Do-it-yourself three-course meal in a mug

I come from a family of cooks and eaters. We are always passing around new recipes and trying out new things in the kitchen, so food experiments are a bit of a hobby of mine. I have never lived on campus, but I wanted to see if, using the limitations of on-campus living, I could create food that is easy to make and tastes good—this is the result. Using simple ingredients and four mugs, I made a three-course Mexican-inspired meal, and I am going to show you how to do the same. I used a 700-watt microwave, so be aware that higher powered microwaves will probably require less cooking time. The latter two recipes were adapted from online sources, but this first one I created on my own. I’m a big fan of polenta, a coarsely ground dried corn grit that is surprisingly versatile and easy to make in the microwave. Polenta has a subtle nutty taste and can be made in different degrees of firmness. This recipe creates very firm polenta, but if you prefer something softer and creamier, that can easily be achieved by adding milk a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Normally I make polenta with Italian flavors to accompany it, but I thought that doing something with a different flavor profile could work, and I was pleased with the result. I added cumin, which I usually put in my enchilada sauce, directly to the polenta before cooking to make sure the flavor was noticeable. The black beans and corn help to add some mild flavor and texture to the recipe, while the cheese helps to increase the creaminess of the polenta once it has been cooked.

The mugs I used in this recipe (which I found at the dollar store!) are pretty big—they hold about 20 ounces, so this was quite a bit of food. Polenta is pretty heavy and filling, so next time I will cut the ingredients in half and make it in a smaller mug. It tasted great though, and is something that I am likely to make again.

Enchilada Polenta with Black Beans and Corn

Ingredients: ¼ cup coarsely ground polenta 1 cup water ¼ tsp. salt ¾ tsp. cumin pinch granulated garlic pinch fresh cracked pepper 1-3 tbs. shredded cheese 3/8 cup black beans, canned 1/4 cup sweet corn, canned

Combine ground polenta, water and spices in microwave-safe mug. Stir with a fork, then microwave for about five minutes, stopping half way to stir. Cooking times will change depending on the wattage of your microwave. It took me about six minutes to cook the polenta.

As soon as the polenta is done, stir in the cheese, beans and corn. The polenta will be very hot, so the beans and corn will heat up and help bring everything down to a temperature that won’t burn your tongue. If you want, add a little extra cheese and enjoy!

If you want it to look fancy, heat up a tablespoon of beans and a teaspoon of corn. Put the beans on top in a small pile and then layer the corn on top of the beans. Finish it off with a pinch of cheese.

While doing my research for this article, I had a really hard time finding savory microwave-in-a-mug recipes. There are endless recipes for cakes and muffins, but I wanted to find something savory that could be made in the same manner. I wasn’t sure, before trying this, what chilaquiles are, and I think it is likely that these aren’t especially authentic, but they tasted pretty good. Traditionally, chilaquiles are tortillas that have been lightly fried then cooked with salsa or mole sauce and served with eggs or refried beans. This recipe is egg-based and I was surprised how well the eggs cooked in the microwave, as I was very skeptical about it. They turned out light and fluffy, but could easily be overcooked if you aren’t paying attention.

This recipe would actually make a great breakfast. I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast burritos, and these chilaquiles are like a breakfast burrito in a mug, with the eggs, cheese, salsa and tortilla chips. I added more chips than the recipe called for at the end for a little extra crunch, which I enjoyed. It would be a great thing to grab on the way out the door on those mornings that are a little rushed.

Microwave Chilaquiles

Ingredients: 2 eggs 2 Tbs. milk 2 Tbs. shredded cheese 2 Tbs. salsa 8-10 tortilla chips, divided queso fresco sour cream salt and pepper to taste

Beat eggs and milk together in mug. Stir in cheese. Break up 6-8 tortilla chips into the mug and mix gently to keep from crushing them. Add the salsa and microwave until eggs are cooked. In my microwave, that took about 4 and a half minutes. Top with additional chips, queso fresco and additional salsa, if desired. [Recipe adapted from www.stltoday.com]

The chocolate cake is what I was most skeptical about. I have found, in my limited experience, that any sort of batter or dough-based food tends to get dried out and unpleasantly crunchy in the microwave. I watched this closely and took it out to check often, ending the cooking as soon as the ingredients no longer looked wet. Because of the large size of the mugs, I doubled this recipe and it overflowed the mug and got all over the inside of the microwave, but if you stick with the directions here you should be fine.

The addition of cayenne pepper was interesting, but I thought it complemented the dark chocolate flavor nicely. The chocolate chips also made for a soft contrast in texture and moistness to the cake that I think helped to counteract the issue of microwave dryness.

I made two of these—one for me and one for my roommate—and ran out of milk, so in one I substituted unsweetened coconut milk, but I couldn’t taste the difference and the texture was consistent.

Spicy Chocolate Mug Cake

Ingredients: 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour 3 Tbs. white sugar 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder 2 Tbs. chocolate chips ¼ tsp. baking powder 1 pinch salt 1 pinch cayenne pepper 1 pinch ground cinnamon 3 Tbs. milk 1 Tbs. canola oil 1 egg, beaten ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine dry ingredients in mug. In a separate mug, beat egg, milk, canola oil and vanilla. Blend the egg mixture with the dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed, then microwave in one-minute intervals until cooked through. The cake will rise in the microwave, so if you don’t have a large mug like the ones pictured, place the mug on a plate to catch anything that might overflow. [Recipe adapted from www.Allrecipes.com]

These recipes are easy to follow and have ingredients that are easy to find and inexpensive. Out of the three, the chilaquiles were my favorite. The eggs and cheese are a decent source of protein, and they were so simple to make and very tasty. I’ve since added them to my breakfast rotation because they are portable and easy to make and take with me on the go.

Even though I was skeptical about cooking a full meal in the microwave, I am happy with the way everything turned out. Nothing had the overcooked microwave texture I was concerned about, and everything tasted like something I would make and eat at home by cooking on the stove.

Kelli Hennessey

Staff Writer

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