NYC Reality: Microwave cooking for kitchenette-less New Yorkers

As a big fan of the film “Julie and Julia” by Nora Ephron based on the book by Julie Powell, I agree with Julie Powell that cooking for people we love exerts a very soothing effect on us. Like Julie and Julia, I like cooking for my family and friends simply out of joy. But, there is one difference. Julie and Julia always had their kitchens. I do not.

As I wrote earlier, when the time came for me to choose between kitchenette vs. private bathroom in a nano-studio of lower Manhattan, I chose the later without hesitation. Most New York City studios have what is called a “kitchenette” at one corner of the room with some cabinet space on top. The kitchenette usually has a dorm refrigerator under a tiny counter top, an oven that can only fit 6 inches by 6 inches baking pans with cooking stoves on top where you can only use one regular sized sauté pan at a time and a sink so small that you can only wash one hand at a time. I do not have that luxury.

When I bought a regular microwave and a dorm refrigerator, I was adamant that I wanted to cook, even though very rarely due to my dish-washing phobia, when my friends and family visited my place for the first time. I took the F train to Jackson Heights in Queens to buy all the Indian rice, lentils, spices, oil etc. I stocked them up in cube organizers placing them on a storage shelf that I received for free. I also bought glass microwavable containers with lid as I never wanted to use plastic ones.

First visit was by cousin Ari and nephew Riaan for dinner. I cooked pulav (rice cooked with ghee, egg, peanuts, and raisins), daal makhani (lentil soup with heavy cream and spices), chicken with tamarind sauce, potato-cauliflower curry and fish with butter, cherry tomato and southern spices. I think it took me 4 hours 30 minutes to cook everything. The chicken was a little overcooked and somewhat dry. I realized I could not follow the usual recipes from stovetop ovens. I must optimize my protocols, like I do in the lab.

However, nephew Riaan liked the food. Cousin Ari texted me later in the evening that Riaan wanted to stay at my place for longer. We also enjoyed the berries cousin Ari brought as dessert.

The second visit was by auntie Cynthia. I wanted to cook Italian because of her Italian ancestry. Auntie Cynthia came with organic red wine and chocolate cream filled pastries. I put out artisan bread with olives and Artiagiano cheese as appetizers. For main course, I made risotto with chowder sauce, chicken alfredo with mushrooms, sour cream and port wine. To keep the flavor of the port from evaporating during microwave, I layered previously whisked eggs on top of the chicken alfredo. The egg acted as a fluffy insulation and held the flavors as the chicken cooked with cream cheese, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.

Auntie Cynthia asked for the chicken alfredo recipe and shared in social media later that week that she might have gained couple of inches on her waistline, but it was worth it!

When auntie Beth visited me for lunch, I already felt like a pro with microwave cooking. Auntie Beth brought a famous olive oil and an interesting Egyptian snack. With a Chilean cabernet sauvignon, they served as the perfect appetizer. I repeated the pulav, daal makhani and chicken curry. But, this time I optimized my protocol for the microwave, finishing the dishes in record time. The chicken was soft and moist. The pulav was al dente. The daal cooked to the extent that it retained its texture but also melted in your mouth.

Auntie Beth, like me, enjoys communicating with metaphors. So, she commented later that week – “Nephew Dhru is a terrific cook. He handles microwave oven like Jose Andres handles a paella pan.”

The irony is that I do not like cooking for myself. But, I had a lot of fun cooking for the people in my life. The moral of the story is – Marie Kondo’ing my life for living in a nano-studio without kitchenette doesn’t mean I could not cook my favorite Indian and Italian foods if I wanted to, as long as the people eating them have an open mind and a big heart.

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