May 7, 2021

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Food the meaning

This woman wants to destigmatize microwave cooking

First there was the Instant Pot, then the air fryer, and then came Anyday — Steph Chen’s cookware line designed to revolutionize how people use their microwave to cook quick, restaurant-worthy dishes.

Chen, who has worked with Chez Panisse, Saveur and Just Eat, came up with the idea for Anyday by accident while experimenting with a large food storage container. She wondered if she could roast a chicken in it, and decided to try it in the microwave instead of the oven. The result was a juicy, tender chicken that left her wondering why more people weren’t using their microwaves for uses beyond heating leftovers or frozen foods.

After a microwave-recipe deep dive, Chen found a myriad of world-class chefs, from J. Kenji López-Alt to David Chang, had tapped into the treasures of this common yet often-overlooked appliance.

Related: David Chang may be a professional chef but he also loves a good microwave shortcut.

Why the microwave?

“This device is already in everyone’s kitchen. We’re not asking someone to purchase something new, but to make better use of something you already have,” Chen told TODAY Food.

She also realized how the market for nice, microwavable cookware was essentially non-existent. Most things she found either had plastic or were flimsy and not designed well enough to properly seal in the moisture needed to create moist, delicious foods with very little microwave cook times.

Anyday's dishes are sold in four sizes: medium and large, shallow and deep. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

Anyday’s dishes are sold in four sizes: medium and large, shallow and deep. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

“Tools didn’t actually exist to make it really good. There was a lot of plastic tools. The only true negative people believe, is that plastic is not good in the microwave — even microwave-safe plastics are not safe,” Chen said. “It doesn’t feel like good user experience. We need to make vessel designed specifically for microwaves.”

So, in 2019, Chen joined her family’s cookware company, Meyer Corporation, as chief of staff and got to work collaborating with Chang on Anyday’s dishes, which are sold individually in four sizes (medium and large, shallow and deep) for $30 to $40 each, or as a set for $120.

So, how does it work?

The dish is made of microwave-safe frosted glass that is versatile enough to use as a bowl for prep, a microwave cooking vessel, an elegant serving dish and a storage container for the fridge or freezer. It has a glass lid with a microwave-safe silicon seal that creates a steam chamber — the trick for beautifully cooked food in the microwave.

Anyday's dishes are designed to look luxurious enough as a dinner spread centerpiece and functional enough to cook dinner for four in less than 10 minutes. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

Anyday’s dishes are designed to look luxurious enough as a dinner spread centerpiece and functional enough to cook dinner for four in less than 10 minutes. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

“Microwaves work by vibrating water molecules into the food itself, that’s what makes it so fast, explained Chen. “It’s a double-edged sword: It can be so fast that the water will heat up so much that it evaporates in a bowl or plate with no lid. Chicken will overcook and the outsides get too chewy.

“Anyday taps into this steam chamber so water isn’t leaving, but getting trapped inside the dish. Then there’s a vent in the middle knob of the dish that allows excess steam to escape so it’s safe.”

Related: To get the best results when reheating food, don’t just set it and forget it.

Similarly to the craze that ensued after people began using the Instant Pot, which simplified using a pressure cooker, to expedite cooking time without sacrificing flavor, Chen feels one of the most important aspects of her brand is demystifying the microwave.

Debunking microwave myths

“People think if you’re cooking faster you zap out nutrients. Nutrients leech out of food if you cook them at high heat for a long time or with too much water. The microwave cooks at low heat with no water so it preserves nutrients,” said Chen.

Another microwave misconception is that the devices were designed using harmful radiation that emit from the machine and into the world, your body, etc.

Related: Ever wonder if wax paper, aluminum foil or Styrofoam can go in a microwave? We’ve got the answers to all these and more.

“Your cell phone emits more microwaves than your microwave does. The waves coming out of a microwave are lower than legal limit of cell phones. Microwaves are super safe,” she said.

Chen added how these waves operate on an electromagnetic frequency like that of light or radio waves, not the nuclear or ionizing radiation that many people fear being exposed to. The appliance is also designed under heavy regulations that ensure waves don’t leave the inside cooking area.

Being a resource, not just a dish

Aside from providing customers with a tool to improve their microwave cooking, Chen wants to empower home cooks to create not just easy but exceptional dishes using the appliance. So, the Anyday website serves as a free interactive tool for folks to learn all about embracing the microwave life.

This shakshuka was cooked in the microwave for 6 minutes. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

This shakshuka was cooked in the microwave for 6 minutes. (Nader Khouri / Anyday)

The “Recipes” tab in the top toolbar includes a pretty expansive collection of recipes sorted into more than 10 categories, from one-dish meals, breakfast and brunch, snacks and bites and even baby food. There’s a five-minute ginger-scallion arctic char (yes, fish in the microwave!), an 18-minute farro with tomatoes and Parmesan, honey-chipotle yams that cook in just nine minutes (versus about an hour in the oven) and an 11-minute cheesecake.

Plus, there are learning tools and ingredient guides that teach tips and tricks for cooking all sorts of foods, from asparagus and beets to grains and seafood.

“So much of Anyday is providing a resource with very deliberately chosen recipes — food that ends up being better cooked in the microwave than on the stove in the oven,” Chen said. “We don’t want people to sacrifice cooking just to skip steps, but to make better food in shorter times.”

Can’t wait to get cooking in the microwave? Try some of our favorite microwave recipes:

Huevos Rancheros in a Mug by Leslie Bilderback

Yum Yum Chocolate Mug Cake by Lisa Lillien

5-Minute Rice Pudding in a Mug by Justin Chapple

Blueberry Muffin Mug Cake by Mima Sinclair

Kitchen Sink Omelet in a Mug by Joy Bauer

Microwave Chocolate Mini Cakes by Gesine Bullock-Prado

S’mores Mug Cake by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN