By Linda Cornelius
ecogal Author and Designer
The answer is: yes, you can!
It’s just a question of being smart and getting all the same benefits but in different ways, and here are a few of your quick and easy options:
Replace the microwave with a smart oven
The specialty of a smart oven is that it is big enough to actually cook food, yet it is small enough to quickly get to the needed temperature (while saving on the electricity bill, compared to big ovens) and I use it for just about everything: home-made pizza, chicken, potatoes, pasta dishes, bread making, you name it. It is simply ‘my oven’.
There are many brands to pick between, as for example Breville convection toaster: look at the video on the presentation page, it is really to die for, with all the cooking settings getting the best combinations ready with a simple click. One downside though is that it looks rather smallish. It would work fine for 1 or 2 people, but probably not for a family with kids or a more complex dinner.
No matter what smart mini-oven you buy, you can still only cook a max of 2 medium pizzas at the time. So if the family is larger make sure you also have a normal oven there for bigger tasks. You can still use the smart oven for all the daily tidbits and quick heatings.
In any case, shop around, check the various brands offered, and choose the one that fits you wallet and needs best.
Re-heat in the oven
Great for oven-made dishes, like lasagne, pasta, potato dishes etc: I usually just add a bit more mozzarella on top, or some béchamel, or even just a sprinkle of extra Parmesan cheese, and if I’m generous a bit of butter, and heat / re-heat until the temperature is there.
I can’t give great advice on processed foods and tv-dinners, as we never eat those. It’s just so much more rewarding and fast to actually make your own food that we never get there. Plus it’s healthier anyway and I get to choose nutrients, calories and fats!
Re-heat on the stove
Soups and wet food are no-brainers: just put them in a pot on the fire and wait for the temperature to get to a quick boil. Done! Only takes a few minutes, or less, depending on the amount.
Pasta dishes, rice: this is also super-easy – just add a bit of water (just a tiny bit, like a couple of spoons) on the bottom of the pot, cover it and heat up with medium settings, keeping an eye on the food so it doesn’t burn. You can add more water as you go, if needed, or wine for more taste. It’s so quick: in a minute you’ll be done, depending on amount to re-heat.
Enjoy the many uses of a cast iron grill-pan
I am the lucky owner of several non-teflon cast iron grill-pans in various sizes. You can use them to everything you’d grill outside in the summer.
They are so smart I couldn’t live without them. The secret is to season them with olive or some other oil the first times around, then just enjoy and cook. They get better and better as they age… Mine are 25 years old and I would NEVER replace them with new ones. Not needed, they are perfect now, and super easy to clean (albeit a bit heavy!), especially if you quickly wash them with water and a tiny bit of soap when they are still warm. No dishwasher I would say, that would eliminate the base seasoning that keeps the food from sticking to the pan. Think cowboy-style and you’ll know how to handle a cast iron pan.
I do pretty much anything really quickly: from the simplest steaks and meat to grilling vegetables so they get these crunchy, slightly blackened stripes but are not heated to death (think nutrients and enzymes here, you don’t want to ever overdo vegetables).
Mostly, to get the best taste, I add a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, and spread it with a brush on the pan, before grilling my pepperoni (bell peppers) and zucchine (squash, zucchini). But you can actually grill just about any vegetable: tomatoes are really nice this way, for example. The good part is that the pan is not flat, meaning it’s great to toast bread and warm up pizzas, whatever you can think of… just experiment.
Learn to actually cook
What a novel idea! It’s actually fast to home-cook, if you just know how. Let’s forget the chefs and their wonderful recipes, think simple, small and quick. There is lots of Italian food that is so easy you wouldn’t believe it.
But then, I’m partial to it, after all I live in Italy. Here a couple of examples to get you started:
Bruschetta, the real Italian way
Promise, it nearly takes longer to see the video than make it! In less than 5 minutes you’ll be in paradise, and this dish is not only an appetizer, you can serve it before or along with your main dish. I usually add basil though, it’s not mentioned in the video so remember that; a few leaves of basil on top is just great and tasty.
My mother-in-law’s pasta sauce
The simplest and fastest pasta sauce you can imagine, yet totally Italian tradition: a bit of olive oil on the pan (3-4 spoonfuls), a few slices of garlic if you like – just toast the garlic LIGHT rosy, we’re talking seconds here, not minutes — then add a can of tomato pulp in, and stir for a minute or two, until the whole thing is hot and mixed together. I don’t even add salt…
Add some basil on top, right at the end, so it stays fresh, and serve on your pasta or rice. Done! We never get tired of the simplicity and great, fresh taste… Usually Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top, at the table.
Pasta is not ‘bad’ food, if it’s whole and organic, with a light and fresh sauce. Couple with a generous serving of vegetables any way you wish and you’ve got a healthy meal.
Note: I have my health quirks when cooking: I always buy organic and check for unsalted, unseasoned pulp and ingredients. I just want the quick help with no additions, that’s all.
- I found this slightly different recipe from Gennaro (my beloved kitchen hero, check him out, he is so entertaining and has many great and easy recipes)
Here you go: Rosemary and Garlic Chicken Recipe by Gennaro
Yes, it takes 35 minutes of cooking, but the good part is that it takes care of itself and you can still enjoy an aperitif with the husband, and check the kids while waiting.
There’s nothing like a great, warming soup in wintertime
The trick is: use spicing, not only vegetables…
Ready in 20 minutes plus a little prep. One trick I always use is: buy some of the ingredients ready-made in the frozen food section. For example carrots, onion and celery can be bought in little bags, and other vegetables can be found already cut and cleaned up. Saves a ton of time.
Just cook for a shorter time, since the frozen vegetables are always blanched. Or better still: I buy ready made minestrone bags with all the frozen ingredients. Just make sure there are no undue additives and the veggies are organic. Such a soup may take as little as 10 minutes to heat up. I avoid, as always, processed ‘dinner minestrones’ because lots of taste is added, and not always healthy additives are used.
Sprinkle with Parmesan when serving, it just doesn’t get easier.
There are many, many more recipes to find, and this is not a cookbook, just an inspiration to get you going… You can find quick recipes for any need and eating style in books, websites, youtube videos etc.
Use a steamer
Steamers are great for vegetables (and you don’t even have to worry about burning, just make sure there is enough water at the bottom of the pot) and it takes anywhere between a couple of minutes to half an hour, depending on the size and type of vegetables you cook. Fish is also great in a steamer.
Involve your kids and get quality time together
Teach your kids, or just start learning together with them. It’s a great way to defuse after a long day at work, they enjoy the game of it and the time they get to spend with you. Children like to be able to help: allow them to, giving them simple and non-dangerous tasks as they grow older.
It is actually important to get them acquainted with real food. What is it? How is it prepared? What does healthy food taste like? You might find that they end up preferring the real stuff over junk food.
Watch how children today really don’t even recognize fresh ingredients, quite shocking!
I stay with easy, healthy food I can make without too much trouble, for my everyday meals.
Cooking should be FUN. Even as an everyday task, cooking has a zen quality in it: it’s relaxing and rewarding if you keep it simple. You don’t have to live up to the chefs, they are great but of an entirely different brand. So what does a chef’s wife actually cook? Well, here you go:, Tana, Gordon Ramsay’s wife, cooks the everyday meals while her husband shines in the fine restaurants.
And here’s a link to her books, for further inspiration.
Pecan & Banana Bran Muffins the Tana way
So, do you feel like trying to live without the microwave?
Tell us about your experiences and tricks in the comments below, let’s share our know-how to make it easier for everyone to cook easy dinners without the microwaves!