Life Without a Microwave
I have lived without a microwave for over 10 years now, and I don't miss it. When I moved into my first apartment after college, I was a vegan and very strict about my lifestyle choices. There was just something unsettling about nuking my food, so I chose to equip my kitchen without a microwave. Although I'm less neurotic now (and enjoy eating a rare steak and then diving into a pint of Ben and Jerry's afterwards), I still think that food isn't as flavorful if it's cooked in a microwave. Plus, cooking without a microwave encourages fewer TV dinners and healthier eating habits.
Coming from a family who used the microwave all the time, I had to make some adjustments after no longer having this convenience. Now I don't even think about it unless I am entertaining a guest who wants to know where the microwave is. I also learned to appreciate cooking after making the transition to a microwave-free life, since it sort of forced me to slow down whenever I was in the kitchen. Not to get too Zen on you, but there are many larger benefits to tossing your microwave. If you thought you could never live without one, consider these alternatives to the most common uses for microwaves. (See also: 7 Ways to Make the Most of a Tiny Kitchen)
Heat Leftovers in a Toaster Oven
I didn't own a toaster oven until a few years ago. I thought it was one of those pointless appliances taking up more counter space, especially since I already had a toaster. But if you are considering life without a microwave, a toaster oven will make your transition much easier. For me, it is essential for heating up leftovers and making anything I want to melt cheese on. You could always use the oven, but it takes a lot less energy and time to heat up a toaster oven.
Because toaster ovens are small, you may have to find the right containers to heat your leftovers in. I use a mini bread pan, which fits perfectly if I take out the top rack. I wouldn't recommend using your dishes, unless they are safe in high temps. I also like to use it to make mini pizzas, melted cheese sandwiches, and cinnamon toast. A toaster oven is more versatile than a microwave in that respect, since the bread would get soggy in the microwave. You don't have to spend a fortune on one either, especially if you are a bargain hunter. I found mine at a thrift store for ten bucks, and aside from some of my favorite albums, it's probably the best ten dollars I've ever spent.
Warm Drinks and Food on the Stove
This may seem like an obvious one for things like soup, but what about when you want to warm up your coffee or tea? I simply pour my beverage into a pot and warm it up, which does require washing another dish. Still, I find that I can control the heat better than sticking my mug in the microwave, which I do occasionally when I'm at a friend's house and I don't want to seem too odd for pulling out the pots and pans. I always end up having to put it back in the microwave because it isn't hot enough. On the stove, you can easily tell when it is at the temp you want.
This method is ideal for quickly heating up leftovers as well, and using the stove also encourages recreating your leftovers, since you've already pulled out all your cooking utensils. Now you can get creative and make an entirely new meal that will take you less time than your original creation.
Use Cold Water to Defrost Meat
If you are one of those people (like me) who forgets to take the meat out of the freezer the night before you want to cook it, you can use the cold water method. It might not be as fast as using a microwave, but it will thaw the meat more evenly. Put the meat in a watertight bag and submerse it in cold water. Make sure the water stays cold, and if the meat takes longer than 30 minutes to defrost, be sure to change the water to keep it cool. It really depends on the size and how frozen the meat is. It could take close to an hour, but you could use that time to make other preparations as well.
To speed up the process, you can put the meat under running cold water and flip it from side to side, though this does waste more water. Someone recently suggested putting the meat in a washing machine in cold water on the gentle cycle, since it's the agitation that helps defrost the meat faster. I've yet to try this method, but if you are going to venture out, I'd say just be careful and keep the lid open so you can watch the meat and stop it before the spin cycle — that could be quite a mess in the end. Either way, make sure to use cold water and change it often if you are soaking larger quantities.
Make Popcorn on the Stove
This is the one savory snack that comes to mind for my houseguests when they discover that there's no microwave in my kitchen. Our Senior Editor has the bases covered on how to make your own popcorn. I would only add that I've found that using a heavier pot works the best, and it's important to clean it completely if you are going for a second batch. Otherwise, the kernels tend to stick. Another advantage to consider is that you can get more creative with stovetop popcorn. Try adding some nutritional yeast instead of butter (another throwback from my vegan days). Or go exotic with a little curry powder and cinnamon. I'm a traditionalist for the most part, so I tend to just add salt. But the possibilities are endless when it doesn't come from a bag, not to mention healthier. How many times have you eaten an entire bag of popcorn? You can also control your portion sizes when you pop on the stove.
Ultimately, life without a microwave helps remind me how fast-paced life in our culture can be sometimes. Not having the convenience of the two-minute meal is a blessing if you think about it that way. Slowing down and savoring every part of the meal, from preparing it to eating it, is just one simple way to really appreciate and enjoy the rare moments of peace most of us get throughout the busy work week. And there are plenty of ways to do it without a microwave.