How to Cook Without a Kitchen
Many living spaces such as dorm rooms, small or unique apartments do not have kitchens or have very limited cooking appliances. It is still possible to create delicious quick home cooked meals without many devices.
Assess What You Have
The most important appliance is a refrigerator and if your space does not have one do everything you can to get one. Many dorm rooms have one supplied, even though it will probably be too small for everyone who lives there. It is much, much more difficult to live without a fridge though it is doable with precise timing and ice.
Assuming you don’t have an oven with a stove top, there are many ways to remedy this problem without turning to take out. A microwave is the next important device you can get for your living space. You can make countless meals with one and should be considered a staple for those without a stove. If for some reason you cannot have anything other than a refrigerator you can turn to a propane or sun system for cooking but let us leave this topic for another article. An alternative to a microwave would be a coil or hot plate. Most dorm rooms do not allow these appliances but if you live in a unique apartment that simply lacks a stove it can replace or augment a microwave.
Let me say a bit about crock-pots, rice cookers and grills (a.k.a. George Forman Grills). These can also be great replacement for a coil. Crock-pots make flavorful food over an extended period of time. While you can use them in place of a stove top, because of how long they take to cook they are not for everyone all the time. Rice cookers are great because they are essentially steamers. You can get very creative and make full meals, but you can do the same thing with a microwave rice cooker or you can use a coil and a pot. Combine, microwaves and hot plates/coils do so much more than rice cookers. Rice cookers are good if you have extra money and space or if you cannot have a hot plate or coil. Grills are amazing and you can make entire meals (meat, rice, vegetables) on them in a few minutes. Somehow they make something that may taste ok on a coil taste great on the grill. Still, the types of food that you can cook are limiting (how do you grill chocolate pudding?) and I find it to be more of an (awesome) auxiliary appliance.
If you have a strong desire to bake a toaster oven or convection oven may be a good investment. A toaster oven has the advantage, as it is a toaster so it can replace this device if you don’t have much room. These appliances come in many sizes, depending on how many people you cook for and can also come as a toaster and convection oven in one. If space or budget is an issue you may want to limit the amount of other appliances you have. For those with lots of room small toasters, coffee makers or blenders can make your space feel like a “real” or conventional kitchen.
Cooking in Your New Kitchen
Use a hot plate or coil to cook the same way you would on a stove top or flame. You may need to readjust the timing of your cooking. Cooking on an electric surface takes longer to get hot but when it does it stays hot for a long time making it easy to burn food if you’re used to cooking with a flame.
Cooking in a toaster or convection oven leads to different size limitations on what can be cooked. If you find it difficult to find very small cookware try specialty cooking stores (Sur La Table), obscure discount stores (Big Lots) or the internet. The smaller the size of your oven the more difficult it may be but once baking sheets or pans are found the reward is freedom of cooking. Also, it may take some used to the timing of some dishes depending on the size and efficiency of your oven. Experiment a few times and you should be able to find the right time and temperature.
The hardest challenge is learning how to cook with just a microwave and a refrigerator. Some of the easiest and tastiest things to cook in the microwave are rice and pasta. Invest in a microwave rice/pasta cooker (which is essentially a steamer) to cook rice, pasta, vegetables, eggs, chicken, fish, hot dogs or anything else you can steam. There are also microwave cookware for eggs and bacon and other single items. When cooking these items be creative. Use lots of spices and flavors because you aren’t going to be able to “brown” anything. If you need more ideas try searching online for recipes to modify or get a microwave cookbook. Here is one of my recipes for chicken and rice:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (cut in small chunks)
1 cup mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn, green beans)
¼ cup chopped onions
1 cup salsa
1 cup rice
2 cups water
In a microwave steamer/rice cooker pour rice, chicken, vegetables, onions, salsa and water. If your cooker has a pasta strainer do not include it! Close the lid tightly and microwave for 14 minutes or until rice and chicken are thoroughly cooked.
There are ways to “bake” in the microwave but I find the results to be disappointing. In order to get the most authentic flavor of stove/oven cooking try to use ingredients as close to those you would use in a normal recipe as possible. I believe that you will enjoy the tasty results of your homemade kitchen.
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