Wednesday, July 7, 2010

13 Ways to Cook Without an Oven

CHG’s No-Cook Month continues. Next week: no-heat food ideas!

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 …

Slow cookers
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.

Rice cookers
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.

Toaster ovens
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.


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.


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

Car engines
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.

Hot Boxes
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.

Solar Ovens
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.


If appealing this article you find, other articles appealing you may find as well, Yoda:

(Photos courtesy of University of Oklahoma [sun], Amazon [rice cooker], Wise Bread [car engine], and Goldsmith Learning [George Foreman].)

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Brea Sisk said...

Also-- dishwasher! I saw a couple of recipes for dishwasher salmon this week.

Melissa V said...

I suppose it's like a hot box, but the water isn't necessarily boiling. I've been a big fan of Kenji Alt-Lopez's "Beer Cooler Sous Vide" technique.

amanda said...

Roaster (Nesco, Rival, etc.) - looks like an overgrown slow cooker, and can usually act like one. But also does full-temp oven cooking of anything that you can fit inside. Big ones can do a Thanksgiving turkey, small ones can at least fit a loaf pan or braised shortribs.

Debbie said...

These are great ideas. You can make cakes in a breadmaker, so I'm sure it can be used for some dinner meals, and it doesn't heat up the kitchen at all.

Swayze said...

Instead of raw meat, you could always do fruit! Just make a big ole' banana smoothie. I do that everyday for breakfast and lunch.

A fruit salad or soup would work, too. :)


chacha1 said...

This probably goes without saying, but simply setting up a room fan and aiming it past your appliances toward the nearest window will also help. :-)

I am a big, big fan of the toaster oven and microwave when it's hot. Wishing you cooler weather pronto!

Anonymous said...

You can cook in a Thermos, similar to slow-cooker, or hot box; great for grains.

Jenny said...

I love using the grill in the summer! I live in the Midwest and it gets pretty hot here as well, so I'm all for keeping the heat outside...not inside. We've made pizza on the grill several times with pita bread!

Jenny said...

I live in the Midwest and it gets pretty hot here as well. We love using the grill during the summer. Keep the heat outside, not inside! Pizza's made with pita bread are great on the grill!

Harper said...

Oh! and you can heat leftovers on the dash in your car, too. It only takes a little bit on a sunny day, so no worries about spoilage.

Harper said...

I'm dealing with an electric skillet this year. We're living abroad for a total of 11 months, and the stove that came with apartment doesn't work. The landlord doesn't want to fix it either. So electric skillet it is. It sure has stretched me, and our diet could be more varied, but it works!

laanba said...

I would never have thought of a slow cooker in the summer. I tend to think of it for winter things like stews, but it makes perfect sense as a way to get out of the kitchen. Thanks!

Milehimama said...

I lived in a motel for a while, with my crock and my rice cooker. You can make a mean peach cobbler in a rice cooker, LOL!

There's a whole cookbook dedicated to cooking in a coffee pot, aimed at college students. I just googled it, too, and a bunch of recipes popped up!

I live by my crockpot in the summer!

Sophie said...

When I was younger, my mom would use the crock pot year long, but we still found that it heat up the kitchen too much, so we plugged it outside in the shed. If you live in an apartment, consider putting your crockpot out on the balcony to ensure NO heat is produced indoors. Right now, it's so hot I wash dishes in cold water. There is no way I will turn on the crockpot indoors. Yay for salads and BBQ's!

hergreenlife said...

Since it's an extra "thing," I don't recommend running out an buying one, but if you have a bread machine, that makes a good oven alternative (except that you can only bake one loaf at once). We also use our toaster oven and an inherited counter top grill (again, limited to small quantities, but with the bounty of fresh, local food in the summer, cooking in small batches can be nice).

A said...

Film critic and prolific Twitterer Roger Ebert, who, as you may or may not know, lost his lower jaw to cancer, has a book coming out soon about all the stuff you can do with a rice cooker. It ought to be a fascinating, fun read.

I love this blog. I made your version of the corn dish esquites the other day and hubby nearly died and went to heaven. You make me laugh, and also you have one of the best collections of commenters on the Internet: always on-topic, always helpful and civilized and intelligent and polite.

But you make me feel guilty about my love for mayonnaise. :)