Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Kitchen Supplemental Post Part 2: Meal Ideas

Renovating a kitchen is hard work and it takes a lot out of you. The demolition is strenuous, the painting is tedious, the assembly is tiring, the final touches are burdensome. But not having a place to cook for months: that was pretty terrible. Thankfully, we timed our renovation to take place during summer (into autumn) so despite not having a stove, we could still fire up the grill and cook in a baseball cap and flip flops.
As promised, I'm finally sharing a 'what to eat and how to cook when you don't have a kitchen' post.

Once our kitchen was completely gone, our laundry room became our new makeshift kitchen because it had the essentials: a big sink, a surface for prep (a.k.a. our washer and dryer), a fridge (we have two refrigerators and one of them lives in the laundry room already), and access to the backyard where the grill is. The washing machine became our dish rack holder and food prep area. This wasn't too horrible of a situation. The worst part was that washing dishes in the laundry room sink really hurt my back because of its awkward location, height, width, and depth, but there are worse things in life. Check out that gnarly lint trap and the cruddy sink - blegh - I apologize for making you look at it.
I learned a lot about what can and can't be done with a tiny cutting board, a grill, and lots of aluminum foil. I'm sharing some advice to inspire you during your kitchen renovation. I understand that not everyone will have a spare sink and grill and fridge at their disposal so that's why I'm sharing ten suggestions. Hopefully, you'll find at least one idea that works for you.

Suggestion 1: while you still have a kitchen, pre-marinate a bunch of meat, put in baggies, and freeze. When you're ready to consume, just defrost and grill. We made Korean-style pork and kalbi, both delicious, and ate them in lettuce wraps. Other ideas: marinate some chicken in citrus juice and have pollo asado, marinate steaks, dry-rub some ribs. If you don't have a grill, you can use a gas camper or a hot plate or even your toaster oven. And if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, marinated tofu is also awesome on the grill (but it doesn't freeze too well).
Suggestion 2: make casseroles (again, while you still have a functional kitchen) and freeze them. When you want to eat them, defrost in the fridge overnight and then warm them up either on a grill, in a microwave, or in a toaster oven. We made mac and cheese, which is a favorite and works as a good side dish for a lot of meals. Other ideas: lasagna, tuna noodle casserole, green bean casserole, chicken pot pie, chicken enchiladas, chicken and rice, beef stroganoff, cheese and vegetable casserole, potatoes au gratin - there are so many good ideas. Just google "casserole" for some inspiration if my ideas aren't fun enough. You could also make some soups and stews ahead of time (while you still have a functional kitchen) and freeze them. Once you're ready to eat, just warm them up in a crock pot.
Suggestion 3: pick a day to pre-cut and prep your veggies for the week. It's hard to whip up dinner in a make-shift kitchen, especially after a full day of work so spend a few minutes after you've gone grocery shopping to wash (and maybe peel) and chop up your onions, peppers, mushrooms, celery, carrots, etc. It'll save you grief and time during the workweek. If you love garlic, make a big batch of garlic paste in the food processor and store in a jar in the fridge for use during the renovation. You can also take some help from the grocery store and buy pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables.
Suggestion 4: cook things in packets. Aluminum foil packets are awesome for cooking vegetables on the grill or in a toaster oven. We cooked potatoes, mushrooms, onions, brussels sprouts, peppers, sweet potatoes, and many other vegetables inside of packets. They are delicious on the grill (though you could definitely use a toaster oven) and the foil packet traps in some steam so everything cooks faster; plus, nothing falls through the grate. Seafood cooks well in parchment paper packets and it comes out moist and flavorful. Seafood ideas: tilapia, flounder, salmon, shrimp, scallops, calamari - use your imagination - you could probably even steam clams on the grill.
Suggestion 5: pre-cook a few pounds of pasta (al dente, please), put it in baggies or tupperware, and freeze it. When you're ready to use it, defrost it in the fridge overnight and warm it up on the grill/camp stove/toaster oven/hot plate/what have you. I made a quick and easy pasta dish with fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil (over the grill) and it was delicious. This is probably one of the best tips because trust me, you will crave pasta and all of those Olive Garden commercials won't help the cause.
Suggestion 6: throw a bunch of stuff into a crock pot and let it do its thing. We have the tiniest crock pot - seriously, it probably only holds 3 to 4 cups of liquid - but it comes in really handy. Slow cookers are awesome because you can turn them on in the morning, go to work, and when you come home, the house smells awesome and dinner is ready. I used it to make a korean-style pot roast. I basically just threw in a chuck roast along with some onions, mushrooms, garlic, and potatoes, and poured in a bit of soy sauce, sugar, and water. It was like kalbi jjim but easier. And it was super tender. Other things you could make in a crock pot? Here are a few ideas:
  • pulled pork (pork butt, can of cola, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, brown sugar, chipotle peppers)
  • chili (ground beef, ground pork, chili powder, kidney beans, onions, garlic, jalapenos, grated cheese)
  • beef stew (chunks of beef, stock, onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, peas)
  • rice and beans (rice, black beans, onions, peppers, garlic, bay leaf, canned tomatoes)
  • meatballs (ground beef, onions, breadcrumbs, egg, oregano, basil, canned tomatoes,)
  • beer-braised sausages (sausage, pale ale, mustard seed, onions, potatoes, cabbage)
And again, if none of those suggestions inspire you, take it to Google.
Suggestion 7: grill the "usual stuff" like burgers, hot dogs, sausages, kebabs, etc. It's easy and low-maintenance (meaning you don't even have to think about it - just do what's traditional) and it's delicious and a crowd-pleaser. For me, it's just about busting open a package and tossing stuff on the grill and having it be that simple and almost mindless for those days where you just don't have the time or energy to put together a creative meal.
And grill fruit. It's delicious and nutritious and an awesome treat. And why not? If you're going to be firing up the grill anyway, might as well. Plus, it gets hard to eat healthy when you don't have a real kitchen so it's important to eat fruits and vegetables when you can.
Suggestion 8: get creative. I tried making rice on the grill and it worked out well. I just used a shallow aluminum tin, added some wild rice, butter, a sprinkle of salt, and a little extra liquid than usual. Then, I wrapped it up in tin foil, sat it on the grill over medium heat, and left it alone for a bit. Ten minutes later, I had lovely fluffy rice. If you're feeling creative, take a leap and just give it a go. Try some non-traditional dishes on the grill, like grilled pizza (buy the dough at your favorite pizza place to save time) or make Texas toast or grill a quesadilla or whip up a grilled cheese. I also tried grilling biscuits (the ready-made Pillsbury popping package kind) and it worked out well. Be brave. What's the worst that could happen?
Suggestion 9: make dishes that don't require heat, like a salad or for protein, take help from the grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken. Rotisserie chickens are so versatile. We shredded one up to use in a quesadilla and to use in a chicken and avocado salad. Other heat-less options: sandwiches or wraps, yogurt parfaits, chips and guacamole, cheese and crackers, cereal with cut up fruit and almond milk, the list goes on. You could also pick up some shrimp cocktail from the grocery store and use those in a wrap with some chopped cilantro and hot sauce. Don't be afraid to take some help from your market.
Suggestion 10: dine out and/or get takeout and treat yourself once in a while. We got Chinese takeout, Vietnamese takeout (pho, yum), ate dinner at an amazing Indian buffet, grabbed a few pizzas, made multiple to trips to our favorite diner, and treated ourselves to a strawberry shortcake from the grocery store (which is our favorite). Honestly, it gets tiring making meals in a faux-kitchen so give yourself a break once in a while and indulge in a little comfort food. Sit in front of the television and relax. You're renovating; you deserve a little goody here and there.
If you're in the middle of renovating or plan on renovating, good luck! And if you've gone through this and have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.

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