The Microwave Miracle Of Cooking In Mugs

Feb 25, 2013
Originally published on April 20, 2015 12:32 pm

Lunchtime is around the corner, and your tummy is rumbling. If you've got a microwave, a mug and a few basic ingredients, you can cook up a meal right in the office.

Morning Edition's David Greene recently started microwaving scrambled eggs in a mug for those early mornings on hosting duties. It led him to wonder about the other possibilities of this culinary art.

So he turned to Washington Post Food and Travel Editor Joe Yonan for help expanding his mug menu. "The mug gauntlet was laid down in front of me, and so I picked it up and decided to do a mac and cheese," says Yonan, who writes the "Cooking for One" column.

When he joined Greene in the NPR offices to demonstrate his recipes (below) for mac and cheese and brownies, the steps were pretty straightforward: Put some things in a mug, nuke for a bit, add more things, stir, and finish nuking.

It doesn't get much easier than that, folks.

But whatever you decide to whip up, there's one thing you need to remember: Things get really hot in the microwave.

"They're not just getting heat from the surface that they're in contact with, like a pan would on the stove. They're heating from the inside out," Yonan explains. "All their molecules are all excited, and the whole thing is kind of exploding inside, so you have to be careful."

Also, don't cook anything with fish. Do that, and you might get kicked out of the building because the smell will seep into every corner.

Yonan says a lot of people think microwaving is a lesser form of cooking. There are plenty of people who just reheat things and make popcorn, "but the microwave is incredibly versatile, and I think people have realized that."

So go wild and experiment with whatever happens to be in the fridge today. Just don't steal somebody else's lunch.

Recipe: Mac And Cheese With Mushrooms In An Office Mug (based on a recipe on the Kitchn)

1/2 cup macaroni pasta

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons dried shiitake mushrooms, crumbled (optional)

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons whole milk

1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons roasted tomato salsa (or your favorite store-bought salsa)

1 teaspoon flour

Combine the pasta, water and salt in a large microwave-safe mug.

Set it on a paper towel and microwave on high in 2-minute intervals, stirring in between, until the pasta is just short of tender (al dente. This should take 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave. (The water will foam up and possibly spill slightly over the mug, but the pasta and mushrooms should stay put.) If the mug dries out before the pasta is cooked, add another 2 tablespoons of water before continuing to microwave until the pasta is al dente.

Stir in the milk, cheese, salsa and flour. Microwave on high in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until the cheese has melted and a creamy sauce has formed. Let cool slightly and eat.

For something more basic, leave out the mushrooms. You can also take it in the other direction and add all sorts of other ingredients, depending on what's in your office fridge: pesto, leftover meat, Sriracha, kimchi. From Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan.

Recipe: Brownie In An Office Mug

This is Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan's tarted-up take on the many microwave-brownie-in-a-mug recipes circulating on the Internet, and it results in a fudgy, deeply chocolate flavored confection that would be improved only by a little ice cream. To make something more stripped down, you can leave out the instant espresso, dried cherries, chocolate chips and almonds and still get an excellent, if less sophisticated, result.

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon almond butter (may substitute peanut butter or Nutella)

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

1 tablespoon dried cherries (optional)

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chips or pieces of a chocolate bar (optional)

1 tablespoon slivered almonds (optional)

1 tablespoon slivered almonds

Combine the butter, almond butter, milk and vanilla in a large microwave-safe mug, and microwave on high until the butter melts, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir with a fork to break up the almond butter and thoroughly combine. Sprinkle in the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, instant espresso, cherries and salt, and stir to combine. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Microwave on high for about 1 minute, until the butter has firmed up on top and the chocolate has melted. Sprinkle with almonds, let cool slightly, and eat.

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OK, for most of us the microwave oven is a shortcut in the kitchen. Our colleague David Greene views the microwave as a serious culinary tool. He talked about this with Joe Yonan, author of the Cooking for One column at The Washington Post.



So Joe, thanks for coming by and doing this with us.


GREENE: Can I tell you how, like why we called you here and how this all got started?

YONAN: Yes, I'm curious.

GREENE: OK, it's a little embarrassing. So I've been making scrambled eggs in a mug in the morning. I get here really early. It's like the middle of the night and I just - I wanted some eggs. And one of our colleagues said, you know, you can scramble eggs in a microwave. And I've been enamored by this.


GREENE: So I just literally - cracking it on our conference table, put it in the mug, And then I add a little bit of shredded cheese, a little bit of milk, and I kind of whip it up. And I just pop it in the microwave.

YONAN: All right.


GREENE: And so I'm yanking this thing out. I mean check it out.

YONAN: Oh, my God.

GREENE: Joe, just describe that to...

YONAN: Oh wow, OK. It's like totally puffed up and it looks absolutely beautiful.

GREENE: Is this the first time you've seen this?

YONAN: Actually it is.

GREENE: See that. It's the shape of a cupcake.

YONAN: It's like a little egg souffle.

Egg souffle


YONAN: You want a taste?

Yeah. Yeah, I do.


YONAN: Ooh, it's really, really, really hot.


YONAN: OK, I'm going to do this very carefully 'cause it's nuclear. You know, it's not bad.

GREENE: Not bad.

YONAN: Not bad.

GREENE: So nuclear...


GREENE: Do things get dangerously hot in a microwave?

YONAN: They do.


YONAN: They get really, really hot. Because it's more than just getting heat from the surface that they're in contact with, like a pan like they would on the stove. They're heating from the inside out, basically. Like all their molecules are all excited and the whole thing is kind of exploding inside. So you have to be careful too. I mean it's a good thing you used a big mug.

'Cause I think if you did a small mug, I could imagine some accidents happening - foaming over the top, that kind of thing.

GREENE: We don't want that.


GREENE: Alright, so you brought us some suggestions. We wanted to expand our menu of office cooking.

YONAN: You know, I was thinking about this mug thing. The mug gauntlet was laid down in front of me. And so I picked it up and decided to do a mac and cheese.

GREENE: Oh, cool. This is going to be lunch for me for the next, like, three weeks.

YONAN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

GREENE: That's awesome.

YONAN: So with the mac and cheese, it's a half a cup of dry macaroni pasta.

GREENE: You're just pouring them in the mug there.

YONAN: Just getting it right in the mug.


YONAN: And equal amounts of water, you know. And then we're going to nuke that.



YONAN: I don't know if we can see in here. But it's boiling over a little bit, yeah. But that's OK.

GREENE: You're going to ruin our microwave, Joe?

YONAN: No. No. No. Worst things have happened in this microwave. I...


GREENE: You can tell sort of?

YONAN: I would guess.


YONAN: So now I'm going to just add a little stuff to make a little sauce.


YONAN: Basically a few tablespoons of milk.

GREENE: Pour in some milk, alright.

YONAN: Got a quarter cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese.

GREENE: Perfect.

YONAN: And we've got dried mushrooms. So you just take a couple of the stems and you just crumble them up.

GREENE: What else are you putting in here?

YONAN: That's a little - a couple of tablespoons of salsa. And now - and I know this sounds kind of crazy - but I've got a teaspoon of flour.


YONAN: And the reason that I think that you have flour in your office pantry is because you're also going to make the brownie in a mug, that's happening after this. And that also calls for flour.

GREENE: Nice, versatile.


YONAN: So this I would say may be - let's try 30 seconds and see.


GREENE: OK. So is this healthier than like the boxes of macaroni and cheese that you buy at the grocery store which have the powdered cheese?

YONAN: Oh, yeah. Because who knows what - I haven't looked at that label in quite a while. But I bet you there's stuff on there that you wouldn't recognize.

GREENE: That powdered cheese can't be good.

YONAN: Right. Right.

GREENE: OK, and this is the real stuff so...

YONAN: This is like cheese.


GREENE: We've got macaroni and cheese here. Wow.

YONAN: So see, now this is...

GREENE: Look at that.

YONAN: It's actually kind of gorgeous.

GREENE: It's kind of gorgeous. Can I take a taste?

YONAN: Absolutely.

GREENE: Oh, that's really good.

YONAN: Yeah. When I was experimenting with this, I had already eaten a big breakfast and I was playing around with this. And I ate the whole thing. I was like, wow, that's pretty good.

GREENE: Mm-hmm, not bad.

YONAN: So that's macaroni and cheese in a mug.

GREENE: And now dessert.

YONAN: Alright. So dessert...

GREENE: So we've got another mug.

YONAN: So we've got another mug. We're going to do a tablespoon of butter. This is a - you're going to think I've gone off the rails again.


YONAN: This is a tablespoon of almond butter and then a little vanilla and a little milk. This is going to go in to melt the butter. I think the key, as in a lot of cooking, look at it. See what's happening. So go for...

GREENE: If something is spilling, if something is exploding...

YONAN: Right.

GREENE: It's something that's burning.

YONAN: Burning.

GREENE: Probably a bad thing.

YONAN: Probably a bad thing. Stop.



YONAN: And then we're putting in a couple of tablespoons of flour.

GREENE: Which we had from the mac and cheese recipe.

YONAN: Which we had from the mac and cheese recipe.


YONAN: A little sugar.


This is the cocoa - unsweetened cocoa. And there's a little bit of instant espresso in there too.

That you ground up perfectly.

YONAN: No, it's instant. You can find it in Italian markets. Well, actually a lot of stores have it.

GREENE: You throw a little bit of that in there, too?

YONAN: And it kind of makes the chocolate even deeper. So, I just stir it up with my fork.


YONAN: We're going to do a minute.

If you want another shortcut - that's another thing I'm realizing, is you could do like a trail mix.

GREENE: That would add kind of nutty...

YONAN: Like a little chewy in there...

GREENE: ...nutty-chewy thing going on.

YONAN: And people tend to have that kind of stuff around.

GREENE: Totally.

YONAN: You know what you could do? You could take a granola bar and crush it up and put it in the bottom of the mug.

GREENE: And have a crust on the bottom?

YONAN: And you might be able to get a crust.


GREENE: I'm liking it.

YONAN: Alright.

GREENE: Do we have a brownie?

YONAN: I think we've got a brownie.


YONAN: I'm just going to put the...

GREENE: The almonds?

YONAN: The almond slivers on top. Now try that.

GREENE: OK. Oh, it's totally a brownie.

YONAN: It's like a fudgy brownie, not a cake brownie.

GREENE: It's a fudgy brownie but it's a - yeah, I mean it's - oh my, God. It's fantastic.

YONAN: It's pretty good, huh?

GREENE: Yeah, that was just delicious. Seriously, if I ate this dessert in a restaurant it would be one of those desserts (unintelligible) oh, it's so good.

YONAN: Right. Right. Right, it's chocolate.


GREENE: Joe, thank you for coming by. Microwave cooking with Joe Yonan.

YONAN: Sure. Oh, my God.

GREENE: We really appreciate it.

YONAN: I don't want a bad rap.


STEVE INSKEEP: David Greene, of course, talking with Washington Post food and travel editor Joe Yonan. You can find their microwave recipes at


INSKEEP: Always made fresh morning after morning. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.