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Apr 15, 2007 08:46 AM

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

        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.