Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the tag “toaster oven”

Garlic Butter Hamburgers

Garlic butter hamburger with provolone and roasted pepper spread.

Garlic butter hamburger with provolone and roasted pepper spread.

I wanted to find a way to cook hamburgers that didn’t require a grill or a sandwich press, but wouldn’t leave the meat dried out. I had, of course, heard of putting butter in a hamburger before. The idea of adding any kind of fat to a hamburger was a bit appalling though. I finally decided to try it so that I could cook burgers in a toaster oven without having to serve hard lumps of beef. It turns out that folding the meat around a small piece of butter leaves the center incredibly juicy, while giving the outside an al dente texture. My photos are from a double recipe.

Ingredients for four burgers

2 tbsp butter – softened

2 tsp garlic – minced

1 lb of ground beef

The first step is to combine the garlic and butter, and then place the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap. Gently shape the butter into a small roll or log as as you wrap it. Place the finished roll in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10 minutes.

Roll of garlic butter.

Roll of garlic butter.

While the butter is firming, divide your ground beef into four patties. Spread the meat thinner than you want the final burger because you will folding it over the butter. When the butter is firm, slice it into four equal rounds and place one on each burger patty.

The bottom 2 have been finished and the top 2 are ready to fold up.

The bottom 2 have been finished and the top 2 are ready to fold up.

Just wrap the meat around the butter and shape it into a good round shape. You will need to place your hamburger patties on the rack of your toaster oven and have a baking sheet placed under the rack to catch any drips. It’s important to keep the burgers out of the grease as they’re cooking, but also keep the grease from dripping onto the heating elements. If you don’t have a way to catch the grease, find one before you try this recipe! Grease catches fire, so be careful. Keep baking soda on hand and never use water to put out a grease fire. If you don’t have a rack to keep the burgers out of the grease, I would recommend using half the butter and flipping the burgers halfway through cooking. I can cook 4 burgers at a time in my toaster oven without over-crowding and it took about 15 minutes at 350 F using the lower heat source only. I turned on the upper heat source for 1 minute at the end to crisp the tops slightly.

If you would prefer to cook your burgers in a traditional oven, use the same steps. Burgers on a rack, baking sheet under the rack, 350 F for 15 minutes.

Don’t let my warnings scare you away from trying this at home. As long as you watch the burgers carefully and exercise causation, it is not dangerous at all to successfully cook burgers in a toaster oven.


Spinach Cannelloni

Spinach cannelloni

Spinach cannelloni

This is one of my favorite Italian dishes. It’s so simple and filling. I like adding the spinach so that I can pretend I’m being healthy. If you aren’t familiar with cannelloni, it might be because you know it by a different name. Ever hear of manicotti? Those long round noodles that you fill with cheese. Pasta manufacturers have been selling you pseudo-cannelloni noodles under the wrong name for years. Manicotti is actually made with crepes.

Ingredients for 4 servings

1 batch homemade pasta

1 bunch fresh or frozen spinach – chopped

1/2 cup farmer’s cheese or cottage cheese

1 cup mozzarella – divided

salt and pepper to taste

1 12 oz can tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce

For this recipe you’ll mix your pasta dough and roll it out until it’s thin enough to see through as usual. Then just cut it into rectangles. The edges don’t have to be perfect because you’ll roll them up. About 4″ x 6″ (10 cm x 15 cm) is a good size.

Pretty rough rectangles.

Pretty rough rectangles.

Example of how thin your noodles should be.

Example of how thin your noodles should be.

Now let them dry for about an hour. This part is rather difficult in a tiny kitchen. You can drape them over a spoon set across your kitchen sink or you can set them on a tray and place them in your fridge for about half an hour instead. The dry air in a refrigerator will dry them out a bit faster.

Next, boil your noodles in a deep pot for about 3 – 5 minutes, depending on how thin you were able to get them. They’ll be soft, floating at the top of the pot and very sticky when they are finished. The stickiness comes from gluten in the flour and is why people sometimes throw spaghetti noodles at a wall to check if they are done. I recommend not throwing your noodles around the kitchen. You can tear a piece off one of the noodles and taste test if you like though. Drain the noodles. Rinsing will remove the stickiness, but will also change the texture. I don’t rinse, but it’s up to you.

While the noodles are cooling, combine the spinach, farmer’s or cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and salt and pepper. It will be very thick. Lay out a piece of pasta and a line of  the cheese mixture along one side. I prefer to put the cheese on one of the shorter sides. When I roll the noodle I get some overlap and think it gives a good ratio of filling to noodle. You can put the cheese on the longer side and avoid overlap if you like a lot of filling.

As you roll the cannelloni, put them into a toaster oven size baking pan. I don’t usually do a foil lining for this recipe, but you can if you’d like to save clean up time. Once all of the cannelloni are in the pan, cover them with the tomato or spaghetti sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Put them in the toaster oven at 350F using both heat sources for about 20 minutes or until heated through.




It isn’t a very quick meal because of the drying time for the noodles, but the steps are simple enough to make this one of my go-to meals.

Perfect Pork Roast with Apricot Sauce

Pork roast with apricot sauce.

Pork roast with apricot sauce.

A Sunday roast is a classic in many western households. The idea of trying to recreate that without an oven was a bit daunting. I gave it a try anyway and was surprised to find that, with a small roast, it’s actually not too difficult. I made an apricot sauce to go with my roast because pork pairs well with the tangy fruit.

Ingredients for 1 roast


1 2lb pork roast

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp butter


1 tbsp mustard

1/4 cup apricot jam (orange marmalade will also work)

1 cup vegetable stock

The salt and pepper are used as a simple rub for the meat. Roasting brings out a lot of natural flavors, so it isn’t really necessary to get to creative with spices or marinades. Just make sure that the whole roast gets a bit of salt and pepper.

In your rice cooker, melt the butter and set the machine to cook. It’s important that the butter be melted and the pot of your cooker be very hot because now you’re going to sear the meat. Searing cooks the outside quickly and seals in juices. Roasting is done by cooking slowly, which can dry out the meat, so don’t skip this step. When you sear meat, you need to get each side well browned including the ends. If your rice cooker won’t get hot enough, or won’t stay hot, you can also do this step on the stove. I like to make mashed potatoes with pot roast, so I don’t have enough room left on the stove to sear the roast as well.

Partially seared pork roast.

Partially seared pork roast.

Normally a roast would be put into the oven in the same pan it was seared in, but I’ve never seen a toaster oven large enough to hold a pan like that. That means you’ll have to move the roast to a baking pan that will fit in your toaster oven. Don’t worry about lining your pan with foil. You can if you like, but I don’t find it necessary. You can also skip the step where you would normally tie up your roast to help it keep its shape because the string can catch fire if it’s too close to the heat source in a toaster oven.

Now just put it in your toaster oven with the temperature set to 300 F using both heat sources. If you can’t get a low enough temperature with both sources, just use the lower one. Set your timer to 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn your roast about a third of the way around. Then cook for another 20 minutes and turn again. Then cook for another 20 minutes. In total, your roast should could for about an hour. If your’s is smaller than 2 lbs, try doing 15 minute intervals.


After second 20 minutes.

After second 20 minutes.

Typically a roast wouldn’t be turned at all while cooking, but toaster ovens heat a bit unevenly. After the full hour you will need to check the meat to see if it’s done. The best way is to check the temperature. According to the USDA the lowest temperature at which it’s safe to eat pork is 145 F. At this temperature the meat will still be a bit rare. However, if you don’t have a thermometer, it’s better to cook until there is no pink left, just to be safe. Check the meat color by cutting into the thickest spot.

Finished pork roast that I've begun to slice up.

Finished pork roast that I’ve begun to slice up.

Notice that the outside should be well cooked and have some crispy spots, while the inside is juicy and slices easily.

While your roast is cooking you can start on the sauce. The pot of your rice cooker, or pan on your stove top is you used that, will have bits of pork left in it from searing the roast. Turn it up to cook and let the pan heat through. Add the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. If the pan is hot enough, it will sizzle immediately. Now, just add the mustard and the apricot jam and stir to a smooth consistency. The sauce will thicken slightly. Pour the sauce over the finished roast and even on your mashed potatoes.

Just adding the apricot jam to the sauce..

Just adding the apricot jam to the sauce.

Homemade Enchiladas



One of the hardest things to find overseas is really good Mexican food. Even really bad Mexican food is hard to find. A can of enchilada sauce? Forget it. The only answer is to make it from scratch. Of course, once you’ve tried completely  homemade enchiladas, you’ll never want the store bought stuff again.

Ingredients for 8 servings

1 batch corn tortillas (recipe can be found here)

2 chicken breast – fully cooked and shredded

2 – 6 dried chiles depending on taste

1 1/2 cups very hot water

1 12 oz can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 cups cheese

This recipe is for a very basic chicken enchilada. You can add herbs and spices as you like, but I recommend trying the basic recipe first. You might be surprised by how much flavor is already there.

Put the chiles in your toaster oven at about 350 F using both heat sources for 2 minutes or less. They will begin to darken very quickly. When the skin is just beginning to turn black and is starting to smoke lightly, take the chiles out. This will give them a smoky flavor, which adds a lot of depth to the sauce.

Toasted chiles.

Toasted chiles.

Break the stems off the chiles and shake out the seeds. Now place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with the hot water. THe water should be almost boiling. Cover the bowl and let it sit for about one hour.

Soaked chiles.

Soaked chiles.

The chiles will soften and the water will turn dark red. The skin will still be tough and won’t be used in the sauce. Using a spoon, scrape the flesh away from the skin and throw out the skins. It’s okay if there are still a few seeds in the sauce. Try to break up the chile flesh as you scrape.

Scraped chiles.

Scraped chiles.

Now simply add the tomato sauce, cinnamon, salt and pepper to the water. Keep breaking up the chile bits as you go. Then mix in your shredded chicken and let it sit for at least an hour. The longer it sits, the better the flavor gets.

Chicken in enchilada sauce.

Chicken in enchilada sauce.

Now all you have to do is spread some of the chicken mixture down the center of a tortilla, roll it up, and place it in  a foil-lined pan. Put the enchiladas in the pan fairly close together. Once you have a single layer of enchiladas, sprinkle cheese over the top and start making another layer. Keep going until all of the enchiladas are in the pan and spread any remaining cheese over the top.

Put the pan in the toaster oven on 350 F using only the lower heat source for about 20 minutes. Let the enchiladas sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

I usually have more sauce than I need for the chicken enchiladas, so I reserve some before adding the chicken and make cheese enchiladas as well. Dip the tortillas in sauce and fill with cheese before rolling. Pour any remaining sauce over the cheese enchiladas and cover with more cheese before baking in the same way as chicken enchiladas.

Rustic Plum Pie

Rustic plum pie.

Rustic plum pie.

I love fresh homemade pie. It’s hard to think of a food that’s more comforting or harder to make without a proper oven. These simple, individual pies are so easy to make and bake up quickly and perfectly in a toaster oven.

Ingredients for 4 pies


Pie dough for 1 double crust 12 inch pie – divided into quarters

1 egg white


4 plums – thinly sliced

1/2 cup sugar

2 – 3 tsp cinnamon depending on taste

dash salt

Cream cheese layer

4 oz cream cheese – softened

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup sugar

Start by mixing all of the ingredients for the filling. This is best done by hand so that the plum slices don’t fall apart. Set the filling aside and mix the ingredients for the cream cheese layer in a separate bowl. If you’re pressed for work space, keep both bowls in the fridge while roll out the dough for the first pie. On a lightly flour surface, roll one quarter of the pie dough into a rough circle about 6 in (15 cm) across. Smear  one quarter of the cream cheese layer in the middle of the pie dough.

Pie dough with cream cheese layer.

Pie dough with cream cheese layer.

Arrange one quarter of the plum filling over the cream cheese.

Pie filling.

Pie filling.

Now, all you need to do is fold over the edge of the crust. This step is much easier to do than it is to describe, so I’ve got a couple of photos to help you make sense of my explanations.

Fold up a small part of the edge so that it cover the plum filling. Fold up the next part of the edge allowing a bit of crust to drape over the first fold.

The first few folds.

The first few folds.

Continue folding around the pie. When you get back to where you started, drape one side over the previous fold and tuck the other side under the first fold.

Finished folding.

Finished folding.

This is a rustic pie, so don’t worry about getting your folds perfectly even. Just brush the crust with the egg white and place it on a foil-lined toaster oven baking sheet.

Bake your pie on 350 f or using only the lower heat source for approximately 18 minutes and then switch to the upper heat source for 2 minutes. While the first pie is cooking, you can repeat the steps for the second pie.

I included the cream cheese layer because the sweet cream helps cut the tartness of the plums. If you can get almond paste, that would be even better. Just spread about 2 tbsp of the paste on the crust as you would with the cream cheese. You could also use a little coconut cream on top of the finished pie instead.

Plum pie with coconut cream topping.

Plum pie with coconut cream topping.

Homemade Granola

Cranberry almond granola.

Cranberry almond granola.

Granola is incredibly difficult to find in most countries. If you do find it, it will probably be very expensive. But, with a few inexpensive ingredients, you can easily make your own. It’s simple to alter the recipe to suit your tastes. As long as you include the oats, sugar and oil or butter, you can add or remove items until you have a granola recipe that’s perfect for you.

Ingredients for 1 batch

2 cups rolled oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup cane sugar

2 tbsp oil or melted butter

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

There are only a few steps to make granola. Combine everything except the cranberries in a bowl and mix until the oats are evenly coated. Make sure that you aren’t using steel cut oats. Rolled oats work best because they are thin enough to cook quickly.

Spread the mixture on a foil lined baking sheet (you might need to divide the mixture if you have a small toaster oven) and bake at 300 – 325 F  or using both heat sources for five minutes.

After five minutes.

After five minutes.

Stir the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for another five minutes at the same temperature. It might cook more or less quickly in your toaster oven. If you start to smell burning sugar, it’s cooked too long. Sadly, it can go from perfect to burnt in less than a minute,  so keep an eye on the oats. Stir in the cranberries and store in an airtight container.

Easy Homemade Lasagna

Lasagna and caesar's salad.

Lasagna and caesar’s salad.

One dish I can never find when living abroad is lasagna. For those of us used to buying lasagna noodles, it’s hard to imagine how to make homemade lasagna completely from scratch. But if you can make your own pasta, it’s very easy to make lasagna noodles. Simply roll out your dough and cut out rectangles or squares slightly smaller than your pan (they expand bit when cooked). This way you can even be guaranteed that your noodles will fit perfectly. Let the pasta dry for 30 – 60 minutes and boil. Unless you have a large pot to boil the noodles in, I recommend cutting rectangles instead of squares. It is better not to rinse your pasta after it boils because that will affect the texture, however the noodles will stick together if you don’t separate them. A good way to keep them from sticking together while they cool is to drape the sheets over a spoon set across your sink.

Ingredients for 9 servings

1 batch pasta dough

1 lb ground beef

12 ounces tomato sauce

1 clove garlic

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups shredded cheese

While your lasagna noodles are cooling, brown the ground beef in the pot of your rice cooker set to cook. When the meat is fully cooked, add the tomato sauce, garlic, salt and pepper. Keep the mixture on cook until it is hot and bubbly. Now it’s time for layering. Pour one third of the ground beef mixture into a baking pan and follow that with one third of the cheese and a layer of noodles.

Starting the second layer.

Starting the second layer.

Now add the second third of the meat, followed by the second third of cheese and the remaining noodles. Finish with the remaining meat and cheese.

Put it in your toaster oven at 350 F or using just the bottom heat source for 30 – 45 minutes. All of the elements are already cooked, so we are just looking for the cheese to melt and everything to be heated through. When the top layer of cheese is melted and beginning to brown, you’re all done.

Finished lasagna.

Finished lasagna.

Now comes the hard part. Let it sit for at least five minutes before serving. If you cut into it too soon, it will just fall apart.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Coffee cake and berries for breakfast.

Coffee cake and berries for breakfast.

I ❤ coffee cake. It makes a great breakfast or snack food. And it can come in so many types and flavors that it’s hard to get tired of eating coffee cake. Cinnamon, however will always be my go to. This recipe for cinnamon coffee cake doesn’t take long to whip up and invariably earns compliments.

Ingredients for 1 cake – about 8 servings

Cake batter

1/3 cup butter – softened

3/4 cup cane or raw sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 2/3 cup flour


1/4 cup cane or raw sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon


2 tbsp butter – softened

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cane or raw sugar

Start by creaming together the butter, sugar and egg for the batter. You can do this with a fork if you don’t have a whisk, but you will need to mix quickly to work in some air. When it looks a bit fluffy, gently mix in the milk and yogurt. In a separate bowl, stir the flour, salt and baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter. The batter should be fairly thin. You are looking for a pourable consistency.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the filling. Pour half the batter into a foil line or lightly greased loaf pan small enough to fit in your toaster oven. Spread the filling evenly over batter. Cover with remaining batter.

Cinnamon layer.

Cinnamon layer.

In another bowl, stir together the flour and sugar for the topping. Using a fork, cut in the butter. Cutting in is done by pressing down with the tines of the fork on the butter to break it into small pieces while also mixing the butter into the dry ingredients. Cutting in is also done when making pie crust. When the topping has a crumbly texture and there are no pieces larger than a pea, sprinkle it over the top of your coffee cake.

Put the pan in the toaster oven at 350 F or using only the lower heat source for approximately 30 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Check for doneness by piercing the center of the cake with a toothpick or skewer. If it comes out clean, allow your cake to cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Finished coffee cake.

Finished coffee cake.

Mini Meatloaf



Meatloaf is a classic comfort food made from inexpensive ingredients that are quite easy to find. However, trying to cook a whole meatloaf in a toaster oven is likely to end in an unfortunate combination of raw and overcooked. Trading a large loaf pan for a few small pans gives you evenly cooked loaves. A single loaf is perfect for two servings and the other loaves can be wrapped up and frozen for future meals.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 lb ground beef

1 bell pepper – chopped

1 egg

1 6oz can tomato paste or 1/2 cup ketchup

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup breadcrumbs 

Note – The egg and breadcrumbs are both important and have very different roles. The egg is used as a binder to hold your loaf together and should never be left out. The breadcrumbs add to the texture and create a moister and spongier loaf. You can leave out the breadcrumbs if you prefer a denser loaf.

This is one of the simplest recipes you will ever find. Simply combine all ingredients by hand in a bowl.

Combined raw meatloaf.

Combined raw meatloaf.

Divide it evenly between three small disposable loaf pans. Since these are disposable and the fat will help prevent some sticking, you don’t need to line or grease the pans first. Pack down the meat into the corners of the pans so there are no air pockets.

Prepared loaf pans.

Prepared loaf pans.

Place the pans in the toaster oven and cook at 350 – 375 F or using only the lower heat source for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. I recommend cooking the loaves one at a time. Your overall cooking time will be increased if you cook to or more at a time and you will need to rotate the loaves to cook them evenly and avoid any undercooked or burned spots.

Cooked meatloaf.

Cooked meatloaf.

To check for doneness, use a knife to slice straight down into the center of the loaf. All of the juice should run clear. If there is any redness in the meat or juice, it isn’t finished. Allow the meatloaf to cool for a few minutes before attempting to remove it from the pan. Cut in half and serve.

Phil’s Ultimate Philly Cheesesteak

Cheesesteak sandwich.

Cheesesteak sandwich.

I recently asked a few people what foods they miss most when living abroad. One of my favorite answers was cheesesteak sandwiches. If you’re from the US, particularly the North-East coast, you’ve probably had at least one cheesesteak. If you made them at home, you probably bought the meat for your sandwich pre-cooked and from the freezer section of your supermarket. I’m about to introduce you to a better way of making this piece of Americana.

On the other hand, if you are from anywhere else, you’ve probably never even heard of cheesesteak sandwiches. A traditional cheesesteak has very few ingredients; just thinly sliced meat and cheese on a hoagie roll. The meat is usually steak, as the name implies, though the pre-packaged cheesesteak meat is not very high quality. The cheese should be provolone, American, or (shudders) Cheez-wiz. The hoagie roll can be exchanged for French bread, but not the over-sized breadstick style of French bread that could be used for defensive purposes. Only use real French bread that has a crunchy crust and soft chewy inside. My recipe goes a bit beyond the traditional and doesn’t use pre-packaged meat.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 steak – partially frozen

1/2 onion

1 bell pepper

1 yellow summer squash or zucchini

6 button mushrooms

2 tbsp oil for cooking – divided

6 slices provolone or American cheese

6 hoagie rolls

butter – optional

mayo – optional

Thinly slicing the steak is not as hard as you might think. The secret is to put it in the freezer for a few hours first. When the meat is very firm, but not yet solid, take it out and get a sharp knife. Cut away most of the fat and then slice the meat about and 1/8 of an inch (just over 1/2 a cm) thick.

Thinly sliced steak.

Thinly sliced steak.

Now, slice up the vegetables. The thickness of the vegetable depends on your taste. Remember that squash will cook down a lot, while bell peppers retain most of their size and shape. I recommend cooking all of the vegetables separately so that everyone can customize their sandwiches. You can also cook them together and pre-make the sandwiches. Either way, you can cook them in a pre-heated sauté pan or in the pot of your rice cooker. If you choose not to cook your vegetables separately, start cooking the onions first because they will take the longest, next add the bell peppers, followed by the mushrooms and then the squash. Cook the meat separately and last. It will render down a bit and add liquid to the pan that could make your vegetables soggy and unpleasant.

Cooked cheesesteak fillings.

Cooked cheesesteak fillings.

Split you hoagie rolls, if they aren’t already, and place your choice of fillings on one side. Put a slice of cheese on top of the filling. You can butter the opposite side to get a crispy finish if you like. Leave the sandwich open and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet and toast it in your toaster oven, using only the upper heat source, for 1 – 2 minutes. When the cheese is melted and the roll is toasted, carefully remove your sandwich and repeat for the next sandwich until all of them are cooked to perfection.

Toasted cheesesteak sandwich.

Toasted cheesesteak sandwich.

When your sandwich has cooled enough to touch, you can add mayo if you like, though I don’t recommend adding any condiments, close it and enjoy.

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