. . . or Mastering the Art of Packet Cooking
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude. ~ Julia Child
I prefer my emergencies run of the mill, non life-threatening, and of brief duration. Any advice I offer here is geared in that direction without safety concerns about food storage or contamination, and serious water shortage. For that type of counsel check in with official guidelines and recommendations like those offered by FEMA.
I can't say I've been in every kind of emergency, but I have gone through fires, floods, gas leaks, chemical spills, droughts, animal attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, ice storms, bomb scares, car wrecks and Atlanta traffic gridlock. I'll gladly pass on whatever is left, including pandemics, hijacking, kidnapping, terrorism, airplane crashes, train wrecks, earthquakes, explosions, asteroids crashing to earth, foreign invasion, tidal waves and tragedies at sea, thank you.
Wearisome home-grown emergencies often have predictable issues in common--no water, no power, no phone. Throw in ice, snow and impassible roads and you're in for the long haul. One year we were marooned for a week in March by a surprise ice storm, with what felt like terminal flu, no less. We had to keep hydrated, but at least we weren't worried about food. It could have been a much worse if we hadn't had gas heat. Even so, it was a whole lot of no fun.
Robert Baden-Powell, father of the organized scouting famously said, “Be Prepared.” Good thinking. Keeping well fed in emergency conditions has a lot in common with Boy Scout camping. A certain amount of planning can provide better options. And if you're not completely prepared try to be as observant and inventive as a well-trained scout.
Not that we have to descend into beanie weenie mode or finding edible woodland roots. At least I hope not. There must be alternatives for those of us committed to culinary standards of excellence.When in doubt I ask myself, “What would Julia do?”
Ms. Child faced life and its emergencies head-on, with more joi de vivre and je ne sais quoi and sangfoid than a whole passel of Eagle Scouts. "Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes." She would respond to any food emergency with dash, knowledge, humor and aplomb. What a woman! Baden-Powell would have eaten out of her hand, so to speak.
How would Julia earn her emergency cooking merit badge in a snowstorm, flood or hurricane? She’d cheerfully head for fridge and freezer, spice rack and pantry, a sharp eye on the lookout for compatible ingredients. She’d grab a roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil and a can of cooking spray and gleefully commence making gourmet Silver Turtles, those tasty foil packets scouts have been edging onto glowing coals for decades. Of course Julia being Julia, she would call them "en papillote," explain that cooking "in parchment" can also mean using foil, and rhapsodize about the flavor derived from the food's own liquids steaming in flavors. The word "jolly" might come into play and there would be butter.
Julia wouldn't blink twice about being on the same cookery path as a Boy Scout. Aluminum foil is a scout’s best friend on a cookout and should be yours in an emergency kitchen. Apart from added flavor, think of the the convenience—no pots, pans or dishes to wash. Even if your water supply is not limited, who wants the hassle of cleanup when you're in coat, scarf, hat, long johns and three pairs of socks and a Guinness Book of Records-length Monopoly game is underway in the dining room?
A quick scan of my kitchen, not restocked since Christmas, turned up several possibilities. I had ingredients for vegetable, seafood, chicken, beef and pork entrees. Here is a trio of entree ideas to make or use as a jumping off point for what's in your kitchen.
Silver Turtle Shrimp (1 serving)
- Aluminum foil
- Cooking spray
- 1/4 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 tomato, diced
- 1 spring onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
- 1/2 teaspoon capers
- 1 teaspoon pesto (or 1/4 teaspoon dried basil + 2 teaspoons olive oil + 1 finely minced garlic clove)
- 1 or 2 thin lemon slices
Tear off a square of foil and coat dull side with cooking spray. Layer all ingredients.
To seal the packet, bring two edges together and fold over twice. Repeat on the edges. For more authentic looking silver turtles you can twist each corner to make it easy to grab them out of the fire.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. If the oven's out of commission, fire up the grill or cook in the fireplace. If you use the fireplace, be sure the fire is down to coals. DO NOT put the packets onto flaming logs.
I used the 14" x 15" top plate of our small woodstove when the fire was medium hot and had a done packet in 10 minutes.
Supremes au Poulet au L'Orange (1 serving)
- 4 to 6 ounce boneless skinless chicken breast or tenders
- Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon each dried thyme, sage and rosemary
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth
Tear off a square of foil and coat dull side with cooking spray. Season chicken and dredge in butter, then breadcrumbs. Lay on the foil and top with marmalade and vermouth. Cook as directed in previous recipe for 18-24 minutes.
Sesame Ginger Pork Chops (1 serving)
- 1 small boneless pork chop
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/4 small onion, cut into strips
- 3 or 4 bell pepper strips
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
A few pointers:
If you want to use carrots, turnips, potatoes or any very firm vegetable, consider parboiling. If you can't do that, cut into tiny pieces.
Be sure to include liquid or juicy vegetables and oil if the meat is lean.
Move the packets around to cook evenly but don't invert them. Leaks happen.
Be very careful when you open the packet. It's like a steamy little pressure cooker in there. Don't get burned.
And . . .