Office Cookery: How to Avoid the Same Old Lunch
If you work at an office on a semi-to-regular basis, chances are you've developed a lunch routine that either involves a microwave, leftovers, or whatever's quick from around corner. You can only get away from your desk for so long, after all. On top of this, most office kitchens are equipped like a conventional bachelor unit: You're lucky if the refrigerator is a decent size. A hot plate would just be a bonus amenity.
That's not to say one can't make the best of a limiting situation. One near immediate way to improve your lunch is keeping a couple of quality shelf stable ingredients at hand, as New York Times food writer Melissa Clark suggested on PRI. This can include good oils (olive, sesame, etc.), coarse sea salt, or red wine vinegar. It's also worthwhile to consider keeping a black pepper mill at your desk.
You don't even need a hot plate, discovered MAKE editorial director Gareth Branwyn, as long as you have a coffee maker and/or a toaster oven. With a coffee maker, you "can cook anything that normally gets cooked via simmering," he wrote. This means eggs, oatmeal, and even stew. Since toaster ovens are essentially small ovens, you can oven-roast salmon or bake cookies. Branwyn offers three quick recipes for coffee maker oatmeal as well as toaster oven salmon and cookies.
For those with a hot plate and a more lax office dynamic, Slate's Brian Palmer developed a few in-office "guerilla cooking" strategies that can render a dish like couscous pilaf. The trick pivots entirely on preparation, like slicing vegetables and portioning bags of ingredients in advance. Like Clark, he recommended keeping some essentials nearby.
Joe Yonan of The Washington Post looks beyond condiments on his recommended list ingredients, which includes "smoked, cured and/or otherwise fully cooked sausages, herb-brined olives and canned sardines." There's tubed tomato paste, low sodium canned beans, instant couscous, and angel hair pasta -- the latter two can cook in a short amount of time. Eschewing hot plates and toaster ovens altogether, he sticks with a microwave and a tea kettle as his go-to office cooking equipment. He uses the microwave to heat ingredients served with couscous or pasta; the tea kettle provides hot water for cooking instant couscous and angel hair pasta as well as quick-blanching vegetables like sugar snap peas.
The food and travel editor recently pared down his approach even further, helping NPR Morning Edition's David Greene work on his microwave "mug menu." It is exactly as it reads: making meals with just a mug and a microwave. To Greene's scrambled eggs in a mug, Yonan added recipes for mac 'n' cheese and fudgy brownies.
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