Efficiency cooking...as in cooking in an efficiency!
January 25, 2010 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Wondering if any mefites can help me plan simple (healthy) meals while living in an efficiency?!

I'm currently living near a major metropolitan area for work. Been here roughly two weeks and haven't cooked a meal yet! Kitchen contains the following items:

Toaster oven
Dorm sized refrigerator
Hot plate

It's also equipped with a sink, utensils, plates, one frying pan, 4 cup coffee maker and small covered pan that came with the hot plate, that's roughly 6" wide.

What can I cook? Looking for healthy, quick and tasty!
posted by littleredwagon to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If you can boil water, you can make pasta. Then microwave-steam some vegetables and toss with some olive oil and garlic.

Beans and rice in various combinations work very well too, tend to get better after a day or two and provide a complete protein.
posted by jquinby at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: Would you consider getting a George Foreman grill? It's not a big investment, and then you can grill all sorts of meats and/or vegetables very easily. I often make burgers - I just add some mustard powder and some ketchup to the ground meat and then grill for about 6 minutes, until done on the inside. Grilled veggies are even healthier, of course.
posted by sueinnyc at 9:34 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't say how long you are going to be in your place or if you can easily invest in other equipment. If you are there for a somewhat long time, or will be moving on in such a way that you can take stuff with you, I'd strongly recommend purchasing your own electric skillet (that you can do casseroles in) or a slow-cooker, ditto. These are helpful even if you are only cooking for one.
The dorm-sized refridgerator may force you to shop more frequently, because there's not a lot of space to keep stuff for too many meals, and I assume there's no real freezer. This may be more of a problem than the scant cooking equipment.
But given this caveat, a big salad with one hot all-in-one dish (chili, for example) and bread is a pretty healthy option. There's always toast with topping, too -- Welsh rarebit, eggs, etc.
posted by Bet Glenn at 9:40 AM on January 25, 2010

This piece about "Mark Bittman's Bad Kitchen" might be encouraging. He's a regular writer for the NYT and author of many successful cookbooks -- and look at his kitchen.

He says: "I think a big refrigerator is not that helpful. Stuff that’s in the refrigerator shouldn’t be in there all that long anyway."

That piece also has hundreds of comments, some of which probably might have useful anecdotes or tips on cooking in cramped quarters.

You need to get a tall pot for cooking soup and pasta and stuff. Beyond that, I'd have a harder time explaining what you can't cook. Basically, nothing that requires a real oven. So, no ... ratatouille? But actually, you can find ratatouille recipes where everything is sauteed, so you use the stove instead of the oven. If all you're doing is "cooking" rather than "baking," there's usually a workaround that will let you avoid using a real oven if you need to. Avoid recipes with "roasted" or "baked" in the title, and focus on recipes that involve sauteing, boiling, steaming, etc.

If you have a hot plate with just one burner, that might be limiting since you can't, for instance, cook pasta in one pot and a sauce in another. However, you could cook the sauce first, then refrigerate it in a bowl so it's not sitting around, then cook the pasta, microwave the sauce (to undo the refrigeration) when the pasta is almost done, and finally pour the sauce into the pasta pot and mix it all together. If your hot plate has two burners, there's not much you can't do.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:40 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A crock pot would probably be a good investment. With that, you could make a big pot of rice/beans/spices, rather efficiently, and then microwave the leftovers as needed. There are a bunch of variously-spiced recipes out there: chili, Indian dals, red beans and rice, black beans (burritos anyone?), arroz con pollo, etc.

You could also potentially use it for soups, which can be very healthy food.

We have several small glass Pyrex storage containers with lids that we use for storing and reheating servings of "big pot of stuff" that we make.

Since I'm imagining this is a small place, you might benefit from a wall-mounted spice rack.
posted by amtho at 9:46 AM on January 25, 2010

This will be as "healthy" as the ingredients you use, but The Deej's Famous Tortilla Pizza is great for a toaster oven:

Put a thin coating of pizza sauce and a little cheese between 2 flour tortillas. Then add a generous amount of sauce and cheese to the top, followed by your favorite seasonings and toppings. Bake in your toaster oven until bubbly and crispy.
posted by The Deej at 10:21 AM on January 25, 2010

Though it's mostly as a gag/for fun the MacGyver Chef shows you how to poach chicken and steam couscous in a coffee maker.

But the ideas work. Go with small, lean, boneless meat bits, quick cooking starchy sides, and veg that can be steamed in the microwave. Think about making "rice bowls", or similar one dish meals.

You didn't mention price was a concern, so some more expensive convenience foods can help you out here. Of course, you also said healthy, so frozen tater tots and pizzas aren't going to fall into that category. Find microwaveable brown rice bowls. They're partially pre-cooked and are shelf stable. They take only 5 min (vs 50 min on a stove from dry). This can be the base of lots of meals. Some ideas:
  • Sliced skirt steak, browned in the frying pan with garlic, soy sauce, and microwaved asparagus.+ rice
  • Tofu (extra firm, drained) sauteed with mushrooms (pre sliced and washed) + rice
  • Cubed chicken breast marinated in lime juice, dusted with cumin and chipoltle (or pre-mixed "mexican" spice), cooked in the frying pan. Have a side of black beans (canned heated in the microwave, squirt of lime on top) +rice
  • Shrimp with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. Veg of your choice, over rice.
You can cook anything you'd put in a regular oven, in a toaster oven. It's just gotta be smaller, and you need to rotate it to prevent burning, as they cook unevenly.
  • Tuna melts were a dorm staple for me (though not exactly low fat, lots of protein). Mix a can of tuna with chopped bell pepper, mayo, seasoning. Spread over bread, sprinkle with cheese, toast open faced till gooey.
  • Pita pizzas can be a bit leaner. Top a whole wheat pita with pizza sauce (find a small resealable jar), skim milk cheese and turkey pepperoni.
  • Veg and shrimp skewers. Make some fettuccine to go with it.
There's some recipes (for a family of 4) from Good Housekeeping using only microwave and toaster ovens.
posted by fontophilic at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2010

In addition to steaming vegetables in the microwave, you can roast/broil them in the toaster oven -- just drizzle bite-size pieces with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and put them under the broiler till they get crispy and golden. (For things like potatoes or carrots, it helps to microwave them for a few minutes first to soften them a little -- this will cut down the time in the toaster oven while still ensuring that they're cooked all the way through.)
posted by scody at 11:29 AM on January 25, 2010

Also maybe consider getting a rice cooker?
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:06 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and ratatouille (as jaltcoh mentions) can certainly be made all in one pot on a single burner. My recipe: saute a chopped onion and some minced garlic (plus a bay leaf, if you like) in some olive oil. Add in a diced eggplant and saute till it starts to soften (you can add a little water if it gets dry). Then add a can of chopped tomatoes, a chopped bell pepper, and a sliced zucchini. Season with salt, pepper, and a little dried tarragon or fresh basil. Cook till bubbly. Serve with rice (if you have access to a Trader Joe's, you can get frozen rice, which reheats in the microwave).
posted by scody at 12:12 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great ideas...
posted by littleredwagon at 6:48 AM on January 26, 2010

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