I’ve read a lot of food blogs where the very hard-working blogger had a baby coming, a renovation like ours or some other similar Life Event that would prevent them from being able to get in the kitchen and provide copious delicious things like they used to. There’s been a lot of good advice on them on how to prepare, freezing meals ahead of time, cooking some stuff ahead of time, pre mixing, baking, and ALL the stuff.
This is not one of those blogs.
Since we were in limbo for so many months trying to decide if we could even take the financial plunge to do a major renovation, when the time came that we could, there wasn’t much time to prepare for it. Both the husband and I work and our weekends were filled with fast sprints to pack and move things out of the living room, office, dining room and old kitchen. Permits had to be bought, there was a lot of involved planning and designing of the spaces – yep, I’m the designer to boot. I did get a little bit cooked ahead and frozen, but it in no way would cover us for almost three months of demolition, renovation and finishing.
Here’s what I cooked ahead:
My signature family chili: It’s a mixture of either lean ground beef, chunks of London Broil (sometimes both meats together), a large onion (diced), a large can of chili beans (mild, such as Bush’s brand, or 3 of their smaller 14 oz.-ish), a can of diced tomatoes with juices, a couple of cans of tomato soup (and very little added water), chili and garlic powders, cumin and red pepper. The spices are pretty much to taste. I use no measurements. Cook the meat first, add the onion as the meat is almost done (or if you prefer, take the meat out, sauté the onion, then add meat back in) and cook till just about softened, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add just enough water to loosen the chili a little (I usually add about a can of water with a tomato soup can), stir it all well and bring to a simmer. This is all made in my dutch oven pot, simmered for about two hours and stirred often to (hopefully) prevent the beans from sticking too much. It will cook down and thicken.
This made enough for several servings (which I froze in the individual entree-size disposable containers any grocery store carries) and we’ve used it to make chili dogs so far. The hotdogs can be grilled or cooked on our George Foreman countertop griddle doohickey.
These Banana Blueberry Muffins: They are so easy to make, easy to make a lot of in one go and they freeze incredibly well. Sadly, I only made one batch of about 30 muffins. Hubby and I take one out for each of us a lot of mornings on the way out the door and by the time we each get to work, they’re usually thawed. Feel free to reheat them in the microwave, but however you eat them, they are delish. They will keep well in the freezer for a couple of months.
Rice: I made a very large batch in my rice cooker and froze several helpings in quart-size bags. One quart bag is plenty to thaw and serve our family of three. Incidentally, I just made another batch the other day and froze more again. As we all know, plain rice will go with anything. We’re not being too fussy at this date and time.
Turkey Meatballs: I doubled this recipe and it actually made so much that we have enough for four or so meals in the freezer. While they recipe is a Thai-based sauce, you could really pair it with any kind of sauce you want. Use a sauce that will work well in your crock pot for easy heating up. Even the Thai sauce in the recipe link did well in my crock pot.
And that is all my frazzled mind could handle making ahead of time!
Things I’ve still managed to cook while renovating:
We are very lucky in that we have a pool room with a decent sink, so I can wash up items as needed. In there we also have the fridge, microwave, a toaster oven, rice cooker, a small George Forman grill and, of course, my trusty army of crock pots.
Beef roasts in the crock pot: There are a ton of good crock pot roast recipes on the interwebs! Beef is pretty expensive these days, so look for a good sale or see if wholesale clubs are offering any deals. I do buy pre-made mashed potatoes to serve with this, or the already made rice would do. I’m not ashamed of the pre-made potatoes. They are delicious when you’re tired, hungry and without a kitchen. Add in fresh carrots and diced onion to make it an all-in-one meal if you like (and boost the flavor, too).
Corned Beef in the crock pot: this can be expensive as well, but I buy them when they go on sale (and honestly, about $20 for this kind of meal is still light years ahead of most trips to the drive-thru in terms of savings) and add the requisite potatoes and cabbage. There’s usually enough for leftovers or I take extras for lunch. I know my coworkers love me for this.
Chicken and Dumplings in the crock pot: I also have a signature Chicken and Dumplings recipe I know by heart and decided to try it in the crock pot. It turned out great! Put diced chicken in microwave safe bowl and cook until done. Chop or dice an onion, almost a whole bag of baby carrots and a few stalks of celery and microwave these, covered with wax paper, for about 6 minutes or until softened. Add the chicken and vegetables to a large crock pot (I think mine is 6.5 to 7 quarts) and mix in 4-5 cups low-sodium chicken stock, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a little salt and pepper. Put the crock pot on high and cook for about two hours. After the two hours, add in a package of frozen, pre-made dumplings (usually found in grocery freezer section by frozen noodles or breads), being sure to break each long dumpling into several pieces. Stir occasionally as you add these in. Cover crock pot again and continue cooking on high until the dumplings are tender, about 40-45 minutes or so. This will make a lot, which is great for leftovers and/or taking to work for lunch the next day.
Chicken and Gravy in the crock pot: This one came from The Country Cook, and it was great! Since sides are the biggest area of cooking I’m not able to accommodate as much of, I threw in chunks of baby carrots and a dice onion in along with fresh thyme. When the meal was ready and after I shredded the chicken, I added in about half a cup of frozen baby peas. We all, even the kiddo, really liked it! We had it with plain rice from my rice cooker. It’s very much like a chicken pot pie filling.
Pork tenderloin in the crock pot: Put a lean pork tenderloin with fat trimmed in the crock pot and throw in a jar of your favorite salsa and, optional, an envelope of Lipton onion soup mix. If you have any fresh herbs such as thyme, throw those in as well along with fresh ground pepper. Cook on low for 10 hours, shred and serve over rice or use in tacos, wraps, etc with cheese, the cooked-sown salsa from the crock pot, onion, fresh cilantro or parsley, etc.)
Grilled frozen pizza: Okay, so I didn’t cook it. And neither, technically, did hubby, not from scratch. BUT. If you have access to a grill while your kitchen is down, we’ve occasionally grilled thin crust frozen pizza. And it is GOOD. So far, the Palermo’s brand with their round, exceptionally thin crusts, works best. The grilling, even just on a gas grill, adds a whole other level of flavor. Good flavor.
I confess, other frozen foods are too my friend: I will heat frozen Chinese food meals in the microwave. I will heat up a Stouffer’s frozen meatloaf too. But so far it’s not been the majority of what we’ve feasted on! Neither is eating out, whether at a sit down restaurant or fast food. Yes, there’s the occasional pizza and wings ordered, and that’s really okay. Soup and sandwiches, anyone? Absolutely! Salads that require only a little chopping work and throwing it all together. These are a few of our favorite renovation meal things.
I know I had planned to do a post on finishes we’re planning to do in the house, but this post just sprang up instead. I’ll share finishing details next!
So what are some things you like to do to prepare for being unable to use your kitchen? Any ideas for meals that can be cobbled together without a stove and/or oven? We’ve got several more weeks left of renovating, so we’re all ears!