Microwave Meals by Tim Anderson

It’s no secret that we love Tim Anderson’s cookbooks and recipes here at Kavey Eats! After being amazed and delighted by the Microwave Mabo Aubergine recipe from his book Bowls and Bento, we were ridiculously excited to dive into his latest cookbook, Microwave Meals, full of amazing recipes showcasing the versatility of this oft-maligned kitchen appliance.

Cover of Microwave Meals by Tim Anderson

Unlike Tim’s previous seven books, Microwave Meals doesn’t focus on Japanese food. Instead it pulls together foods from Tim’s American upbringing, his life in the UK, and the global influences that are prevalent in British cooking today, and yes a few Japanese inspirations from the years he spent living there. All the recipes are simple and straightforward to prepare, and of course, all of them are cooked using a microwave, which means they are ideal for quick midweek meals or fast food for busy weekends.

We are big advocates of the microwave ourselves, and we use it for tasks like steaming vegetables, melting butter or chocolate, reheating leftovers without drying them out, heating a mug of milk for coffee or hot chocolate, heating a lemon before juicing to help it release the juice more easily, and also for heating wheat packs to wrap around my neck for pain relief. Not only is it quick, it’s also an economical way to cook; something that’s more important than ever in today’s cost of living crisis.

Despite this, we had no idea how many different types of cooking were well suited to the microwave, and Tim’s diverse recipes really showcase just how useful a piece of equipment it is.

As you can see from the cover, the book design is a riot of colour and the retro style continues inside. Especially in the introduction and guidance sections the pages are vivid shades of yellow, blue, orange, pink and green; these persist throughout the book for chapter pages but all of the recipes pages are on white paper, making them easy to read. The low contrast of black text on the green pages in particular is a touch hard for me to read.

In the Introduction Tim first eulogises the microwave and how it can save us effort, energy, time and money. He contrasts the traditional way of making risotto, ladling stock one spoonful at a time, stirring, adding more stock, stirring ad infinitum with the far simpler method of putting all the ingredients in the microwave for eight minutes (while you have a boogie with your family, perhaps), giving it a good stir, and putting it back in for another eight minutes. Boom, done! He also relates the story of his transformation from microwave poopooer to microwave evangelist by way of some cool Japanese instagrammers.

The content proper starts with a helpful primers on how microwaves work and how to use them. There’s a soft warning about making changes (to recipe ingredients as well as the cooking containers specified) – spoiler: swapping frozen peas for frozen sweetcorn works, but sometimes the container you use can make a huge difference to cooking time. Different materials are more heat conducive than others and don’t forget that metal, melamine, bamboo and non-microwave-safe plastics are a no-no. Best are glass and silicone, and in the grey zone are ceramics and plastics labelled as microwave-safe. Tim shares a list of useful kit – not only cooking vessels but weighing scales, measuring spoons, cups and jugs, and oven gloves; dishes can get really hot (so do please read the section on microwave safety!) Alongside containers, there’s guidance on covers and a reminder about the need to provide steam and pressure an escape route. There’s a section that talks temperatures, from the starting temperature of the ingredients themselves (frozen, fridge cold, room temperature) to the power levels of microwaves and how to convert cooking times between different wattages (their max power rating). Tim also addresses the elephant in the room – that microwaves don’t allow for the browning of food – but he points out that there are many recipes where browning isn’t important, and that good seasoning can more than make up for the lack of caramelisation or char.

As we move into the recipe chapters, Basics come first providing instructions for cooking pasta and rice, polenta and porridge, steaming vegetables, making stocks and simple garnishes such as crispy fried shallows and garlic, and streaky bacon.

The rest of the recipes are split into just three chapters: Sides, starters and small dishes; Mains; and Sweets. Recipes are succinct yet with enough detail to make the instructions clear and easy to follow. In many of the recipes, Tim divides the recipe into alphabetised sections, referring back to the elements you take forward from one to the next – this is such a clever way of breaking the recipes down! Most recipes have photos, though not quite all of them, and these are bright and colourful, simply plated as you would at home, and presented in simple crockery, with the occasional tablecloth or serviette thrown in. They help make the recipes feel eminently achievable!

In sides, starters and small dishes I’m drawn to Chicken Crackling (while skin-on chicken results on rubbery, flacid skin, cooking it on its own creates a fabulously crunchy snack), Loaded Twice Baked Potatoes, Cheat’s Cowboy Beans (a great way to jazz up a tin of British baked beans), Prawns with Garlic Butter and Breadcrumbs (I’m hoping the ease and speed of the recipe might persuade the cook in our house, who doesn’t like prawns, to make this for me and something else for himself!), and light and summery Steamed Aubergine with Smoky Lime and Fish Sauce, served cold.

In Mains I have bookmarked Pea and Smoked Mackerel Risotto with Lemon (though I confess we never do the ladle and stir, ladle and stir method even when we make it on the stovetop), Fish Pie Mix Coconut Curry, Curried Smoked Haddock Omelette, Cheesy Chicken Breasts, Gekikara Chilli Chicken Ramen, Bill Clinton Chicken Orzo, Pork Fillet with Miso, Ginger and Marmalade, Spaghetti Carbonara (the dish adorning the book’s cover), Venison and Bacon Cottage Pie, Chorizo Mushroom Olive and Fennel Frittata, and Rich Garlic and Mushroom Ragu.

And the Sweets making me salivate are Miso Walnut Brownies, Overnight Cinnamon Rolls, Emergency Mixing Bowl Cookie Cake, Triple Chocolate Mixing Bowl Mud Cake, Bourbon Maple Peach Cookie Crumble Thing (love Tim’s way with recipe names!), and PBJ Croissant Pudding.

At the end an ingredients-lead index which is short but pretty good (though I’m surprised that instead of grouping both the recipes for baked beans and butter beans under b for beans, they are listed as the only items each under baked beans and butter beans, respectively). I wouldn’t mind seeing common dishes included in the index too such as omelette, cottage pie, and ramen but appreciate it would make the index longer.

Steamed Aubergine with Smoky Lime and Fish Sauce

We’ve been enthusiastically cooking from the book since we received our review copy a few weeks ago. Our first dish was the Steamed Aubergine with Smoky Lime and Fish Sauce (since we are already huge fans of the Microwave Mabo Aubergine recipe from Bowls and Bento) and it didn’t disappoint. The silky aubergine is served chilled with its punchy Thai-inspired dressing and lots of fresh green herbage, it’s a delight!

Spaghetti Carbonara

Next, the Spaghetti Carbonara (though we realised at the last moment that we had slightly less spaghetti left in the cupboard than indicated) which was a microwave revelation, one of those recipes where we couldn’t imagine it matching up to classic cooking methods and yet, as usual, should have simply trusted in Tim, because of course, it was excellent!

Venison and Bacon Cottage Pie

For the Venison and Bacon Cottage Pie we switched minced venison for minced beef, and really enjoyed this warming comfort dish on a cold March evening. The star here was Tim’s use of caraway, a spice we don’t use enough yet always exclaim about when we do.

Rich Garlic and Mushroom Ragu

Rich Garlic and Mushroom Ragu was decent but too strong on the tomato for me; I had hoped for the flavours of the mushrooms and garlic to be foremost. That said, we enjoyed it well enough and it was quick and easy to make.

This is such a lovely book to have in your collection, not least in the way that it encourages you to use a tool that’s often relegated to the back benches of reheating and steaming vegetables when it can do so much more. The more recipes you make, the more you’ll learn the strengths and myriad ways to use your microwave, allowing you to start improvising your own tweaks and twists to Tim’s excellent recipes.

Recipes from Microwave Meals

We have permission from Hardie Grant to share some recipes with you from the book:

You can find more cookbooks and recipes from Tim Anderson here.

You may also like my recipe for Easy Microwave Salted Caramels.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Microwave Meals by Tim Anderson from publisher Hardie Grant. Home-cooking photography by Kavita Favelle.

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