Cooking without an oven

So, I suppose you’re all waiting with bated breath to hear something about our house. And you will, soon. But for now, I wanted to talk about something else we’ve been dealing with lately.

If you’ve been following along since September, you’ll know that we were told our gas line has too many leaks to be safely left on. So it’s off, which means our oven can’t be used, nor can our lounge room heater (although it’s getting warmer so we don’t need it as much anyway), and we have to use a temporary electric water heater which is half the size of our normal one and half the pressure (or less).

So one of the most significant ways this has impacted us is how we cook. We can’t cook anything on the stove top, and we can’t cook anything in the oven either. So I’ve had to get creative with the meal planning.

Thermomix

The Thermomix is a fancy shmancy blender that also cooks and steams. Brand new, they run about $2300 AUD. I bought mine when Chuckie was a baby. So I’m pretty used to cooking in this already. I make taco meat in here, rice, soups, and my homemade chocolate. I steam veggies in it. I’ve also had to start using it to boil water for my cup of tea in the morning, since my stove top whistling kettle is now unusable.

Electronic pressure cooker

This one’s great. I use it as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and big saucepan. I can cook a roast in there. I can make cheeseburger mac in there (a family favourite). I can make spaghetti bolognaise, butter chicken, boil eggs, and a plethora of other foods.

Air fryer

After I got an air fryer for Christmas a couple years ago, I decided I liked it enough to get an even bigger one. So that’s what I did. My air fryer has 5 functions: air fry, bake, convection, pizza, and…I forget the last one because I never use it.

Grill! That’s it. I should try that sometime.

So anyway…in the air fryer, we do anything that we normally do in the oven, because that’s basically what it is – a mini oven. Pies, sausage rolls, pizza, chicken nuggets, roast potatoes. Air fryers do the BEST steak. I baked brownies in there for mum’s night last week. We heat taco shells in there on Taco Tuesday. It’s much smaller, but it’s still quite usable. I’ve also used it to reheat food on occasion.

Big electric frying pan

Generally, this is Darrin & Caleb’s domain. They use it to cook sausages, chops, burgers, schnitzels. But I’ve used it in the past to make pancakes and fry bacon.

Microwave

Thawing & reheating food. Just like always. Ours is a small, low wattage one, so if I want to cook veggies in there, it does take a long time. Probably easier & quicker to steam them in the Thermomix.

Barbecue

*sigh* I still haven’t been able to convince anyone to clean it so it can be used. Sad, really, because it’s twice the size of the electric frying pan, so burgers could all be done in one hit. And we bought it for EXACTLY THIS PURPOSE! We were talking about emergency preparedness back when Covid first started, and decided we needed a barbecue, so that if the gas & electricity were both off, we could still cook. And nobody’s used it in over a year.

Sandwich press

I never saw these in the States. Think George Foreman grill, but without the lines. We’ve made toasted sandwiches a few times in this. I’ve also done sausages once, but it was such a pain in the neck to clean it after, I haven’t bothered since.

Overall, I’ve realised we need to stick with simple meals – frozen stuff we can cook in the air fryer, or one pot meals we can make in the Thermomix/pressure cooker, or stuff we can fry up in the frying pan. Things that need multiple steps – not really an option for us right now. Your basic ‘meat & 3 veg’ meal works well – I cook the meat in the air fryer, and the veggies in the Thermomix.

It’s working. It’s not ideal, but we’re eating decent food. Mostly.

Meal planning that doesn’t suck your life away

“Mum, what’s for dinner?”

Those are the words every mum dreads, every night. What IS for dinner?

For a very long time, my meal planning was sporadic at best. Sometimes it was nonexistent. Many nights, I’d stand in front of the fridge or freezer, wondering what the heck I was going to pull out of thin air to make a meal with. Many of those nights, I’d end up spending $20 across the road on chicken and chips.

It was not good for our budget, or our health.

So the middle of last year, after listening to Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover (affiliate link), I decided our food budget needed an overhaul. And I was determined to find a way to make meal planning finally WORK for our family.

This is what I’ve come up with from scouring the interwebs to make my meal planning way easier.

Step 1: Write out any appointments, classes, or other events you’re doing this week.

I don’t remember if I heard this tip from somewhere else, or came up with it myself. But when I started my meal planning journey in earnest, I created a printable that let me write down not only the meals for each day, but also our activities for each day. This was a game changer.

It meant no longer planning too ambitious a meal for a day when we were busy close to a meal time. If you do want to include take away meals in your budget, these are the nights perfect for them. If your budget can’t handle that right now, leftovers or premade meals are your friend here.

Step 2: Make a list of everything in your fridge, freezer, and pantry – especially the things that are getting close to the use-by date.

Taking inventory of your kitchen is a must. It’ll help you use up those leftovers and the last of the sour cream tub before it goes mouldy. This, in turn, saves you money. Winning all over the place!

While you’re writing your inventory, go ahead and throw out those week-old leftovers that are starting to grow fur. Eww.

Step 3: Create a meal plan from what you have on hand, and create a shopping list as you go.

Jordan Page calls this “shelf cooking” – where you make a meal plan based on what you already have in your kitchen, and supplement with things you buy. It’s backwards from what I was doing all along, and it works so much better!

For instance, while doing your inventory, you wrote down pizza bases, passata, and mozzarella cheese. If you also have some leftover roast chicken or other meat you can quickly cook, you’ve got pizzas just from things you already have at home.

Put a tick or a star by these items (or cross them out) showing that you’ve come up with a use for them.

Let’s say you found some mince in the freezer, and you have a bit of sour cream and salsa in the fridge, and a box of taco shells in the pantry. Obviously you’re having tacos one day this week.

But you’re out of cheese. You can’t have tacos without cheese! So you put cheese on your shopping list.

Do the same with every meal – tick off the ingredients you’re using, and write down any you need.

Bonus meal planning tip: Note the forecast for each day of the week.

I live in stinking hot South Australia, so every week during the summer, I jot down the predicted temperature for each day BEFORE I plan my meals. I don’t want to be cooking a roast or a lasagna on a day when it’s going to be 40 degrees outside. My house is already hot enough, thank you very much!

Need more meal planning help? The Mum’s Everything Planner has everything you need to create your meal plan and shopping list every week of the year. Grab your copy here.