Cooking Challenge: Ovenless Editon
June 19, 2014 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I am going to a cabin in Maine for the summer. When I am in this cabin I like to spend many hours cooking and fussing over meals. The fussier the better. Problem: there is no oven. What are your best ovenless recipes suitable for two people in the middle of nowhere with lots of time on thier hands?

What I have: Electric Stovetop, gas grill, toaster, microwave, roaring bonfire. But no oven. What are some amazing things I can cook without an oven that will scratch my itch to expand my skillset and try new things? I am totally okay with hard/complicated recipes but I'd also like to cook things that feature local Maine ingredients in the summer ( with the caveat that I'm not big on fish but I am willing to learn. Lobster and clams are fine).
posted by The Whelk to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have access to a dutch oven? Almost anything cooked in a regular oven can be done in a dutch oven in/on the fire.
posted by heathrowga at 4:02 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to a slow cooker?
posted by zarq at 4:04 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

if you have lots of time on your hands, maybe you could build an outdoor brick oven. Then bake bread in it.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:06 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I don't think I use my oven for much other than the very occasional casserole and nearly daily roasting of vegetables - which you could do on a grill and it would be extra tasty anyway.

If I was in the mood for a challenge, I think I would experiment with stovetop (and grill) roasting meat like chicken and lamb. And flatbreads - naan, roti, pupusas, tortillas. Crepes.

And then I would also spend a lot of time on Asian food, much of which is traditionally stovetop or grill food anyway. My fantasy summer in a cabin in Maine involves packing a lot of lemongrass, and preparing spices with a mortar and pestle. I'd curl up by the fire with Madhur Jaffey books in the evening. I would acquire an actual knife skill or two.

On preview: yes, all summer? Build a wood-fired outdoor oven, just for the experience of building it, and then pretend you're Jamie Oliver but not annoying.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I was in Maine in the summer with a lot of time and a fire pit and feeling fancy and adventurous I would do a full-on traditional clam bake
posted by kagredon at 4:12 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have access to a smallish Dutch oven. And I cannot build an oven on the property
posted by The Whelk at 4:12 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whats your accessibility to a store going to be like?

I'm thinking some finicky french sauces. Hollandaise over lobster would be superlative.

Likewise with an extravagant reduced wine sauce and some filet minion.

Make Maine blueberry clafoutis, or tart tartin. Each traditionally calls for being finished in the oven, but you could park it next to a fire, or on the stove with a lid on low.
posted by fontophilic at 4:14 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Whats your accessibility to a store going to be like?

Regular supply trips into towns are planned, so theoretically almost anything if I plan it out before hand
posted by The Whelk at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2014

You could experiment with cooking sous vide. It's not especially difficult or expensive to rig up an easy-to-transport cooker.
posted by rue72 at 4:18 PM on June 19, 2014

BTW, those just happen to be links that looked clear and came up early in the search results. I'm thinking of trying the technique, but haven't gotten around to it yet, so I can't really vouch for those links in particular (or any others).
posted by rue72 at 4:19 PM on June 19, 2014

Homemade noodles or gnocchi with lobster, butter, and parsley. And cast-iron cornbread on the stove. (probably not together, though)
posted by shortyJBot at 4:20 PM on June 19, 2014

Also, smoking on a gas grill is kind of a pain, but not impossible, especially if you can keep an eye on it to make sure the temperature is staying relatively steady.
posted by kagredon at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2014

Do you have a dishwasher? Can cook with it. Here is Lifehacker take on it.
posted by 724A at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Were this me, I would focus on mastering a cuisine, rather than "how fiddly can things get", though I suspect there's a fair amount of Venn overlap in these two things. Husband and I are huge fans of those Phaidon cookbooks that are encyclopedic of a cuisine - Silver Spoon was the first one we fell for, rapidly followed by the Greek one, the Spanish one, then there's Indian (written by the delightfully named Pushpesh Pant), and I just toddled home yesterday with the Lebanese one. There's apparently also one focusing on food from Thailand. Be still my heart.

I would pick one of these, and do some reading ahead of time, marking the recipes that can be done via your MANY available methods, and go fucking nuts.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:34 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever had fondant potatoes? They're not complicated, but they take a while, and they're so, so good. Basically, you peel similarly sized potatoes and shape them into cylinders, brown them well in good butter, and then simmer them forever in stock with thyme or other herbs (not enough stock to cover; just a bit in the bottom of the pan). You'll find plenty of recipes online. Done properly, they develop a delicate crust on the outside, with an impossibly creamy interior (Yukon Golds are good for this), richly flavored from the butter/stock/herbs.

Many Indian dishes can happily simmer all day, and will only get better as the spices exude their flavors. A lot of Indian recipes begin with toasting and grinding your own spices, and they can get pretty fussy—especially if you're making a full meal with dal, naan or other bread, pakoras, maybe some palak paneer, gulab jamun for dessert... Plus, your kitchen will smell amazing. (You might need to source spices and flours beforehand; I'm guessing that you won't find fenugreek or chapati flour in rural Maine.)

Make your own ghee from scratch—it's very easy. Homemade paneer is also very easy, and totally worth it. Oh, and samosas will keep you busy for a while.

For fussy, anything involving phyllo: spanakopita or baklava. (Homemade spanakopita with fresh spinach and lemon is just about the best thing ever.)

Seconding gnocchi. (Buy a potato ricer.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:37 PM on June 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Lobster Ravioli!
Stuffed zucchini blossoms!
Zucchini fritters!
Make jams! (Strawberries and raspberries will be in season)
Make antipasti! (Grilled marinated zucchini with goat cheese, yum!)
Make bread and butter pickles! (Summer squash, cucumbers and zucchini)

How about a sushi night? Or a Vietnamese summer roll night?
posted by travelwithcats at 4:37 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

if you slice vegetables thin and throw them into a foil pouch with some oil, you can grill them and make some amazing sides: onions, potatoes, bacon, in a pouch are great. You can add some balsamic vinegar to onions and mushrooms, or a little dill, butter, and asparagus. Don't grill them too long, and don't move them around too much. Seal them tight in the foil.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:43 PM on June 19, 2014

If you can upgrade the toaster over to a larger convection-style toaster oven you'll have a lot of options. I have a DeLonghi one similar to this. I use it as my "second oven" all the time.
posted by radioamy at 4:47 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with Radioamy that a toaster oven like the DeLonghi or Cuisinart with convection heating and 12" capacity is the way to roll. I do a lot of cooking with mine including mains, apps and desserts.
posted by jadepearl at 4:51 PM on June 19, 2014

Japanese homes commonly do not have ovens. So, as I understand it, most Japanese food can be made in a wok and, further, it is easy enough to do this in a western style large frying pan.

I am also a huge fan of homemade soups.
posted by Michele in California at 5:02 PM on June 19, 2014

Like ersatzkat I'd probably focus on one or two big cookbooks, and just pick things I could adapt for my tools, rather than bringing some extra tools.

I think Indian is a great idea because of the complexity of the spices, the simmerability, and skewers if you can tweak some tandoor recipes to do over the fire.

You could probably do quite a bit with seasonal produce from the Ottolenghi cookbook, too. (Do a "Search Inside" with "grill" for example and you can see a nice range there).
posted by thirdletter at 5:02 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mark Bittman's 101 Recipes for Grilling

Also, grilled mussels (and, I would imagine, clams) -- while the absolute opposite of fussy or complicated -- are THE BOMB.

I'm so jealous of all the fresh seafood you're going to be able to get.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:08 PM on June 19, 2014

Pressure cooking, if you're not already into it, is also fun to learn and experiment with, and would replace the oven for some things.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:13 PM on June 19, 2014

The more elaborate Indian and Chinese cooking often involves a LOT of futzing around without using an oven. If you get into making your own steamed dumplings from scratch, for example, that's a good long project. Similarly, of course, you could get into making pasta and stuffing your own ravioli and so forth.
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, how about making your own xiaolongbao? Bring a steamer and someone with precise fingers.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:36 PM on June 19, 2014

The Whelk: "Electric Stovetop, gas grill, toaster, microwave, roaring bonfire."

Take it from someone without central air: spending a whole summer cooking without an oven is no big deal. Especially if you pick up a toaster oven -- even a cheapo secondhand one will do.
posted by desuetude at 10:56 PM on June 19, 2014

Hi, I am a cook and I live in Maine. What I do is go to the store and buy what's on sale in the produce department and pick a cuisine. Lately, I've been doing Spanish tapas. This week, I made a Spanish omelet, and paired it with bruschetta (which, okay, is Italian but I wanted some).

If you want to use local ingredients, you could use local eggs for the omelet, and local tomato and basil for the bruschetta. Get a baguette, slice it into wedges, lay on the olive oil, and grill it. Before this, cut up tomato, feta, garlic and basil. Splash in a bit of olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Then toast your baguette on the grill, and, this is very important: take the toasted bread off onto a plate and put the topping on right away. Cold topping onto hot bread. Fantastic!

You could also do some great things with locally made goat cheese. Caramelize some onions, or whole pieces of garlic (ala that goat cheese and garlic tart recipe) and put on toasted bread as above or buy a premade pizza dough and grill it on the bottom, then turn and put your toppings on. Nothing like grilled pizza!

There are many farmers markets and local shops that sell locally grown organic meat and produce. The big grocery store, Hannaford, often has signs in the produce section marked, "Close to Home!" so you can choose from those offerings. Corn has been on sale lately, but it's a bit early for local corn. When it gets to be corn season, grab some of that and grill it to go with your locally grown grilled meat. If it's raining, do it on the stove top.

You are just getting into blueberry season starting in July, so consider planning a blueberry picking excursion. It's a bit of a hike, depending on where you are coming from, but Libby and Sons in Limerick is awesome! Gorgeous views, and they will take you on a little golf cart to whatever variety you want, drop you off, and come back and pick you up to get your berries weighed. Bring a cheap plastic bowl or two, they will weigh the bowls and mark them so you won't be charged for the bowl weight. They also have treats for sale, but it's way out in the country, so bring snacks and bottled water. Very clean and very well run.

Then, when you get back, whip up some cream (you can do this by hand if you have to with a bowl and whisk) with a big of sugar and enjoy. Make a steak sauce from them and grill some steaks and top with your sauce.

If you really want to get local, make some French Canadian Cretons (there is a big Franco-American community in Maine, in case you haven't heard, LOL). It's basically spiced ground pork cooked in milk or water on the stove top and then used as a spread. Buy some Mailhot brand so you can compare. It's usually near the bacon section at Hannaford (or sometimes in the meat section near the trotters, in a little tub). Serve at breakfast with strong hot coffee, spread on toast.

One resource (of many) is EatMaineFoods. Click on the link for the Food Map, then say, click on "Farms" at the left, and it will show you all the farms and you can zoom into what's in your area.

Have you ever made your own creme fraiche? Get some local cream and some Kate's Buttermilk, and a small Ball jar. Stir in 3 TBS of the buttermilk to about 1 cup of cream, cap it, and let it sit on the counter overnight. Sometimes it takes a whole 24 hours, but eventually, you will have your own creme fraiche to stir into sauces, serve with your local berries, etc.

I know everyone thinks of lobster, and lobster can be grilled or steamed, but you don't need an oven to cook most things. There is a huge local food movement in Maine, and people cook all kinds of dishes. You might be interested in the Food Madam, who wrote The Art of Breakfast. She also makes her own simple syrups and all kinds of interesting cocktails (recipes on the blog). Maybe specialize in learning how to make elegant breakfasts, and cocktails at night to go with something simple like steamed mussels with garlic and white wine, juices mopped up with baguette.

Lastly, one thing we like to do in the summer is pick a route, drive around the country, and see what we find. Often, you will see local eggs advertised. Last time we went to the Amish store in Unity (pro tip: homemade donuts on Wednesday mornings, get there early, as once they're gone, they're gone). Oh, and bring cash -- the Amish don't take plastic, and a lot of the locals will appreciate cash over debit/credit as well. Sometimes it's "leave your money in a the can" on the honor system, so have singles. Hope this helped a little, enjoy your stay, I'm sure it will be awesome.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:17 AM on June 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Make kimchi and use it in all sorts of delicious ways. Fried rice, pancakes (either jun or chun, I can never remember), soup or just eat it strait with some plain rice. Actually, kimchi done on a grill pan with Korean BBQ is awesome. Make sure you have lettuce leaves, rice, sesame oil (for the rice) and various other side dishes to go for it. *sob* I miss Korean BBQ.

/off to make kimchi fried rice
posted by kathrynm at 8:02 AM on June 20, 2014

Making your own pasta from scratch can be fiddly and time-consuming, especially shaped types like garganelli or bow ties. Filled pastas like ravioli or tortellini are even more so. I don't have the patience for it myself so I can't recommend any specific recipes, but I've been very pleased with other recipes in The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

A traditional hand-cranked pasta machine is kind of fun, especially if you can score one for cheap at a garage sale, or borrow a friend's. It's easiest with 2 people, one to turn the crank and feed the dough in, the other to catch the pasta as it comes out in a long floppy strip. I've seen very pretty wide pasta that was adorned with whole herb leaves on its final pass through the rollers, looking rather like Japanese paper with pressed flowers. Sans machine, a rolling pin or long dowel is your tool of choice.
posted by Quietgal at 6:08 PM on June 20, 2014

Vegetarian tagine - I was reading this recipe and reminded of your question. North African cuisine is largely made without an oven, and very tasty and fun to make. Like so many other cultures, they make a lot of dishes for a fine dinner, and the complication is not so much each individual dish as the multitude and variation. Great for nice cooking and eating times, because of lots of prepping and lovely fragrant smells, as well as the perfect food for long hours at the table.
Maybe buy a small tagine the couscous, and an assortment of spices and dried fruits in the city.
But you can use your dutch oven as well, and I can find most of the necessary spices and fruits near my summer home - they are not *that* exotic, it's the combinations that give the taste.
A quick google-search brought me this: bbcgoodfood. The fussiest and also loveliest thing in the Moroccan kitchen is the savory pastilla. I searched for ideas on how to make it without an oven, and failed to find any, but I'd definitely try using the dutch oven over the fire for that.
posted by mumimor at 9:42 AM on June 22, 2014

Response by poster: Howdy! Here's an example of some of the kitchen wizardry and reuse we've been doing ( despite eating in town more often than I thought we would!)

We made yogurt marinaded chicken kebabs with onion and peppers over the grill with roast grape tomatoes over stop top cooked saffron/carafmon rice. Two days later the left over chicken was picked out of the rice and made into an omelette for one and peppers/onion and half the rice made into an egg stir fry. The remaining saffron rice was turned into a savory rice pudding side dish for two.

We have been making an obscene amount of lobster and lobster stew of course, easy access to dairy means lots of fresh cream, we've had a lot of strawberry and cream deserts and my breakfast this morning was a stout ale with raw egg, so everything is working out. Thanks again everyone! It's a bit chilly tonight so I'm planning on making that tagine linked above.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

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