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Surviving a kitchen renovation

In just a few hours we'll begin ripping out our cabinets to begin a renovation project that our contractor estimates will last 3 months. We'll have a microwave, coffeemaker, a sink, and a stove for at least a little while. We'll have extremely limited counter space though and I'd like to produce as few dirty dishes as possible.

I know we'll be eating out a lot, but I'd also like to not gain 10 pounds over the next 3 months because of tasty restaurant food. We've talked about grabbing stuff from grocery store delis and yesterday I stocked on up Trader Joe's foods that are microwave friendly.

Any specific recommendations for healthy microwave cooking? Any fantastic frozen foods out there or ideas for meals that don't require cooking or lots of mess? Any other ideas for not going crazy due to not having a kitchen for 3 months?

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  1. Tacos filled with avocado, onion, cilantro and crema. Use store-bought tortillas that you microwave and serve with some good salsa. Many variations on the theme possible here.

    Pan bagna, endless filling possibilities.

    Do you use an outdoor grill? I often grill lots ( and I mean lots) of chicken at once and then freeze the pieces individually. Then, for fast food we either heat them through with a bit of broth, wine, water or whatever and serve with sides or we thaw it and use the meat to make main course salads. Or use the meat in quick soups. I have several grilled chicken breasts and thighs in the freezer right now.

    Do you have a crockpot? You could make lentils(I have not done lentils this way but am guessing it'd be alright) , soups, white chili using your freezer chicken, and be sure to make extra for your freezer. Always nice to be able to have a delicious bowl of soup with a simple, otherwise uncooked supper.

    Do you have a fondue pot? Saturday night cheese fondue would be cheerful and delicious.

    We occasionally buy Trader Joe's frozen bagged dinners like kung pao chicken and add extra vegetables and peanuts. Haven't done it in the microwave but it seems like that'd be fine. Microwave some rice.

    Finally, i fyou have access to a toaster oven (we probably all know someone who has one stored away somewhere!) it could change your world for the next 3 months. You can do an awful lot more in there than in a microwave, I think.

    I realize you won't have space for all of the appliances I mentioned, but maybe some would be worth getting out & putting away again once in a while just for the variety and convenience they offer.

    Best of luck to you. You must be so excited! It will be a long haul, no doubt, but oh, won't it be something at the end?!
    I'm looking forward to the responses you get, selfishly, because eating decently without too much mess & trouble is just what I am after many days.

    1 Reply
    1. re: xena

      My sister and BIL went through this several years ago - they mostly used their grill, but a crockpot and a good toaster oven will also help immensely in ease of preparation, especially the crockpot. Set it, forget it until it's done. Stews and soups are the first thing that comes to mind - and if you have the toaster oven, it can bake/broil/heat almost anything, including baguettes to go with the stew/soup.

      Good luck with the renovation!

    2. Here's a thread with great tips for microwave cooking:


      1. If you don't have an outdoor grill, pick up a George Foreman... you can do so many things on them. Besides cooking meat, fish, veggies, there's paninis, melts, etc.

        I do a lot of microwave cooking, criticize it as some may. Baked potatoes are easy in there (and you can crisp 'em in a toaster if you've got one!). I do omelettes, oatmeal, and rice and barley in the microwave. You can cook spaghetti and top w/ your favorite sauce, or use zucchini for noodles instead.

        Good news is that spring is here and great produce available at farmers' markets, depending upon where you live. I'd focus maybe on eating less cooked foods for the time being and stocking up on fruits and veggies. Salads (veggie, chicken, tuna, salmon, egg), gazpacho, cold soups, etc. Also, try and do "no-cook meals" like these on Food Network http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/et_sl...

        Couscous is also an easy no-cook palate for all sorts of salads and what not.

        I also own an *Egg Rocket* that soft or hard boils eggs, from which you can obviously do a number of different dishes.

        It might seem a bit unhoundly, but now might be the time to *indulge* and try one of those places you go to and cook/prep your meals to take home, freeze, and reheat later in the week.

        As for TJ's and frozen ideas, I'd stock up on frozen chicken breasts and then poach them in chicken broth in the micro to revitalize them. Amy's Organic brands are good, some more hefty than others. South Beach does a few good frozen meals, as does Lean Cuisine. At Costco, I like the frozen shrimp that are splayed and covered in seasonings.

        One other idea... Call a local restaurant that you know either closes up during the day or closes up one or two days a week. Ask if you could use the kitchen for a couple of hours once every couple of weeks and do some heavy duty cooking of meals that you can freeze once baked, and later nuke to reheat!

        Hope any of that helps!

        Good luck w/ the redo!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Emme

          Not that it makes that much difference, but I meant to suggest cooking squashes in the microwave (butternut and spaghetti squashes esp!)... The micro is great for both, then you can mash up the butternut or serve the spaghetti as pasta!

        2. If the contractor will be replacing the flooring and/or moving walls I am sure that they had to remove cabinets/countertops, but 3 months w/o them seems a bit excessive. That said I can recommend asking them to build some very cheap "temp counters" of plywood and 2X2 stock. A bit of Contact vinyl stuck on makes for a very acceptable work surface. These can be moved around so that it is not interfering with the various contractors.

          I also strongly recommend that you attempt to make room in your home's laundry area for a "temp kitchen" -- you probably have all the connections you need -- water, gas. electric. While most laundry rooms are notoriously tight, it is definately a lot better than relying on carry out. A few larger cutting board surfaces can easily be placed atop the washer or dryer and with a bit of creative swapping in and out this is a very usable alternative. (It'll force you to minimize clean up, as no one likes doing dishes stooped over a laundry)

          Good Luck!

          1. Three months seems a long time for a kitchen reno unless it involves an extensive reconfiguration of your house and/or a structural addition to it. If it does involve these things, 3 months will probably become 5-6 months or longer. With that level of expense, and that much time, what's another few hundred bucks?

            We just went through a whole house reno, so I can relate. Having had both good and horrible contractors during this agony, we found that the good ones had very clever and creative suggestions for reducing inconvenience and stress. (Although our bathroom was gutted and took almost two months - the estimate was three weeks - to finish, we were without a sink for one day and that contractor always managed to get the old toilet connected before he left each day. We had no tub for about a week.)

            During the time you have a stove and sink, it's not that big a deal. Get your contractor to build you a temporary melamine-clad work counter. It can be free standing. He should be able to give you a temporary sink when that time comes.

            If you live in an appropriate climate, do as much outdoor grilling as you can. You can get a very powerful propane burner for outside use if your BBQ doesn't have an auxiliary burner. Get a good convection/toaster oven, a combination electric pressure cooker/slow cooker and a portable halogen burner (or - if you have ferrous cookware - an induction burner). If necessary, put them on a mobile cart.

            If you want to get really fancy, IKEA sells some completely free standing kitchen units.

            1. We did a major renovation in 2004-5 and had the temp kitchen in our laundry room. It consisted of our microwave, coffee maker, and electric water kettle. We had a full bath next to the laundry, so that was the dishwashing facility. Trader Joes was very helpful in keeping us from eating junk and eating expensive food out. However, I could not live through that again, and after that, I always tell people, if you're having a major renovation, move out!

              2 Replies
              1. re: MsDiPesto

                If you do have to use the bathroom for washing up, be careful about knives in the sink. I scratched up mine. So annoying to improve the kitchen, while messing up the bathroom.

                1. re: Glencora

                  My condo went thru some rennovations and I actually had to move out and live in a motel for a while. Eating out wears thin after a while. I microwave a lot uusally,but I did't have that.

                  Better than a grill, I discovered the joy of a hot plate. I've used the hot plate for holiday dinners to keep dishes warm. An electric kettle is also a good idea.

              2. Thanks for the great ideas everyone. I packed up our George Forman because it seemed like it would be messy but I'll pull it out. I love the idea of paninis and tacos/fajitas stuffed with things grilled on it. I was also thinking of hitting one of those make dinner and freeze it places - there's a new one a few miles away from us. Maybe I'll do that this weekend.

                Very good point about knives. We have nice Wusthof ones and I'd hate to ruin them or our other sinks.

                As far as our timeline, the first month should be moving walls and fixing the plumbing and electricity. Our house was built in 1921 so nothing is up to code. In the 2nd month the cabinets will be going in, and finally 3-4 weeks after that the countertop should be in. This is all dependent on the sub contractors being available at the right times, which I hear never happens. So we will have different pieces at different times - I was just trying to not count on having things.

                1. I posed this question last year and got lots of useful tips. Two things I learned:

                  1. No, there is no good frozen food.
                  2. Washing dishes in the bathroom sink isn't worth it

                  Hope you have great take out nearby.

                  another thread:

                  Good luck - one day it will be over and will be fabulous.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Junie D

                    LOL! So true about #2--washing dishes in the bathroom sink sucks. Although it might not be the most environmentally sound advise, I highly recommend paper plates during the renovation.

                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                      As a usually highly environmentally conscious person (eg. My shirt got soaked by a head of lettuce last week because I refused a plastic bag for it), I agree totally about paper plates. jfood puts it well, "look at the dumpster in the front yard."

                      During our remodel, I found myself taking a shower with the dinner dishes one night, two sets of tongs and a skillet the next. After a while, I completely lost the will to cook. For a very short while it was a fun, camping sort of adventure. A few weeks later, I was glad the fridge was in the living room because I needed quick access to cold beer.

                      1. re: Junie D

                        Let's not forget that wonderful Seinfeld episode when Kramer put a disposal in the shower and made salads while shampooing.

                        1. re: jfood

                          The very idea of taking kitchen utensils and plates into the bathroom grosses me out. No way, no how.

                  2. The jfoods have renovated three kitchens and still happily married.

                    - GRILL - it will save the budget and the marriage. And not just a slab on the grill. Aluminum foil. a zucchini, squash, some fish a little white wine and wrap it up and throw on the burners.
                    - DO NOT DO DISHES - as other shave stated, washing in the bathroom sink is a nightmare. paper cups, paper plates, plastic utensils. garbage bag. that's the ticket. To the environmentally sensitive, look at the dumpster in the front yard, a few extra paper plates will not make a difference.
                    - Male friends with a local resto - if you agree to orger early they may agree on a little discount. it's extra revenue for the resto and a quick pick-up is a nice treat.

                    Lastly - patience. understanding and an ability to manage through any speed bumps your kitchen contractor can throw your way.

                    Good luck

                    1. I have lost my kitchen twice and think you have gotten great ideas. Particularly agree with disposable plates/cutlery etc- I spent time trying to wash dishes in the front yard with a hose and cold water- WHY!?! Maybe I missed it but do not see that anyone talked about an electric skillet. You can saute, simmer, etc and they are usually non-stick. They also usually are calibrated so you can adjust temp by degree. The chopping/washing/prep stuff is where you might want to avail yourself of pre-prepped stuff like Trader Joes or a full service grocery. Cloggin up your bathroom sink with accidental produce- not cheap! Good luck.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: torty

                        Ha! I love all the anti-bathroom sink washing advice. Just tonight my husband laughed at me when I crawled through the plastic barrier to get water from the kitchen sink, when we have easy access to the bathroom sink. It just tastes different from the bathroom!

                        Tonight we shared a fork at dinner to decrease dishes, it was quite pathetic. I'm going to dig up our box of disposables that we usually save for potluck parties. Also tonight at the middle eastern take out place the person who helped me was joking that we shouldn't finish our kitchen for a while, to increase their business. It's a place we love so I'll definitely try to chat with him again during my future visits to see if he'll take pity on us.

                      2. am feeling your pain. started ripping out 100 year old cabinets only to have the project get stalled! sharing plates and silverware and reusing glasses only used for water, etc are good things & will bring you closer! i am an eco-freek so perhaps i would try to eat non-messy foods on a machine washable prep towel rather than throw a plate away. . . OTOH if you do get takeout you can frequently use container lids as plates before you must discard. here's some ideas i have until the crisis is over:

                        do you have chowbuddies that you can hang out 1 time/week and do some joint prepwork & sharing of freezable/reheatable dishes? thinking that especially new parents might appreciate this-- you can pay for a little more than 1/2 of the jointly purchased produce, etc in return for the cleanup & dishes to be at their place, and it's still a lot cheaper/healthier than daily takeout. . .

                        dh is grillmaster so i actually eat like a queen while remodeling. grilling is a great tip.

                        you can get in a smoothie rut-- just whizz with hot water and dishsoap, then rinse to clean the blender after each use.

                        omelets on a portable burner are your friend. appropriate for any mealtime, eatable out of the pan or on a piece of toast, no plate nec.

                        bake while you still have an oven, then munch on lofat muffins etc at mealtimes. you can get by if you rethink what "dinner" is supposed to be-- some carrot sticks, muffins, and passing a kefir bottle back and forth might make our moms say unladylike things, but hey it's nutritious, filling, low fat, no dish. you can eat out 1 big meal a day, eat the leftovers for breakfast, and earn it by eating the 3rd meal like that for a month easy-- produce no dishes, maybe even lose a couple pounds, who knows?

                        btw i work in a kitchen, & i've brought dirty dishes to work to do them here when remodeling (in bus tub with lid, home dishes get done at the END of everything else). don't forget that at the end of it all is the kitchen of your DREAMS-- or the 1st stage anyway.

                        1. It's too late for you now unless you can borrow somebody else's kitchen, but when my parents had their kitchen, bathroom and laundry ripped out for renovation, we had big plans of cooking on a hotplate and in the microwave... but it didn't work out that way - a major renovation just involves too much mess and awkwardness to want to make MORE mess by cooking.
                          Before the renovation I cooked lots of stews and chilli and some lasagne and froze them in individual portions, and we just reheated them as needed... and we ate a lot of takeout food. (Our entire renovation took three months, but we got our kitchen back in about six weeks.)