Cooking Without Electricity: Hurricane Preparedness With Style
Getting ready for post-hurricane power outages and other emergencies can get overwhelming. Gas in the vehicle, propane for the grill, emergency water, and storm shutters seem to get all the air time. When it comes to stocking the pantry and cooler, most people head to Costco to pick up a case of sandwich crackers. While that might be fine for a day or two, eating that way for any length of time leaves you susceptible to getting sick. After living for roughly three months on Guam with no power after a super typhoon, I learned a thing or two about cooking without electricity. Here are my top tips for eating healthy — and with style — after a storm. (See also: 20 Things to Have on Hand for Power Outages)
Use bulgur for a perfect no-cook meal or side dish.
The cool thing about bulgur is that you can put it in a bowl of water to cold soak before you go to work. Come home, add some freshly squeezed lemon juice along with your veggies and seasonings of choice, and you’re good to go. If you’re making the bulgur salad your full meal, then you may also want to consider tossing in some canned black beans for protein. The end result is easy cheap food that will keep you healthy during storm recovery.
Eat breakfast cereal using powdered milk.
If the power’s out for a few weeks, and you still need to get the kiddos off to school each morning, mix up some powdered milk in one of your extra canning jars. You can mix it right in the container and prepare just enough to get you through breakfast. This means no worries about finding room in your already-overflowing cooler. If oatmeal is your thing, you can always prepare it on a single-burner camping stove, toss on some raisins, and use this same milk-in-a-jar strategy. It’s actually a little more appropriate that way because you don’t have to worry about the milk being cold.
Count on cured meats, which can be stored without refrigeration.
This means those packs of turkey pepperoni and cured salami you see in the non-refrigerated sections of your grocery store can be stored in your pantry at any time of year for hurricane preparedness or regular meal prep. Slice some up with veggies and greens for a simple salad with zing, or mix up some pizza dough from your bulk mix supply and toss on a creative pizza sauce along with some of your cured meat. Put the whole thing on a pizza stone inside a covered grill, and you’ll have restaurant quality dinner all your neighbors will be jealous about. We’re eating less meat these days, but when we were in full-blown carnivore mode, I used this strategy with gusto. It’s a stylish way to stay stocked and be able to pull off a nice meal for those times when you lose power for other unexpected reasons.
Look for vegetables that don't need to be kept in your cooler.
In general, anything that isn’t refrigerated in the grocery store can skip the cooler. That being said, there are some other vegetables that can probably go a few days as well. One of those vegetables is cabbage. While I wouldn’t leave it permanently out in the heat, it can spend the night on the counter if you need to save the cooler space for other items. One of our favorite items to make with it is cabbage and ramen noodle salad. There’s a reason this recipe made it home with me from Guam. You can prepare the bulk of the dry ingredients ahead of time and store them in individual packets. The wet ingredients for the dressing store well in the cupboard, and cabbage is the only other ingredient. This makes the dish one of my favorite ramen recipes ever, and a great way to embrace assembly cooking without a freezer.
Make it elegant.
Can you say candlelight? That’s half the battle. If lasting for twelve weeks without electricity has you feeling like peanut butter and crackers will become your own personal aversion therapy, rest assured you’ll have plenty else to eat. Classico makes a great basil pesto that’s shelf stable until it gets opened. Put some on a batch of angel hair pasta that you boil in a pot on top of your camping stove and pair it with a bottle of white wine. OK, so chances are it’ll have to be room-temp white wine. But the point is, this entrée with some mixed greens and a light dressing can provide a bit of luxury when you’ve been without power for the long haul. And speaking of dinner beverages, extended post-hurricane blackouts are a great reason to stock up on boxed wine.
Let foil packets become your new best friend.
In addition to grilling fish, polenta, or even burger patties, you’re going to want some veggies. If you only have access to a one-burner camp stove, then it’s time to get creative. That’s where adding foil packets to your grilling repertoire comes into play. Try slicing some potatoes with onions, olive oil, and seasonings to roast, or these Polynesian foil packets to pair with some planked fish. Nearly any vegetable combination will do, so feel free to get creative with vegetables your family favors. Add a little cooking spray to the foil before you start so things don’t stick.
Go with flaming fruit for an elegant dessert.
Mixed Berries Romanoff and Bananas Foster can each be prepared in a frying pan on a single burner. You just need a little butter, brown sugar, and some serious rum. Decide in advance if you want to bring home a small container of vanilla ice cream to stash in the cooler and serve with your finished creation. Either of these ideas makes a great break in the monotony after a few weeks.
While this list doesn’t include every single recipe we use for power outages, it does provide a launching point for you to prepare. Cooking without electricity or even a full stove doesn’t have to mean peanut butter and jelly for months on end. A little planning and out of the box thinking can keep things fun, healthy, and affordable.