If you own a microwave, chances are you use it for a few basic tasks: defrosting meats, steaming veggies, reheating leftovers and, of course, making popcorn. But if you think that's all your microwave is good for, think again. Search any kitchen- or cooking-themed blog and you're likely find at least one article suggesting unusual uses for your microwave. Here are 10 alternative uses for the microwave that we've come across.
1- Sterilizing your kitchen sponge: Blogger Kathryn Hill of TheKitchn.com points out that a damp kitchen sponge is an ideal environment for breeding bacteria. Fortunately, zapping it for two minutes in the microwave will kill more than 99 percent of the bacteria -- and as a bonus, it generates steam that loosens food deposits on the microwave itself, making it easier to clean.
2- Drying fresh herbs: Another post on TheKitchn.com outlines a simple procedure for turning fresh herbs into dried herbs in just a few minutes. This can be a way to preserve your garden's bounty or to ensure that an over-large bunch of fresh herbs from the store doesn't go to waste.
3- Making homemade potato chips: Slice a potato as thinly as you can manage, arrange the slices in a single layer on a plate, and zap for three minutes at a time, turning the potatoes and lowering the power level each time. Emma Christensen of TheKitchn.com says that the resulting chips "come out slightly crinkled and surprisingly crispy," with "a sweet, earthy potato flavor that is delicious even without the addition of olive oil or salt."
4- Squeezing extra juice out of lemons and limes: Tsh Oxenreider (yes, that's her name) of the Simple Mom blog says you can maximize these fruits' juiciness by simply zapping them for 20 seconds, letting them sit for a minute, and then rolling them back and forth on the counter a few times.
5- Frothing milk for a latte: To get that little touch of coffeehouse luxury in your own kitchen, just put some milk in a jar, shake it vigorously for 30 seconds, and microwave it for 30 more seconds. The result: steamed milk on the bottom with a layer of foam on top.
6- Making a homemade heating pad: Another post on the Apartment Therapy blog explains how an old sock filled with dried rice or beans can be zapped in the microwave to produce a source of dry heat for aching muscles.
7- Recycling broken crayons: The same post notes that you can melt broken bits of crayon in the microwave, then freeze them in a greased cupcake tin to make a round crayon--an interesting novelty for the kids.
8- Baking cakes: The article on microwaves in Which? magazine, the U.K. equivalent to Consumer Reports, contains an interesting sidebar on microwave baking. The article notes that tasters in a blind taste test found chocolate cakes prepared in a microwave a bit dry compared to those baked in a conventional oven -- but still not half bad. One advantage (or drawback, depending on how you look at it) of microwave baking is that it can produce a single serving of chocolate cake in just five minutes, as described in this article at Instructables.com.
9- Roasting garlic: Real Simple magazine explains how a microwave can cut this cooking task down from 45 minutes to less than 8. After slicing the top off a head of garlic, place it in a deep dish, drizzle it with olive oil, and add a couple of spoonfuls of water to the bottom. Then cover with plastic wrap and zap for 7 to 7.5 minutes, and let it sit for a few minutes before removing the plastic wrap.
10- Making microwave popcorn -- without the microwave bag: Consumer Reports' blog explains how you can save money (and reduce packaging waste) by popping corn in a plain paper bag.
You may not be able to use all of these tips yourself, but adding just one or two of them to your regular kitchen routine will help you get the most value out of your microwave -- and maybe impress your guests while you're at it.