My friend Alicia and her husband like to eat. They also have 4 children, ranging in age and appetite from preschool to high school.
They are also renovating their kitchen, which, like most major renovations, is taking longer than anticipated. So, when I ran into her this weekend, Alicia said, only half-joking, “You should blog about how to cook without a stove.” I stared at her for a minute, blankly, as in, “Are you kidding me?” But her husband concurred that they were in kitchen/family eating hell, and then, because I like a challenge, we brainstormed. I promised them a blog.
They’ve been without a working kitchen for a while, which I know from our small, quick renovation three years ago, is a miserable situation. Even if you have a grill and a microwave and a convection oven (which they do), the general disarray, the lack of countertops, working dishwasher, and in my case even running water, made prepping and cleaning up virtually impossible. Eating out or take-out is an occasional option, of course, but hardly ideal on school nights–especially when you have mulitiple children’s homework to supervise and shuttle to activities.
So here, for Alicia and Michael, and whoever else wants easy, quick, nearly prep- and clean-up free family dinners, are a few ideas to get you through the last phase of a remodel or whatever other misery is confronting you in the kitchen today.
And please, after reading, share your own ideas for cooking without a kitchen.
1. Buy the best rice cooker you can afford. Not only will it cook you a fast, healthy side dish (brown & white rice, couscous, farro…) but you can use it to steam any vegetable you like–even frozen ones, which–since they’re often prechopped and cleaned–are a great option if you have no place to rinse and chop fresh ones. You can steam frozen pot stickers and pre-cooked shrimp in it, too. Also, it’s a one pot clean up.
2. Use your grill. Buy easy cuts of meat, like chops or chicken breasts, pre-made burgers, pork tenderloin. A lot of fish can be easy too: halibut or salmon steaks right on the grill, or fillets wrapped in foil, drizzled with olive oil, a handful of herbs, salt and pepper. You can throw sliced leeks in, too.) Vegetables can be cooked easily on the grill in a foil pack (sometimes called a hobo pack). Just toss the cut vegetables in a little olive oil and salt, crimp the foil all around, and grill until tender over medium-high heat. We like potatoes, onions, carrots, zucchini, & yellow squash this way, but as long as you watch the cooking time, pretty much anything can be cooked this way. I’d probably look for things that were already prepped in the store, or which required very minimal cutting.) Once, I met a man who put his wok right on his grill, but if you’re truly without a kitchen, even this much prep/clean-up is hard.
3. A really good convection oven can roast a small chicken and all manner of fish. They’re not cheap, but mine is a workhorse, and very, very often replaces my oven. They can also bake potatoes, roast squashes or eggplant, and handle a small casserole or pizza. Pre-cooked sausage heats up quickly this way. Trader Joes has great crab cakes, too, which in a pinch can be cooked in the convection oven instead of pan fried.
4. Fish tacos. A quick fillet of red snapper in the convection oven + tortillas + premade salsa, guacamole, etc. Around here, you can even buy pre-shredded cabbage to combat the inability to chop/rinse. Even simpler than using fresh fish, cook frozen breaded tilipia filets (always available at Trader Joes) in the convection oven, and use these for your tacos. Defrost some precooked shrimp for shrimp tacos. This same shrimp can be steamed in the rice cooker (see #1) while the rice cooks, and you can add soy sauce or any other dipping sauce your family likes.
5. Vegetables may pose the biggest problem. We’re lucky that it’s spring here, or at least the vegetables think so. This means that there’s a lot at the Farmers Markets that doesn’t actually need to be cooked. Many things go from refrigerator to table these days, including: snap peas, english shelling peas, carrots, celery, radishes. All of these are fun to eat if you plop a bowl down in front of the kids, especially since they need no prep/cutting. The kids have decided they like ranch to dip these days (we had 2 big tubs left over from potluck parties), but we also use olive oil and vinegar and homemade thousand island dressing. (Of course, you can’t make Thousand Island w/o a kitchen, but in a pinch, a bottle will do.) We also have a small pile on our counter of the earliest tomatoes which can be quickly sliced or coarsely chopped. If you can prep a little, shaved or thinly sliced fennel (think fancy celery) works, too. Again, as I wrote in Surviving First Grade, just look for things in season (it will be fresher and taste better) that you think your kids will eat. In a pinch, spinach can be steamed in a microwave with a small amount of water, and dressed with a good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
hmmmm. I got nothing.. Jack in the box? Im going to share this via my channels and direct back here.
A slow-cooker is a great low-maintenance way to cook, as well. The only thing you need is a plug and lots of time. Still, 6 hours of slow-roasted chicken breast and vegetables… very satisfying.
We went without a kitchen for 4 months during our renovation — our toaster oven, microwave and Trader Joe’s prepared foods kept us from losing it during the work. TJ’s meals are reasonably healthy and a lot less expensive than shopping at Whole Foods. Their turkey meatloaf is delicious, and they have frozen pastas (some with veggies) that make a nice side dish. Great dinner for a family!
You could get a take-and-bake pizza, assuming the convection oven would do that.
You could also make pizza dough and grill the pizza.
You could ask friends/family to prepare meals and bring them to you. Either out of kindness, or you could set up a barter system. Or just cook them dinner when you’re done.
In fact, you could also offer to cook dinner for your family and theirs in their home. They open the kitchen to you, you do the work, everyone benefits.
Also, PB&J sandwiches work. 🙂
I love Kellie’s bartering suggestions. And to make Kellie’s great pizza idea even easier, buy the premade dough at TJ. Grilling pizza is fast & easy–see Caroline’s recent post.
Im digging lordfly’s slow cooker idea. Plus it makes the kitchen smell great!
i’m with mel & kellie: you can cook just about anything in a toaster oven with a little creativity, and utilizing friend & family kitchens (if you cook for them too!) is a great recipe for good times.
best of luck!
The slow cooker idea is great – and solving that vegetable problem is doable with it. If you can get a food processor, you can make some delicious cream-based vegetable soups. Another way to make these soups is on the grill if you have sauce pans with metal handles.
Paul M Bowers
It obviously helps if you have an outdoor gas grill- let’s assume you do.
Go to a metal supply store and by a scrap thick metal plate to use as a griddle on your grille. Something like 3/16ths steel. Just set it on top of the grille, or if you want to get fancy, you can have it cut to the dimensions of the grilles, then use the plate instead.
Clean, clean, clean the plate then rub it in Crisco, heat it for 20-ish minutes, then let it cool. Congratulations, you now have a griddle. On this griddle, you can make anything you would on a restaurant’s flatop. You can also use pots and pans on it.
Gas grill was a great asset when we moved in and had a bit of kitchen work to do.Paul’s idea is a great one. Also think of simplifying the meals to protien and grilled or Al dente veggies and fresh fruit. Americans tend to overeat anyway and limiting your cooking and takeout options can actually be a healthy thing. Just ask the raw foodies!
Angela Tunner a.k.a. The Renaissance Gourmet
Well, this is certainly a difficult situation but not impossible. Having your small appliances like the convection toaster oven and microwave, there is a lot you can do. If you need extra table space, some TV trays work nicely as additional counter space. There are a tremendous number of things that are at the supermarket that are already prepared that can save you prep and cooking time. These items are not processed rather pre-cooked fresh food that can be transformed into lightening fast meals. Keep the meals simple and focused on flavour. Use those small appliances to best use: microwave is for wet cooking; toaster oven for dry, roasting and baking. Microwave: steaming vegetables, cooking pasta, risotto, poaching fruit, Toaster ovens: roasting chicken breasts, fish, baking pies, brownies, small batches of cookies. Supermarket helpers: rotisserie chickens, bakery cake like angel food and pound cake, gnocchi, bagged salads, fresh baked bread, smoked ham. The options are limitless to make fast, low-prep fresh meals even without a kitchen.
As a gift, to help Alicia and Michael and their kids through this stressful time, I would love to give you a copy of my award winning cookbook eBook, winner for Best Easy Recipes; perfect for this situation because all the recipes use a toaster oven, microwave and blender to prepare. These are goof-proof to make and taste amazing! My husband and four-year old love these recipes and are family favourites!
Best of luck with the renovation and here’s to some great meals in your make-shift kitchen now and after your kitchen space is restored.
aka The Renaissance Gourmet
Electric frying pan can be a saviour if you don’t have a kitchen. Rice Cookers are also wonderful for steaming food besides rice and supplements your microwave. As many have mentioned, grills are great for cooking everything from pizza and bread, and even stir fry if you have a basket. You can’t really do slow cooked food all the time. And there isn’t anything wrong with raw food either.
The only thing I would add is to check out dreamdinners.com (this is not an ad; I have never used their services). From what I understand you can prep a week’s worth (or more?) of meals in their kitchens, using their fresh food, then take it home and freeze it, ready for the oven. If you select from their recipes only things that would work in a toaster oven, OR if you had an arrangement with a friend to use her oven once in a while, it might help get you through. No prep in your limited space, and throw-away pans!
Best of luck,
Laurie @ Foolery
Thanks everyone for all the great comments & ideas. Thanks, Angela for your generous offer. Paul, I might have to get that piece of scrap metal just because…And Fiona, we do have a prep-your-own meal thing here–“Deelish! Meals Made Easy” on El Camino in Menlo Park. I’ve never used it, so it didn’t occur to me, but it’s perfect for a situation like this.
I have a small butane gas burner. It is perfect for stuff like this, as well as portable. It works for grilling, boiling, most anything really…
Also – heartily endorse the slow cooker, particularly as you can also use them in lieu of a rice cooker.
Lisa…I knew you would have great suggestions for us, but you out-did yourself here. To everyone else, thank you, thank you. You have no idea how helpful your thoughts are. I obvioiusly have a microwave and slow cooker but the convection oven was sitting in a box in the garage until I spoke with Lisa and read these suggestions. I have blessed with family that live within blocks and have been ever-so generous and thoughtful, sending prepared meals over to the house and inviting us all over a oouple times a week.
By the end of the week, we should have the hardwood floors in but we are still weeks from being finished and we are in need of a diet remodel right about now. I am now excited to plan some new meals for the week and will be making the best of our time spent in our garage-kitchen. I promise to post pictures of our kitcen as soon as it’s done. Thanks again to everyone and Dave, I agree, sometimes a Jack-n-the box hamburger is the quickest, easiest and yummiest meal of all.
P.S. A special thank you to Angela Turner for your generous gift. My husband and I cannot wait to read your cookbook!
Rotisserie Chicken Rub Recipe
I love your blog. There is so much out there which is worthless, but this is a real gold mine of quality information. Many thanks from a grateful surfer – Beth Little.
Well researched site – love the kitchen gadgets! – Will look to incorporate some of your ideas into my site. Thanks!