(Real Simple) -- Your microwave may be the most versatile kitchen appliance you're not using to its fullest potential.
1. Disinfecting and deodorizing sponges
Don't throw out the kitchen sponge that smells like last night's salmon. Soak it in water spiked with white vinegar or lemon juice, then heat it on high for 1 minute. (Use an oven mitt when you remove it.) This will also disinfect any sponges you used to wipe up the juices from a raw chicken.
Warning: Never heat a dry sponge in the microwave because there have been reports of sponges smoking and bursting into flames.
2. Cooking an entire dinner in under 10 minutes
And we don't mean the TV variety. We mean braised salmon with green beans and mashed potatoes. Use the microwave for any recipe that calls for braising, poaching, or steaming. Just subtract about three-quarters of the cooking time. Remember to stir liquids often to redistribute the heat, and always take the food out a minute or two before it's completely done, since it will continue to cook.
3. Disinfecting plastic cutting boards
Wash the board well, rub it with the cut side of a lemon, then heat for 1 minute.
4. Making potatoes
While the microwave won't give you a baked potato with a crisp skin, it will cook the average russet in about 4 minutes. You can simultaneously cook as many as will fit. (The general rule for heating more food is to check for doneness every 30 seconds beyond the regular cooking time.) Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and cook for 2 minutes. Turn them over and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. If you're making mashed potatoes, also heat the milk in the microwave before adding it. (Cold milk makes for cold mashed potatoes.)
5. Softening brown sugar
Keep the sugar in its plastic packaging, add a few drops of water, and heat on medium for 10 to 20 seconds.
6. Decrystallizing honey
Honey that has solidified can be brought back to liquid life by uncovering the jar and heating on medium power for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
7. Proofing yeast doughs
Yeast doughs that normally take an hour or more to rise at room temperature can be proofed in the microwave in about 15 minutes. Place the dough in a very large bowl and cover with plastic. Place an 8-ounce cup of water in the back of the microwave with the bowl of dough in the center, and set the power as low as possible (10 percent power). Heat for 3 minutes, then let the dough rest in the microwave for 3 minutes. Heat for 3 minutes longer, then let rest for 6 minutes. The dough will double in bulk.
8. Heating up health aids
You use a microwave to reheat your coffee, so why not use it to heat and reheat gel packs for headaches? (Don't do this with a metal-wrapped pack.)
9. Warming beauty products
Warming up a hot-oil conditioning pack for your hair takes about 10 to 20 seconds and feels marvelous, as does briefly heating up a facial mask, especially a creamy, moisturizing one. (Stir the mask and test the temperature with your finger before applying to your face.) And if hot wax hardens when you're only halfway up your calf, reheat it in the microwave. It's much less messy than using a double boiler.
10. Roasting garlic
It takes 45 minutes to roast garlic in the oven but less than 8 in the microwave. Slice off the top of the head to reveal all the cloves. Place the head in a small, deep dish, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of good olive oil. Spoon 2 tablespoons of water into the bottom of the dish, cover it with plastic wrap, and cook at medium power for 7 to 7 1/2 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes before unwrapping.
11. Partially cooking foods for the grill
To cut the grilling time of vegetables, cook them partway in the microwave before putting them on the barbecue. Heat new potatoes for 2 minutes (prick them first), and bell peppers for 1 minute. And why wait until your next campfire to make S'mores? Put the marshmallows in the microwave for 30 seconds.
12. Getting more juice from citrus fruits
A lemon or lime taken straight from the refrigerator is harder to juice than one left at room temperature or warmed slightly. To get the most juice, microwave citrus fruits for 20 seconds before squeezing.
13. Toasting nuts, bread crumbs, and coconut
The microwave toasts them in a quarter of the time it takes in a conventional oven. Spread them out on a plate and heat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring every minute. Keep in mind that they will continue to toast for about a minute after removal.
14. Cooking vegetables
Still waiting for that cauldron of water to boil for your corn? All vegetables can be steamed in the microwave without adding water. Place them in one layer (if possible) on a dish, cover tightly with plastic, and cook on high. The timing will vary, but check tender items, such as spinach, mushrooms, and snow peas, after 30 seconds, and crunchy ones, like carrots, after 4 minutes. E-mail to a friend
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