Have you ever been to Las Vegas in the summer? I have. The year was 2007 and it was 102°F outside. My friend S. and I were supposed to walk the strip, but we didn’t want to become human rotisserie chickens.
This week, with all due respect to the Silver State, New York is making Nevada look like Fargo. It’s 405°F in the sun. My eyes are sweating. I’m pretty sure I saw a group of elderly Russians wrapped in towels and beating themselves with sage leaves in the backyard.
Turning the oven on right now would be crazy. Like, seriously crazy. Not the HAHAHA-GIRL-YOU-SO-CRAZY crazy, but the Shutter-Island-was-based-on-my-life-story crazy. I’m honestly thinking of extinguishing the stove’s pilot lights, as if A) it would make a difference, and B) we’d ever be able to light them again.
Thusly, we must find alternate ways to cook our food; methods that won’t further warm the kitchen, but will prevent us from a month of non-stop raw vegetables. (Which? Isn’t too bad, all considering.)
In no particular order, here are a few suggestions, along with a plethora of recipe links for dinner ideas.
Grills and Hibachis
While firing up the ol’ Thermos may seem like a given for cooking meats and veggies, simple baking is also a distinct possibility. Pizzas, breads, and even cakes are possible with a few briquettes and some clever technique. Alas, grilling isn’t possible for some apartment dwellers, so we must make do with other methods of cookery. Like, say …
God’s gift to the easily over-heated kitchen, slow cookers generate little warmth outside their immediate vicinity. Not to mention, they’re easy to clean, use minimal power (important on potential brown-out days), and work wonders on cheap meats and tough vegetables (though soups, stews, desserts, breakfasts, and drinks are not out of the question). Recipes abound.
I did not believe in the power of the rice cooker before moving in with Husband-Elect. Now, I have seen the light. Trustworthy and more versatile than you think, these standalone appliances are solid options for those who want grains without the 30-minute stovetop time. Some RCs emit steam, but the effect can be easily remedied by pointing the stream in the general direction of a window.
Want a pizza bagel? How about a quesadilla? Maybe some homemade croutons? If it can be baked, it can be toaster ovened. This tiny facsimile of a grownup oven will make you feel like a summertime gourmet, without the accompanying sweat stains. Bonus: it only uses about half the energy of its big brother.
Try this. Then tell me you can’t cook in a microwave. Long considered a tool for reheating, defrosting, and making quick potatoes, the microwave, when operated correctly, can be a powerful force for good food. It uses even less power than the toaster oven and produces no heat outside its six walls, to boot. The only disadvantage: you can’t take it camping.
THE LESS OBVIOUS
Lemons and Limes
For many, summer equals seafood, and preparing it ceviche-style means you never have to jack up the temperature. You simply marinate fish in citrus juice, which both cooks and flavors the flesh. Made well, it is delicious – an outside-the-box delicacy for your next dinner party. (Obligatory warning: only buy fresh, sashimi-grade seafood for ceviche. Otherwise … disaster.)
George Foreman Grills
A few months after graduating college, I threw a small dinner party for Ma and Pa, using my George Foreman Grill to cook the main course. In retrospect, the salmon odor stuck around the apartment for a few days longer than I would have liked. But the fish? Came out perfectly. Lesson: while it’s a pain to clean and lower-fat claims are dubious at best, you could do worse for a few bucks. And how can you not love this face?
Waffle Irons and Electric Griddles
Beyond your standard flapjacks and Belgians lies a world of bacon, Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches, more bacon, fajitas, and more bacon. Your imagination (and electric bill) are your only limits.
Remember college, when there was no better meal than macaroni and cheese made at 3am in your dorm? Okay, so your tastes may have changed since then. But for young professionals, frequent travelers, and folks without ovens/stoves, the humble hotpot is still a viable option for boiled foods. Just don't let the RA see you.
THE NOT OBVIOUS AT ALL
If you have some extra cash lying around, why not try some raw meat? Tartare, sashimi, sushi, and carpaccio don’t necessitate any cooking whatsoever, and could make for a fancy Sunday meal. As with ceviche, just make sure you buy top-of-the-line products, or risk a gastrointestinal riot
Yes, you will undoubtedly use a lot of gas. But when you’re on the road and there’s nothing else for miles, it’s a fun experiment. And you’ll always be able to tell loved ones about the time you made hot dogs under the hood.
Best for crockpot-esque meals, a hot box is an insulated enclosure in which you place a pot of already-boiling food. The vessel sits and simmers for hours, and by the end of the day, you have a meal. While it takes some planning, it’s fantastic for cutting way, way back on energy expenditures.
Employed around the world as alternatives to fuel-powered ovens, solar cookers require three things: El Sol, ingenuity, and a few bucks for assembly. Cooking might take a little longer than you’re used to, but there are scores of recipes with which to experiment.
Readers, what did I miss? How do you cook when the oven isn’t an option? What’s your favorite use for any one of these items? Let us know in the comment section.
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(Photos courtesy of University of Oklahoma [sun], Amazon [rice cooker], Wise Bread [car engine], and Goldsmith Learning [George Foreman].)