Sometimes, one of those respiratory viruses that my mother would dub “creeping crud” will strike in summer. I just call them colds, but there is no level of misery worse than a summer cold. The heat and humidity, thunderstorms and shifting barometric pressure…sinuses and runny noses and aches and pains and fever…are a recipe designed for defining misery.
If you are “Mom” there isn’t even an option of “calling in sick” and just sleeping through it. It doesn’t work that way, there are no sick days as Mom. There are days, however, when nothing more than the bare minimum is accomplished, and that’s a good time to drag out the handy dandy and definitely not swanky and sexy…slow cooker.
Glamorous it isn’t, but neither is a summer cold. We need something that behaves like it is supposed to at times like that, and it’s also times like this that we get creative about our cooking, as we certainly have about zero desire to venture out to the grocery store for missing ingredients. We also have that much motivation to use precious favors for something as boring as food from the market too.
Such a day recently dawned at my house. Slow cooker at the ready, a couple of quart sized bags holding whacked off body parts of a chicken or two or three lay like frozen bricks in the freezer. I couldn’t remember when I had packaged it up and frozen it.
It visited the microwave long enough to thaw it enough to extract it from the plastic bags, and into the pot with some room temperature water. Turned to high, I hoped it would thaw in this lifetime. Now there’s nothing wrong with stewed chicken meat, but it is pretty boring, even when you have a cold.
I added a spoonful of rosemary, thyme, oregano, some salt, some pepper, a couple of whole cloves of garlic, the leftover half an onion from lunch’s tuna salad…and let it cook. A few hours later, the chicken had lost its frosty nature and was warming up to the situation, you might say. I added some Cavender’s Greek Seasoning and went away.
I had no frozen peas, no celery, and no carrots to add to it, and the chicken stew was looking rather pathetic, poor and lonely. I chopped up another onion. I added a can of cream of mushroom soup, and another of cream of chicken. I added about 3/4 c. of white rice lingering in a bag. Remembering my freeze dried peas, about a cup of those joined the other ingredients in the pot, far tastier than the lone can of peas on the shelf would be. I tasted the broth, it was a tad bland, I added about a half teaspoon more of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning.
An hour later the rice is still “crunchy.” Crunchy is not a word we want used in conjunction with our rice, so it got a stir and left alone. I contemplated a can of creamed corn to the pot, but decided to wait. The aroma was actually delicious, which wasn’t bad since I didn’t have anything to cook to make chicken soup except four lonely whacked off thighs…
So we leave it to finish cooking overnight on low, still undecided about the creamed corn, as it may “clash” with the Greek inspired herbs used to season it. Chopped squash, if I had any, might be a better choice…and I remember there are a couple of frozen roasted poblano peppers in the freezer that might be a good addition in the morning to jazz it up. GM says it smells like pot pie, and I remind him that there are no carrots or celery in it, which is like practically required by law…
It’s reminded me that I should order some freeze dried corn, celery, peas, carrots, and onions to keep on hand. They store so well, and then…I’d have the ingredients for my prescription chicken dishes whenever I had a cold and chicken at the same time….
Then again, maybe adding some freeze dried chicken to the shopping list might be wise too, as then I could do it even if I had no chicken parts in the freezer.
For those who have never tried freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients, I find some of them have more attractive color, taste, and texture than traditional canned versions and store much easier than frozen, especially in hurricane country where power can vanish for weeks with a storm. I like to use them for camping–no refrigeration required. They are great for pantries too, because it does fill in when you don’t have the ability or energy to run to the store. In addition, they are usually packaged for long term storage, which means they can sit and wait, unopened, on my pantry shelf practically for the rest of my life and still taste as delicious as they would tomorrow.
I’m a huge advocate of the “emergency pantry” programs that are advocated by many groups such as emergency preparedness groups. We don’t necessarily need to prepare for the “end of the world” or a zombie invasion, but being capable of providing for ourselves in the face of adversity is always a good idea. Not only have my emergency pantries provided many “emergency” meals over the years due to power outages and storms, but they have also fed us when jobs were lost, unexpected financial woes struck, when we had friends or family in need, etc.
I also have a strong connection with the “country” where “stocking up” was a normal thing to do through the year, although traditionally it would be home canning and drying of food in preparation for winter. In more recent times, stocking up was normal, since grocery store visits were often once or twice a month, with just milk and bread runs occurring in between. (Milk and bread can usually be bought at small country stores, instead of having to go all the way to “town.”) Sometimes, we’d make our own bread, and the milk would be reconstituted dry milk or canned milk. These country ways have given many friends lots of room to tease me, but at the same time, they’ve often benefited from that well stocked pantry, whether it was an impromptu meal for a group that dropped by, a camping trip when funds were tight for everyone,, or someone lost a job or got sick. Once, during a discussion about emergency preparedness, one of the group’s pre-teen sons overheard the topic, and piped up that he was going to go with me then, since I “would have spices”. I’m not sure how spices would save the day, but he was sure of it anyhow!
Whether it’s called bird flu, power outage, martial law, or a hurricane…we should all be capable of sheltering in our homes and feeding ourselves for at least a week. Look in your pantry…can you prepare 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners for your entire family (and maybe a few extra people?) from just what is there? Few people can, and yet most emergency preparedness experts recommend six to twelve month supplies to be kept on hand.
To find freeze dried, dehydrated and other foods designed for long term home storage, search for “emergency preparedness foods.” One company which I have previously used is found at www.beprepared.com Their canned foods are all in #10 cans (about gallon sized) although other companies also carry similar items in #2.5 cans (about quart sized) cans.
My favorite items for regular use?
- Refried beans–they are SOOoooOO convenient! Just add hot water, and bingo…about 4-5 minutes later, you have great flavored refried beans ready to eat.
- Diced apples–easy for everything from oatmeal to quick cobblers and cakes
- Peas–I love these peas! They are as good as frozen and more convenient. No mush like canned peas either.
- Mixed vegetables for stew–Another easy no-brainer, just add to boiling water, with noodles or meat…and bingo, soup’s on!
- Hash browns–Super convenient for camping, easy to make, I usually soak them overnight in hot tap water, and they are ready to cook the next morning.
- Diced potatoes–easy to add to soups and stews.
- Butter powder–okay, it’s not like the real deal and it won’t melt, but there are some pluses to that too. It’s great smeared on pancakes. It’s got great flavor. It’s low in fat. It’s great flavor in vegetables and baked goods.
The things we tried and despised–
- TVP chicken flavor–that stuff was nasty, we still can’t figure out how to use it up.
- Peanut butter powder–we like it, but not as peanut butter or as a cookie ingredient. Easy protein and great peanut flavor, it’s really “peanut flour” minus the oil.
Read user reviews on the “strange” items. Don’t buy a large quantity of unknown items–what good is it if you hate it and can’t stand to use it? I typically try a single can of new-to-me items, and get friends in on the sampling too. Some things flunk the initial test, but alternative methods of using it are found later (like the peanut butter powder.) Other things just plain bomb (like chicken flavored TVP.) The TVP might be redeemed in meatloaf and the like…my main objection is the excessively sweet & salty flavor of it, as well as the cardboard-ish texture when partially or fully rehydrated.
So, the next time you get the “creeping crud” or your neighborhood is under quarantine…I hope you have everything to feed your family delicious meals on hand, without a need to go to the grocery store.