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Sunday, August 20, 2017

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

Maybe your oven is on the fritz. Maybe you don’t even have an oven. Maybe you’re trying to conserve energy. Maybe you just like a challenge.

In any case, you don’t need an oven to cook. You don’t even need one to cook food that is ordinarily cooked in an oven. All you need is an appliance you already own.

If you’re like me, you tend to forget about the oven part of a toaster oven. You use it for toast, or maybe a bagel. But while a toaster oven does not necessarily make the best toast, it does make for a marvelously efficient oven.

Obviously, a toaster oven does have certain limitations. You can’t use it to cook a whole turkey, for instance. But anything that is small enough to fit in a toaster oven can be cooked in one. You can use it to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

You can even use one to hard-cook an egg.

I know. I’d never heard of that either. But it truly works. You get a perfect, hard-boiled egg without having to boil it. There may be no reason why you would ever actually want to do this, but you have to admit it is pretty cool.

For breakfast, I made a frittata. But I didn’t want any old frittata, so I made a Greek frittata.

A Greek frittata is just any old frittata with spinach and Feta cheese added. But these two simple ingredients, along with halves of grape tomatoes, provide plenty of extra pop.

The ingredients also help to create pockets amid the eggs, so the dish is tantalizingly light and not dense. It’s just right for breakfast or brunch.

For lunch, I used the toaster oven to make a salmon sandwich. The genius of this dish is that the salmon is sliced thin before it is laid on a piece of flatbread or naan. The thin slices allow it to cook in just 3 minutes under the broiler.

The other bit of genius in this dish is the amount of herbs and spices it requires. For a single sandwich, the recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of dried sumac and a tablespoon of chopped green onion.

I felt certain that would be far too much seasoning for just 3 ounces of fish, but I tried it as written, anyway. And, to my surprise, it was just right. Even if it had been a little strong, the flavors would have been tempered by a final dollop of yogurt and cucumber, which gives a nice breezy freshness to the whole sandwich.

For dinner, I went with kebabs, Moroccan-spiced pork kebabs.

No, they don’t generally eat pork in Morocco, but the spices work great with the slightly sweet meat.

This recipe has an easy answer to the time-honored question asked by kebabbers everywhere: How do you get the meat and the vegetables done at the same time? When the meat is ready to be eaten, the onion and other vegetables are still almost raw. If you cook them until the vegetables are done, the meat has become chunks of crispy cinders.

The solution is obvious, though for some reason I had never thought of it before. Put the meat on some skewers and the veggies on the others. Start cooking the vegetables first. Then, after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, add the meat skewers.

And yes, this is easily done in a toaster oven, though to make a full-sized meal for a family you’ll have to do it in a couple of batches.

Dessert, naturally, came last. I made a simple apple crisp. I tossed chopped apples with lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon, topped it with more brown sugar, cinnamon and oats, then dotted the top with butter.

It turned out fine. It may not be the best dessert you’ll ever make, but you can make it in a toaster oven. That has to count for something.

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