When re-heating your food is not an option
March 23, 2013 11:42 PM   Subscribe

I've just started a new job that doesn't have a microwave (or an oven) in the kitchen, which is a big downer for me as I've always taken leftovers or other easily heated food for work lunches (and there isn't any other heating facilities close by that I can use). The thought of only being able to take cold salads or plain sandwiches for lunch isn't very appealing as I quite enjoy tucking into a spaghetti bolognaise or chicken schnitzel at lunchtime, and with winter approaching here in the southern hemisphere I live off hot, chunky soups during those months. Can anyone suggest any filling foods I can take for my lunch that don't need to be hot/warm to be delicious? Bonus points if they aren't too expensive or difficult to make in addition to dinner of a night.
posted by sunshine arakhan to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
A really good thermos might work for the soups and spaghetti
posted by metahawk at 11:46 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not *exactly* an answer to the question you asked but I have, in this situation, just bought the world's cheapest microwave and brought it in to work, to much co-worker acclaim and unexpected personal popularity. Is that a possibility?
posted by charmedimsure at 11:46 PM on March 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: charmedimsure - unfortunately no, there is no place for me to put it plus the microwave wasn't included for fear of "bad smells" that would waft through the building (I work for a high-end serviced office company, so presentation and atmosphere is everything). I wish it were though!
posted by sunshine arakhan at 11:52 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like here. So a USB food warmer is out?
posted by taff at 11:55 PM on March 23, 2013

Um, bento things? The vinegared rice is to make the rice keep at room temperature. But really, you should get a thermos thingie - I just bought a new one for one of my kids - so you can take warm leftovers.
posted by thylacinthine at 11:55 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have access to hot water at work?

In morning: pre-warm thermos with boiling water while heating up hot soup, intentionally cooked down slightly too much

At lunch: Add hot water (from the coffeemaker, or whatever).
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:56 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the thermos suggestion. I used to pack one for my partner, who'd leave the house around six a.m. and didn't eat lunch until noon. It kept things (soup, curry, spaghetti, baked beans, a foil-wrapped burrito, etc) quite warm, if not hot, all day.

Failing that, my default lunch, which I happily eat at room temperature, is this: 1/4 c coucous mixed with 1/3 c broth, topped with a little olive oil, some spinach (frozen, usually, just tossed on top of the couscous), and chickpeas. Then I'd add whatever else--a little feta and some olives, or roasted red peppers and tomatoes and mozzarella, or preserved lemons and capers and parmesan cheese. It's *good* heated up, but it definitely doesn't need to be, and is very filling.

Ramen might work, if you've a kettle at work. Pour boiling water over the noodles, and leave them soften. Then drain off that water, and add some veg (peas, various greens, chopped carrots), and add a second round of boiling water. If you want this to be more substantial, this is the part where you stir in a beaten egg, which gives you, like, egg drop soup with noodles and veg.

Pasties or meat pies can be eaten at room temp. They're a pain in the ass to make if you're doing one a night, but if you set aside a Sunday afternoon sometime, you can make a bunch and freeze them. Calzone fall into this category, too.

If there's a kettle at work, you could make oatmeal, too.

Insulated lunch bags might be worth looking into, as well. You could buy one of those rice or buckwheat filled cloth bags that you microwave to put on sore muscles, and tuck that into an insulated bag--it'd probably keep things warm for quite a while.
posted by MeghanC at 12:22 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think a thermal bowl (enough for a good-sized serving of your leftovers, I got one for $10 at Target; I just took the little bowl part out that separated it into two segments) or one of the thermal bentos (Zojirushi makes some) are probably your best bet.
posted by dean winchester at 12:27 AM on March 24, 2013

If you have a kettle, cous-cous is your friend. Put in bowl, pour on boiling water, leave for a few minutes, you're done! Add pretty much anything you can think of either before or after pouring the water on (chopped carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, hardboiled egg, pre-fried bacon, ham, capers, olives, peas... you get the idea). Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and anything else you like.
posted by pont at 2:00 AM on March 24, 2013

Puy lentils, roasted beet chunks, thinly sliced red onion, feta, olive oil, tiny bit of vinegar, fresh thyme.
posted by Specklet at 2:11 AM on March 24, 2013

There are infinite variations of sesame or peanut noodles- delicious cold or room temperature.

This recipe could work.
I think the dish is worth having even with a microwave around!

Use your preferred vegetables, maybe boiled egg or shredded chicken, and try soba noodles, use peanuts instead of peanut butter- tailor to your taste or easily find alternative recipes!
posted by maya at 3:33 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I learned about these mini crock pots in another question here on Metafilter and bought one for my husband to take to work. He loves it and was just telling me the other day that even with something sort of aromatic in it, he could detect no odors in his office.
posted by jvilter at 4:37 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like to bake cheese & tomato scones that I can eat at work. Delicious cold and plenty filling.

And I second kettle+cous cous.
posted by Lorc at 5:41 AM on March 24, 2013

If the office doesn't want food smells, is it possible they don't want you eating at your desk, either? You might want to check on that, too.

If it's ok, I would definitely n'th the thermos.
posted by jaguar at 7:00 AM on March 24, 2013

posted by John Cohen at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2013

Strudels would be really good; I made one last night and it's still delicious now at room temperature. Here's the broccoli cheddar cheese strudel from the Moosewood Cookbook that I used. I'd recommend using more broccoli than the recipe has - I put in a bunch and a half, instead of a bunch.

You can make a bunch of different fillings, like:

squash + cheese + caramelized onions (blue cheese would be especially great)
mushrooms (sautéed) + shallots + cheese
ricotta + kale or spinach + maybe tomatoes?
chicken + the kind of vegetables you'd find in chicken pot pie

Really anything, I'd imagine. Also, I really cheat with the filo sheets - I put one down, brush some oil or butter on, put on the next three, brush on some more oil/butter, and then put on the last one.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:20 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, in school your only option (at least when I was a kid) was using a thermos. If you're not allowed to bring in a microwave, then I assume a crockpot or individual mug warmer is not OK either?

I guess this cold leftovers thing wouldn't wouldn't bother me because I never re-heat leftovers -- I always eat them cold. The texture might be different, but the food generally tastes exactly the same. I'd be more pissed about not being able to bring frozen Amy's in for lunch.

Salads of any kind are meant eaten cold. A cold sandwich of some sort. Hummus and Triscuits?

Or, start going out of the office to grab lunch. If you live close enough, run home.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:21 AM on March 24, 2013

Schnitzel itself (since you mentioned it in your post) is delicious at room temp.

If you make a really nice meatloaf (wait, wait) it goes over into pate territory. Sorry, I can't find the accent marks on this computer. Both (pate and meatloaf) are really good at room temp. If you have the budget, you can also get the storebought pates and terrines.

The old standard pasta salad (you can get many of the bolognese ingredients in there) works as well.

I would shy away, myself, from a stealth alternate cooking machine. I believe you when you say that presentation and atmosphere matters.
posted by skbw at 8:46 AM on March 24, 2013

This is probably the crazier option (and not quite the answer to your question), but they make hotpots and ovens (and I think microwaves) that can plug into a 12V slot, like in your car. See here and here for examples. This looks like a nice one.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:52 AM on March 24, 2013

Get a Mr. Bento! Have all kinds of warm foods for lunch! Or cold.
posted by peep at 9:05 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Chicken salad is hearty. Not sure I'd want to store it at room temp tho; probably ought to go in the fridge and be removed an hour before eating to take the chill off.

Meatloaf, meatball or schnitzel sandwiches are all delicious after a few hours in the fridge.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:22 AM on March 24, 2013

Would they let you bring in a panini press? They take up barely any room.

(I get that they don't want hot food smells drifting around, but unless they're also banning, say, toasted Subway sandwiches brought in from outside, there must be a line drawn somewhere...)
posted by Salamander at 9:48 AM on March 24, 2013

This 101 Picnic Dishes article from Mark Bittman at the NYT has tons of options that would work.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Understand that USB is a gadget protocol.

There are USB lunchbox heaters you could use to keep your lunch warm.

Here is one, for example. It also has a car charger.

posted by squirbel at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have access to a hot water kettle, you can make a lot of recipes from the Freezer Bag Cooking list. The idea of freezer bag cooking is for backpackers who don't want to have to wash dishes. Basically all the ingredients go into a ziplock freezer bag, very hot water gets poured in and the bag gets sealed, the whole thing gets wrapped in an insulating pouch or blanket for 10-15 minutes too cook with the heat of the water. They tend to use instant rice, couscous, angel-hair pasta, and other foods that cook really easily in hot water.

Now I'm not suggesting that you eat out of a plastic bag with a fork at your desk, or that you go invest in a bunch of dehydrated vegetables. Since you're in an office, you can just bring the ingredients in a tupperware or glass bowl with a lid, add the hot water, and wrap it in a towel or scarf to keep it hot for the required amount of time to "cook." Or skip the towel and use an insulated mug. Use fresh produce, since you don't care how much it weighs in your backpack or whether it will last a week without refrigeration. If you've got a fridge at work, use thinly cut-up grilled chicken breast instead of the pouch stuff. In your case the FBC recipes are really just for inspiration on ways to doll up couscous, rice, or very thin pasta.

I ate this a way a lot during my grad school program (50 students with the same half-hour lunch break and 2 microwaves = gotta get creative). My favorite recipe so far off the site is Cranberry chicken rice, which tastes a lot like thanksgiving.
posted by vytae at 11:24 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thermos and electric hot water kettle would work. If they don't already have a hot water kettle (they really should, for the tea drinkers or for hot chocolate), you could even get one yourself, as basic ones are inexpensive and fit in a desk drawer. If it were me the usb lunch box heater would be in heavy rotation!
posted by gudrun at 11:57 AM on March 24, 2013

When I think of hearty, filling, and good tasting while cold, I think of grains. I make a lot of dishes with quinoa, bulgar, barley, wheat berries, etc. that I eat warm the night before, but often opt to eat cold the next day just because it sounds good. Here is one with roasted root vegetables that I love! (I've used barley or lentils instead of farro...also I made my own harrissa which was simple, mind-blowing, and stores in the fridge for a long time).

Other ideas:
- pizzas, galettes, calzones, etc.
- rice and bean burritos
- samosas
- Simple olive oil pastas
- I think a lot of pureed soups are good cold, 'specially with a dollop of sour cream
- Hummus, bean dips, ajvar, other stuff you can spread on a hearty chunk of bread or scoop with tortilla
- wraps with roasted veggies and/or grains
posted by hannahelastic at 2:32 PM on March 24, 2013

Frittata kept cold with an ice pack is pretty good and very filling.
posted by ifjuly at 3:14 PM on March 24, 2013

Salad-in-a-jar is something my husband and I do periodically. You can use any container, not just a jar, but it gave us a way to use some leftover Mason jars from our wedding decor. You can do 4-5 days' worth in advance and just grab and go in the morning. If you Google "salad in a jar," you'll get a bunch of different websites with inspiration pics.

They all boil down to: work out what sort of vegetables, grains, and meat/protein taste good to you in a salad. Get one or more jars, plastic containers, etc. Get whatever dressing you like--I dislike dressings for the most part, so don't bother with any, but my husband uses ginger, ranch, or whatever strikes his fancy that week.

You want to layer the stuff in the container so that the dressing is on the bottom and the lettuce, if you use it, is on the top because lettuce will tend to go brown and slimy if in contact with moisture for a while. Also, whatever vegetables are in contact with the dressing may pickle a little bit, especially if it's an acidic dressing. You may consider this a bonus, like my husband does, but if not, you can always carry a small container of dressing and put it on afterward.

The basic order that you'll go in is, from the bottom up:

--thick, chunky vegetables like carrots, cucumber, mushroom slices, olives
--proteins like meat (leftover ham, chicken, steak, etc), beans, and cheese
--grains like quinoa or whatever pasta floats your boat

Put the lid on, store in fridge. Turn upside down and shake a bit to distribute the dressing right before you eat. If your container is wide enough, you can eat directly from it.
posted by telophase at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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