Cooking without actually cooking...
October 2, 2007 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I recently started college, and having discovered the utter boredom that is dining hall cuisine, have begun to crave home cooked food, or at very least, ME-cooked food. So what can I cook with a bare minimum of kitchen hardware?

I made guacamole this week, after a serious craving for Rosa Mexicano's Guacamole en Molcajete...It turned out decent enough and definitely hit the spot. To make this, I bought some tupperware bowls (large-ish ones), a couple knives, a couple wooden spoons, and some smaller tupperware-ish things for holding leftover onion and whatnot. Between that stuff, and the stuff I brought from home, my cooking supplies amount to:

two tupperware bowls
two square 5 inchx5 inch or so gladware containers
an 8" serrated knife
a paring knife
some regular silverware
a salt shaker
a pepper grinder
a cheese knife (evidently my mom thought i would be breaking out some fromage classy enough that i would need such a tool)
a pizza cutter (Again, mom)
a can opener
an ice cream scoop
a couple of heavy plastic microwaveable plates, bowls, cups
two coffee mugs

as far as food supplies, generally, I have on hand:
orange juice
green tea (teabags)
easy mac
ak-mak crackers
pita chips
tortilla chips
apple sauce
canned pinapple

With these supplies, plus other reasonably priced groceries, what sorts of things can I cook without cooking, so to speak, as I lack such things as a saucepot, frying pan, or baking dishes...

Basically, all I came up with is ceviche...
any helpful ghetto fabulous recipes from the collegiate or post-collegiate masses?
posted by weaponsgradecarp to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I once made a really good recipe for Thai peanut-butter noodles, that seemed like it would be a good dorm recipe. I'm trying to remember exactly what went into it.

It started off with a block of Ramen, except that it used *only* the noodles (throw that disgusting 'flavor' packet away). And then as it's cooking, you mix in some peanut butter and some Thai curry seasoning. The result is fantastic and only requires one pot, and you can do it on a hot plate if you don't have a stove.

Here's the original, or at least one that's pretty close to it. Do away with all the garnish and some of the additional stuff (you don't need to add Thai fish sauce, for example, unless you really like it). And you can get the soy sauce from Chinese delivery condiment packets. The chicken broth can be replaced with water and bullion cubes, which are shelf-stable. About the only extra thing you need to buy is coconut milk.

Scale the recipe down by half if you only use one brick of ramen. And regardless of what the recipe says, *don't* use spaghetti. Ramen noodes are a lot better for this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:13 PM on October 2, 2007

My favorites, using only a microwave and basic kitchen supplies, include:
- Rice dishes, like rice pilaf and Spainish rice. Cook the rice in a bowl with water, toss in some veggies and spices and maybe toss in some protein.
- Egg drop soup. It's pretty easy to do with ramen or any type of soup mix
- Fish cooks well in the microwave. A salmon filet, a dash of olive oil, some spices, and some veggies. Cover and cook until the salmon is done and volia! $$$ but healthy
-Curries. Rice noodles are cheap. Add in some spices, curry paste, veggies, protein, and maybe some coconut milk, heat and yum!
posted by melissam at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2007

What cooking methods are available to you? Oven? Stovetop? Toaster? Toaster oven? Microwave? Rotisserie? BBQ?

Also, what is the likelihood of your being able to acquire pans / skillets / etc, either by borrowing from someone nearby or purchasing for supercheap at local thrift store?

I ask because you're gonna get much more exciting options if you have access to a stove, an oven, and some metal pots and pans.
posted by mumkin at 3:22 PM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: I've got a microwave, and there is a stove/oven in the lounge, but I have no data on its functionality...

That's about it...

Metal pots and pans will be scarce, hence the question title, because with something like ceviche or guac, i can make it without requiring major heat producing appliances/metal pots and pans
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 3:26 PM on October 2, 2007

The guy in this article might give you some inspiration.

From my own, less gourmet, experience: you can add broccoli, carrots, etc. to ramen or mac & cheese so it better resembles a meal - just toss in the veggies when the macaroni is almost cooked. Also, couscous is easy to make in a microwave; again, you can throw in some veggies and spices to make it yummier and more satisfying. If you have seeds or nuts, they can add some flavor and crunch to whatever you're concocting. Baked potatoes can also be made in the microwave, and you can add as many toppings as you want.
posted by bassjump at 3:31 PM on October 2, 2007

I suggest learning how to make killer sandwiches. No heat needed for most of them, and you can be the hit of any party if you show up with a four-foot long sub.

Plus, the skill can come in handy if you're stranded on a foreign planet with nothing but your towel.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:32 PM on October 2, 2007

You need a heat source. I can't recommend a George Foreman grill highly enough for this situation. The small ones go for about $14. They are way versatile - you can make burgers, chicken breast, salmon steaks, grilled cheese sandwiches, fajitas - a whole range of stuff and all without pots and pans.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:32 PM on October 2, 2007

Do you lack a stove? If not, you should just go out and buy a pot, a frying pan, and possibly a baking tray. You could get them for really cheap at some place like Wal-Mart. These will be good investments if you like cooking sometimes.

BTW, if you like ramen, check your local Asian grocery stores if they stock Shin Ramyun. It's extremely spicy and the noodles are thicker and better-tasting than average ramens. It was a staple for me when I cooked less.
posted by pravit at 3:34 PM on October 2, 2007

If you have a stove, you could buy a $10 pot and a $10 fry pan at the grocery store that will greatly expand your possibilities. Omelets, simple stirfry, rice and beans, pasta and sauce, on and on.

Do you have a fridge?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:34 PM on October 2, 2007

Yeah. I'm just trying to wrap my head around the problem. If that oven / stove works, though, and you're willing to spend up to $10 in a thrift store on a dutch-oven like pot then you're golden. Really, investigate the stove's functionality, because if it works, and if you can get your hands on a $5 pot from Goodwill, the world is your oyster and every month will have an R in it. I'm talkin' paella, jambalaya, fresh bread, soups, stews, roasts, pasta... one nice, large, heavy, oven-safe metal pot, that's all it takes.
posted by mumkin at 3:35 PM on October 2, 2007

Dried rice noodles are your friend - they just need to be soaked in warm/hot water to be edible. You can use them to make noodle salads, add them to soup, sauce them, eat other things on top of them, whatever. Sadly, they're not a very good substitute for wheat pastas - the texture's off - so you might not want to break out the Ragu, but Asian-inspired stuff will work well.

Also: don't discount the possibilities in the prepared foods section at the grocery store. There are a lot more no-cook things you can do with a rotisserie chicken (awesome chicken salad! chicken tacos! pulled bbq chicken! etc etc) than with, say, a raw whole chicken.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2007

If you get a rice cooker, there's a ton of stuff you can make. Ditto for a crock pot.
posted by birdlady at 3:55 PM on October 2, 2007

Oh, also - with winter coming, you might want to get a crockpot (check out thrift stores and garage sales). You can toss raw ingredients and liquid in there in the morning, go to class, and come back to hot food. You might not be able to brown meat before it goes in, so use the leanest meats you can find. Ground beef, canned tomatoes, onions, beans, and oregano/cumin/chili powder for chili; a roast, root veggies, beer and seasonings for pot roast (add more liquid and cut up the meat for beef stew); a pork butt, onions, garlic, and liquid for get the idea.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:04 PM on October 2, 2007

Microwave risotto.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:08 PM on October 2, 2007

If you're in an area with Indian/South Asian groceries, look for the pre-cooked dishes in shelf-stable pouches and microwavable trays. Some of them are actually quite good.

Even Target in my area carries some of them, but if you have an actual ethnic grocery nearby (and if you're at a sizable institution, you probably do), they'll be cheaper there.
posted by gimonca at 4:25 PM on October 2, 2007

I would not have survived college without an electric wok.

It was great because it was portable - I could cook in lounges, friend's rooms, etc. It functioned well as both a pot and a pan, and eliminated the need for a hot plate + pans + pots.

Also, get a mini-fridge if you don't have one - and clean it at least once a semester.
posted by gnutron at 4:43 PM on October 2, 2007

Frito pie. Warmed-up chili and fritos, grated/melted cheese and/or diced onion optional. Very ghetto-fabulous, great for small groups. Bonus points for eating it out of the bag with a spoon.

Also, I'll second backseatpilot's killer sandwich suggestion. My current personal favorite: turkey, pepperjack cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and bean sprouts on a baguette. (it's even better with bacon, but that means cooking.)
posted by Muffpub at 4:45 PM on October 2, 2007

I only have a frying pan.

With it I can make egg-based dishes (skillets with spinach, onion, tomato, sausage/ham, or fried eggs with oregano, or french toast, or cheesy omlettes), and I can make tasty things to go in tortillas (chicken strips -get a frozen pack of boneless, skinless chicken- with red and yellow peppers, black or pinto or refried beans heated in the microwave, onions and tomatos again, and chili powder).

If you buy a pan or think you can borrow one, you will need cooking spray.

If you really can't get a pan, you could just cook things in the microwave in your tupperware containers. Then you can have beans (protein!), rice, the aforementioned couscous, noodly dishes... I would buy that stuff + vegetables + oregano and go crazy.
posted by ramenopres at 5:31 PM on October 2, 2007

My life changed when I realised I could throw raw or frozen veggies and seasoning into a rice cooker with the rice, and out would come a meal. And I'm in my 30s.
posted by loiseau at 5:36 PM on October 2, 2007

Bottom line, invest in a good toaster oven. You can buy an awesome, full digital convection toaster oven on for $80 with free shipping.

Anything you can make in a full-size oven, you can make in a toaster oven... just less of it.

I've broiled steaks and shrimp, roasted potatoes, baked french bread pizza, brownies, toasted sandwiches (the only reason Subway exists is to prove that even the shittiest sandwiches taste great when toasted), you name it.

Also invest in some good heavy-duty aluminum foil. It's really cool when the extent of your cleanup is balling up the foil and tossing it.
posted by ZoomX2 at 5:51 PM on October 2, 2007

what sorts of things can I cook without cooking, so to speak, as I lack such things as a saucepot, frying pan, or baking dishes...

answering the actual question here, salads, salads & more salads. wonderful gourmet sandwiches - suggested above - are another great idea, but you'd be surprised at how a salad can be a filling & nutritious meal, as long as you ensure that you include plenty of protein, because this registers quickly in your stomach with a nice 'full' feeling.

tinned beans (eg canneloni beans or four bean mix) are a good base, to which you can add your choice of celery, peppers, tomato, cucumber, olives, fennel, carrot, snow peas - any old veg that doesn't require cooking. other decent protein sources are (obviously) cheeses, grilled chicken, nuts, tofu etc. go crazy. learning to make & use different kinds of dressings also add heaps of variety.

also, as long as you steer clear of leafy veg like lettuce, they'll keep well for a day or two in the fridge, so you can make a big batch & eat it over a couple of days (making a fresh salad on day 2, as well, for example, so you're not eating the exact same thing every day). combine the salad with simple deli meat sandwiches, or tinned fish, if you like it, for a more complete-feeling meal.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:46 PM on October 2, 2007

Nth checking out the stove. A lot of college residences have pretty strict regulations on heat-producing appliances in rooms, because of fire codes. But if you've got a working stove, I have to agree with mumkin that the world is your oyster. Find a 12-inch nonstick sauté pan or Dutch oven and then check out recipes for arroz con pollo, risotto, chicken cacciatore, etc. Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything is a great basic cookbook. (Bittman's New York Times food column is called "The Minimalist," which gives you an idea of his approach.) But you can find good recipes online too.

Here's what I made today, after a long day of work, in less than an hour (with at most 15 minutes of actual cooking time): put 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of curry powder in your Dutch oven. Stir over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes, until the curry smells fragrant. Add 1 coarsely chopped onion, 1/3 cup mango chutney, and 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes. Heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Add 4-6 skinned chicken thighs. When the mixture starts bubbling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Remove from heat, stir in a bit of lemon juice (optional) and garnish with parsley (also optional). Serve with a hearty bread or rice, and vegetables or salad (bagged salad is a big timesaver) on the side.

If you don't want the hassle of getting chicken and keeping it cold, you can substitute canned chickpeas, which will make a pretty good chickpea-tomato curry. You'll still have to refrigerate the leftovers, though, unless you invite your friends over!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:58 PM on October 2, 2007

toaster oven goodness:
- quesadilla (torilla, grated cheese, salsa): best in toaster oven but pretty good nuked
- pita bread pizza (pita, grated cheese, pasta sauce): only if you have a toaster oven, doesn't work in microwave
boiling water and container:
- if you have a health food store near you, miso paste is cheap and with some thinly slice veggies, miso paste, and hot water (add miso after water isn't boiling) and you have better than instant soup. has to be refrigerated though.
- couscous, previously mentioned, you can make with tupperware and a microwave. great with chick peas and some nuked veggies
- oatmeal (unflavored is best), then you can add your own cinnamon/sugar and sliced apples (if you have a toaster oven, warm them).
- microwaved scrambled eggs.
- microwaved potato. ok with onion and cheese. better with broccoli.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:22 PM on October 2, 2007

I recommend this book - I picked it up while in school and it was a great help (especially since I wasn't much of a cook at all before that and I had barely any equipment).

The Healthy College Cookbook
posted by cadge at 8:35 PM on October 2, 2007

When I was in college, a lot of people got very creative with the raw ingredients available in the dining hall. Our dining hall always had breads, vegetables, tofu, lunch meats, cold pasta, cheeses, milk, dressings, condiments, a toaster and microwaves. There is a wide range of quick meals you can prepare with that as your base. We even had a "dining hall recipes" column in the student paper. Perhaps you could innovate without having to buy food or cook in unsafe conditions.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:15 PM on October 2, 2007

You can make gazpacho with just a knife and a bowl. It's best with lots of fresh tomato puree, but tomato juice in a can is good too. Dice ~2 lb. of tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1-2 spanish or vidalia onions. Add 1-2 minced garlic gloves, 1 tbsp. of minced fresh herbs (basil, marjoram, mint, thyme, your choice), 2 tsp salt, a few grinds of black pepper, 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar, and 2 cups of tomato puree or juice. These measurements need not be exact, but that's a good starting point. Thin with water if needed, stir well, chill at least one hour until ready, and taste for salt and pepper before serving. It will keep for at least 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
posted by Caviar at 7:00 AM on October 3, 2007

+1 to those above who recommend a rice cooker and toaster oven, but if those are contraband, there are plenty of raw recipes you can make that aren't all crazy vegan nut milk things (some of which are good, too).

Here is a website that looks promising. I found it by googling raw recipes.
posted by rmless at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2007

I noticed you listed hummus in your ingredients, but I'm not sure if you're buying it or making it. If you're buying it, you shouldn't be, because it's easy and a lot cheaper to make it. Here's how:

1 can chickpeas (a.k.a. Garbanzo beans. Don't pay extra for quality, the cheap brand will do)
1 heaping tablespoon of tahini (this is sesame paste, you can get it at the health/ethnic food store or sometimes the supermarket)
Water (amount varies to taste)
Chopped garlic (amount varies to taste)
Lemon juice (amount varies to taste, I always use the kind that comes in a bottle)

Open the can of chickpeas. Drain and rinse them. Squish them up in a bowl (a blender or food processor helps, but a fork works, too). Mix in the garlic, lemon juice, and tahini, adding more or less of the first two depending on how it tastes. If the resulting mix is too dry for your taste, stir in some water until the texture is right. Sprinkle some cracked black pepper and/or cayenne pepper over the top. Serve!

You can add extra flavor to it, too -- some things that work well are roasted red peppers, green chile, or kalamata olives. Alternately, you can make awesome mexican-style-not-quite-hummus by substituting black beans for the chickpeas, and cumin powder for the tahini.
posted by vorfeed at 4:42 PM on October 3, 2007

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