20071015microwave.jpgThe much-maligned microwave--conjuring up images of scary invisible waves and mysterious molecular science--isn't what most of us think of as environmentally friendly. (After all, how could "nuking" something be good for the planet?) But though it sounds counterintuitive, the microwave is one of the most energy-efficient options for cooking our food.

Think of the microwave as a high-pressure shower, and the oven as an overflowing bathtub. The shower delivers only the blast of water to clean you off, whereas taking a bath requires you to fill a whole sloshy tub of water, just so you can soak inside. In the same way, heating up a whole oven for the sake of a little potato uses a lot more energy than a two-minute stint in the microwave.

Indeed, in The Big Green Cookbook, chock-full of tips and recipes for environmentally sound cooking, dietician and microwave fan Jackie Newgent writes, "The microwave oven can reduce energy use by roughly two-thirds compared to a conventional oven." Good news for the planet, and for your busy schedule.

Of course, over-nuking can turn good meat to rubber and fresh bread to a brick. But here are a few ways to use your microwave wisely, after the jump.

Play with the wattage. Just because your microwave goes up to 1200 watts doesn't mean you have to leave it on high power. (If you only used your oven at 500°F, it wouldn't always cook too well, either.) Some foods respond better to lower wattage, for longer times.

Think about steaming. Anything you can steam, you can microwave. Squash, artichokes, and spinach are all pretty safe bets.

Go halfway. Microwaves cook efficiently, but food tends to remain limp. For anything that needs a bit of crisping--say, skin-on chicken, or cheese-topped enchiladas--try starting in the microwave, then finishing under a broiler. (Or in a toaster oven, even more energy-efficient.)

Serious eaters, how do you use your microwaves?

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