Saying goodbye to my microwave

by , Conversation Editor Energy & Home 6 May 2013
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My life’s about to change. Not only am I moving flats for the first time since I came to London, my new accommodation will also be sans-microwave. Do you think I’ll be able to live without a microwave?

microwave

Jacket potatoes. Porridge. Scrambled eggs. Three things you’ve previously told us microwaves are perfect for. I’ve certainly given the first two a spin – who has time to make a gorgeously crispy jacket potato in oven alone? Microwaving scrambled eggs worries me slightly, but I’d certainly give it go. At least, I would if my new flat had a microwave…

Two thirds of you use your microwave all the time

My prospective landlord says the flat’s ‘furnished’, but this apparently doesn’t include a microwave. It seems I’m now going to be in the minority, as when we last spoke about living without a microwave, nearly two thirds of you told us you use yours all the time. In fact, only one in ten of you said you don’t own or even want a microwave.

And then there was commenter Vic Wilkins, who took her love affair a little further than the rest of us:

‘We have two microwaves, but no oven. We bought a newer microwave because it can do so much more than the older model. But we still keep the older microwave for ‘ready meals’ etc.’

Now, I don’t think I could live without an oven (even if I happened to have two microwaves) like Vic, but will I be able to live without a microwave? I’m going to give it a damn good try, with Alice’s comment to egg me on:

‘You don’t need a microwave. I had a hand me down for a short while and gave it away.’

I’ll miss it for defrosting. But I’ll just be more organised and take my frozen goods out of the freezer the day before. I’ll miss it for softening butter when I’m baking cakes. But I’ll just take the butter bar out of the fridge a few hours before I need it. I’ll miss it for heating up frozen peas, but I’ll just take them to the hob. There’s much to miss, but I’m up for the challenge.

There’s something quite ugly about a microwave anyway – an unattractive square box taking up valuable space on your kitchen worktop. It might be quite liberating to be microwave-less. At least, that’s what I’ll keep saying to myself. Will I survive?

Should Conversation Editor Patrick Steen live without his microwave?

Yes he should (55%, 109 Votes)

No he shouldn't (45%, 91 Votes)

Total Voters: 200

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76 comments

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Malcolm R

You can always buy a microwave, Patrick. Check out Which for a best buy! For a quick ready meal, healthy vegetables, apart from the other benefits you know about, why rely on your landlord. Treat yourself!

Yes, we can buy one. But do we need to? I have kettles, toasters, irons etc to buy as well, so I’d like to save where possible! I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Malcolm R

It would be interesting to know how much energy you might save (or not) using a microwave to cook vegetables, heat a mug full of drink, heat a ready meal etc. vs. hob, kettle, oven. Can’t help with the toast or ironing though.

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David

Have I missed something here? Why would Patrick want to live without a microwave oven? So far as I know they are cheap, convenient and safe so what’s the problem?

No problem, but do I really need it?

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brianac

I have never read a which? report, but I think you will find (if you read them?) that on power saving grounds alone a microwave oven is a good investment if you regularly cook at home.

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Quentin

I have been without a microwave for 4 yrs now and I haven’t missed it once; I cook far more from scratch and now exactly what goes into all our food (no horse)! I love having the extra work surface in the kitchen that was taken up by what was essentially an oversized timer.

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Esther

I wonder why you assume that microwaves are only used for ready-meals and pre-cooked junk.
I never buy ready-meals, I cook everything from scratch using fresh ingredients and know what is in it. I cook a large quantity of something healthy and freeze it in individual portions. With the microwave, defrosting and reheating are much quicker, and doing it this way I save not only time but also energy costs. Vegetables are also much tastier cooked in the microwave.

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lessismore

Steamed fresh vegetables are much tastier than microwaved frozen ones – except peas.

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brianac

I really do not understand this one. The energy savings of a microwave for veggies at least, together with the improved protien and vitamin retention makes them a must for any functioning kitchen.

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wavechange

Patrick has owned a microwave oven, so is in a very good position to make the decision whether to buy one. In the recent Conversation about coffee addiction, Patrick mentions that he is considering whether to buy a coffee capsule machine or to stick to filter coffee. Buying a product that you have not owned before seems a much more difficult decision to me.

I have no problem living without a microwave oven when on holiday but would not like to be without one for any length of time.

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NannyTheo

I’ve had a microwave of one sort or another for over 20 years now and see it as an integral part of my cooking appliances. When we fitted a new kitchen 5 years ago I made the decision to have an all singing/dancing 850W microwave instead of a second smaller oven and it’s integrated above my main oven and not on a worktop where it takes up space. I think it has been a very good decision as it has a grill, convection oven and pre-programmed cycles for combination cooking and de-frosting. It’s very versatile and cooks food much more quickly than oven or stove top methods which, in our energy conscious society, is an important factor. I have used it for cooking chicken (whole and joints), casseroles, curries, soups, steamed puds (seconds not hours for Xmas pud), regular de-frosting (I always forget to take stuff out of the freezer!) and cooking all sorts of fish dishes (steaming white fish takes only a few minutes) and salmon is lovely. I rarely buy pre-cooked food but on the odd occasions I do it reheats perfectly from both frozen and chilled. I can cook baked potatoes more quickly but they still taste and look like oven baked when I use the convection/microwave facility. It’s brilliant at warming plates (2/3 mins) and was invaluable when my husband was working abroad for 12 months and I was cooking for one. The mistake we often make is to buy basic models (which have their place in some people’s lives) and expect them to substitute for long slow oven cooking methods which develop flavour. When microwaves are used to their full potential they can do remarkably clever things, we just need some lessons on how to use them to their full potential and to think carefully about what we want them to do for us. Personally I wouldn’t be without one and use it daily for all sorts of things – there’s definitely room for a new cookery programme (did I really say that!) which shows us how to get the best out of them. They are not a substitute for conventional methods but there is a place for them when used properly.

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Argonaut...

Well put by Nanny… aforesaid… the ubiquitous microwave –
upmarket model- can do almost everything save and except a
Chinese restaurant ‘super-hot’ stir-fries that they seem to do
so well…. as I understand it, the domestic stove’s thermal output
is not quite good or high enough.

I’ll look forward to Jamie Oliver coming out with a ‘Two-minute microwave meals’ in the near future…

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Figgerty

But Patrick, you will not have a microwave in the near future. You will have to cook Jamie’s meal in you conventional oven for something like 20 minutes.

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Myst

Thank you for that, NannyTheo: I never knew I could heat plates in the microwave. I’ve just tried, and I’ll be, it worked! That’ll work brilliantly for so many occasions!

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Chris G

Microwave ovens are banned from sale in Russia on health grounds. Perhaps a microwaved food item every once in a while does not do any harm. It may be the accumulative effect that does the damage. I do not have a microwave oven and living without one does not seem to diminish my quality of life. Therefore, in Patrick’s shoes, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to buy one – just see how you manage without.

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Em

“Microwave ovens are banned from sale in Russia on health grounds.”

I don’t believe this. As this is supposed to be a (sometimes) serious consumer website, please supply an accredited source for this statement.

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Argonaut...

Was banned in old Soviet Union but believed now rescinded.

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par ailleurs

Clearly at least one person likes the full bells and whistles microwave but I’m still not sure. A £30 cheapie from Sainsburys or similar is brilliant though. We use it all the time to heat up meals we’ve frozen for ourselves (we don’t buy ready meals either on the whole) and I’m forever putting down my coffee and quickly re-heating it in the microwave when I find it cold.
Scrambled eggs need a lot of care and stirring but the end results are good and the washing up is much easier than when using a conventional pan. I think jacket potatoes are best cooked initially in the microwave and then crisped under a grill. I suppose the posh ones would do this for you but it seems a lot of extra expense for not much use.
I’m sure safety is not an issue with any modern microwave. They are so ubiquitous now (apart from in Patrick’s kitchen!) that any genuine concern would have been dealt with long ago. Folk myths about all sorts of things are the very devil to get rid of. I don’t think I’ve heard any concerns about microwave ovens for at least 30 years but someone was still clearly worried.

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Argonaut...

There’s deep reservations about microwave safety in particular
by Swiss researchers and other academics……I err on the side
of caution and do not use it a primary source for cooking uncooked
foods…. more for defrosting and the very occasional warming up of
microwave meals and of course warming up tepid coffee.

There is a plethora of learned writings on the internet and vCJD
and mobile phone technology….. it often takes very long usage
even a generation or more to show signs of maifestation.
The ban in the Soviet Union as to domestic microwave lasted
for well over a generation if not much longer.

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Argonaut...

BTW I bring a connected switched-off light bulb close
to microwave when set high and working to test for
any sign of radiation leakage.

Not many people wd know that, I presume.

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Em

“Not many people wd know that, I presume.”

Isn’t this one of those self-limiting bodies of knowledge? Like the number of people who know how to check their gas oven for leaks with a lighted candle … :-)

The most important thing a consumer can do is to clean and inspect the microwave oven regularly. Unplug the oven. Then look for any signs of cracking in the door and around the hinges, damage to the door seals and areas the door seals come into contact with, food lodged in the seals, anything that would stop the door closing fully or the safety interlock from operating.

If you have any doubts at all, you will need to have the microwave checked by a professional with a calibrated radiation detector. There is no reason for a microwave to emit more than 1 mW/cm2, which is about enough energy to illuminate a gnat’s kneecap. For those that are concerned about these things, it would be nice have the reassurance that the microwave is safe, which a proper test will tell you, rather than find out that it has been dangerous for some time before the leak gets so bad that it can be detected with a light bulb.

Or just chuck it and buy a new one. Unfortunately, the cost of testing a single microwave oven is often more than it is worth.

I’m sure Which? has more sensible advice about this.

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wavechange

I agree with Em. It is important to check the gap round the door to ensure that it does not stick and always closes properly, and that the oven shows no sign of damage.

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Chris Gordon

Hi Em, the point of the research on microwave safety is what the microwave does to the food cooked in it, and to people who eat it, not the physical condition of the oven. I have also read the research and I use mine only for defrosting and occasional reheating. I have reservations about having one at all but need the convenience. I probably won’t replace this one when it expires as I won’t have the same time constraints.

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Nikki Whiteman

I’d rather you than me, Patrick! I’m trying to cook more food from scratch myself, but I still couldn’t live without my microwave, if only for defrosting frozen food or warming up leftovers.

I can see why you might want to try life without one, though – mine is brilliant, and has lots of different settings, but it’s also huge, and takes up a lot of space on the kitchen surfaces. In a small kitchen this can be a bit of a pain.

We bought a microwave / grill / oven combo when we moved, as I wanted to do more homecooking, and our oven is not that big. Certainly not big enough for Xmas dinner, especially with things at different temperature.

The oven setting produced some of the best roasties I’ve made. It also came in handy for a recent dinner party. And the grill setting does do bacon well, though possibly takes a little longer than a gas grill did (we’re all electric).

Good luck Patrick. Let us know how you get on ;)

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Figgerty

Porridge and scrambled eggs without the porridge boiling over the hob and no horrible saucepan to clean and quick,, crisp jacket potatoes. I make a jug of real coffee and the leftover amount is reheated in the microwave. I can make a very quick apple sauce in the microwave without having a burnt dry saucepan. I must try out other fruits. If I forget to get something fresh for dinner, I usually have something in the freezer I can defrost and cook. For someone like me, with a poor memory or attention span, the microwave oven is a godsend. I will shortly be replacing my twenty one year old, all singing, all dancing, combination microwave.

Patrick, try living without a microwave and report back to us in a month.

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wavechange

If your twenty-odd year old microwave oven is like mine, it will be spotlessly clean inside. If anything is spilled, it’s easy to clean up because the inside of the oven does not get hot. I don’t expect this applies with a combination oven, so I have kept my old one.

I certainly will, I may cave in soon enough.

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Figgerty

It was a spotlessly clean stainless steel interior until a few months ago. I started to neglect it when the automatic door opening button started to stick and I have to help it open. That is why I’m planning on replacing it. I see that Which? is planning a review of microwaves soon, so I may as well wait and see the recommendations. I want a combi with a small footprint and a turntable large enough for a dinner plate. Another use for microwaves is to warm dinner plates.

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wavechange

Careful cleaning round the button should prevent it sticking. If not, silicone spray or even WD40 will do the trick. I have to deal with this problem every few years.

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Figgerty

Thanks for that tip, I’ll try it out in the next few days. Any ideas about the turntable continuing to turn after the cooking time ends. My solution is to turn off the power at the socket. I think it may be gradually giving up on me. Not surprising after 22 years. If the next one lasts as long, I will be happy.

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wavechange

Not unless you are familiar with taking apart mains-powered equipment and aware of the hazards (e.g. discharging the large high-voltage capacitor).

It’s probably a faulty relay (or a sticking switch if its a simple machine with a motor-driven timer). Your solution is good and there is no reason to assume that other problems will develop soon.

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colin c

A little anecdote for you … I have a friend high up in the elf’n'safety executive, specialising in nuclear power stations. When I once commented to him that such things must be pretty scary places, he replied ‘No, the two most scary things are the amount of time people spend under sun-beds, and people attempting to repair their microwaves’.

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Rhona

I have a microwave but too scared to use it! I don’t really know if they are safe or not, so perhaps I’d advise don’t get one.

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wavechange

Rhona – If you are concerned about the radio frequency radiation emitted by a microwave oven, then don’t even think about using a mobile phone held against your ear – and just a short distance from your brain. :-(

Patrick has obviously been affected by his mobile. Like others, he has started talking about Androids, and is no doubt seeing little green men.

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Rhona

Ohh my goodness that made me chuckle. Good point tho!

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wavechange

Some people have suggested that microwave cooking can create toxic substances. To some extent this is true because food containing little water will get well above boiling point in a microwave. For example, Christmas pudding cooked or reheated in a microwave oven can get very hot and will taste burnt. Microwave ovens don’t need to be used at full power all the time and used correctly, they are an excellent way of reheating Christmas pudding. High temperature cooking (grilling, frying and even baking) does create toxic substances and carcinogens, and this has been known for years. Fairly recently, we have become aware about the amount of acrylamide in these foods.

I believe that microwave ovens used sensibly are a pretty safe option for cooking compared with the alternatives.

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James

I’ve found that there’s a price tag that stays pretty constant for combo microwave ovens at around £199.99 — £229.99 (for the non designer style work-surface standing models and less flash looking designs)
They are something we would not move Home without either taking them with us or repurchasing.

A 900-950 W microwave with a 2.3 – 2.7KW convection oven and grill built in is a must for us.

For around one or two weeks in the year the Stainless Steel Delonghi range seems to drop down from the £200 mark to £99.99-£109.99 price point at Argos and we now have two of these stacked which have saved us a lot of money on electricity using the convection oven,as they can get to 220-to 240 degrees C in 8-10 minutes verses our Electric oven which will use 3KW for 45 minutes to get to that temperature, before cooking

Believe me, when I got these that cheap, I tested them with every piece of kit I had for safety — just in case, and eventually I found nothing different from other brands that worked at the same power levels.

Anyone concerned about Microwave radiation leaking can purchase a meter that you simply run along the door seal for as little as £15.99.

There’s a more user friendly one at £29.99 on Amazon at the time of writing which is easy to hold and understand what levels are abnormal (without advertising any particular make)

Just to let this community know if I as much as trap a tiny piece of paper in the door anywhere on the rectangular frame of it — the unit simply refuses to come on.

The door has two interlocks that if anything were to go wrong with alignment and RF may leak, they’d blow several safety fuses immediately and the unit would simply not work until it was serviced.

I have not detected any Microwave levels that would even slightly cook humans on the outside of both any of ours (or indeed any other animal or food stuff) some of the spurious emissions that are generated (which are harmonics of the frequency they oven is operating at) are not actually going to cook anything outside the machines but can interfere with wireless routers and anything that uses a radio signal if there is poor filtering in the microwave. — most manufacturers actually have already fitted components that prevent these harmonics from escaping,even though they aren’t powerful enough to heat anything unfiltered.

The most dangerous faults I saw was the really early microwaves burning out the transformers and the toxic fumes from those fires ,often this was enough for a product recall

These days,despite microwave ovens being over 33% more powerful plus having the addition of convection baking I measure so much lower signal intensities today because the components are better and the mechanisms and shielding are too.

Certainly whilst our microwave is pumping out 950 Watts of radio waves at only one frequency inside the unit, I can only measure far lo wer levels of a harmless frequency at lower levels than those a mobile phones emits in a call or online and at lar lower iintensity than when I first started out measuring spurious emissions from microwaves ovens in the late 1980′s as a requirement of a service.

The safety standards are much higher today.

I used to repair some of the very first Microwave ovens as far back as 1985 when I’d just Qualified as an Electronic Engineer and was serving an apprenticeship – there weren’t even models with turntables at the start!

I do check for any leakage every 3-4 months or if we use them more than usual but in 3 years so far nothing dangerous has been seen or experienced with ours so far. I hope this is of use to others worried about RF exposure. I am not affiliated with any manufacturer.

If I were to avoid any Microwave oven, it would be more likely to be a very cheap plastic model with an obsure name on the front at sub £35 prices, but that is just me.

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Nanny Theo

Thank you James for your informed comments on safety aspects. There isn’t much we do in life that isn’t dangerous at one level or another but it’s re-assuring to know that some manufacturers have made progress and your comments re how to check the machines is very helpful. We must all make our own decisions on the relative risks of using such devices (mobile phones included) and I am aware that people fitted with pacemakers are at higher risk due to the interference caused.

It’s my last day with a microwave… and annoyingly I’ve used it every day for the past week. Mainly to defrost frozen vegetables. I’m not confident I can do this…

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Myst

You can cook them from frozen!

You can thaw them in the fridge overnight – which will save you energy anyways.

Give it a go! You’ll never know if you don’t try!

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Malcolm R

Why make your life more difficult? Just give in and buy one!

I’m always up for a challenge. Now… what about the kettle? ;)

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wavechange

You might need that for the Pot Noodles if you are in a hurry and have no microwave oven on hand. :-)

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Malcolm R

Try heating water (and other liquids) in your new microwave. Might be an energy saving! Also good for reheating cups of tea and coffee.

There’s something about reheating pre-made tea that makes me feel slightly ill

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Malcolm R

Is it the thought or the result? Unlike stewed tea from the pot, a reheated cuppa tastes OK to me – as does coffee.

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Myst

When our microwave died, we tried living without it for awhile. It was the spur of the moment decisions about things to defrost from the freezer that finally made us cave and get another. We freeze meals we’ve made extra of, bits of ingredients (cubes of tomato puree, citrus juices and zests, etc), homemade stock, and so much more; I don’t always remember to pull every ingredient I’ll need to thaw overnight in the fridge! Having it, though, it’s useful for so much more – as has been noted extensively! But if we didn’t cook from scratch and thus have all these odds and ends of ingredients to use from the freezer, we could probably manage just fine without it. I still prefer the taste of most leftovers reheated on the hob or in the oven to those reheated in the microwave.

I say Patrick should give it a go. Who knows, perhaps you’ll find you don’t need or want one after all. If you do, you can buy one later on – and it sounds like one of these with oven capabilities would be even more useful.

What really baffles me is that you’ve never bought your own microwave before!

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Figgerty

Good luck Patrick, I hope the withdrawal symtoms are not too severe.

Day 1 sans-microwave: I ordered a takeaway for my first night in the house (couldn’t be bothered to cook after all the packing, moving and unpacking). Without the internet or TV, I decided to watch one of the films in my own collection – I spent 10min deciding, at which point my takeaway had gone luke warm. I would normally have boosted its temperature in the microwave. I just ate it luke warm.

Next morning – left over takeaway in the fridge. Rather than turning the oven on and heating it up, I ate it fridge cold like some sort of caveman.

Not going well so far…

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Figgerty

Are you trying to live without TV and Internet as well as the microwave. You are brave!

No, I just haven’t got the right cable for my TV, and my router hasn’t arrived yet. Should be all set up tonight :)

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Alice Mac

I think that conventionally cooked food tastes nicer and is more nutritious. Added to the fact that I heard tell that microwaved blood products harmed one patient. Life without a microwave means thinking ahead more, but maybe you’ll discover the silver lining and never look back!

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wavechange

Thawing blood products using a microwave oven can indeed cause damage to blood products, but other methods are likely to cause far greater damage. You have to know what you are doing.

Used correctly and for suitable purposes, a microwave oven can produce tastier and more nutritious food, for example when cooking green vegetables. One of the problems is that many people use their microwaves at the maximum setting, whereas no-one would use an oven at 250C for everything.

I lived for seven years without a microwave, and for four years with the freezer switched off. I now have a much longer commute than I used to, so do a lot of cooking and freezing at the weekend, and a lot of defrosting and heating up during the week.

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lessismore

Surely there is a big danger in using microwaves that you will be constantly eating ready portioned full of fat and salt ready meals with a flash name that sounds exciting rather than eating or making something simpler and more nutritious.

I’ve tried and succeeded making an omelette in the microwave just to prove that it could be done but I find it simpler on the hob!

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Figgerty

Try scrambled egg.

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wavechange

Patrick – We deserve to be told if you have converted to life without a microwave, or if you have been shopping.

How funny, Figgerty emailed me with the very same question. I’m doing absolutely fine. I may have changed my behaviour a little and the type of foods I buy, but I have adapted perfectly well. Who needs a microwave? Not me.

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John Ward

So has Figgerty bought her new microwave yet? We need to know that as well or whether she is still coping with a sticky switch and a spinning platter.

When I moved from London I put my microwave on a heap of unwanted stuff for the council to take away; overnight, people helped themselves to various articles including the microwave. It had hardly ever been used and we never replaced it. I wouldn’t recommend using a second-hand microwave myself.

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wavechange

I’m not tempted to get rid of mine. Instead of a turntable it has some device hidden at the top to distribute the microwave energy. That seems as logical now as it did over 20 years ago when I bought my microwave.

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Figgerty

No new microwave yet, John. I’m waiting for the August Which? before I buy. I am having problems finding one with the same or smaller footprint as my old Panasonic – sticky door, ghostly turntable and all. I want to be able to fit a 27cm plate in it for warming and yet not be too deep.

Patrick appears to be managing well without a microwave but I wonder if he now has a selection of takeaway menus.

I got popcorn in my Graze box today. I popped it in my pocket to make at home… but I had forgotten I can’t do microwaved popcorn as I don’t have a microwave. I’m going to have to eat my popcorn at work…

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John Ward

I envy your workplace, Patrick. It sounds like Which?’s Microwave Coven.

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Figgerty

A Friday afternoon present for you. Take the popcorn out of your pocket and pop it in a hot pan and follow the instructions below.

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Popcorn-in-a-Pan

I loved cooking popcorn for others when I was young, but I couldn’t stand the cardboard type texture.

I used to have a popcorn maker. Can you think of a more useless kitchen gadget?

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wavechange

Useless kitchen gadgets?

A quick search has revealed a Magic Spiral device that was a free gift some years ago and has languished in a kitchen drawer ever since. Apparently it ‘Creates Continuous Spiral Garnishings’ from fruit & veg. That reminds me of some of the creations I’ve seen in Chinese or Indian restaurants. The sharp blade concerns me, but I might give it a go if I can find suitable PPE.

Perhaps the popcorn could be enjoyed by those of being entertained by the last men standing in the homeopathy debate. :-)

I’m often eating popcorn while reading comments on Convo… ;)

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Malcolm R

Salt :-( or caramel :-) ?

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wavechange

No-go, Malcolm. Which? tells me the (food) traffic lights are at red. :-(

It’s healthy slightly sweet popcorn and a small bag :)

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Figgerty

Not if you have a microwave. I have given away lots of kitchen gadgets in my time and I’m sure I will give away lots more. If they are awkward to wash, then they go. When I bake, I use a bowl, a jug and a wooden spoon, all easy to wash up compared to my previous mixer/food processor.

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wavechange

I tend to use my microwave oven mainly for heating cooked food and cooking certain vegetables, but my favourite use is to gently warm up the ingredients when making heavy fruit cakes. It makes it so much easier to mix them by hand and shortens the cooking time, helping to avoid over-cooking the outside of cakes.

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TL73

I like jacket potatoes better when cooked in the oven. Yes takes time to cook but really you can just pop it in and then forget about it for an hour while you are cooking/ doing other things.

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