Someone recently brought it to my attention that there's a bit of a craze for microwaving portion-size dishes in a mug. Being an ardent fan of microwave cooking, I knew that this is an idea that makes perfect sense. But most of the recipes I found were for sweet things, especially cakes and muffins. Not much good for someone like me, with my underdeveloped sweet tooth. I wanted savoury dishes. So I got busy in my spacious test kitchen and devised some recipes of my own. These dishes are not staggering achievements of culinary genius. They are simple dishes for quick everyday eating, with short ingredients lists and no exotica. Some ingredients appear in many of the dishes, but they are all the kind of stuff you're likely to have on hand at all times. Their purpose is to give you a quick, tasty meal with minimal fuss. Technical note one: these recipes were cooked in a 900-watt oven. If yours is higher or lower, the timings will have to be adjusted slightly. Technical note two: watch for overflows. Even a half-full cup of liquid can start making like Vesuvius. Take anti-spillage steps by: (a) putting a plate under the cup; (b) keeping an eye on the cup; (c) microwaving in one-minute bursts. As I say, this is not Michelin-star cooking. It is, however, cooking that involves minuscule expenditure of time, money and effort. If you own a microwave, read on. But be warned: there's not a muffin in sight.
Egg florentine in a mug
Not the real thing, obviously. But the same principal ingredients and, boy, does it taste good. I always keep a bag of frozen spinach in the freezer, the type that's formed into 30g discs. You should too.
Half a clove garlic, finely chopped, 5 x 30g discs frozen spinach
15ml double cream or creamy full-fat yoghurt
1 egg, Snipped chives for garnish
• Put the garlic and then the frozen spinach discs in the mug and microwave for three minutes at medium power. Stir well, season with salt and pepper, and return to the oven. Keep cooking at full power until the spinach is fairly dry – around two to three minutes. Add the cream/yoghurt and season with salt and pepper. • Microwave at full power for a minute at a time until the mixture is thick and bubbling. Now break the egg on top of the spinach and quickly pierce the yolk with a skewer or a small, sharp knife. (If you've ever seen an egg yolk explode in the microwave, you know why this is necessary.) • Microwave at full power for a minute. If it is not quite done, cook for another 20 to 30 seconds. Remember that the egg will continue cooking even when it comes out of the oven, so don't overcook. Scatter with chives and dig in.
Chicken with cloves of garlic
This is a scaled-down version of a classic French dish. The chicken bone is optional, but it looks way cool.
3-4 medium-size cloves of garlic
Good pinch of herbes de Provence
1 small chicken drumstick, from a good chicken
15ml dry white wine
15ml extra virgin olive oil
• Put the garlic and herbes de Provence in your mug with a good splash of water – approximately enough to cover the garlic completely. Microwave on medium power for two minutes, checking after the first minute to make sure the water isn't all cooking away. • While the garlic is cooking, cut the meat off the chicken leg and chop into large bite-size pieces. Put the chicken pieces, oil and wine in the mug. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Put in the bone, if using, and microwave at full power for two to three minutes, stirring once (with the bone if you like). A good piece of sourdough bread, toasted while the chicken is cooking, will be perfect for mopping up the fragrant mug juices.
Cream of mushroom soup
You can chop the mushrooms by hand or, for a finer texture, in the food processor. If you choose the mechanised route, the mushrooms will take longer to cook at the first stage because they throw off more water when very finely chopped.
Half a small clove of garlic, finely chopped
Half a shallot, finely chopped
A small knob of butter
10ml dry white wine
150g white mushrooms, coarsely chopped, A few small sprigs of thyme, or a pinch of dried
Quarter stock cube, crumbled in 100ml milk
A small scraping of nutmeg
10ml full-fat Greek yoghurt
A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
• Put the garlic, shallot, butter and wine in your mug. Microwave at medium power for one minute. Now add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. You may be alarmed at how they fill or overfill the cup, but fear not: they will cook down to almost nothing. Cook at medium power for one minute, then tamp down the mushrooms. Repeat, tamp and stir. • Repeat two or three times, until the mushrooms are cooked down to around a quarter of their original volume and are nicely soft. Now add the thyme, milk and nutmeg. • Stir well and microwave at full power for one to two minutes, till the liquid is hot. Stir in the yoghurt, garnish with the parsley, and slurp away.
Prawns with melted fennel
The prawns here are delicious, but I think the star of the show is the mound of fennel with its buttery, shellfishy juices. Chunks of salmon are also good in this simple but satisfying mini-dish.
3 large or 6 medium raw prawns, preferably with the shell on
Half a fennel bulb, well trimmed and thinly sliced
2-3 slices garlic, finely chopped, Knob of butter
Small pinch of paprika or sweet pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika), 5ml dry white wine
• Make sure the prawns are completely defrosted if they have been frozen. Put the fennel, garlic and butter in your mug with a small splash of water. Season with salt and pepper. Microwave at medium power for two minutes, then stir and cook again for two minutes more. If they are not perfectly soft, microwave again for another minute or two. Lay the prawns on top of the fennel, sprinkle with the wine and dust with the paprika/pimento. Microwave at full power for a minute and check for doneness. If the prawns need more time, try another 30 seconds – that should do the trick. Eat the prawns with your hands and the fennel with a fork or spoon, perhaps accompanied by a slice of toast.