Getting Info from ESP8266 from Uno

First, I've done a lot of searching. Most questions like mine end up being discussions of how to connect the Uno to the ESP. That's not my problem as I'm using the Makeblock Orion (Uno) and the MeWifi module. They are connected via RJ25 cabling. This is a one-off use for me and I've purchased a number of ESP only boards (Adafruit Huzzah Feather for example).

I've tried on the Makeblock forums but no users respond and tech support says something to the effect that it's an advanced subject and I'm on my own. Groovy. Makeblock has some programming on the ESP, I can connect to it using their web interface and it broadcasts an AP and joins my network just fine.

But I can't find simple instructions on how to get info between the UNO and the ESP. Part of the problem is, when I'm reading other posts, the participants have much more knowledge than I do and expect the other people in the thread to be experienced, too. I'm not.

I've determined that I can get information back from the ESP using AT commands, but I fail to find any real examples of them used in sketches. If I could see some examples of getting info back from the ESP, I would be most appreciative! Especially how the return information is structured. In other words, it I send an AT+CIPSTATUS, what comes back? I'd also like to see what I can send TO the ESP.

If I can ask a couple more questions... Can I use my USB connection into my Uno to program the ESP directly? I know I can use a FTDI cable (and I have one and will do that, if need be), but I'm wondering if there's a simpler way.

Sorry for the long post and thanks to any helpers.