Ditch Your Microwave (and Rediscover Flavor)

Microwaves are useful for many things, such as, eradicating mold from kitchen sponges, and according to Wikipedia, communication, radar, radio astronomy, navigation, power, and spectroscopy. Maybe we should rethink, however, application of this technology to the heating or (God forbid) the cooking of food.

When my husband first suggested we ditch the microwave for health reasons, I’m sure I looked at him like he’d grown a second head. Why the very idea was preposterous! How would we melt butter, boil water, reheat leftovers, melt chocolate, or any of the millions of other things we’d come to rely on this device to do?

He pointed out that humans did just fine without microwave ovens until around 40 years ago. I pointed out that I didn’t have all day to get the above listed tasks done and microwaving was so very quick.

But he got me thinking—how DID we get along before microwaves? And when Emeril Lagasse suggested to my slack-jawed amazement he’d never used one, was it only because his army of kitchen minions picked up the slack?
So I agreed to embark on an quest to see whether we could rid ourselves of this appliance so ubiquitous in kitchens, dorm rooms, and Quickie Marts across this great nation. But like any good experiment, we needed some specialized equipment. In this case, we decided we needed a really quick boiling kettle and a countertop convection/toaster oven. A trip to our local Bed, Bath, and Beyond clearly was in order.

There we found a Medelco Cordless Glass Electric Kettle on the clearance rack but in new condition for around $35. Lucky us! They are usually priced in the mid-$50 range. We also spotted the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven for $250.

I won’t go on about how great both of these appliances are. You can read the reviews yourself. I was unprepared, however, for how taking a perceived technological step backward exposed me to how technologically-advanced conventional cooking has become.

This kettle, for example, boils water at just about the same speed as the 1000-watt GE microwave oven we use. And, I was amazed by how much better my tea and coffee tasted using non-nuked water!

The convection oven also was a revelation. It heated very quickly and cooked evenly, making reheated food, including everything from french fries to fried chicken to pizza to rare strip steaks, as delicious (if not better) than it was when served the first time. Try that in your radiation box, Skeptic!

For melting butter, we use a small sauce pan; for chocolate, a water-filled saucepan with a bowl on top (melt the chocolate in the bowl). Last-night’s creamed spinach, beans with chorizo, or cold coffee? Simply repeat the heating method and equipment used to make it in the first place.

In fact, everything we made conventionally was exponentially more flavorful as we could have made in the microwave oven and very nearly as quick. The only remaining concern you might have is how easy it is to go from refrigerator to table in a single plastic dish. But did you know nuking plastic can release harmful chemicals into your food? According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, cited by Yahoo! Green:
“plastics labeled microwave-safe and advertised for infants, even those were found to release ‘toxic doses’ of Bisphenol A when heated in a microwave. ‘The amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals,’ the paper reports. In fact, the term ‘microwave safe’ is not regulated by the government, so it has no verifiable meaning. According to the Journal Sentinel’s testing, BPA ‘is present in frozen food trays, microwaveable soup containers, and plastic baby food packaging.’ It is often found in plastics marked No. 7, but may also be present in some plastics labeled with Nos. 1, 2, and 5 as well, according to the report.” The article recommended using glass or ceramic cookware for microwaving, instead.

With that in mind, maybe fridge-to-table convenience isn’t really all that convenient. Especially, when you consider the health risks.

So, what did I learn from our no-nukes experiment? I really don’t miss my microwave at all. The things I used to rely on it to do were easily replaced conventionally and cooking and heating take very little or no extra time. And the improvement in the food makes a little extra clean-up well worth it and eating leftovers—something I was heretofore reluctant to do—a close second to the meal the first time around.