JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Snow and ice storms have been sweeping across the country (here at Jungle Reds, we've been getting updates from Deb, who's been in the thick of it in her north Texas home) knocking out power in its wake. It's hitting New England and the East Coast tonight. And of course, this is just the beginning of December. There are still three more months of winter to get through (four in Maine.) Usually, we do recipes on Sunday, but today we're going to talk about eating during the power outage.
A few basics on hand will make the experience a lot less painful.
1. Have a selection of canned goods on hand, including tuna and canned chicken if you're not vegetarian. Peanut butter, hard cheese and canned beans are also good sources of protein. Make sure you have an old-fashioned non-electric can opener!
2. If you know there's a potentially power-cutting storm on the way, prep some foods. Rice can be cooked, bagged and frozen. Brown stew beef and fry up some hamburger. Roast a sheet of veggies, or a chicken. Hardboil the eggs - they'll last much longer. Use up the stuff that's most perishable for dinner while you're waiting for the storm to hit.
3. Stock in paper plates, disposable cups and plastic utensils. Trying to clean up the kitchen when you have no heat or hot water is grim. Promise yourself you'll be twice as good about recycling for the next two weeks to make up for it.
4. Remember, refrigerators are meant to keep cold in, heat out. Once you've lost power, open the door as little as possible. Know what you want and gather all your ingredients in one go. Once the power comes back on, chuck anything that you suspect may have gone off.
So what do you cook? Of course, you can get by without cooking at all. Sandwiches on a nice multi-grain bread with some trail mix or fruit will keep you going forever. But it's a truth universally acknowledged that being in the midst of a winter storm is when you most want a warm meal.
Do you have a woodstove? You can cook just about anything that can be cooked on a stovetop. I've made soups, grilled sandwiches, chili, eggs and sausages, and of course, heated up any number of leftovers. Stoke it up high and keep an eye on the food - once the stove is hot, things cook much faster than you might expect. I also have a couple trivets that I can use to keep food warm but not boiling or scorching. Don't forget to keep a kettle going for moisture and to make hot cocoa. Here are some recipes from Backwoods Home Magazine.
Do you have a fireplace? Were you a girl/boy scout? Remember those foil packets? They do just as well in your fireplace at home as they did in Camp Weetchi Watchi. You need coals and embers, not flame, so you may want to rakes the former to one side of the fireplace to cook in and keep an actual fire going on the other side. If you're a camper and you have one of those lightweight portable grills, so much the better. You can grill over the embers and keep some hot water going for the tea. Here are some foil-packet recipes and cooking tips from The Art of Manliness.
No fireplace or woodstove? No, I don't suggest using a camp stove indoors. I know some people do, but it always seems like a 911 call waiting to happen. The best suggestion I can make comes from a friend who lives without fire. When she knows a storm is on the way (see preparation, above) she cooks a big stew in her slow cooker. She keeps it simmering on low once its done. Like refrigerators, slow cookers are designed to maintain temperature as long as you don't leave the lid off. She stretches the stew with crusty bread and has been known to wrap the slow cooker in a towel to insulate it even further. Our friends at Cooks.com have a few recipes you might want to try.
Wrap a cozy throw around you and your sweetie and dig into that warm meal. The weather outside is frightful, but your dinner's so delightful...