By Lynn Andriani
Photo: Teri Lyn FisherThe Gourmet Mug Cake
There are endless variations on the five-minute dessert phenomenon known as the mug cake-but here's one you probably haven't seen yet. It combines caramel and fleur de sel, so you get a hit of sweet and a subtle saltiness, too (fleur de sel's flavor is more delicate than that of other salts). This recipe, from Leslie Bilderback's Mug Cakes: 100 Speedy Microwave Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, makes two cakes, and the impressive finished dish belies the easy prep: You pour the batter into mugs, microwave for 30 seconds, top the cakes with caramel candies and cook for a minute more.
Get the recipe: Caramel-Fleur de Sel Mug Cake
Healthier, No-Box Mac 'n' Cheese
You can cook pasta in the microwave, but since boiling shells or elbows in water takes less time, stick with the stovetop for that (make about 3/4 pound) and make the sauce in the microwave. Into a 2-quart glass bowl, pour a bag of leaf spinach and the contents of a 6-ounce container of spreadable Cheddar cheese like Alouette's new sharp Cheddar. Combine and microwave for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. When the cheese is melted and the spinach is wilted, remove the bowl and toss the sauce with the drained, cooked pasta. Sprinkle toasted bread crumbs on top for crunch.
Garlic-Lime Salmon with a Kick
Fish is a good candidate for the microwave because it's relatively thin and cooks quickly. First, lay a rinsed, patted-dry salmon fillet (8 to 10 ounces), skin down, in a glass bowl and season with salt and pepper. Spread a mixture of mayonnaise spiked with a few shakes of Tabasco (the brand's Garlic Pepper Sauce complements proteins well) over the fish, and lay a few thin slices of lime on top. Cover and cook, checking for doneness after 3 1/2 minutes. If the fish flakes apart when you pull at it with a fork, it's ready. If not, keep cooking for 30 to 60 seconds longer.
Sweet and Spicy Barbecued Korean Chicken
Boneless, skinless thighs are one of your best defenses against the microwave's dehydrating powers; of all the cuts of chicken, the thigh is the most likely to stay juicy. Season about 6 of them with salt and pepper, place them in the dish, and cover and cook on high for 12 to 16 minutes, turning the meat over halfway through. Cut into the thickest part of a thigh to test for doneness; juices should run clear, and meat should be opaque. After you remove the chicken, warm a small bowl of Korean barbecue sauce (like CJ Bibigo Korean BBQ Marinade and Cooking Sauce, which has ginger and roasted sesame seeds) for 45 seconds; then brush it over the cooked meat.
Crispy, Fluffy, Chili-Topped Baked Potatoes
Scrub the potatoes and prick several times, all over, with a fork. Lay the spuds (you can cook up to 4 medium-size ones at a time) next to each other on a microwave-safe plate, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn each potato over and cook 5 minutes more. When you can insert a sharp knife into the potatoes easily, they're done. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and cut each potato in half lengthwise. Mash the insides a bit with a fork, season with salt and pepper, and top with canned chili (about 1/2 can per potato). Return the potatoes to the microwave and cook for about 1 minute more until the chili is hot. Garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, cilantro or other toppings.
Meatloaf Worthy of a Sunday Dinner, but on a Monday Night
This beloved comfort food can take more than an hour to bake in the oven, but the microwave does the job in just 15 minutes. Here's the basic recipe: With wet hands, gently mix 1 pound of lean ground beef, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1/4 cup milk, and 2 tablespoons each of onion soup mix, ketchup and soy sauce in a bowl. Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl and pat into a round loaf. Brush with a bit more ketchup and cover with waxed paper; then cook for 15 minutes, turning halfway through. Test with a meat thermometer; it should register 160°. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. You can tweak this recipe to incorporate whatever seasonings you'd like, such as Worcestershire sauce, minced onion and/or garlic, dried mustard, dried thyme or paprika.
Pancakes for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner
A bowl of cereal may win the award for fastest anytime meal, but microwaved pancakes take the prize for speediest in the hot-food category. Just mix a regular pancake batter, pour about 3/4 cup onto a buttered dinner plate and zap for 45 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes. Top with the usual condiments for breakfast, or drop shredded bits of ham and cheese into the batter before cooking to make this a dinner-worthy treat.
The Rice Pudding Your Grandmother Would Be Proud Of
Bilderback combines classic ingredients (cinnamon, raisins, milk, sugar and rice) but cooks them in an untraditional way in this inventive take on microwave rice pudding, and the result is creamy and comforting. You can use any cooked rice, or even quinoa, spelt or kamut.
Get the recipe: Mug Rice Pudding
Read More: 6 Spectacular 3- Ingredient Recipes
Apple Pie (Without the Pie)
If you've got an apple, chances are you're within striking distance of this superspeedy fruit dessert. It's basically an apple pie without the crust; and all you need, aside from fruit, are pantry staples, such as brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, raisins and honey. Top it with plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream-or eat with graham crackers.
Get the recipe: "Baked" Apples
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