I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and I have experienced three major hurricanes and one major tropical storm. Hurricane Alicia, which hit in 1983; Hurricane Rita in 2005 (although technically for my area Rita didn't cause any damage, but it was a circus nonetheless); and most recently Hurricane Ike, which hit in 2008. Tropical Storm Allison also caused severe damage to the Houston/Galveston area in 2001.
In all four events that I mentioned above, I was extremely lucky that the worst thing that happened to my family and me was loss of electricity. This is common during hurricanes and can last from a couple of days to several weeks. During this time, a lot of food spoils and unfortunately needs to be thrown out. In this article I want to share some recipes and tips that can help minimize food waste during hurricanes. These tips also come in handy any time the refrigerator needs to be cleaned out!
Fried Rice – a favorite in Chinese restaurants is easily duplicated at home. Basically, fried rice contains three main ingredients: cooked rice, egg, and soy sauce. After that the only limit is your imagination. Just about any fresh or frozen vegetable and meat can be cut into bite-sized chunks and tossed with the rice.
For best results, cook the rice first according to package directions and set aside. In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, sauté anything in any kind of fat. Onions, garlic, broccoli, carrots, corn, you name it. Do this for a few minutes and then add a couple of eggs to the veggies (scramble them first). Let the egg set up for a bit before gently folding into the vegetables. It will break up as it cooks. Next, toss in bite-sized chunks of any meat you need to get rid of, whether it be chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, etc. The smaller the chunks, the quicker it cooks. Next, add the cooked rice and toss the whole thing with soy sauce. One note: if using canned veggies, don't add those until the end, either right before or right after adding the rice. Otherwise, they will get mushy.
Spanish Rice – sticking with the rice theme, Spanish rice can be made similar to fried rice, except omit the egg, meat, and soy. Cook the rice first. Again, sautee the veggies for a few minutes then add the cooked rice. At this point, add chopped tomatoes or any tomato-based sauce or salsa you have on hand. Corn is great in this dish, as are Mexican spices, such as cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, etc. Add the spices after the veggies have been sautéed.
Pasta – pasta is another staple that is extremely versatile. Again, just about any vegetable or meat can be added to cooked pasta for a complete meal. Have some milk that needs to be used up? Warm in a saucepan, add butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and you have an alfredo sauce. Fresh and dried herbs also go great with pasta.
Soup – great for using up frozen chicken. Boil whole or cut up pieces of chicken. Remove chicken from water and remove skin/fat from chicken and also skim from water (if desired). Put chicken back in pot and add anything your heart desires. Carrots, potatoes, onion, frozen or canned vegetables. Don't forget to season with salt and pepper. Experiment with any herbs or spices you may have.
Crockpot – too many ideas even to list here. Crockpots (or slow cookers, as they are sometimes called) cook just about anything in one big container. Especially good for beef, chicken and frozen vegetables.
These tips of course are contingent on the fact that you have a gas stove, a grill with a burner, or some other sort of portable stove or burner. This is something that should be part of your emergency preparedness kit. Incidentally, one unique event during Hurricane Ike is that a lot of the businesses in my area were also without electricity for several days, including grocery stores, retail stores, and gas stations. Even without loss of electricity, these types of businesses tend to run out of supplies very quickly and cannot be restocked as timely as needed, so it is best to cook as much as you can and not waste food.
For those of us who live in the Gulf Coast area (or Florida or the lower East Coast), hurricanes are a way of life. Every May marks a new season and we are reminded to be prepared. Have an evacuation plan, stock up on supplies, and secure your house as well as possible against wind and flood damage. Every hurricane brings new experiences and new lessons learned, and I hope the tips in this article are useful.
Oh, and don't forget to share the food with your neighbors. Who knows, they might even let you run an extension cord to their generator!