing to the incredible smell, and the colleagues who will appear from the woodwork. But be patient: the texture improves if you let it rest, and you will end up with a burnt tongue like me if you don’t. Either way, it’s delicious.

I also tried this with wheat-free flour. It works, though the smell and texture are not quite the same.

The verdict
I’m exhausted after my week as a microwave gastronome. I’m not sure I’d be able to keep this up much longer (and the office fridge certainly couldn’t). Next week, I reckon, it’ll be back to leftovers for breakfast. There are, however, a few things which I reckon will make a big difference to my quality of life: salt and pepper shakers for my desk, a jar of good-quality pesto and a bottle of olive oil and balsamic. And spare toffee for the tea ladies, of course.

By Katharine Jacobs

*Note: all recipes are based on a 1200 watt microwave oven.

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