Miniature miracles: quick meals with a mug and a microwave

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Forget ready meals – you  won’t believe what you can achieve

Someone recently brought it to my attention that there’s a bit of a craze for microwaving portion-size dishes in a mug. Being an ardent fan of microwave cooking, I knew that this is an idea that makes perfect sense.

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But most of the recipes I found were for sweet things, especially cakes and muffins. Not much good for someone like me,  with my underdeveloped sweet tooth. I wanted savoury dishes. So I got busy in my spacious  test kitchen and devised some recipes of  my own.

These dishes are not staggering achievements of culinary genius. They are simple dishes for quick everyday eating, with short ingredients lists and no exotica. Some ingredients appear in many of the dishes, but they are all the kind of stuff you’re likely to have on hand at all times. Their purpose is to give you a quick, tasty meal with minimal fuss.

Technical note one: these recipes were cooked in a 900-watt oven. If yours is higher or lower, the timings will have to be adjusted slightly.

Technical note two: watch for overflows.  Even a half-full cup of liquid can start making like Vesuvius.

Take anti-spillage steps by: (a) putting a plate under the cup; (b) keeping an eye on the cup; (c) microwaving in one-minute bursts.

As I say, this is not Michelin-star cooking. It is, however, cooking that involves minuscule expenditure of time, money and effort. If you own a microwave, read on. But be warned: there’s not a muffin in sight.

Chicken with (Pro Rata)  40 Cloves of Garlic

This is a scaled-down version of a classic French dish. The chicken bone is optional, but it looks way cool.

3-4 medium-size cloves of garlic

good pinch of herbes de Provence

1 small chicken drumstick, from a good chicken

15ml dry white wine

15ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic and herbes de Provence in your mug with a good splash of water – approximately enough to cover the garlic completely. Microwave on medium power for two minutes, checking after the first minute to make sure the water isn’t all cooking away.

While the garlic is cooking, cut the meat off the chicken leg and chop into large bite-size pieces. Put the chicken pieces, oil and wine in the mug. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Put in the bone, if using, and microwave at full power for two to three minutes, stirring once (with the bone if you like). A good piece of sourdough bread, toasted while the chicken is cooking, will be perfect for mopping up the fragrant mug juices.

Egg Florentine in a Mug

Not the real thing, obviously. But the same principal ingredients and, boy, does it taste good. I always keep a bag of frozen spinach in the freezer, the type that’s formed into 30g discs. You should too.

Half a clove garlic, finely chopped

5 x 30g discs frozen spinach

15ml double cream or creamy  full-fat yoghurt

1 egg

Snipped chives for garnish

Put the garlic and then the frozen spinach discs in the mug and microwave for three minutes at medium power. Stir well, season with salt and pepper, and return to the oven. Keep cooking at full power until the spinach is fairly dry – around two to three minutes. Add the cream/yoghurt and season with salt and pepper. Microwave at full power for a minute at a time until the mixture is thick and bubbling. Now break the egg on top of the spinach and quickly pierce the yolk with a skewer or a small, sharp knife.  (If you’ve ever seen an egg yolk  explode in the microwave, you know why this is necessary.) Microwave at full power for a minute. If it is not quite done, cook for another 20 to 30 seconds. Remember that the egg will continue cooking even when it comes out of the oven, so don’t overcook. Scatter with chives and dig in.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

You can chop the mushrooms by hand or, for a finer texture, in the food processor. If  you choose the mechanised route, the mushrooms will take longer to cook at the first stage because they throw off more water when very finely chopped.

Half a small clove of garlic, finely chopped

Half a shallot, finely chopped

A small knob of butter

10ml dry white wine

150g white mushrooms, coarsely chopped

A few small sprigs of thyme, or a pinch of dried

Quarter stock cube, crumbled in 100ml milk

A small scraping of nutmeg

10ml full-fat Greek yoghurt

A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped

Put the garlic, shallot, butter and wine in your mug. Microwave at medium power for one minute. Now add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. You may be alarmed at how they fill or overfill the cup, but fear not: they will cook down to almost nothing. Cook at medium power for one minute, then tamp down the mushrooms. Repeat, tamp and stir. Repeat two or three times, until the mushrooms are cooked down to around a quarter of their original volume and are nicely soft. Now add the thyme, milk and nutmeg. Stir well and microwave at full power for one to two minutes, till the liquid is hot. Stir in the yoghurt, garnish with the parsley, and slurp away.

Meat Loaf

A pint-size version of the omnivore’s favourite comfort food. Note: if you have access to good sausages from your butcher, you can substitute two or three of them for the mince. But whichever option you choose, remember that the meat should not be too lean or the loaf will be dry.

150g minced beef, lamb or pork

2 small slices of onion, coarsely chopped

1 small slice good bread, coarsely chopped

Half a clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp ketchup

Quarter teaspoon herbes de Provence or oregano

Quarter teaspoon mild chilli sauce

Small handful of parsley, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients except the egg on the chopping board you used to chop everything up. Mound up the mixture, make a well in the centre, and fold the egg into the mixture without letting it drip onto the table. Leave it f or 30 minutes or so if your schedule allows, to allow the bread to soak up the egg. (You can also use a small bowl for this if you don’t mind getting something else dirty.) Pack the mixture into your mug, trying to make it just level with the rim. Microwave at medium power for five to six minutes, checking its progress once or twice. Leave to cool for at least five minutes so the heat can equalise between the edge and the centre: when the mug first comes out, the heat differential may be as much as 10C. Can be eaten hot, cold, or (best of all) warm.

Prawns with Melted Fennel

The prawns here are delicious, but I think the star of the show is the mound of fennel with its buttery, shellfishy juices. Chunks of salmon are also good in this simple but satisfying mini-dish.

3 large or 6 medium raw prawns, preferably with the shell on

Half a fennel bulb, well trimmed and thinly sliced

2-3 slices garlic, finely chopped

Knob of butter

Small pinch of paprika or sweet pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)

5ml dry white wine

Make sure the prawns are completely defrosted if they have been frozen. Put the fennel, garlic and butter in your mug with a small splash of water. Season with salt and pepper. Microwave at medium power for two minutes, then stir and cook again for two minutes more. If they are not perfectly soft, microwave again for another minute or two. Lay the prawns on top of the fennel, sprinkle with the wine and dust with the paprika/pimento. Microwave at full power for a minute and check for doneness. If the prawns need more time, try another 30 seconds – that should do the trick. Eat the prawns with your hands and the fennel with a fork or spoon, perhaps accompanied by a slice of toast.

Liver Pâté/Parfait

This can be made with chicken or duck liver. It is best after sitting in the fridge for a few hours or overnight and will keep for a long time if you melt clarified butter over the top to seal it completely. You can make it in two different ways, coarse-textured (pâté) or smooth parfait.

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 slices garlic, finely chopped

Small knob of butter

150-200g liver

1.25ml herbes de Provence or dried thyme

30ml double cream

5ml port or 2.5ml brandy

Put the shallot, garlic and butter in your mug. Microwave at medium power for 30 seconds and leave to cool slightly. In the meantime, dry the liver on paper towels and get rid of any stringy or yellow bits. To make pâté: Put the livers on a chopping board and chop fairly fine. Add all remaining ingredients (including shallot and garlic) and mix well. (You can also use a small bowl for this if you don’t mind getting something else dirty.) Mix all ingredients in the mug and smooth out the top. Microwave at medium power for three to four minutes, till set except at the very centre. This will finish cooking during the time it takes the pâté to cool. To make parfait: after the shallot and garlic have cooled, put them in a food processor with all other ingredients. Process till perfectly smooth, then pour into the mug and cook as described.

Simple Fish Curry

This is downsize, modelled on a recipe in my book The Green Kitchen. Use any sustainable but firm-fleshed white fish, such as ling, pollack, gurnard or huss. Rice is the obvious accompaniment, but if you keep pitta bread in the freezer (good idea), toast it till soft and pretend it’s Indian naan. And note: if you have a favourite fish curry recipe, you can adapt it for the microwave using this basic method.

1 thick slice onion, coarsely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 thick slice of ginger, finely chopped

10ml vegetable oil

1 cardamom pod

5-10ml curry powder, homemade or commercial

Around 150g fish, cut into chunks or strips around 1.5cm thick

Around 50ml Greek-style or Bio yoghurt

Coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish

Put the onion, garlic, ginger and oil in your mug and stir well to mix. Microwave at medium power until the mix is lightly coloured and extremely fragrant, around 1 minute. Now add the curry powder and cardamom, and microwave again for another minute. Add the fish with 100ml of water and stir gently to coat every piece with onion mixture. Microwave for 2-3 minutes more, stirring thoroughly every minute, until the fish is just cooked. Add enough yoghurt to make the dish wet but not too watery, and cook again over medium power just to heat it through thoroughly. Mix with the coriander leaves and serve immediately.

Chicken, Bacon and Endive

If you are not a particularly big eater, this could be a proper dinner along with a salad and a piece of toast. If you’re having it for lunch, you can skip the bacon. If you do include the bacon, however, save some for me. This is really good.

2 small rashers streaky bacon, rinds cut off and snipped into lardons

1 head of endive (chicory), base trimmed and cut into 1.25cm slices

1 small chicken drumstick, from a good chicken

2.5ml red wine vinegar

5ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the bacon in the mug and microwave at full power for 1 minute. Stir in the endive, season well with pepper (no salt yet because the bacon’s salty), and cook again at medium power for another minute, till the endive is hot and slightly reduced in volume. While the bacon and endive are cooking, cut the meat off the chicken leg and chop into large bite-size pieces. Put the chicken pieces in the mug, leaving them on top. Microwave at full power for 2 minutes and check for doneness. If the chicken needs more time, try another 30 seconds – that should do the trick.

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