Help me eat!
February 5, 2011 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me eat without a refrigeration or microwave.

Hi all. I need creative ideas for new meals to make. Problem is, I do not have a refrigerator or microwave, much less a kitchen. I do have a can opener, bowls, a plate, and fork/knife/spoon. For the moment, I am sustained on nuts, fruit, the occasional baguette, and cold, canned soups/chilis. I indulge with some tinned sardines every once and a while. I really love any kind of food and will be willing to give anything a try. I am just so sick of peanut butter sandwiches or buying take-out. I try to stick with minimally processed food. Vegan if I can swing it. I feel as though I'm always eating snacks not meals, and would like something that is not 100% carbs per serving. Again, whatever I buy must be single serving if it must be refrigerated, so any staples like cheese, butter, milk, frozen whatever is a no-go.
This is tough. Any suggestions on what I can stock in my humble food box to keep me fed?
posted by frnzks.a to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a hotplate?
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:58 AM on February 5, 2011

Get a ricecooker. You can cook a lot of stuff in them, check out for some idea. I wish I had thought of it when I had no kitchen, but I went with the hotplate option. I could have done a lot more with a rice cooker. You can steam veggies above the cooking rice, or wrap food in foil and grill it in the bottom without rice in the cooker. You could swap the rice for barley, millet, quinoa etc.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:02 AM on February 5, 2011

It's not clear whether you have a home (presumably with electricity and room to put something down securely) or if you're homeless. "... much less a kitchen" leads me to assume the latter.

7-11's and some other convenience stores usually have microwaves in them. As long as you're not uncouth about it, I'm sure you could use them to have a hot meal on occasion.
posted by carsonb at 7:09 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can use UHT Milk, just buy it in small cartons that are as close to the size you'd use in one sitting as possible. It keeps for ages at room temperature, but as with all milk, as soon as you open it, you want to be using it quick-smart. As for the same in tea/coffee, you can use these (apologies for the cheesy (no pun intended) website). If you get a Butter Bell or similar product, you can store butter at room temperature (depending on how hot your room is, for me, that's normally not much above 15 degrees centigrade) for anything up to a month. Fruits that have been irradiated will also last considerably longer than normal fruit even when not refrigerated.
posted by dougrayrankin at 7:12 AM on February 5, 2011

i live in a dorm with strict rules against microwave/hot plates/toaster ovens. basically anything with a heating unit it out of the question. I have access to a microwave but its a good walk to the other side of campus. occasionally I can cook when I go to a friends house, but have no means to refrigerate any leftovers
posted by frnzks.a at 7:13 AM on February 5, 2011

If you do have a dwelling, I did alright with a small foam esky/cooler/chillybin or whatever you call it in your parts, and found buying the chapest kind of frozen peas worked out cheaper than buying ice for it. I got sick of having no fresh food when I had no refrigerator. Find a good greengrocer so you can buy small portions of fruit and veg regularly.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, try tortillas instead of a loaf of bread. Get the medium burrito size (~12in) or the burro size (~18in). There's something about wrapping whatever you're eating into one that makes it seem more like a real meal (and less like a snack). And anything you can put between two slices of bread you can wrap in a tortilla. Including peanut butter. And just sit on them for a while to warm 'em up a bit, which makes them less crumbly and more flexible.
posted by carsonb at 7:15 AM on February 5, 2011

Butter and margarine do not need to be refrigerated. You want to buy small quantities because they will sometimes go a bit rancid after awhile (especially in the heat).

Another small appliance you could buy is an electric kettle. With it you can make things like these instant soups, and also tea or coffee. However, a rice cooker or a microwave is going to offer you alot more flexibility. You can probably get a microwave off craigslist for less that $50, even.
posted by cabingirl at 7:17 AM on February 5, 2011

Yeah, how about an electric kettle? We were allowed those (but no other appliances) when I was in the dorms in college.
posted by amro at 7:18 AM on February 5, 2011

Oops, didn't see your update before I posted, sorry.

Are you sure that microwaves aren't allowed? They don't have a heating element. They were allowed in my prehistoric college days in the early 90s, so I guess I'm surprised to hear that.

Also, alot of dorms have a communal kitchen area. Are you sure you don't have access to one, even if it's on another floor or something?
posted by cabingirl at 7:21 AM on February 5, 2011

Microwaves are out. It's something to do with wattage; one can only rent a microwave/fridge unit from the university and I do not have enough money to do this. I am only living here for a few more months so the investment is not really worth it to me, i guess.
An electric kettle is allowed though. I may buy into that!
I guess I am looking for things that I can throw together quickly, and don't require me lugging cooking stuff across campus to the communal kitchen!
posted by frnzks.a at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2011

Plenty of stuff, why don't you just look for whatever premade/ready to eat foods are in unrefrigerated sections of the grocery store?
posted by AlisonNicole at 7:29 AM on February 5, 2011

An electric kettle is your pathway to hot food then.

Ramen packets are cheap. Turn on your electric kettle, boil water, pour over ramen in one of your bowls, add protein or single-serving veggies or whatever you have to hand. Nuts work. Cover with your plate. Wait 2 minutes for noodles to soften and other stuff to warm up. Eat like soup, or drain water and eat with butter and pepper.

You can repeat the hot water + bowl + plate combo for just about any food; doesn't have to be noodles.
posted by carsonb at 7:32 AM on February 5, 2011

Butter and margarine do not need to be refrigerated

To be safe, stick with salted butter. That stuff is fine (and spreadable!) at room temperature for forever.

Go for the electric kettle, for sure. That opens up a whole range of HOT soups and boilable foodstuffs. And it's super-convenient even after you move.
posted by supercres at 7:33 AM on February 5, 2011

Electric kettle + instant miso soup and better ramen (not Top Ramen). You can even add an egg to the latter and it'll cook in the 3-5 minutes the noodles take. Eggs don't need refrigeration if you can find ones that came from the farm and haven't been washed in an industrial processing plant.
posted by kcm at 7:49 AM on February 5, 2011

If you have an electric kettle, you can blanch fresh asparagus. Just chop off the woody ends, put in a bowl, and cover with just-boiled water. Wait a couple of minutes, and voilà! perfect asparagus! Sprinkle with salt, or a little salted butter, and eat. Nom. (This also works with broccoli florets.)
posted by hot soup girl at 7:49 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

One option would be a MRE... hot meal without microwave/heating!
posted by xtine at 7:50 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cheese doesn't need to be refrigerated either, really, not if you're buying a small quantity and eating it in a couple days (if you were trying to keep it for a month a fridge might help).

Not sure where you're at in the world, but if they have delis (or deli sections at the supermarket) where you're at, that's where I'd head. They're stuffed full of things that have been preserved in order to be stored at room temp and eaten over a long period --- olives, pickles, vegetables in herbed oil and vinegar, hard cheeses, dried sausages. Roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomato with goat cheese and salami --- delicious and totally do-able in your circs.
posted by Diablevert at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2011

if you are allowed an electric kettle, you might be interested in this cookbook about cooking in a coffeemaker (can easily be adapted to the kettle, as most of the recipes rely on hot water or boiling, or are you allowed a coffeemaker?): Cooking Without a Kitchen
posted by bluefly at 8:17 AM on February 5, 2011

I haven't had a microwave in ten years, even when I was a toaster/oven-less single person who never used her range. As long as you have a source of very hot water (electric teakettle, coffee maker, etc.) you can make a very wide variety of prepared foods that call for a microwave or a stovetop. Ramen, oatmeal, frozen veggies, condensed canned soup, soup packets, etc. You don't actually need butter or milk to make box mac 'n cheese- hot water will cook the noodles for you, and you just sprinkle the powder over them and then add back the hot noodle water, like a teaspoonful at a time, to get the cheese powder to melt, blend, and stick. Professional outdoor guides taught me this, and it works. You can also use hot water to make those sauced-pasta-with-veg things that you buy in bags from the store's freezer section. I lived on those when I was cooking for one. An entire bag makes a big bowl, but if that's all you are eating for dinner, it's not an unreasonable amount of food (I believe they are intended as a side dish).

Also, you need a cooler. Just a regular plastic cooler, it doesn't need to be very big, and some plastic bags. Go to a party store and get some ice in a bag, or if you have access to an ice machine, double up some plastic bread or grocery bags and fill those with ice. Especially if the cooler is small and your room is not hot, you should only have to replace the ice 2-3x per week, not every day.

You don't need to refrigerate butter or most condiments, and cheese will last a good while without any refrigeration. Serious cheese people put the cheese in a cloche, or a bowl with dampened towel over it, because the fridge is too cold and usually too dry. Eggs last several days unrefrigerated. And if you have hot water, you can cook eggs (hardboiled, softboiled, or scrambled). You can buy packets of mayo and cream cheese that don't need refrigeration.

If you really cannot swing the cooler, consider powdered milk, especially if you have a source of very cold water (like a pop dispenser in a fast food place/party store/cafeteria). Nido is a brand of full fat powdered milk, and if made with extremely cold water, it's not bad, especially in coffee/tea. Even my kids will eat it on cereal or oatmeal without complaint. If you don't eat dairy, there's a brand of powdered soy and rice milks called Better Than Milk that is palatable. If you are just straight drinking them (Nido or BTM) it helps if you dress them up a little, with a small amount of sugar or stevia, and a bit of vanilla. If you add sweetener, vanilla, maple and cinnamon to soy milk, it's called horchata and is a yummy thing, by itself or in coffee/tea. (I use BTM and powdered flavorings to make a just add water horchata mix for my kids, and they love it.)

If all you can find is bog standard, nonfat powdered dairy milk, and you have hot water, put a tiny bit (like, a teaspoon or less per cup) of butter in a dish and set it in a larger dish of hot water to melt it, then add the melted butter to the milk and shake well. This makes it much closer to whole milk and much more palatable.
posted by Leta at 8:24 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you have a kettle, you can cook couscous and some kinds of pasta. Couscous + beans + blanched or raw veg + maybe some nuts + vinaigrette = easy, cheap, pretty healthy, and you can get pretty creative with it as well.
posted by sea change at 8:42 AM on February 5, 2011

I used to keep an illicit microwave under a sheet as a "bedside table" in my dorm years. There's nothing special about their rental microwaves vs. a lower-wattage microwave you could buy... except that you'd be paying $15-30/month for theirs.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:50 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

When people say "electric kettle" do they mean "crock pot"? Cause I think you could get a small crock pot and cook little batches of food in it for yourself.. Maybe we're talking about the same device, though?
posted by Glendale at 8:58 AM on February 5, 2011

If you are thinking about getting the electric kettle, then cous cous would be an excellent food for you to make. I always put some in a bowl, heat water, then pour the water over the cous cous so that it is maybe half an inch above, and cover for five minutes. Fluff it up with your fork after. Now to that you might want to add chick peas and perhaps some fresh tomato, lemon and olive oil. Some veggies that I never put in the fridge are tomato, avocado, and onion (there's guacamole right there), although that may not help since I will often use half an onion and put the rest in the fridge, and you don't want partial onions laying around. Hmm.

I second diablevert's suggestion regarding all those brilliant deli concoctions meant to be eaten over a long time, and I envisioned a sweet little setup for you where you could have one of those wooden breadboxes, and store your bread and tortillas on the bottom shelf, and on the top shelf store things like olives, hard cheese and salami, or whatever you fancy. And again, things like olives or artichokes hearts in oil would also go beautifully in cous cous. And some shaved parmesan on that... wow.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 9:02 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Glendale: In places where they drink a lot of tea, pretty much everybody has and electric, plug in tea pot*, or electric kettle. You can buy them in the US also.

*well, technically you boil the water in the kettle and pour it into a pot with the tea to steep, but most people skip the pot and just use a tea bag steeped in the same cup you drink from
posted by Diablevert at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2011

Either find a place that makes good soups for cheap or dedicate an electric kettle to making soups. The only problem is that most (all?) kettles will be tough to clean, so try to pick one with the widest mouth.
posted by rainy at 9:45 AM on February 5, 2011

Nido is a brand of full fat powdered milk,

Nido is really, really useful for cream sauces. And I'll take it over creamer in my coffee any day of the week. If you're doing stuff like oatmeal and you like both milk and sugar, sweetened condensed milk can sit out for a week or more.

to recite so charmingly's suggestion of couscous is nothing short of brilliant; that would have changed my life back when I was in the dorm. So much better than ramen, even with really simple stuff on it.
posted by solotoro at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2011

Tasty Bites are my regular roughing-it food. They're stable for a long time and pretty tasty. They, or a near equivalent, are available at Trader Joe's. What they are is indian food sealed in a foil/plastic envelope. They're obviously better warm but certainly edible at room temp. They'll boil in the bag if you get a hot pot.
posted by chairface at 10:01 AM on February 5, 2011

Thank you so much for the suggestions! I will invest in an electric kettle and try out the grains+veg, soups, eggs, etc, as well as keeping some cheesey cheese and butter
posted by frnzks.a at 10:30 AM on February 5, 2011

Mayo will keep in the cooler. Tuna on crackers, bread, or a wrap, and leftovers keep for a day in the cooler, if necessary.
You can buy pre-cooked bacon for a treat.
Small amounts of cheese keep just fine, as does salami, for a day or 2, more in a cooler.
Canned beans with salad dressing are tasty and nutritious.
You can buy cooked rice at any Oriental takeout restaurant; it's okay cold with toppings, like beans and/or tuna.
Baked beans, are tasty and cheap.
White or black beans can be mashed into something like hummus, put them on a wrap with rice and a chopped red pepper.
Spend a few minutes in the canned veggie aisle. Beets are tasty and nutritious; I like them with a little vinegar.
Cucumbers, avocados, whole peppers are fine without refrigeration, and add health, crunch and tasty variety to wraps.
If you get a kettle, oatmeal is a cheap and nutritious way to start the day. Not the flavored instant, plain oatmeal, topped with apricots or raisins, maybe some almonds and a little sugar.
Raisins, apricots and other dried fruit.
A couple different types of salad dressing keep well and make wraps more fun. And, a sliced red pepper with a little dressing = salad.
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

People have told me that with a clothes iron & aluminum foil they've made grilled cheese sandwiches in dorms. Get the iron at a thrift shop & deposit it back there at the end of the school year if you don't want to move it back home.
posted by dragonplayer at 1:56 PM on February 5, 2011

Sorry I got to this thread late. What saved me in a dorm -- and I've given them as gifts to other dorm dwellers -- is a hot pot. It can also work as a kettle, but is easier to heat canned things, and you can boil other food in it, like eggs. It doesn't use any more power than a kettle. Eggs won't require refrigeration for a few days; we refrigerate them in Canada/US, but most of Europe doesn't.

If you google "dorm room cooking" or "dorm room recipes" you can find some stuff. Much of it is for microwaves, hot plates, and other appliances you aren't allowed, but I ran across somje yummy-looking no-cook recipes and some kettle/hot-pot based recipes.

Good luck!
posted by angiep at 4:50 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My boss boils his egg for breakfast every morning by putting it in the kettle while he makes his tea. I don't know if that's entirely safe (I imagine the outside of the eggshell might be contaminated with things you don't want in your drinking water, and I don't know what happens if the egg hits the heating element at the bottom of the kettle), but if you are desperate enough, it might be worth experimenting.
posted by lollusc at 5:21 PM on February 5, 2011

We used to make solar ovens when we were kids. The bigger ones would boil water in a Winnipeg winter (and that's no mean feat.) Here's a plan for one made from a pizza box.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:14 PM on February 5, 2011

Dehydrated bean flakes. Possibly they're more processed than what you have in mind, but damn, they're convenient veg protein and they're close enough to a comforting hot meal. Pour boiling water from your kettle over them, and they're ready in 60 seconds. I've also seen similar stuff (eg, split pea soup mix) in the bulk bins at Whole Foods.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:47 PM on February 6, 2011

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