Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ask the Internet: Small Kitchen Cooking (with Lots of Roommates)?

Today’s question comes from reader Caitlin. She asks:

Q: I'm in San Francisco for a three-month internship. I'm used to cooking for myself almost every night, often using many ingredients and spending a good deal of time on my meals. My living situation here involves a small kitchen that is shared with a very large group of people. On top of that, all I have with me is a pot and pan and a few basic ingredients (olive oil, salt etc.) I'm wondering if you have any suggestions about meals that
  1. Don't require very much equipment.
  2. Are relatively quick.
  3. Can be made with a few ingredients.
  4. Still give me the pleasure of cooking something and taste great!!
  5. Are not simply pasta with a sauce because I've already exhausted that ( :
If you have time, let me know if you have any ideas.

A: Caitlin! Boy, do I ever hear you. Junior year of college, I shared a house with seven friends. We each bought our own food and cooked on our own time. Needless to say, there was a lot of cereal involved.

First, there are two older CHG posts might be just up your alley: Last-Minute Little Dinners for One and 65 Cheap, Healthy One Dish Meals with Good Leftover Potential. The latter will give you office lunches for a few days, which can be very helpful, especially if your internship is unpaid.

Speaking of one-dish meals, I’m thinking that would be your best bet in general. They don’t usually involve huge financial outlays, the ingredients won’t take up much space in a limited fridge/pantry, and you can be as daring or conservative as you like. Stir fries are the easiest and most popular variety thereof, but a few spices and some internetz searching should open new worlds.

Beyond that, Deb from Smitten Kitchen cooks in a tiny galley (42 square feet!), and there’s fantastic stuff all over that blog. I might take a few minutes/hours to peruse.

But enough about my ideas. Readers, what about yours? What kind of meals would you suggest for Caitlin? Do you have any experience cooking in a small kitchen, surrounded by roommates? Do tell.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Diane said...

I cooked for many years in a tiny kitchen in a San Francisco studio, and I managed to turn out dinner parties for people. But I didn't have to share it, 'tis true...

My suggestions would be lost of quasi-one-pot dishes like frittatas , panades, chicken adobo (served with crusty bread and a salad), chicken casseroles (with olives, with moroccan spices, etc), spanish tortillas (eggs and potato), risottos, etc.

I also find that fish in parchment is easy for prep and cleanup and tastes like you slaved over it for hours , and it can be varied a lot. My favorite way of preparing it these days is to very, very thinly slice potatoes and put those on bottom, on top of that put the slice of fish, then sliced mushrooms and sweated leeks or onions if you want to be bothered with tarting it up that way, some fresh herbs, a splash of wine, some salt, pepper and a little bit of butter. Crimp the parchment tightly to seal and bake at 425 for 15 minutes or so, depending on thickness of fish. Heaven.

Anonymous said...

Eggs! Simple, buttery scambled eggs with fresh herbs on toast are a perfect one-pan/small kitchen meal. Also, all varieties of sandwich (does not have to mean cold) are easy in a small space. How about roast red pepper with lettuce, tomato and maybe some mushrooms with a smear of goat cheese on good toasted bread? Salads are also great for small spaces.

Ruby Leigh said...

I just made this:


and I think it meets most if not all of your requirements, it was also super tasty and could be varied pretty easily

Anonymous said...

My apartment's renovation got put on hold JUST before the kitchen was added. I have an electric skillet, a folding table, and a fridge... I feel your pain! That said, the latest issue of SELF had a tasty recipe that made the cut in my "rustic" situation. Try this: whack up a bottled roasted red pepper, a few kalamata olives and a couple of marinated artichoke hearts. Toss in a can of drained tuna, splash of lemon juice, salt and peppper. Scoop it up with heavy-duty crackers (like Triscuits). Tasty, filling, cheap (you only use a wee bit of the good stuff per go-around), few dishes and no over required.

LaDonna said...

I live on a small sailboat so my 'galley kitchen' really IS a galley! All 20 sq ft of it! My footspace is less than 2x2 square, but I have a lovely 3-burner gas stove with oven and a refrigerator (no freezer). Needless to say, this forces me to buy fresh food frequently, but I am able to store leftovers easily. I also only share this space w/one other person so...

That said, I use my pressure cooker a lot. They can be had at Ross Dress for Less for $50 (nice ones, too!). Or she might want to consider a crock pot - $10 at Goodwill or garage sales. Life would be made much easier for her if she had a decent toaster oven. When I was single and lived in an apartment, I used mine for tons of stuff (such as Diane's fish in parchment).

As for recipes, soups are easy and cheap. I've made a number of soup recipes from this site to raves from my guests (I've had dinner parties for upwards of 12 people!). Add a baguette and dinner is served.

When I lived in a tee-tiny shared suite in college, the even tee-tinier kitchenette pretty much only saw Ramen w/an egg and leftover pizza. NOT recommended!

MaryKate said...

I lived with my family for years, and as a vegetarian, I had to cook my own meals alongside theirs. A good one I came up with that I could do again and again was stir fried zucchini. If you cut the zucchini lengthwise with a vegetable peeler on all sides until you hit seeds, you'll get thin strips of zucchini that look and taste a lot like linguine. Fry them up in olive oil with some salt and pepper for about five minutes and then add some canned spaghetti sauce. It's fast, easy, uses one pan, and is also very low in calories but filling.

Artemis said...

At the moment I'm living in a room in a youth hostel in France with a hot plate, microwave and a sink, so I can totally understand! I'd suggest big bowls of oatmeal with nuts for a filling, easy breakfast, and one-pot lentils and split peas with raw vegg and hummus for lunch. One of the best ways to make your life easier in a small space is to cook up a big pot of a staple like brown rice and use it throughout the week. That way all you have to do is focus on what's going to top the rice! If you need more ideas email me or check out my page. Good luck!

Sandy Kemsley said...

Completely agree with LaDonna about a crockpot: very easy to do a one-pot meal, and doesn't even have to be used in the kitchen. I also use a rice cooker a lot: with the steamer basket on top, I can start the rice in the bottom, then add in fish/chicken and veggies in the top basket part way through to steam with some herbs.

The Girl Nerd said...

Easiest recipe my grandma ever gave me:

1 lb lean ground meat
1 box/can Old El Paso Spanish Rice (get pre-prepared if you don't want to wait for the rice to cook)
Shredded cheese (your choice)

Brown meat, drain fat, add rice, stir, top with cheese, and heat until melty.

Serve with bagged salad or chips/salsa. Whatever floats your boat :)! You'll have meals for days!

NEC said...

There are great threads on ask metafilter for stuff like this.


Heather said...

I know how you're feeling, to a degree. I love cooking and when I lived in the dorms, I couldn't stand the food. Currently, I am a Shabbat Dinner coordinator for my college's Hillel ... the kitchen is some counter space, a range and a fridge. Here's a few really easy recipes that can feed a crowd if you feel like feeding your roommates and you don't need a lot of pots to do them in!


Brown up some ground beef (1 pound) and add some garlic powder, chili powder, kosher salt, black pepper and some all purpose seasoning (I use Simply Organic, I love it!) (Of course, all of those add ins are to taste but they really spruce up the mix) then I add Ortega Taco Seasoning and follow the instructions. After I've added the water and seasoning to make the sauce, I add a bag of frozen rice from trader joes (it stretches out the meat and you get 3 frozen pouches in a box) and some frozen corn and turn the heat to just between medium low and low and let it heat slowly so it doesn't burn. Then I toss it on some tortialla chips with lettuce, tomato, some pareve (dairy free) cheddar cheese and tofu based sour cream (for Kosher reasons)

Second recipe is sloppy joes:

1 pound of ground beef, browned with kosher salt, black pepper and garlic powder (you can use the ap seasoning if you want too) then mustard, ketchup and honey brown sugar masterpiece bbq sauce. My hubby likes green pepper and onion in his, but those are optional. Good luck!

Ellen Beeler said...

After experimenting for years with trying to cook healthy while away from home, I wrote a small book called Healthy Travel Cooking(just became available on Amazon, search for ISBN 978-0-9841757-2-7). It is full of ideas for meals that can be quickly mixed together with minimal ingredients and fuss, and might be helpful in the shared kitchen too. Also see www.creatinghealthymeals.com.