Using someone else's tools and space has forced me to adjust my approach to cooking.
In mid-April, my family moved into a furnished rental house that had a kitchen jam-packed with stuff, most of it useless. If I wanted a silver squirrel nutcracker, a denture-shaped jelly mold, a martini glass with a squiggly stem, or three hardboiled egg slicers, I was set. But when it came to basic tools such as a large mixing bowl, a pasta pot, a big cutting board, and measuring cups, I was out of luck.
A few of these essentials I ended up bringing from my own home (which is undergoing a badly needed renovation), but for the most part I've made do with a greatly reduced set of tools. This has been an eye-opening experience, especially for someone like myself who loves to cook and spends a lot of time spent puttering in the kitchen. I've learned a few valuable lessons.
#1: You don't need many tools to prepare good meals.
Everything I've made over the past two and half months I've made with the following tools: a Dutch oven, Instant Pot, cast iron frying pan, blender, salad bowl, 1 sharp knife, a medium-sized pot, electric kettle, French press coffee maker, can opener, and a couple of baking sheets. (Cutlery, glasses, and dishes are obviously included.)
I own a lot more than this in my own collection at home, and while I miss some of the tools terribly (i.e. my Kitchen Aid mixer, my immersion blender, even my ice cream maker and vegetable peeler), I have a new appreciation for all that can be done with less.
#2: I know more recipes from heart than I realized.
I've discovered that I have a dependence on cookbooks, and as soon as I didn't have access to them anymore, I was forced to go out on a limb with my cooking. Yes, I do look them up occasionally online, but I find cooking with my phone to be annoying; so instead I just try things, and the results are surprisingly delicious. It's been a confidence booster.
#3: Meals can be simple and delicious.
At home I have a tendency to be overly ambitious with my meal planning. Here in the rental house, I've been forced to simplify, cooking more whole ingredients and serving them as separate components of a meal, rather than mixing them together into fancy dishes.
For example, we eat grilled asparagus and steamed rice, instead of asparagus risotto; we have omelets instead of a quiche; roasted sweet potatoes with sautéed beef and lentils instead of a shepherd's pie; pasta with sauce in place of lasagna; rhubarb compote over vanilla ice cream instead of a rhubarb crisp. I certainly never bake desserts anymore.
The kids don't seem to care or notice at all, which goes to show that I could be a bit more laid back in my approach at home, and save myself some time and effort.
#4: Measuring doesn't need to be so precise.
Not living with a set of dry measuring cups has been interesting. (There is one 2-cup liquid measuring cup that I use for everything.) Yes, I realize I could buy some, but I kept meaning to dig mine out of storage and never did, and now there seems to be no point, since we're halfway through the renovation.
I eyeball everything and taste as I go, and it's been an interesting exercise in paying attention to my own preferences, rather than blindly following what a cookbook author says I should use.
#5: The barbecue is amazingly versatile.
The barbecue at the rental house is far nicer than ours at home, with a bigger grill and a gas line attached to the house, so we've been using it more than usual. I've discovered that pretty much anything can be grilled if you have a grill basket and a cast iron pan. We've done the usual meats, tofu and tempeh skewers, and lentil patties, but I've also experimented with parboiled potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and eggs. It uses fewer dishes, tastes delicious, and gets us outside.
#6: Living without a compost bin is awful.
Sadly, the rental lot doesn't have a compost bin, nor does the town have curbside organic waste pickup, so all of our food scraps have been going in the regular trash. (I know, it's horrifying and I normally never do this.) I can't believe how much waste there is and how stinky, wet, and generally disgusting it is. Get a compost bin if you don't have one and you'll discover how much less nasty your household trash instantly becomes. I can't wait to go back to my home with its three backyard compost bins.