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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Survival cooking

You've run out of food and there is still days before payday.... how can you survive? Your kids are screaming "Mommie, I'm sooooo hungry" and you are feeling guilty because even your change jar is empty. You can't go out for fast food and seemingly there's nothing in the kitchen. Don't panic! You will survive. Don't get me wrong.... this is survival cooking..... not a healthy eating formula.

If you open any cookbook, of any type, you will see that the recipes use a tiny bit of this and a tiny bit of that to create a dish of some sort. There will be quarter teaspoons or tablespoons of some ingredients. A dash of another ingredient. A cup of others. I've never really seen a recipe that calls for a whole bag of flour or a whole bottle of a spice.... have you? Well, maybe. It would depend on whether the recipe was to feed a crowd of 100 or not.

So ok, back the the ingredients of the recipe book.

Now imagine that it's not a list of ingredients for a dish in a book; but rather, a list of items a person found in their kitchen when they thought the kitchen was completely empty. My point is that no matter how little you believe you have in the kitchen.... it could be the ingredients for a frugal new dish. Be willing to experiment with whatever you can find. If you write it down as you create.... from list of ingredients to how you prepared them.... then you've got the beginnings of your very own frugal cookbook. If your family likes what you prepared you can read your own recipe to fix it again sometime.

Basically what you do is go into your kitchen and pantry to look for everything you can find and put it in a list. No matter how small the amount.... it can help. List everything from a small scraping in the peanut butter jar to fast food ketchup packets to a limp piece of celery. Put everything into these 5 catagories.

Starches - anything that contains starchy food stuff. Pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, flour, potato chips, ramen noodles, etc.

Vegetables - a piece of celery, an onion, musrooms, cans of peas, frozen corn, etc.

Meat - slices of lunch meat, tuna, left over fast food chicken, left over half a stuffed pepper, cheese, eggs (cheese and eggs are considered meat for this formula), even a can of sardines if you have it.

Spices - pepper, salt, chili powder, italian seasonings, etc.

Odds and ends - Anything that doesn't fit into the other catagories. A can of soup, a can of milk, a bit of spaghetti sauce, a ketchup packet, mustard, butter, cooking oil, mayo, relish, salad dressing, etc.

Ok, you've listed everything you could find, it's time to start cooking. You will use one ingredient from each food group to make a one pot meal. How you cook it will depend on what you found. If the starch needs cooking, start that first.

Cut the meat and veggies very tiny. The smaller you chop them the better they will blend in the dish and feed more people. Add the meat and veggies to the starchy foods.

Now give it some flavor by adding a spice.

And lastly, you need something to make it slide down the throat. Starch, meat, and veggies tend to be very dry if you don't add something to make it slick. Add something from the odds and ends group. Or look to see if you have the ingredients for a gravy. Gravy will also make foods easier to swallow.

How many days can you go on this survival technique? It depends on how much you found and how well you combine them. Before using everything you found into one single dish.... try listing one ingredient from each group.... for one day, then another, then another, until you have nothing else left on your list. This will tell you how many days it will get you by.

For example: you found an onion, an egg, some rice, a chicken wing, and soy sauce. That's one day of stir fry. Another example: you found one potato, a bit of cheese, some beans, and slices of bread. It could be bean, potato, and cheese cassarole. Or bean and cheese hash browns on toast with gravy. Be creative! Mix and match things to come up with new dishes.

Use the right size pots

While I'm on the subject of survival food..... it always pays to use the right size pot or skillet. The larger the pot or skillet the more tempted you will be to cook too much. Or worse, make your survival cooking look like it won't be enough. A small handfull of noodles in a 3 quart pot will look kind of silly or should I say skimpy. Here is an example of a skillet I often use. It's a one person size skillet. That's one half of a boneless chicken breast cut into four pieces in the skillet. The skillet looks full doesn't it? The skillet cooks enough for me to have four meals.

Why did I not use my regular kitchen stove? Well I also want to save energy. This tiny skillet for this size ingredients is much better than my big stove. I also have tiny cast iron skillets that I use on the stove. I collect vintage cast iron pots and love the way they cook. I use the right pot for the right cooking.

Use smaller plates

While on the subject of right size...... a smaller plate size of food tends to make a person feel fuller than a larger plate size. Why? It's all in the perception. A small amount of food on a really large plate tends to look like it's not nearly enough and your brain believes it; but, the same amount on a very small plate makes it look like you are getting plenty and you feel fuller.

Don't believe me? Lets use an example. Have you ever eaten at one of those all you can eat restaurants? They give you a stack of plates so you can go back for seconds or thirds if you want. What size are the plates? Mentally compare those to the plates you use at home. Can you picture the difference?

Ok, at a fast food, all you can eat restaurant, you go up to the food counter and get..... oh maybe a tablespoon full of three items and a couple of tiny pieces of meat on your plate which appears to be over flowing. I know, those spoons the restaurant uses appear to be very large. They may be large but most of the time only a tablespoon lands on your plate. The rest is stuck to the big spoon. It's designed that way and is a deliberate perception thing done by the restaurants.

You eat what you got and go back for seconds. Again you put a spoonfull of three items and a little more meat on your plate and eat it. Now despite you eating only about getting 6 tablespoons of food and a couple of pieces of meat.... you feel extremely over stuffed after eating. It's all in the perception!

If you had gotten the same 6 tablespoons of food on a very large plate I believe you would have gone back for seconds anyway. It's a part of the reason many people over eat. There's something about second helpings that most people crave. So while you are planning your survival meals also plan to use your smallest plates.

After you have gathered and written a few of your own survival recipes you can also use them for frugal grocery shopping in the future. Add the survival recipes to your menu plan for a bit of savings. Give it some thought. I'm sure you will see what I mean.

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