When you can’t cook

My brother, sister-in-law and their kids are about to have their
kitchen remodeled. This will mean no access to the appliances, sink
or cupboards for at least a month.
My brother, sister-in-law and their kids are about to have their kitchen remodeled. This will mean no access to the appliances, sink or cupboards for at least a month.

At the same time, a neighbor is about to move back into his own remodeled house, and camp out there while their new kitchen is installed.

As my sister-in-law said, “A weekend is fun; a whole month is a challenge!”

Most of us don’t face this kind of challenge on a regular basis. But this time of year we do face the occasional power outage. So here are some strategies, tips and recipes for coping with inconveniences of various kinds in the kitchen.

1. Keep on hand a supply of nonperishable foods your family will really eat. We are not talking a pantry full of dried beans and root crops here. Crackers, peanut butter, nuts or trail mix, fruit and dried fruit, granola bars, canned soup and other prepared foods that don’t need refrigeration will help tide you over while you figure out what to do next.

2. If the electricity is off and you have no way to heat foods, DO NOT bring the charcoal grill inside. Charcoal fires emit deadly carbon monoxide and should only be used outside with plenty of ventilation. A fan or open window inside will not eliminate the danger. It is possible, and safe, to heat foods over a woodfire in a fireplace, or over the charcoal grill OUTSIDE. This is a good chance to try a couple of dutch oven recipes, such as jambalaya or minestrone.

3. Plan ahead for a can’t-cook emergency by listing your family’s takeout and fast food preferences so you’ll have ideas. Much like preparing a regular week’s menus in advance, this will keep you from arriving at dinner time in a state of mindless panicup Try to rotate among fast food, something homemade, takeout and a real restaurant meal. This will make the episode seem more like an adventure and less like a nightmare.

4. Create a make-do kitchen. If, like my sister-in-law and neighbor, you’ll have electricity but no access to your regular kitchen, it’s possible to create a make-do kitchen with a microwave, slow cooker, cooler chest and two dishpans. A microwave does a great job of cooking fish and seafood, as in microwave poached salmon. A slow-cooker can be used for many soups and stews, including the minestrone recipe here.

5. Cold food should be kept at a temperature of 41 degrees F. or less. Use a thermometer. Before adding warm food to the cooler, place a bag of ice on it to lower its temperature so it doesn’t raise the temperature of the other items in the cooler.

6. Keep tummy trouble from spoiling your no-kitchen adventure. Pay extra attention to safe food handling. Wash any cutting board used for raw meat or poultry before re-using it. Without the high temperatures of a dishwasher, wash and rinse dishes safely with the two dishpans and hot tap water from the laundry or bathroom. For extra safety, add a tablespoon of bleach to the rinse water.

Dutch Oven Minestrone

(adapted from the New York Times Cookbook)

1 can cannellini or navy beans

1 tsp. olive oil

1/8 lb. salt pork, diced, or bacon, cut up

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp. chopped parsley

1 tsp. dried basil

1 T. ketchup

3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or a small can stewed tomatoes

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

2 potatoes, diced

2 zucchini, sliced

1 1/2 quarts water

salt to taste

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 cup uncooked corkscrew or penne pasta

6 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1. Place olive oil in the Dutch oven and add the salt pork, garlic, onion, parsley and basil. Cook until pork is brown and onion begins to turn translucent.

Step 2. Add the ketchup and cook 5 minutes.

Step 3. Add the tomatoes, celery, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, water, salt and pepper. Cook slowly for 45 minutes to one hour.

Step 4. Drain and add the beans.

Step 5. Add the pasta and cook 10 minutes or until done.

Step 6. Ladle into bowls or mugs and sprinkle with cheese. To make this in a slow cooker, combine all ingredients except pasta and cheese in the cooker and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, until vegetables are tender. Stir in pasta and cook on high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until pasta is done. Serve with cheese.

Microwave Salmon Steaks

(Adapted from The New York Times Cook Book and The Microwave Gourmet)

Per serving:

1 salmon steak per person

1 tsp. butter

1 T. chopped onion

1 T. chopped carrot

1 T. chopped celery

1/2 cup water

2 T. white wine or 1 T. vinegar or 1T. lemon juice



Step 1. Place the butter in a shallow microwave-safe dish and cook on high to melt.

Step 2. Add the vegetables and cook for about 1 minute to soften.

Step 3. Add the water, wine, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper and cook for about 1 minute.

Step 4. Add the salmon steak(s), cover with a lid or plate, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes per piece. 4 pieces will take a total of about 6 minutes; cooking times vary.

Step 5. The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

6 to 8 servings

2 T. butter or olive or a combination

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup chopped green pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced cooked chicken or turkey

1 cup diced cooked ham

12 tiny cooked pork sausages, cut in pieces OR

12 large shrimp cut up

2 1/2 cup canned tomatoes, undrained

1 cup raw rice

1 1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Step 1. Melt the butter or oil in the Dutch oven and add the onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring often, until the onion is transparent. (You may need to take the pan off the heat to keep it cooking slowly enough.)

Step 2. Add the meats and cook for 5 minutes.

Step 3. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, the rice, the broth, thyme, chili powder, salt and pepper.

Step 4. Cover and cook over medium heat until the rice is tender – about an hour. Unlike with a regular oven, you will need to keep an eye on this to make sure the rice doesn’t scorch.

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