Thursday, February 10, 2011

Challenge accepted!

Throughout the years, as I previously stated, I was hard pressed to find a culinary challenge that I wasn't excited to tackle. That said, not all of my endeavors were successful at first blush, but they were nothing a few practice rounds couldn't polish. Fast forward to the summer of 2009 when I was faced with a challenge I wasn't sure I could overcome.

Doug and I had been together for just over a year and I'd been helping him house hunt when I found a house online that I knew we just had to see. I emailed him the details and he arranged for a showing. I was unable to accompany him to the showing but he called me immediately afterwards to tell me about the house. A 4 bedroom, 3 bath that had recently been gutted and renovated; it sounded amazing. With lots of room, a full finished basement for his man cave, a gorgeous kitchen with granite counter tops, tons of cabinet space, an island with a cooktop and a breakfast bar; it was practically perfect!!! Except for the oven...or lack thereof. You see, the cooktop was built into the island and where the oven should have been (beneath the stove) there was a hole. No oven, just an empty hole.  See?

We were assured by the contractor that installing an oven would be an easy job; just purchase a wall oven and slide it right into the hole. So Doug made an offer, it was accepted, the house passed inspection (sans oven) and he was on his way to being a homeowner! Needless to say we were excited; he to be a first time homeowner and me to get my hands on that kitchen!

Months passed in the new house and I was tiring of stove top cooking. I longed to roast, broil and bake, so we began looking for an oven. What we were promised would be easy as pie (Oh how I longed to bake a pie!) became a wild goose chase (Mmmm...braised wild goose with oven roasted root veggies! You can see how oven cooking became a bit of an obsession). Here was our predicament. A standard oven measures roughly: 30w x 24d x 29h. The measurements of our "oven hole": 30w x 24d x 17h. 17 inches in height??? Design fail! Turns out, those measurements would perfectly fit a convection microwave which is so not an oven. After consulting Doug's handyman uncle, carpenter brother and much collaboration with the family, we decided the only option we had was to cut out the 2 small cabinets that were directly under the hole thus giving us 15 more inches of height to play with. New "oven hole" dimensions: 30w x 24d x 29h. Much better...until we realized that we didn't really have 24 inches in depth! The gas line that ran from the cooktop jutted out into the hole for the oven, consuming roughly 2 inches in depth. After a consultation with the local gas and electric company and yet more collaboration with family, our prospects were looking dim. For every corner we thought we turned, a big fat stop sign awaited. Maybe we could just remove the gas line and install an electric cooktop and oven? Nope...the electric line that was run to the island was short on voltage and to increase it would be a BIG (read: expensive) project. Well, what if we cut out the cabinets next to the dishwasher and put the oven there? Certainly there has to be the right kind of electric line if the dishwasher works. Guess again! Apparently dishwashers run off of 110v lines and an oven needs 220v. So we resigned ourselves to being stuck with gas (not a bad resignation in my humble opinion). Replacing everything with electric was out of the question, but with the gas line positioned as it is (honestly, who designed this mess?), we simply could not fit an oven into the hole. We found ourselves faced with replacing the (perfectly good) cooktop as well. What began as removing just 2 small cabinets became cutting out the entire cooktop as well as parts of the granite counter top in the hopes that an integrated "drop-in" range would be the answer. This was fast becoming somewhat of a renovation nightmare...and costly to boot!

Our research and discovery in attempting to find an oven spanned well over a year's time.  Despite my frustration with the lack of an oven, I'm not one to lose my sense of humor when things get tough, so I bought Doug an Easy-Bake oven for Christmas and wrapped it in the oven hole. He came home from work to find his surprise gift and for a split second thought I solved our oven debacle.  A little mean?  Yes. But very funny nonetheless and we enjoyed sharing a Lilliputian chocolate frosted cake one night. 

But seriously, no real oven?  I'd been making the best of cooking on the stove when I decided to put my creativity (and some other kitchen appliances) to good use. This was war!  The electric grill, deep fryer, griddle, crock pot, microwave and teeny tiny toaster oven would become my arsenal. I armed myself and prepared for battle! Emerging victorious, I learned that there are infinite possibilities in the kitchen, even without an oven! A dinner party for friends went off without a hitch, complete with a "baked" pudding cake. Christmas Eve dinner for 8 was a wild success thanks to dueling crock pots!

We've managed to eat well (and for the occasional splurge) for the nearly 2 years we've been in the oven-less house. I hold out hope that one day (soon) we'll have an oven and to be honest, the thought of tackling a Thanksgiving dinner without one is still a little daunting (I know, I know, you can always deep fry a turkey, but nothing recalls childhood memories quite like an oven roasted turkey on Thanksgiving Day).  But until then, I'll continue to sear, braise, grill, saute, poach, stew and stir fry my way to deliciousness!

So whatever your reason for cooking without an oven, I hope you can find some recipes, tricks, tips and techniques here to make your culinary adventure a success...and more importantly, fun!

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