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Friday, August 26, 2005

The Hurricane Gourmet

My friend in Florida is facing yet another hurricane this year. This time it's Hurricane Katrina but it is nothing compared to last year's Hurricane Frances. Nevertheless, getting ready for it is still required, especially in the food sense as you will soon read in her guest post below...


Well, itís that time of year again and just as we were starting to get complacent, along has come Hurricane Katrina. It was never threatening to be a very dangerous storm, and really, is only barely a hurricane, but still, it was necessary to prepare for storm force winds and rain just in case.

This time, I decided to stay home, even though we are in an early evacuation area. This was a good decision, as there was never a mandatory evacuation called (a voluntary evacuation was in place for a while, but I decided to keep my hand down on that one). After gathering the usual required supplies (water, flashlight batteries, barbecue coals), I was then faced with the decision of what to eat. Essentially, I wanted a selection of tasty items that would still be tasty after a few days with no fridge and no stove. Basically, this narrowed my choices down to: Things that can be cooked on the barbecue or over a fire in the fireplace, things that can be eaten cold if the power is off, and things that are still safe to eat after being in a cooler for so long as the cooler will stay cool, which is typically no more than 2 days if not much fresh ice is added. As such, without any further ado, hereís my suggested hurricane menu for those expecting to weather storm conditions:

Breakfast Choices:

Cold quiche - Pre-cook this in case the power is out by breakfast time. If itís still on, you can re-heat it in the microwave; if not, itís nice cold. Add your favorite filling items, such as spinach, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, or sun-dried tomatoes.

Cereal - Yes, it sounds boring, but for so long as your milk stays cold, itís an easy option. Be sure to buy some if you donít have any already, when you buy other supplies.

If you have a working barbecue, you can easily make most other breakfast items, like bacon, sausages, eggs in a variety of ways (fried and scrambled are probably easiest), even pancakes. If youíd like to have these on the first day, keep the ingredients in the cooler; to eat them on subsequent days, put them in the cooler frozen. If you really want a luxurious feel, try making crepes and fill them with fresh cut fruit or jam.

Hot beverages - You can make both tea and coffee on the barbecue, so long as you have a pan in which to boil water. For tea, pour the boiling water into a teapot as per usual, and for coffee, pour it through your coffee-maker.

As with all meals, I recommend that you plan what to eat in the order of what might go off first.

Lunch Choices:

Wraps - Wraps make a nice change from regular sandwiches, and pretty much use the same ingredients. There are lots of great choices of wrap flavors too- garlic and herb, for example. As for the fillings, tuna, cheese, tomato and lettuce is nice.

Picnic Food - The easiest way to think of what to eat during a hurricane is to think of what you might eat if you went on a picnic or camping trip. With a picnic, youíre talking potato salad, coleslaw, cold cuts, individually wrapped cheese, vegetables and dip, and cold chicken. Depending on how much time you have, you can make these items or buy them pre-made.

Barbecue Lunch - If youíre in the mood to fire up the barbecue, hamburgers are an easy choice, but all kind of items can be barbecued. For meats, thereís chicken wings, lamb chops, or even fish steaks, like swordfish or tuna, provided again, everythingís been kept cold enough up until the time youíre ready to cook it. If you happen to have fish, cook it as soon as you can, as it will go off first. Personally, Iíd recommend against buying it to cook, unless youíre sure youíll be cooking it soon into your hurricane hibernation, like on day one.

Donít overlook the chance to barbecue vegetables too. Corn on the cob is a great item to stock up on, because it can keep for a number of days without refrigeration, and be cooked by either boiling it in a pot of water, or wrapping the cobs in foil and a bit of butter.

Dinner Choices

Barbecue Dinner - If youíre still game to cook on the barbecue, fire it up again for meat thatís defrosting in your freezer. Start with the most expensive and go from there. Steak, roasted potatoes and asparagus in olive oil and salt can all be done on the barbecue. To cook broccoli, wash it, leaving it a bit wet, put it into foil packets with butter and one clove of crushed fresh garlic. After 10 minutes on the barbecue, itíll be tastier than any broccoli done on the stove.

Bathtub Chicken - This dish got its name during Hurricane Frances, when I cooked this and brought it to our evacuation hotel and converted the bathtub into a makeshift cooler (done by layering food and ice a few layers deep, starting and ending with ice, which until the power goes off, you can likely get a lot of from the hotel ice machine). Basically what it is, is roasted chicken. Seeing as Iím going through this hurricane at home this time, a more accurate name might be ĎOven Chickení as this is where Iíve left it, but whatever you want to call it, I highly recommend having freshly roasted chicken on hand. If you can cook it at home on the day the hurricane strikes, thatís best, as that night, you can have hot chicken for dinner (depending on what time your power went out). The leftover chicken can be eaten cold, and the leftover chicken from that can be used in lunch wraps, or chicken salad.

If youíre planning to cook meat on the third day of being without power, it should probably be meat that was frozen when you put it into your cooler, or if it is from your freezer, it should be still very cold. I recommend keeping large blocks of ice in the freezer at all times, to keep frozen stuff frozen during any type of power outage. What I do, is make these large blocks using big, flat plastic tubs, about 12 inches across and 4 inches deep. I fill these with water and pop them into the freezer until they are a solid block. I then knock the block out into a plastic bag, ideally keeping it whole, and put it back into the freezer, sitting directly on top of any frozen meat packages that are in there. If the power should go out for any reason, the ice block will help to keep your meat frozen longer.

Snack Choices

For snacks, you can probably prepare all of the usual things you might eat: cookies, cake, granola bars, fruit, carrot sticks, cheese and cracker packs, chips, cheese popcorn, and so on. Here are a few extra things if you do want to make an effort:

Mexican 5-Layer Dip - Layer some guacamole, beans, salsa, sour cream and cheese, and voila- a great snack! Donít forget it will need refrigeration, though, and special care that it doesnít get smushed or have water leak into it in a cooler.

Rice Krispie Treats - If youíre feeling lenient, they could pass as breakfast!

Ideally, these menu choices will get you through any post-hurricane period with minimal amounts of food boredom. After 3 days or so, you should be able to re-stock some of the perishable items as the items become available at the grocery stores again, then you can continue to cook without power for as long as you need. In the meantime, items you should avoid are things like large tubs of ice cream that will melt, seafood that will go off, or items that need to be electrically whipped or blended or cooked in a wok.

Hereís hoping your hurricane cooking is safe, varied and delicious!

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