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Help my family eat well during a kitchen remodel

Ok, I'm all for a new kitchen, but being seriously displaced this long has really been tough. I haven't eaten good food at home for more than a week and there's not a quick end in sight.

Here's the deal. All I have to cook with is a microwave. My prep space equals, in total, a 2'x2' space on which sits a cutting board. I have to wash any dishes in the bathroom sink, so almost everything I use right now is plastic and paper. I do have my fridge operational. I do have my grill outside, but given the prep space/washing limitations, I haven't used it too much.

to top it all off, I have three kids under 4 years old, so there are some young bodies to feed.

Any ideas on what I can make that wouldn't require lots of dishes, excessive dirty utensils/bowls, no stove/oven cooking, etc.? I'm so bored of takeout it makes me want to gag when I think about it.

Luckily I've got some good tomatoes and cucumbers coming out of my garden, so I've been making lots of variations of different tomato-cucumber salads (couscous, etc.). I also have a TON of herbs and habanero peppers out back too. So the fresh produce is a plus...

Ideas? Any thoughts? Help? Any help is greatly appreciated!!!

- Adam

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  1. Only a week? Lucky you. I was out of a kitchen for 10 weeks (we were doing it ourselves).

    We used paper plates and plastic utensils (which I HATE) and did lots of salads. Grilled everything within an inch of it's life <grin>. Especially when we did chicken and london broil, then we could add that to salads. Veggies and dip for when we just wanted to nosh. I found that anything we could just nosh on right out of the fridge worked. We also did lots of lunch meat and tuna.

    Good luck and enjoy the new kitchen!

    1 Reply
    1. re: cbauer

      only a week... so far... ugh.

      I made a big thing of tzatziki before the kitchen imploded that is still pretty good. So grilled veggies wiht the tzatziki would be good. Good thought on grilling extra meat I could use in salad tomorrow. I think I'll do that tonight.

    2. Well at least it's not January. With three young kids too? You are brave!!
      Buy pre-made pizza crusts, top them and finish them on the grill? You could grill sandwiches as well.. I'm having dreams of goopy melted cheese and grill marks now. wraps as well, grilled or otherwise. How are you making your couscous, in the microwave?
      Bean salads with lots of red onion, herbs, and lemon juice.
      Asian salads with sliced grilled meats. Do you have a rice cooker? If not now might be a good time.
      Peaches macerated in brown sugar to top ice cream. You could technically make chocolate mousse :).

      This makes me remember this crazy local chinese cooking show from when I was a kid where this HK lady used to cook everything in the microwave. Stir frying in preheated corning ware dishes and the like, lunacy.

      1. A microwave does three things well IME - roast potatoes, risotto and rice. For the potatoes, just cut into largish chunks. I like about 2" on a side. Sprinkle with olive oil. Microwave a couple of minutes, turn potatoes. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Microwave until done - a minute or two depending on the power and the size of your potatoes.

        For risotto I start on the stove to coat the rice, brown some onions or shallots and evaporate off some wine. I think (don't know, never tried) you could do all this in a microwave. After this, it's just a matter of adding stock regularly while the microwave takes care of cooking.

        I also cook rice in the microwave. Put the rice and water into a bowl, microwave about 10 minutes. Fluff and check for doneness. A cup of rice usually takes about 12 minutes in my unit. This is so easy I haven't used my rice cooker in years.

        For the rest, I agree with everyone else, use the grill. We grill all our pizzas. The smokiness and char are great with good crust. Grilled vegetables are great now with so much available in the markets.

        3 Replies
        1. re: cheryl_h

          I've never done rice in the microwave... great idea, thanks. I'll also try potatoes in it too. the kids devour anything potatoes, so that will be good.

          I think tonight's meal will be grilled skirt steak, with microwave potatoes. Thanks for the inspiration!

          1. re: adamclyde

            I actually bought a microwave rice cooked at (gasp) Wal-Mart for $4.88. I don't know what it does or how it does it, but it makes some great rice!

            And....foil is your friend. Individual packets of fish or chicken with herbs and veggies. Throw them on the grill and that's it! Nothing to clean! I particularly like fish with lemon, tomatoes, yellow squash, a little garlic, onions, dill or basil. Use your imagination there is no end!!

            Good luck!

            1. re: geg5150

              great idea. Plus, I can relive my tin foil dinners I used to make in boy scouts. Hopefully I'll make them a little better tasting nowadays... great idea...

        2. Beets come out REALLY well when microwaved. Just peel, put in a dish about half full with water and cover.

          When I was in college I used to cook pasta in my microwave. I'd fill a dish with water and just let it cook until done. It took longer than boiling on the stove but came out about the same.

          Pizzas on the grill are quick and easy.

          I like to cut up potatoes and wrap in foil packets with butter, salt, pepper and a bit of dill. And cook it on the grill. I do the same with Salmon as well.

          You might want to consider picking up a hot plate to expand your repertoire to include grilled cheese, pancakes, and anything you can saute.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chris VR

            A crock pot would be handy and you can plug it in in another room, the same with an electric skillet or griddle. Cooking does not have to happen in the kitchen. I went through a whole kitchen gut and expansion. Fridge in dining room, dishes done in the tub. We got by very well with the grill and the pot and skillet.

            1. re: Candy

              I was going to suggest a crock pot, too. One of my easy and relatively summery crock pot dishes is to slow cook some boneless skinless chicken thighs (I think they have a better texture in the slow cooker than breasts) in a enchilada verde sauce, then shred the chicken and make tacos with corn tortillas and toppings. I also have a recipe for a Thaish pork dish that involves cooking a couple of tenderloins (1 lb. each) with about 1/3 c. teriyaki sauce, a few tablespoons rice vinegar, a couple of cloves of garlic and a sliced red bell pepper, then shredding the pork, adding 1/4 c. creamy peanut butter, and serving over rice.

          2. I'd rely on your grill. Surprisingly, string beans (tossed with garlic-infused oil) are delicious grilled (in a basket), then topped with sea salt. Even at room temp they taste fantastic. Tri tip with grilled bread and grilled sliced potatoes to go with it...did this last night--very good.

            Hot dogs/brats/sausages are great with or without a grilled bun. Grilled brocolli is favorite in our house--kids love it (again tossed in a garlic infused oil first).

            1. Buy a copy of Barbara Kafka's "Microwave Gourmet". This book saved my sanity during a very hot, un-airconditioned, summer in Australia.

              2 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                I just got a copy based on this board's recommendations - perhaps yours? I've barely scratched the surface, it is very interesting. I'm looking forward to polenta in the microwave, perhaps marmalades too.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  I love that book, nothing could persuede me to part with it. Her polenta in the microwave is amazing, artichokes cooked her way in the wave are better than steamed, grits are a snap and I could go on and on. Get the book. It may be out of print but I'll bet Amazon can produce a copy from one of their vendors.

                2. My local sundries store, Walgreen's, also has toaster ovens, deep fryers and 2 ring stovetops for $20 or less.

                  I often find stuff cooked via microwave dessicatedly meh. I use my toaster oven much more often. Much better to reheat leftovers. Aluminum foil is your friend. Only have to clean a pan every so often.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: himbeer

                    If you think you'll be in this predicament long enough to make purchasing an electric skillet, crock pot or etc. worthwhile, I suggest trying your local thrift stores. I have seen many at these places and you can re-donate it when you are done!

                  2. Try these microwave cinnamon chocolate pudding cakes from Epicurious.


                    I have done them and they worked really well. Also, not much prep is needed as everything is pretty much just whizzed up in a food processor or as I used, one of those attachements that comes with an immersion blender.


                    1. During my renovation, I was in similar straights but lived off items created in my decent toaster oven I set up in another room. Made all sorts of flatbreads and pizzas, roasted salmon and chicken breasts, etc.

                      1. My son and his wife are doing the exact same thing right now, so I will follow this thread carefully. They're in Phoenix, no AC and like Adamclyde, washing anything that needs washing in the bathroom tub or sink. They won't be finished for a couple of months, so the future looms long.

                        Because it is so hot here in August, they've found the blender to be a big help. They're drinking a lot of breakfast smoothies or making scrambled egg burritos. For dinner, I think they're living on cold soups *** see note below*** (Gazpacho, etc) & toaster oven cheese sandwiches. Also, hummus scopped w/ romaine lettuce leaves & carrot sticks and tabbouli from the Middle Eastern deli. They made a TJ run and are nukking some of those frozen meals when truly desperate. Vietnamese food has been their friend -- spring rolls - or the kitchen remodelers' version of spring rolls - have been very successful. The fully roasted chickens at a local supermarket yield two dinners when used for "garbage salad" one night (cans of garbanzo beans & olives in the fridge with bagged salad greens) and served warm the first night w/microwaved spinach risotto (canned broth & frozen chopped spinach).

                        They're pathetically grateful for "brought" meals so I try to think of things that they cannot possibly concoct themselves. For whatever reason, my son has a craving for Beef Wellington!

                        ***note - we have a family soup base that has served well over the years. It is equally good hot or cold and takes well to many variations:
                        For each person, chop one potato and 1/2 onion. Cook in a small amount of water or broth until soft. (obviously, the finer you chop the potato & onion, the quicker the cooking time) They are microwaving this during the re-model. Add another vegetable and flavoring of choice -- zucchini/basil, carrot/ginger, zucchini/dill ETC. Cook until soft. Puree in blender, adding liquid of choice until desired consistency is reached. Serve hot or cold. Buttermilk works well for the cold soups and they're using canned chicken broth for others. Since this is just the base, if you have the time & energy, you can go to the moon with this, but it is quite acceptable as-is.

                        Good Luck! It will be worth the pain and you'll have great kitchen survival stories for us. Please post as you go along.

                        1. How about eggs (scrambled), bacon, and beans - all done in the microwave? Eggs aren't the greatest that way (use some ketchup or hot sauce), but the bacon turns out well. By putting it between paper towels, you can get rid of all the grease. Heat up some beans, cut some fresh tomatoes from your garden - and you have a decent "breakfast dinner". The kids will probably love this too.

                          1. Ugh, I feel your pain. We remodeled earlier this year and the "2 to 3 week" job took 5 months. But it is SOOOOO worth it.

                            After I while I really gave up on trying to cook because even if we used paper plates and utensils, there were still those cooking utensils and pans to try to squeeze into the bathroom sink or step over in the shower each morning.

                            We ate a lot of microwaved vegetables simply dressed in butter and salt and pepper, or bottled salad dressing. Grilled vegetables. Grilled meat. Sandwiches. Supermarket roast chicken (as is, or turned into chicken salad). Prewashed salad mix with bottled dressing. We bought pizza dough and shredded cheese at Trader Joes's and grilled pizzas - these were the best meals. I'd try grilled pizza with a loaf of good bread too, sliced lengthwise, grill cut side, turn over and top with sauce and cheese and grill other side.

                            There isn't much good takeout where we live but the supermarket does "meals" each night and so Thursday was a roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing. Pretty gluey but the kid loved it.

                            Good luck!

                            1. Only a week and you're complaining? We did a floor to ceiling re-model of our entire first floor 6 years ago and were without cooking/eating space for 3 months (12 weeks). Here is my advice and it's not a joke - write down everyone you have invited for dinner or sandwiches and in your most comedic voice ask them when they would like you and your kiddies to come to THEIR house. You will be surprised at how many invitations you will receive when others are aware of your circumstances. We have a fireplace as well as outdoor BBQ and we cooked over those surfaces as well. I do have to admit, my family in the area took pity on us for several occasions and it was the only time in my married life (20+ years) that every holiday during those 3 months wasn't at my house. Believe it or not, you will look back at this fondly and recall how much it was worth it. Good luck!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                I wish it were only a week. We are a week into it... not sure when it will end. But seeing the next who-knows-how-long without proper cooking ability is a bit depressing. Hence the impetus behind this post.

                                not sure I have the huevos to invite myself over all my friends' houses...

                              2. I may have everyone beat...we lived in a very yucky place on one of hubby's job assignments and went 14 1/2 months with only a grill , microwave, and crockpot.Hubby says I should write a book with all the things I produced!

                                1. Ooh, barbecue, I love barbecue! This is a good opportunity to try all of the recipes you never had the time to try, because you have to now!

                                  I had Korean short ribs the other day at a restaurant, and they were so damn good. I am now looking for recipes.

                                  Also, I love plain mushrooms on the grill after they've gotten all shrivelled up on the outside because inside they are very juicy and tasty. Corn on the cob is also very good.

                                  I agree with the SE asian food comment. You can make lettuce wraps or springrolls with grilled meat, rice vermicelli, cucumber, tomato and other herbs. (But maybe this might create too many dirty dishes.) You know, you could easily make burgers and take up some of the tomatoes that way. Burger contests with your kids!

                                  Grilled sandwich contests. Come up with your own versions. Depends on how young under 4 years old. If they can talk, they probably will find it fun. You don't even have to fire up the grill if you've got a sandwich press and lots of loaf bread.

                                  How about grilling a lot vegetables (including your many tomatoes) and tossing it into pasta cooked in the microwave?

                                  I would also agree with the tin foil packet stuff. I like to do it with fish and vegetables.

                                  I recommend buying pita breads because they're versatile. They can be filled with things from the grill with lettuce and tomato, eaten with various dips (such as a cucumber yogourt dip) if grilled after drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, used for pizzas, and if you have some left over, you can always make them into grilled cheese sandwiches or something.

                                  1. WARNING: drinking beer whilst overseeing the bbq can lead to short-term brain damage

                                    1. I'll second the electric fry pan! I managed meals for six in a midwestern cabin once out of one of those things -- they make them pretty large.

                                      You can make great fresh tomato sauce to go with that microwave pasta, fry chicken or whatever - all the stuff that is in your usual expansive repetoire

                                      My other camping trick is putting spuds or beets in foil on every grill you light, and make cold salads out of them for the next day.

                                      I was just about to make some of your black bean habanero salad . . . good luck with the reno! I'd get a rubbermaid tub for washing up and put it in the backyard or the tub (or maybe you have a basinet left over from one of those wee 'uns.) Dr Bronner's soap is biodegradable/safe for outdoor use, if you decide to set up that kind of operation...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pitu

                                        wow. you have a good memory. I've actually got 6 habanero plants about to give me a yield of - I'm being conservative here - 500 habaneros. I could make that salad for a whole city!

                                        I love beets and I love to grill... for some reason I've never thought to do them on the grill. Great tip! thanks.

                                      2. I sympathise deeply--we were out of our kitchen for literally months and I nearly went out of my mind on not-so-great So. Westchester takeout. One thing I'd have done differently is that i'd pre-cook a lot of casseroles, etc., beforehand (individually frozen portions) PLUS I'd get a cheap electric cooking ring. They're under $20 and available at all sorts of hardware stores--they plug right into the wall and you can place it on your workspace. (Foley's has them.) They don't crank a lot of BTUs, but you can fry an egg, etc (a pasta pot will take ages). Also--you can get big, outdoor propane-fuelled cooking rings for not too much(I think they sell them as turkey fryers) at Costco or on Arthur Avenue (some people use them to cook up vats of 'gravy'). You can use it for pasta, steaming fish/lobster, corn, you could probably put a large pan and fry on it. Set it up on a sturdy table outside. Plus--now is the time to buddy up to your neighbors. The quick use of their kitchen sink will save you time and stress on washing up. (I had to use my cellar laundry sink--my back still hurts). I hope you'll report back on your takeout finds!