My freshman year of college, I had an almost daily dilemma when it came time for dinner. After a long day of class, I would be hungry for a home-cooked meal, but my options were all underwhelming. Cafeteria food was sometimes promising — or, as promising as “meat” in “sauce” could ever be – but it was never a first choice. There was always take-out, but that got expensive and somewhat repetitive quickly. And while cooking was often ideal, my kitchen consisted of the typical dorm mini-refrigerator/freezer/microwave that only fits what you absolutely need (ketchup, Diet Coke, a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s, etc.) and has room for nothing else. Obviously, this didn’t leave a lot of room for creativity in the kitchen and led to a lot of Easy Mac and Ramen noodle nights.
But since those dark days, I’ve stumbled on a lot of easy and delicious meals that can be prepared solely in the microwave… and when I say “microwave dinner” I’m not talking about those frozen TV ones that come with their own snap-out fork. These two meals – microwave-only lasagna and Mediterranean chicken couscous – are flavorful and fresh, and are the perfect thing to come home to after a long day. They even allow for ultimate post-class laziness: the couscous dish can be served hot or cold, and the lasagna can be prepared in advance! So forget about the cafeteria and the 20 boxes of mac and cheese under your bed, and embrace your microwave (carefully, without disrupting any power cords).
Sarah is a senior at The George Washington University where she lives with four crazy girls that love to cook, eat and watch You’ve Got Mail as much as she does. She’s a member of the Taco Day! facebook group.
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce with onions and roasted garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 no-cook lasagna noodles
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Crumble sausage into a plastic colander; place over a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute, and stir. Microwave at HIGH 3 to 3 1/2 minutes more, stirring every 30 seconds, or until sausage is done and no longer pink. Drain well on paper towels. Discard drippings. Rinse and wipe bowl clean.
Stir together sausage, spaghetti sauce, basil, and pepper in large bowl. Spread one-third sausage mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch microwave-safe baking dish; top with 3 noodles, 1 cup ricotta cheese, and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers once.
Top evenly with remaining sausage mixture and grated Parmesan cheese. Cover with double-thickness plastic wrap, and microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 30 to 35 minutes. Using an oven mitt, carefully lift one corner of plastic wrap to allow steam to escape, and let stand in microwave 5 minutes before serving.
Tips: I have also browned ground beef and used that instead of sausage, but both taste great! Also, if you don’t have a pan that fits in the microwave, this recipe works just fine in the oven – cover the pan with tin foil and bake for 40-55 minutes at 350 degrees.
Mediterranean Chicken Couscous
1 1/4 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 (5.6-ounce) package toasted pine nut couscous mix
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (about 1 rotisserie chicken)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Heat broth and seasoning packet from couscous in the microwave on HIGH for 3 to 5 minutes or until broth begins to boil. Place couscous in a large bowl, and stir in broth mixture. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
Fluff couscous with a fork; stir in chicken and the remaining 6 ingredients. Serve warm or cold.