The man who lives in his car, and giving my range cooker up for Lent…

A few days ago I interviewed the wonderful, resourceful, innovative and very charming Nick Andrew for an upcoming feature for BBC Radio 4. For those who don’t know Nick, he’s a man who has lived in his car for the last eight years. Yes, lived in his car for eight years. And still does.

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We talked Trangias and Sporks, travel kettles, disposable cutlery, and how to boil an egg in a kettle. I left the passenger seat of his green estate brimming with a head full of ideas – not least the romantic dream of gallivanting around the country in a camper van (but unlike Nick, I have a family that includes two school-age children, so I think our experiences would be markedly different on the peace and quiet front…)

Anyway, back to the real world and a small idea started to form. For a while now I’ve been pondering playing with a microwave and seeing what I can come up with, and lots of my readers have requested meals that can be cooked in a microwave, either at home or at work. This is very much a Work In Progress, so any ideas you have, recommendations, reading material, I’m open to trying anything. And I guess that gets me to Lent. I’m a bit late to the party, but I’m going to give up my range cooker for Lent (apart from for work but I do still need to earn a living!!) For the next 40 days and nights, I have a microwave and two hob rings. I may dig out my tiny slow cooker, but time will tell, and I’m not even sure where in blue blazes it is these days….

Now, who’s got a good mug cake recipe?!

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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Categories: Blog, NEWS, Recipes & Food

66 Comments »

  1. Good luck to you. I have done the other way round (no microwave) for some time now which has been relatively easy. I suspect just relying on a micro and two rings might be harder. Will look forward to hearing how you get on and what ideas come your way!

  2. i make scrambled eggs in the microwave for breakfast at work as i tend to get here about 730am or earlier. – crack 2 eggs in a cup, whisk with a fork, couple drops of water, microwave on high for 30 seconds, whisk, another 30 secs whisk. Depending on size of eggs should be done by then.
    Lovely!

  3. Forget the mug cake – Microwaved ‘baked’ potatoes – any size, they don’t have to be large ones, and can be sliced or whole. Don’t forget to let ’em stand for the require 15-20 mins, then grated cheese over the top, and a few seconds more in the micro to just melt it. Let it cool a few minutes before stuffing it in, or you’ll burn your tongue!

    • Linda: I’m intrigued by the ‘let ’em stand for the required 15 – 20 mins’. Does the potato continue to cook on the inside once you’ve taken it out of the microwave? I’ve baked spuds in the microwave before but not let them stand in this way.

      Jack: with regard to microwave meals: scrambled eggs can be cooked in it. Beat 2 large eggs together and 2 tablespoons of milk in a micro-proof bowl. Add pepper and any herbs required.
      Stick in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove. Sir with a fork. Put back in for another 30 seconds then mix again. The eggs should be soft now.
      It saves having to scrub out a saucepan.

  4. Brilliant idea! I use mine a lot for fresh food (ie not ready meals). Most useful book I found years ago was Barbara Kafka Microwave Gourmet (still available). Great for keeping all flavour in veg, fish etc and for rice (1cup rice, stir in a bit of oil to coat grains, add 2 cups water MW about 10 minutes) not much quicker than on hob but don’t have to worry about burning or boiling over. Good luck!

  5. Think twice about using a microwave. It literally nukes the food leaving no nutrients in it. Not good for your body either as the food changes the blood cells for a while. I have nothing to gain from giving you this info. Just wanted you to be aware with your public status. I was a nutritionist before I retired. I love reading your blogs. Good luck. Slow cooker is best, amazing what you can cook in it. Get inspired with that little beauty! On 24 Feb 2015 20:07, “JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST,

    • There is no scientific evidence supporting up the claim that microwave ovens destroy nutrients. And what does “literally nuke” mean? Fear mongering helps nobody.

      While people may dislike the idea of microwave ovens or the sometimes odd results compared to traditional cooking methods, there’s nothing insidious about microwave ovens.

    • I give this a thumbs up. Microwaves have never been safe and never will be safe. Take a few extra minutes and heat your food on the stove in a stainless steel pot. Plan ahead and thaw your food out naturally.

  6. Over 20 yrs ago I lived in a bedsit that had only a microwave to cook with. I got very creative and found that pasta will cook if left in boiling water long enough.

  7. Any idea when the R4 feature is going out Jack? Of course immediately reminded me of Alan Bennett’s ‘The woman in a van’.

  8. My mum makes a chocolate cake in the microwave which is so good she is constantly asked for the recipe. Few believe it’s cooked in the microwave. You need a microwave cake tin – I think Lakeland will have them.

    Recipe:

    150g marg
    150g sugar
    125g SF flour
    25g cocoa powder
    3 med eggs
    3 tblspn milk
    1/2 tsp baking powder

    Cream marg and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add dry ingredients . Line base of tin with grease proof paper and grease the sides. Put it in the tin and put a bit of kitchen roll over it. Cook on full power for 6-7 mins or roast for 8-9 mins (this is for an 800w slightly clapped out micro so you might need to tweak it). You can do the normal stick test to see if it’s ready. Once cooked give it 5 mins to solidify before you turn it out.

    It is honestly a great moist cake – totally idiot proof!!

    • Thanks for this – it looks good and I intend to try it.

      I am thinking that any microwavable flat dish could be used to cook in instead of an actual cake tin.

  9. Well, in the “olden days” before microwaves, when I lived in a tiny bedsit, I once cooked a meal for 8 people with only 2 gas rings. The thing is being able to do it over and over again, day after day, that really IS a challenge! I’ll be interested to see how you manage.

  10. Hey Jack,

    Look up the history of the microwave, WWII, the radlab, Herb Weiss, MIT. Hope you find it interesting, Btw, what are hob rings?

    Be well

    Laurence

    • Would assume that ‘hob rings’ are literally ‘2 hobs’, ie, 2 of the round circles/rings usually on top of an oven for cooking things in pans. Some are shaped more like rings, others more like circles.

  11. How interesting. As a boat rather than a car dweller my options are limited in different ways, particularly in that I don’t have the power available to run a fridge or freezer, so lots of the frugal tips that involve making batches and freezing them are no good! I don’t have a microwave either, but I do have a solid fuel stove and I’ve got good at baking things in foil in the fire! Any tips you have on living frugally without cold storage would be gratefully received by the boating community who are often very strapped for cash!
    Amy (avid reader of your wonderful blog!)

    • Severner, check out food from any of the southern countries where people ate to consume. Start with Indian food or the very southerly Mediterranean countries. Most African countries. You could have lots of fun and the food is cheap. I’m into all sorts of Mediterranean food these days but I have been indulging in West African food lately. Peanut soup, anyone. This is a perfect idea for a blog is you like to cook and experiment a bit. Good luck! Denise

    • If on a steel flat bottom boat (narrow boat) you can make a hatch in your flooring on the boat. Take out the ballast at that point. Insulate the bottom side of floor hatch and you can then store milk and dairy etc. products directly onto the bottom plate of your boat.

      • If you also cover some food with some damp sacking (keep damp), it will actually keep the food cooler.

        The science behind it is that when water from the damp (not too wet) sacking evaporates, it needs latent heat which it draws from the food items.

        (Similar to cooling your face down by misting with water and then fanning).

        As a child in Africa, when we went on picnics, the adults would store beer and cold drinks in damp sacking to keep cool.

        t

    • Pre-fridges, canning was a popular option. As long as you could find a way to steralise the jars you could use that to batch cook tomato sauce portions, stews and casseroles, pickles and things preserved in oil. Otherwise, my folks bought a drier and smoker when they started an allotment, good way to deal with and store gluts without using a freezer.

  12. I’m intrigued. I know the microwave is great for reheating and for warming up your bowl of porridge in the morning but I don’t know how to actually cook with it, yet the microwave is supposed to be far more energy efficient than the hob or the oven so it would be good to know how to make better use of it.

    • You can easily cook porridge in a microwave: 4 tbps rolled oats, 1 glass milk (or 50-50 with water), pinch of salt, quick stir and nuke it on full power for 2min. Done.

      If you presoak the oats overnight a minute would probably be enough, though I’ve not tried it.

  13. What a good idea … I mean about cooking on two rings and a microwave not living in your car!!

    It will help so many people, it’s amazing how much cheaper it is to cook this way rather than switching on the large oven which guzzles gas or electricity. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

    Good luck.

  14. Oh that brings back memories Jack….I went through a period of “kitchen in progress” for around 2 years (don’t ask!)….survived with a two ring gas camp cooker to daily cook for four of us and even managed a dinner party for 6 …the best thing I found to use was is a three tier steamer saucepan and a big chefs type lidded pan…..now I know why I was always welcome at camping weekends!…Have fun kiddo! xx

  15. Great timing, I now live in a small apartment in Germany with no oven or microwave.It is quite common in Germany to rent any apartment with an empty kitchen where you need to buy your own stove, oven, sink and benches. I do alot of soups. pasta, stirfries and toasted sandwiches.

  16. I take breakfast to work because they have a microwave (I denied one counter space in my compact kitchen.) The obvious first choice is oatmeal that has soaked over night with some raisins. And my next one was two eggs with a little milk in them. People were, to my amazement, unaware of how nicely the eggs can become a souffle, or just be nice curds depending how much attention you pay to stirring.

    I’ll look forward to things other than heating up my left overs from home!

  17. Julie, the owner of Lovely Grey Day blog is currently living in a small motorhome and has some interesting ideas! She has an 11 year old son with her half of the time…so it can be done. Though I dare say two children and two adults would be more challenging. If anyone could manage, it would be you!

  18. I used to live in a granny flat with only a microwave, toaster, mini sloping grill and kettle for cooking – no hob at all – and I’m quite the foodie. We still reminisce about the full cooked breakfast we could do in that set up, and I was fantastic at curries, spag bol and even puddings in my (non-convection) microwave although I did have to cook things in stages. THe only thing that now gives me pause is that possible urban myth that we are irradiating our food. But I try not to give that too much credence until proven…

  19. I am now hoping that there may be some posts on microwave cooking! Mortgage Free in 3 has a great way of making cheese sauce in the microwave, and some old fashioned puddings which always work brilliantly for me. Other than that, there are always one-pot dishes which are great when camping as well. Good luck!

  20. I just discovered that there was such a thing as a mug cake at the weekend when reading an interesting food blog called ‘running with spoons’. The lady cooks a lot of vegan and gluten free food. Good luck Jack, can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  21. When I moved in to my house with my 2 year old boy I was without a cooker for about a month. I got by with using a toaster, microwave and kettle. One of our favourite microwave meal was kedgeree made with a packet of rice that cooks in microwave for minutes, and poached smoked haddock. I added chopped ham, spring onion, peas etc to mix it up a bit. I also ate a lot of jacket potatoes!
    Look forward to seeing what you conjure up!

  22. Elise at Simply Recipes has a really nice brownie in a mug that doesn’t have egg, making it totally vegan.
    I love the microwave and have quite a few pieces of microwave cookware that are definitely worth purchasing if you have the money. I’ve also picked up a lot of those old microwave cookbooks from the 70s and 80s at thrift stores. Some of the recipes are questionable, but there are some good ones as well.

  23. Lindsey Bareham (Evening Standard food writer) wrote an excellent book called ‘Just One Pot’ about cooking on a 2 burner stove when she had her kitchen renovated you might want to check out. When I had my kitchen out of action last year due to a ceiling replacement I just used my microwave, a slow cooker and a sandwich toaster – it’s amazing how inventive you can be when you have to. Looking forward to your top tips!

  24. When Personal Independence Payment was introduced, there was much discussion amongst benefits advisers that essentially the rules said “If you can cook a meal from scratch, from fresh ingredients in a microwave, that’s fine and you don’t need help”. We wondered how this might be possible, given that most of us only used it to reheat or, at a push, cook some frozen peas.

    Have a look at the Sorted Food boys on YouTube, they did quite a few mug recipes a while back.

  25. Hi folks, as someone who has in the past managed without a fridge and freezer .. at this time of year keep stuff outside in the shade.. Milk kept in a bucket with water works well, and I still keep all my veg in a small shed outside. Keeps fresher and last longer than in the fridge .especially at this time of year.. I cook a lot by microwave. Potatoes …pasta. rice dishes, you name it ill have a go at cooking it.. Mug cakes go down a treat as a pudding And found out by accident that Fondant icing makes a great meringue. (Tried to “Dry out ” the icing on my Christmas cake) lol..Dont ask..

  26. I live on a very limited income so seldom use my big oven, I cook with the microwave, slow cooker,steamer and bread maker – not necessarily all at once of course! Between them I can make almost any main meal or pudding. I did try cake in a mug but it tasted more like sponge pudding, which I do in a deep pie dish. I too used to have gadgets at the back of cupboards but only keep essentials now, after trial and error unnecessary gadgets have been freecycled 🙂

  27. Easy microwave breakfast (or lunch, but I take it to work for breakfast). Whisk two eggs with a fork. Add a sprinkling of grated cheese, 6 cherry tomatoes quartered and top with 2 handfuls of baby spinach. Cover and microwave for 40 seconds. Site with a fork. Microwave for another 30 seconds and stir again. It may or may not need another go in the microwave. Then ta-da… cheesy scrambled eggs with veggies. Tasty and 2 portions of veg in one breakfast.

  28. How about raw food as well? I just tried a fab recipe for raw chocolate brownies. I guess they’re not really like a brownie, they’re more of a ‘fridge cake’ but delicious, and pretty healthy too, made with pureed soaked dates, cocoa powder and ground up / chopped up nuts & seeds (whichever are going cheap, I used raw cashew pieces, almonds and sunflower seeds) Just mix together and chill. Add whatever you want to it if you want to posh it up, like raisins, cocoa nibs, vanilla essence, dried cranberries or sour cherries…. I did a chocolate topping layer made from coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup. Chilled the whole lot in the freezer.
    Raw food’s a bit of a thing at the moment isn’t it? Keep all those nutrients in!

  29. I only use my fan oven when I can cook several things at once. Baking a batch of bread, drying out seeds from squashes or melon etc and roasting vegetables makes full use of the space.

    I cook on the hob otherwise (which warms up my tiny kitchen) but use the microwave when possible. The original Neff recipe book that came with it over 20 years ago has rather traditional recipes useful technique eg one can make a crumble in it, if not fussed about browning the top. (My oven-based grill is electric and takes too long to warm up, so I use wholewheat flour and a little brown sugar and don’t brown it at all.) The power saving is huge; great on a slender budget.

  30. Re the safety of food cooked in a microwave, the World Health Organisation has said that it is safe as long as the guidelines are followed and nutritional value is not lost, so be reassured that it is fine.

  31. Hello Jack,

    i’ve been following for a while but not commented before.

    What a great lent project. A good few years back (27!) I lived my OH, 7yr old son and my dad was living with us too. We only had a kettle, a bog standard microwave and a George Forman type grill to use for cooking…for three adults and one child. And you know what – we never ate more healthily, or more cheaply.

    And back then there weren’t the vast assortment of ready prepared/microwavable meals that there is now – if we wanted to have a meal we had to make it!

    We also had a gas cooker but had never got round to having it connected – we adapted fairly well, poured kettle boiled water over pasta/rice to start it pre-cooking before microwaving and always had the option of a steamed suet pudding if we wanted to indulge ourselves.

    Now I have an Aga, and love it. But I do remember our microwave time fondly.

  32. Here’s a quick and simple microwave meal. In a pyrex bowl simply place alternating layers of peas, sliced corned beef, sliced potatoes, sliced mushrooms, sweetcorn, more potatoes etc until the bowl is full. Mix a beef stock cube in half a pint of boiling water and pour into the bowl. Cover with cling film a micro on full power for twenty minutes. I like to eat it with brown sauce!

  33. My go to microwave breakfast…
    Pitta pocket in microwave for 20 seconds. Take it out and cut along the long side. Season the inside of the pocket then crack an egg inside. Put it back in the microwave for 2 minutes. You need to tilt it slightly so the egg doesn’t all run out 🙂

  34. If you are interested in quick, simple, nutritious microwave dishes check out our website:www.realfoodworks.co.uk where you will find over a hundred tried and tested recipes.

    We have, as a non-profit social enterprise, been using microwave cookers to teach cooking skills in economically challenged communities for 10 years and it has prooved to be a boon, not only for those in food/fuel poverty but for anyone ballancing the needs for healthy food in our increasingly frantic lives.

    BTW we are just about to publish our own microwave cookbook B~)

  35. I certainly do have a good one! Chocolate and peanut butter mug cake for 2 (or 1 like me!)

    1/4 cup flour
    2 tbsp of cocoa powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder (no worries if there’s none though)
    1/4 cup of granulated sugar
    pinch of salt
    1/3 cup of milk
    2 tbsp of oil, veg if there, melted coconut oil or whatever. olive oil is better for zesty cakes
    1 big dollop of nutella or peanut butter or both

    Method: Mix all dry ingredients then mix in the wet (excluding peanut butter/nutella). place a dollop of whatever it is in the middle, don’t worry about covering with cake batter. I cook mine in a shallow cereal bowl in the microwave 800w for 2ish minutes. This isn’t my recipe but it can be vegan and it’s really cheap as I always have milk, flour and sugar in. Please do try it, you’ll never look back!!

  36. I haven’t read all the comments yet (although I intend to). The bamboo vege steamers (sometimes available form Aldi) are excellent. You can use just one plate on the hob and steam your veges while you cook the rest of your meal. You can just add baskets on top as you need them. I usually start with longer-cooking veg like carrots, and add things like cabbage later. Frozen veg can also be cooked; they do need longer times to both defrost and cook, so experiment.

    Steamed veg retain many nutrients and taste delish, especially with a grinding of black pepper, and some butter.

    I know you can also make Asian-style dumplings and bread rolls, but I haven’t tried this yet.

    The 3 tier electric steamers are great, but we found ours took up a lot of our minimal counter space,and we ended up not using it much.

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