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ISO suggestions for home cooking during kitchen renovation

We're in the middle of a first-floor renovation that includes the kitchen, dining room and two adjacent rooms. The whole first floor of the house floor is virtually unusable. I've set up a makeshift kitchen in one upstairs room. I've got a work/prep area that has a coffee maker, coffee grinder, electric kettle, hot plate/burner, microwave and toaster. I've set up a dining/lounge area in another room. I'd like to do more than heat soup and take-out food, without creating a huge mess or load of dishes and pots and pans that need cleaning. I thought about getting a slow cooker, but I know I'll never use it again after the renovation is finished.

I'd really appreciate some suggestions for easy, delicious meals (dinners) that can be prepared with my limited kitchen equipment and space. Thanks!

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  1. Will you have a refrigerator and freezer? Making a lot of meals prior to our kitchen redo helped a lot.
    I set up a mini kitchen in our mud/laundry room. I had a microwave, burner, slow cooker and a toaster oven.
    I also had a refrigerator/freezer and a sink.
    I was actually surprised at how little we got take out or went out!
    You might try to find a cheapie crock pot at a thrift store. Donate it back after. Or, you could borrow one.
    It will come in handy and oh, btw, however long you think the renovation will take, double it, just to get your head in the right space!

    3 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      I do have a fridge and freezer available. I froze a few containers of soup and turkey chili before the construction began, but that's about it. My thoughts about a slow cooker -- and the reason I no longer have one -- I learned that the best slow cooker dishes required some kind of cooking (browning,searing, etc.) prior to being put into the cooker. That more or less took the simplicity and ease out of the use of the cooker.

      1. re: CindyJ

        You are correct. I think that you have to expect less than the "best" outcome if you can not brown and caramelize prior to slow cooking.
        I hope everything is going on schedule!

        1. re: monavano

          If there's one good thing I can say about this renovation project, it's that my contractor is precisely on schedule so far. He gave me a detailed schedule before the project got underway, letting me know who will be at my house and what they'll be doing each day, through to the completion of the punchlist (if needed). So far, I'm pretty impressed.

    2. Can you cook outdoors with a grill?

      6 Replies
      1. re: Raffles

        Agree with Raffles. We found that our grill was a godsend during our kitchen renovation. By cooking directly on the grill (i.e., meats, or skewered vegetables) or using foil-packs, you should be able to keep the dirty dishes to a minimum -- perhaps using the microwave to supplement the grill, in terms of sides like vegetables, potatoes.

        1. re: masha

          Yeah, our grill had died before the renovation and I was too stupid to think of buying one in the summer before we renovated. In October in the Northeast, you do not buy grills. Live and learn.

          1. re: masha

            Do not forget pizza on the grill...ribs,.. roasts using indirect heat,

          2. re: Raffles

            I traded my gas grill for a charcoal grill a couple of years ago. I'm in PA, and outdoor charcoal grilling isn't really feasible this time of year. In hindsight, I realized I should have delayed the whole project until summer.

              1. re: c oliver

                Oh, grilling isn't impossible, it's just inconvenient, especially since we'd have to bring all of the cooked food either to our upstairs makeshift "breakfast lounge" or to our basement "cafe" (where we have dinner).

          3. I don't know how much help I'll be since we *did* do a lot of takeout (pizza and chinese and indian), mainly because I absolutely hated dealing with cleaning up in the bathtub. Yuk. But with that hot plate you can do most anything you'd do on a stove; so pasta and sauce, pasta with pesto, stews with rice. Breakfast for dinner? (pancakes) You can cook fish or chicken on that hot plate. But I really just felt like using paper plates and throwing the whole mess away at the end of the meal. The cleaning was the thing that got me. Good luck- it will be worth it!

            7 Replies
            1. re: DGresh

              I had a two burner hot plate so I really could do just about anything. Along with toaster over and MW. For me, the worst part was doing dishes in the tub so, yeah, we used more paper plates than usual.

              1. re: DGresh

                Not having a sink is a real bummer. That would have meant a lot more paper plates and outside food for us.

                1. re: monavano

                  We set up our auxiliary kitchen in the basement and washed dishes in the utility tub in our laundry room. Not as nice as a kitchen sink, but it was a full size sink where we could do the dishes while standing -- better than kneeling by the bath tub or trying to wash in a bathroom sink. We still used a lot of paper plates but it made washing up of pots and pans a lot easier.

                  1. re: masha

                    Thankfully, we had that too. Sink next to washer/dryer, which doubled as our work surface.
                    Also had a table set up for toaster oven and storage.
                    The pegboard walls that I hate came in handy a la Julia Child!

                    1. re: monavano

                      The real limiting factor in our makeshift kitchen in the basement was that we had not yet upgraded the electrical wiring in the basement (very old house, and we'd just moved in). We had the old refrigerator, which was a very inefficient model from the 80s, that drew a lot of power. A lot of the time we would blow a circuit breaker whenever we were using any other electrical appliances -- say, if we tried to make coffee and toast at the same time.

                      1. re: monavano

                        I'm impressed with your organization!

                  2. re: DGresh

                    I've been using the utility sink in the laundry room for dish washing. It's really inconvenient toting dishes and pots and pans up and down stairs, but it's easier on the back than using the bathtub.

                    Breakfast for dinner is a GREAT idea, though, and you just reminded me that I have a griddle I can use, too.

                  3. Forget the slow cooker, IMO, they're a PIA! I'd grill, and make easy stuff like antipasto's and rely on heating things up from the store or restaurant.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: treb

                      Why are slow cookers a pia for you?

                    2. We mostly reheated things we'd made ahead of time and frozen in 1-meal servings: stews, lasagna, chili, etc. Lack of access to a kitchen-sized sink really kept us from being able to do more than reheating - we would not have been able to wash even a small saucepan in our bathroom sink (no laundry sink).

                      If we were doing this now (different house), I would be thrilled to have my Cuisinart Griddler to do burgers, grilled chicken, pancakes, waffles. What I really missed the most was pasta - so that's what we ate when we ate out.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: truman

                        After reading your post yesterday, I went to BB&B and bought a Cuisinart Griddler. I used it last night for making grilled salmon and veggies. I think I'm going to get a lot of use out of that appliance. Thanks for the recommendation!

                      2. Pick up a few plastic wash pans - much easier than kneeling by a tub to do dishes.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: meatn3

                          I've been using plastic wash pans for collecting dirty dishes and toting them down to the laundry room sink. Very useful!

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Agreed! I have two that I use to collect dirty dishes to tote to the utility sink.

                          2. Soup, chili, scrambled eggs & vegetable mix, sandwiches/wraps/quesadilla. Not gourmet but will get the job done.

                            1. In addition to the slow cooker, what about a George Foreman Grill? Not the same as real grilling of course, but you can do lots with them... just the usual grilling, but also things like paninis. The one I have (albeit one of the pricier ones) also goes flat and has a griddle insert for things like eggs and bacon. Speaking of bacon though, even the regular foreman is good for cooking bacon.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: juliejulez

                                I made fun of my ex's George Foreman grill for years before I tried using it- I honestly wish I would have shut up and tried it years earlier. There are so many things you can do with it, it makes virtually no mess, you clean it by wiping it down with paper towel and once cool you can stash it away anywhere.

                                Grilling fruit works very well on it, the sugars caramelize without making an atrocious mess.

                                1. re: weezieduzzit

                                  I wish I would have used my GF grill more. I sort of regret donating it.

                              2. You definitely need a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Between the two of those I could easily produce a healthy yummy dinner every night for months and months. In fact, I do! Slow cookers get talked down a lot, but once you get the hang of them it is very easy to produce whatever kind of food you want, not just pulled chicken or stewed beef.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: nat8199

                                  Plus, you can use liners for the slow cooker, so clean up is a breeze!

                                  1. re: nat8199

                                    Ditto on the rice cooker. Our family calls it a Japanese oven because that's what it is in many households in Japan where my DIL grew up. I got a top of line Zojirushi on Craig's list for a song.

                                  2. I would highly recommend an electric skillet. I like them better than a hot plate. I would use this as an excuse to buy one of those induction burners. I would buy a crockpot at a garage sale. Resell it at a future garage sale.

                                    Make some large batches of stew and chili. Hard boil some eggs for snacking. Make up a big batch of oatmeal and keep it in a mason jar, if you eat oatmeal. Buy some good quality frozen pot pies and tv dinners and plenty of canned soups. I would even keep some ensure nutrition shakes available. Make a big batch of pulled pork (that's what I would use that crockpot for).
                                    Stock up on peanut butter, jam and paper plates, paper bowls and garbage can liners. Buy a chunk of ham and another of turkey so you can slice up sandwich meat.

                                    It still won't eliminate dollar menu out of your life but it will help.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      +1 on the electric skillet. During a kitchen reno years ago, I found the electric skillet and a toaster oven to be the two things I used most.

                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        I agree with HH about the electric skillet. It can stand in for just about any sauce pan, griddle or pasta pot. Yes, you can boil pasta in a skillet. As others have said, washing up is the worst, so limit cookware and dishes.

                                        My best advice to you is live with the dust, ignore the mess, and know that it will all be over soon.

                                      2. You might consider this as "too complicated", but it really isn't:

                                        might I suggest sous vide?
                                        an Anova circulator, an inexpensive vacuum sealer (if you don't have one) and a small torch like an Iwatani...
                                        it won't break the bank.
                                        It packs away relatively small.
                                        All it needs to cook is water, and all you have to clean is the bin hat held the water...
                                        and it can do amazing things.
                                        Plus once you have it, you definitely WILL continue to use it.

                                        1. Having gone through this a few years ago...breath deeply and enjoy the take out pizza, reheated canned soup and salads.

                                          It's all going to be better...oh so much better...soon.

                                          Breath in, breath out.

                                          Hang in there!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: pedalfaster

                                            Thanks for the words of advice and encouragement. You're right -- eating out and doing take-out aren't so awful.

                                          2. In a vacation apartment that had microwave but no oven I did the following: 1) In a large deep casserole put raw rice, chunks of boneless skinless chicken breast, onion, and green pepper, and cover everything with chicken stock from a carton. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and perforate it. Microwave until rice and chicken are done. 2) Similar---in the deep dish dump frozen pierogies ( the kind filled with mashed potatoes) and chunks of chicken breast, and cover all with chicken stock. Cover. Cook. 3) Deli roast beef + canned beef gravy, heated in microwave. 4) Potatoes baked in microwave. 5) Frozen meatballs cooked in jar spaghetti sauce---spiced up---used to make hot meatball sandwiches on French rolls.

                                            1. Microwave meatloaf - recipe here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9620...

                                              Serve with rice or mashed potatoes made on your hotplate. Microwave cook veggies while the meatloaf rests.

                                              1. If you don't feel like you'd ever use a slow cooker again, buy one at a thrift shop and then redonate it after the work is complete. That way you have next to nothing invested in it. And like another CH suggested, use the liners to help with cleanup.

                                                1. We remodeled our kitchen last year. I had a refrigerator, microwave, electric coffeemaker available but the only sink I had for cleanup was a small bathroom one. For breakfast, besides cold cereal & fruit, I made scrambled eggs in the microwave as well as Hormel pre-cooked bacon (from Costco) which is very good and so easy to make that I rarely cook raw bacon anymore. You might consider an induction hotplate like this one:
                                                  But make sure you have an induction friendly pan.
                                                  You can do Irish oatmeal in a slow cooker.
                                                  For dinner we mostly went out or took home food. Grilled an occasional steak outside with a nuked baked potato and bagged salad. There are so many decent prepared refrigerated & frozen foods in supermarkets you should be able to eat reasonably well. For me the hassle of cleanup kept me from cooking anything complicated.

                                                  1. When we did our renovation a few years ago, my husband (rjbh20) bought one of those burners that are gas run that you frequently see in hotel buffets where they make eggs and omelets. That's exactly what we used ours for, and it was great to have eggs and omelets. I'm not sure why we never used it for anything else, but you certainly could. These burners are fairly cheap, and I think he might have gotten his at The Home Depot. Other than that (we're in the NE too), we did use our BBQ (since it's spring in all the stores these days, I'm betting that the BBQs will be in soon), and did far more things in the microwave than I'd thought possible. Do you have Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet? Now, that's a book that will help you in using the microwave in ways you never thought possible. It's probably available used for pennies.

                                                    1. I would view this as an opportunity to try some of the newer stuff in the frozen food aisles of the huge supermarkets, Costco, Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. You might find a few keepers. Check the Chow Chains threads.

                                                      1. I purchased a fixer upper and was without a kitchen for several months. I set up a card table in the laundry space, purchased a microwave and used a playmate cooler and propane burner one eye stove.

                                                        I made a lot of one-dish meals incorporating leftovers and convenience foods. Leftover pasta tossed with a little olive oil before refrigerating will reheat nicely in the microwave.

                                                        Some ideas:
                                                        *Steamed fish in foil - fish, previously parboiled red potatoes sliced, lemon, butter, herbs. Once fish is removed from steamer greens can be quickly steamed. (I just used a folding metal steamer basket.)

                                                        *Mediterranean skillet - saute onion, add chopped marinated peppers, zucchini, eggplant (Costco used to sell this in jars). Stir in minced garlic. Add feta or goat cheese - stir til melted. Add fresh shrimp or Costco's cilantro shrimp (pre-made in the refrigerated area) and cook until shrimp are ready. Serve over microwaved leftover pasta or Trader Joe's microwave rice.

                                                        *Sausage skillet- Polish sausage or brats browned. Add cabbage (slaw mix is easy), sliced onion, halved little new potatoes and chicken broth. Bring to simmer, cover. Ready once potatoes are done. This is good with frozen perogies too.

                                                        *Italian sausage with polenta - Slice and brown Italian sausage, remove and drain. Add slices of polenta (shelf stable tube), cook until it has some color. Remove. Saute onion, mushroom, chopped zucchini in olive oil. Once tender add some bottled tomato sauce and the reserved sausage to the pan. Cook until hot. Warm polenta in microwave. Serve sausage mix over polenta.

                                                        I kept hard boiled eggs and cooked new potatoes on hand for quick salad components. Made lots of omelets and glorified grilled cheese. Rotisserie chicken has dozens of easy reuses...

                                                        Anyhow, that gives a decent idea of how I camped out in my rehab zone! I can't tell you how absolutely amazing it was to finally have a fridge and an oven.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                          Thanks for so many great suggestions!

                                                        2. - tacos/burritos/tostadas, warm tortillas in the microwave, reheat refried beans, chop all other toppings.

                                                          -toaster oven open face sandwiches and english muffin pizzas

                                                          - curries and stir fries

                                                          - fried eggs on toast with salad

                                                          See if there is a friend you can bribe to come over and use their oven once in a while in exchange for fresh cookies, bake a few casseroles/muffins/enchiladas/cookies/etc

                                                          1. Y'know, if you could find room now, and in the new kitchen, a Breville Smart Oven would be a real useful appliance for you. With that oven, you can bake, roast, broil and toast. You can cook a pizza, you can make brownies or no-boil lasagna, you can fix a whole roast chicken, and have leftovers for sandwiches or burritos.

                                                            I've been thinking about this thread for a day or two, because I did a kitchen remodel that took over six months, and it was a PITA to wash dishes in the bathroom sink or the bathtub. Why the hell I didn't take the pots and pans down to the basement and wash them in the big concrete utility sink is beyond me! Anyway, we hooked up our stove to the gas line in the garage that went out to the grill, and it was nice having the oven to use out there. If I'd had my Breville back then, it would have made meals a whole lot easier.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                              Funny you should mention the Breville Smart Oven. I actually looked at it yesterday at BB&B, and the reason I didn't get it is exactly what you said -- I wouldn't really have room for it (or use for it) i the new kitchen. Instead, I sprang for the Cuisinart Griddler, which we used last night to grill salmon and veggies.

                                                              But you know, you've given me another idea -- we have a gas burner that hooks up directly to our propane tank, which we use in the summer when we steam lobsters outdoors. I'll bet, with a little ingenuity, we can use that burner right outside the sliding door that goes to my basement, where our dinner dining room is now set up.

                                                            2. When our kitchen was down for 6 months for renovation I used a Meal Prep Kitchen (I went to chopshopkitchens.com but there are many similar out there) I could make 10 meals in two hours, stick them in the freezer, microwave or bake. Eliminated prep work and clean up. Most of the entrees were packaged in disposable foil pans. Total life saver.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. This link has a bunch of great no cook meal ideas, a few aren't seasonal now, but all very easy:

                                                                1. When SIL & family moved to a "new" house, the first thing to GO was the dated, 60s kitchen... a total gut. Pretty much all of the work was done by GOOD FRIENDS with experience in the trades... electrical, plumbing, cabinets, etc. Think THAT helped things move along relatively smoothly?!?

                                                                  They pretty much lived in their LARGE family room. BIG laundry/utility area right nextdoor. She set up 2 big folding tables with all kinds of stuff... microwave, toaster, toaster oven, coffe maker, electric kettle, crockpot(s), a couple of single burners. She had a big utility sink nearby and fridge was temporarily moved down to that area. She said hardest part was working on folding table... MUCH lower than kitchen counters. Project took 2-3 months to complete, but she's VERY happy with results.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                                                    That more-or-less describes our temporary set-up. We now have two cooking/eating areas -- a "breakfast lounge" upstairs where we have coffee making equipment, an electric kettle, a toaster, a single electric burner and snack tables; and a dinner food prep area/dining room in our finished basement where we have a large folding table that's holding the microwave, Cuisinart Griddler, cutting boards, utensils, dishes, etc., and a card table where we eat. The utility sink, where everything gets washed, is in the laundry room on the main floor.