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A Chowhound's Nightmare

  • c

Reading the thread on cooking smaller quantities of food and the problems therein, I wonder if anyone could help me with a related problem. I am sadly kitchenless--I have a hot plate, toaster oven and mini refrigerator with no freezer. I do, however, love to cook--and am afraid I will actually forget how! I have just about reached the limit of what I can do with omelets and salads. Does anyone have any ideas for recipes that:

can be cooked on a hot plate
are small enough to fit in a toaster oven
do not require freezing at any point
and are chowhound-worthily delicious

Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

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  1. c
    Caitlin Wheeler

    Laurie Colwin's book Home Cooking has a chapter about living in an apartment with a kitchen much as you describe. She said she relied on soups and stews, and eggplant sauteed with red peppers.

    1. Reminds me of when I was in a dorm in college with only a popcorn popper that could also be used to heat up soups, stew, chili. Talk about life at the gut level.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mc michael

        Soon after my sister and I left home for college, my mother built and moved into a new house. Having hated cooking for years, she announced that she was not going to have an oven or stove in her home because "it ruined the aesthetic design of the kitchen"!

        During our visits home and during the holidays, my sister and I cooked on a hot plate with two burners and a plug in "stove" which was fairly ineffective. The answer was soups, stews, and sauces. Roasts can be braised in wine, with a fantastic result!

        Of course, a good nearby bakery can't hurt either!

        (By the way, my mother has since given in and has a fully functional kitchen, even though she still hates cooking!)

      2. Adding a crockpot to your "kitchen" will certainly expand your repetoire and not take up too much space.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chowbabe

          Likewise the oft-praised Foreman grill...

        2. Get a wok. Keep in mind that most Cantonese cooking has its origin with limited stoves...in fact, many junks in Canton harbor have an old modified gas can for a stove. The variety is almost endless...of course, you must like Chinese food.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Jim H.
            Janet A. Zimmerman

            The wok might not be such a great idea, given the low heat generated by many hotplates.

            1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman
              Wendy Leonard

              I'd go with the crockpot or possibly a rice cooker. I just spent a month without a stove and what I used was the crockpot. I also had a plug-in burner, a pretty good one, and it would never have been hot enough for wok cooking. One alternative to a crockpot might be a rice cooker. There's a new cookbook out, The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and it has tons of recipes, including applesauce, desserts, dishes like steak and sweet potatoes, as well as a huge variety of rice dishes. Looks promising!

              1. re: Wendy Leonard

                What about an electric Wok? Then you wouldn't have to rely on the hotplate to heat it up.

                1. re: LisaLou

                  I wonder how many outlets CC has?

                  1. re: Bill

                    hee hee I was actually wondering the same thing. One can always buy a power strip, though.

                    1. re: LisaLou

                      Luckily I have 3 outlets--one for the fridge and 2 that are constantly being juggled between the hot plate, toaster oven, electic kettle and coffee grinder. The annoying thing is when I unplug the toaster oven to do something else, and then try to make something in it and wonder why my food isn't cooking after 10 minutes!

          2. The wok suggestion is a great idea. What about getting a food processor like a Cuisinart? You can get the ultra small version if space is at a premium. With this, you can make two things that I am particularly fond of:

            Pesto: no cooking needed for the pesto sauce, except to toast the pine nuts in your toaster oven or in a fry pan on your hotplate. You should wash the basil (you do have a sink, don't you?) and you can boil the pasta water on your hotplate. Vary the dish by substituting other things for basil if you want, but I've always liked the original recipe the best.

            Another good thing to make with your newly acquired food processor: humus. Cook the chickpeas on your hotplate (make SURE they are soft all the way through) then add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt and blend in food processor (I like my humus soupy, so I add ALOT of water as well). You could make a larger meal out of it by making falefal on your hotplate using one of those mixes sold in the supermarket.

            You really have a fairly large capacity for cooking if you are willing to try, and it will keep you from getting hungry as you look for a new apartment.....

            1. a
              Allie D'Augustine

              How about making a sauce for pasta that will hold a bit, and stick it in the toaster oven to keep warm while you boil pasta? Also, if you can get good, fresh tomatoes, you don't have to cook them at all -- you can just cut them up and let them marinate at room temp. for a couple of hours with a decent splash of olive oil, maybe some torn basil leaves, a bit of salt, etc.

              An alternative -- an idea cribbed from another thread! -- is pasta carbonara. You could saute the meat and onion part before you do the pasta, and combine it with the egg and cheese. After you drain the pasta, put it right back in the pot and finish cooking with the egg mixture.

              Sorry, I'm pasta-obsessed. But it seems like there's lots of room for experimentation... good luck! When I was about nine my parents re-did our kitchen and we had to make do with a hot plate and a microwave. All I remember food-wise is that my mom finally caved in on the tv-dinner issue and I happily ate hungry-man turkey dinners which she didn't have the heart to stop buying after the kitchen was finished. :)


              1. If you can get an electric wok, great, otherwise you CAN stir fry in a skillet if need be. Lately I have been in a mood for Thai and many great Thai foods are so simple, and one pot, if you have good ingredients. In the ethnic cookbook thread this week there have been some WONDERFUL southeast asian cookbooks discussed...check it out!!
                If you don't have room for a rice cooker, just cook the rice in a pot first, keep the lid on while preparing the rest of the meal...

                1. f
                  foodie in lawyer's clothing

                  I can't believe no one picked up on the toaster oven. I can't tell you how many times I've baked off a nice piece of salmon (with soy sauce, with terriaki, with lemon, butter and dill), broiled a small steak, baked a chicken leg or two...the possibilities are endless. Actually, for one or two servings, a toaster oven/broiler is far more convenient than a regular oven/broiler...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: foodie in lawyer's clothing

                    Exactly! You've got everything you need to make lots of different foods!

                    During my senior year in college, I went off the meal plan but the kitchen in my dorm was 2 floors away. I had a microwave and dorm fridge (with the useless freezer space). I learned that there was a lot more you could do with the microwave than I had thought, including making pasta. It took a lot longer than the normal way, but it did the job. I ate a lot of nachos (chips quickly microwaved with salsa and cheddar cheese, topped with sour cream.) I also tried some of those microwave cake or cupcake baking kits but can't recommend them. I had a plastic plate with raised ridges that I could use for bacon or boneless chicken breasts. And during finals, my microwave was set up in the hall for a lovely s'mores party.

                    I also had one of those DeLonghi things... more of an oven/toaster than a toaster oven. If you can upgrade, it's worth it, and it doesn't take up that much more space. That thing was the best...I could roast a small chicken, bake cakes, make yorkshire pudding, broil steaks, bake bread, toast cheese on bread, make pizza... well, you get the idea. It's a very versatile gadget and I still use it on summer days when I don't want the heat of the oven. However, the one thing it's not ideal for is toast. It does the job but takes forever. But no worrying about whether or not the bagels will fit in the slots...

                    I also had an electric skillet that was good for pancakes, casseroles, soups, stews, chicken cacciatore, etc. I had a hotplate as well, but found the skillet more useful. Those hotplates seem to get a bit wobbly and the temperature control is pretty imprecise. The skillet had really good control of temperatures, allowing hot fat frying, which opens the door to french fries, beer batter fish and donuts.

                    In cookbooks geared towards college students, I've also seen recipes that utilize popcorn poppers and electric hotpots. Take a look at some of these cookbooks- they may inspire you.

                    1. re: Chris VR

                      I have a full kitchen and still use my DeLonghi toaster oven all the time. Sometimes you just don't need to use a huge oven. It really is a great appliance.

                  2. How 'bout quesadillas? All manner of good things can be enfolded in a tortilla with a little grated cheese and heated in a skillet (with a little oil) OR in the toaster oven (brushed with oil, or not). Especially useful for turning leftovers into dinner.

                    1. CC, get a big chunck of parmesan (the real thing) and a microplane grater (it does zest, nutmeg, cheese, chocolate, you'll love it). Get some very good extra virgin olive oil and good vinegars. Get yourself some dried porcini as a pantry regular item. (If in Brooklyn, check out Sahadi's on Atlantic Ave, Zabars on the upper west side.) Go to the Union Square or other green markets around the city for very fresh produce and other good things. Go to a good Italian deli and get salted anchovies, capers, olives, salamis, etc. These can be combined in endless variations with pasta, rice, vegetables, eggs, etc.

                      You can use the cheese with the pasta, the pesto, and some things I'm going to recommend below. Get some good pasta and use it with just olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. You could make some raviolis and fry up some brown butter and sage as a sauce. (Or saute up fish, then make a brown butter sage or other pan sauce.

                      There are all sorts of risottos you can make introducing seafood, mushrooms, asparagus and other veggies. You can prepare mushrooms, veggies, etc. first and then add them to the risotto. Or you can just add the cheese to it. It's just as well to start off with the basic risotto, anyway.

                      You can make polenta. To it you can add cheese and or other things such as mushrooms. The leftover polenta can be put into a dish to firm up and be used the next day toasted or fried, served for breakfast with syrup or lunch/dinner with tomato, mushroom, or any other sauce you like.

                      Find a place that makes interesting fresh sausage, serve with mashed potatoes, risotto, or polenta -- or even eggs; or break it out of its casing and make a sauce with it to go over whatever.

                      Summer's coming: beans & rice with all sorts of fresh veggies. Make the beans (I like using the black ones for their color); make the rice (I prefer a basmati or jasmine for this); refrigerate them both to cool. Later put together just enough of the beans and rice for one meal. Add cut up colorful peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, or whatever else you'd like in it. Then sprinkle with olive oil and a really good vinegar (I like Sherry, Champagne, Rice, and find balsamic "dirties" the dish). Both the beans and rice will keep well several days. Obviously you can work innumerable changes on this recipe according to what's available

                      Then there's salads: bitter greens, pears, some kind of blue cheese (Stilton's my favorite), walnuts, some of the new baby beets you can get at the green markets, greens, cheese. The combinations are endless.

                      Get a steamer insert of some sort and make steamed fish (salmon's great) or just poach it, make a little cream or yogurt sauce. You can make various fruit and vegetable salsas to accompany your fried or toaster baked meats, chicken, fish. You could probably pan fry chicken.

                      And there are endless omelets and frittatas you could make.

                      Dessert? Rice pudding (using some of the leftover rice you have from making rice and beans?:) and bread pudding could be made in the toaster oven. Certainly you could make trifles using storebought cake or ladyfingers, even instant pudding, fresh fruit, and whipped cream.

                      Your limitation is not so much in what you can make but how many hot dishes you can make simultaneously.

                      If you will be there for a long time, an investment in a microwave oven (great for steaming vegetables, btw) and/or an induction burner instead of the old fashioned hot plate might be of use to you. If you're entertaining, consider getting an insulated ice chest and some ice to expand your refrigerator space.

                      Oh, your opportunities are endless. But I'm too weary to go on. It's only planning the menu so that you can make everything at the same time that is difficult.

                      Have a good time.

                      1. j
                        Jennie Sheeks

                        Echoing some of the brilliant ideas in this thread:

                        Roasted vegetables - just use the broiler pan for your toaster oven, which conveniently makes the right amount for one. I love sweet potatoes and carrots with chili-lime butter, or green onions, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant and peppers served with a sauce made by gently heating cream and goat cheese. Leftovers are great for sandwiches, pasta, quesadillas or omelets.

                        Broiled fish - just 2-3 minutes per side, I do this with ahi, salmon, swordfish, seabass and top with olive tapenade, fruit salsa or a cilantro-italian parsley-chili-lemon-pesto.

                        Easy pasta - linguine with roughly mashed avocado, salt, pepper, chopped garlic, chili flakes or a diced chili, EVO, and dry jack or asiago etc. Or mash butter, gorgonzola and minced shallot and toss with spaghetti. Add pasta cooking water to either as needed if pasta seems dry.

                        1. I didn't feel like wading through all the replies below once I saw the risotto suggestion which I was going to pass on. But here's one I'll bet no one has thought of. Check out a recipe book that was written for cooking on a sailboat. Those on the smaller ones have similar culinary restrictions and you might get some ideas in that area.

                          I hope you are not in this terrible situation for any length of time.

                          1. I won a hungry young man's heart by cooking for him on his two-burner hotplate, in a low-ceilinged, cement floor, basement apartment without a real kitchen, using beat-up, hand-me-down, cheap aluminum pots and pans he'd inherited from his mother. I made this meal: chicken Marengo, rice pilaf, steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce. It probably wasn't as good as what I could make now, with my Thermador gas cooktop and All-Clad pots, but it impressed the hell out of him. That was thirty-one years ago, and I'm still cooking for him.

                            1. Be careful about "power strips". They are for the convenience of not having to unplug one item to plug in another.They DO NOT give more power. Most Recepticles are 15 ampere devices. At 110 volts, that is about 1500 watts. One two burner hot plate loads it fully. Most of the time that is.
                              That said, kudos to the wonderful ideas the "Chowhounds" came up with. Use those and when you have leftovers, grab a piece of pita bread or tortilla from the fridge, fold a piece of foil so it fits between , and turn it on the burner a few times and it will be real nice to wrap something in.

                              1. Dear Wonderful Chowhounds,

                                Thank you so much for all the suggestions! Sad to say, this has been my situation for a couple of years and is not likely to change any time soon (ah, the joys of NYC studio living!). I have not wasted away, but I definitely needed a new burst of creativity to add to my very tired repertoire. I really appreciate all the suggestions for tasty things that I had never thought of before, and I am looking forward to the experimentation! Who knows, I might even get the courage to entertain again!

                                The one good thing about the set up is that when I am able to make a good meal, I get more of a sense of accomplishment than if I did it in a fully-loaded kitchen. Thanks to all your suggestions, I think I will be feeling that sense of accomplishment a lot more in the very near future!

                                Thank you,


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: CC in NYC

                                  A year ago, I cooked for 130 people out of my studio apartment kitchen (although I do have a stove, oven ,etc.). I call my kitchen "the little kitchen that could." Yours, all the more so.