Get creative with cooking in the microwave

LOS ANGELES First, understand that those shortcut keys are there for a reason. Using popcorn, reheat or defrost takes the guess work out of microwaving.

Low settings, one to three, are best for softening food. Medium, around six to eight, is a good area to reheat if you don't have that button, but do cover your food with a paper towel or microwave-safe plate.

Note that leftovers will look and taste better if you give them a splash of water or a dash of oil prior to a two- to four-minute nuke.

Try melting butter on power level 5, using 30-second intervals to check. If you want to melt chocolate, opt for power level 10, with a half-a-minute check and stirring in between.

If you want your ice-cream tub to be a softy, lift the lid and think 10 for 10 - power level 10, 10 seconds at a time until your ice cream reaches the desired softness.

Who knew bread could get toasty in this box? To toast bread crumbs, try a half cup on a safe plate on level 10 at one-minute intervals. Go for two to three minutes, but toss in between each minute.

Coconut can also get toasty in there as well. Try a half cup on a safe plate for up to three minutes, but again, try one-minute intervals until the coconut gets golden.

Bacon is normally so messy, but if you sandwich slices on a paper towel on a plate and top with another, they will be done in about 5 minutes without oil all over everything.

Why buy a jar of apple sauce when you can make your own? A pound of apples, sliced and diced with a quarter-cup water, 2 teaspoons of sugar and dash of cinnamon makes applesauce in just 10 minutes - and your house smells yummy.

The best cheap trick of all? Popcorn. Instead of instant microwave popcorn, try a half a cup of popcorn with a tablespoon of oil on power level 10 for three to five minutes. It helps you control the salt and the fat.

The October issue of Real Simple offers 23 ways to use your microwave that you may not have thought of - even microwave lasagna!

*Lori Corbin was using a microwave-safe container for this story.

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