Monday, February 09, 2009

Collapse Cooking

With your best interests at heart, some ideas on keeping yourself fed during the current economic downturn...

First off, a note on "Collapse." I heard on NPR a while ago about how economists and commentators and such folks are trying to come up with what to call what is currently going down in the financial markets. "Depression," you see, refers to a unique confluence of events that occurred in the 1930s. It's not a technical term like "inflation" or "recession." And interestingly, in the 1930s, the word for a major financial reversal was a "panic," such as the Great Panic of 1893. But then President Herbert Hoover thought that sounded a little extreme, and so in an early 20th Century attempt at spin, he coined the word "Depression," which he felt didn't sound quite so bad. It worked, and what everyone was going through became known as the Depression, although it was, in fact, that bad.

So nothing to described what we're hearing about currently has stuck. So I'm recommending The Collapse. Because it seems to me that that is exactly what's happening: a collapse of the credit markets, the real estate market, consumer confidence, and now, apparently, the job market. So I'm calling it The Collapse.


What'chya gonna eat now that money is tight and you can't be bellying up to the sushi bar or whatever?

I've got a suggestion: start a hot pot!

My friend UnFortunate's mother was a Home Economics teacher, and the hot pot was one of here creations. When I helped UnF. move some stuff out of his father's house after his mother's death, I got to sample a hot pot that his father had going for about three weeks at that point.

So what is a hot pot?

Well, you'll need a pot that holds about a gallon with a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid. But something of a size so that you can tuck it away easily in your refrigerator. You might be tempted to use a crock pot. Don't do that. Crock pots don't lend themselves to service as hot pots. Or to anything else outside of serving hot cider at your Christmas party.

Into the hot pot you put liquid. I recommend two parts stock, two parts water, and one part wine. Then you add some meat. Then you add some veggies. Then you add some grains (rice, barley), beans, or pasta, or any combination thereof. Don't go crazy with the herbs and spices. Slow cooking over time denudes these of their flavors. Best to add them just before you dish it out, if at all.

So anyway, you keep the hot pot on the stove on a low heat, so that it barely simmers. Let it go for a few hours. Take it out, serve yourself some dinner, let it cool, then put it in the fridge. The next night, add more liquid or more veggies or more of the beans-grains-pasta and heat it up. Serve and repeat. Working this way, you can keep your hot pot going and going and going. Keep veggies and meat chopped small. As things are in there longer, they'll tend to break down into a kind of porridge and the flavors fade into the background. But the flavors of whatever you've added recently will be brighter. So you're never quite having the same thing for dinner two nights in a row.

Do you see how brilliant this whole thing is? Those veggies, grains, and legumes in particular are both really good for you and really inexpensive. With enough of them in your hot pot, you don't need too much meat. I've had a hot pot going for about a week now and I've estimated that I've spent around $30. And that's feeding not just me but also That Cowboy.

And since I'm baking my own bread in my Breadman Bread Machine, I always have nice crusty bread with my hot pot meal. And as I'm fortunate to live here in California, we can get really good wine for not a lot of money. So not only do you not have to spend a lot of money, but you never have to go through the whole process of figuring out what to have for dinner.

But, you might ask, what happens if disaster strikes and the stuff burns to the bottom of my hot pot?

First off, don't stir it off the bottom. Taste it and see if there's a metallic taste to it. If it is, it's kinda ruined. Start fresh. But if it doesn't, just empty what you can into a bowl being careful to leave the burnt stuff behind, wash out your pot, put the good stuff back in the pot, and you're good to go.

But what about food safety issues? As long as you've got it in the refrigerator, on the stove, or covered up by the lid, you've got no problem. I had always heard that it was a bad idea to let food cool with the lid on as that provides sub-boiling warmth, darkness, and moisture for bacteria to grow, but my father, who was a food inspector for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for over thirty years disagreed and would tell me it was fine to just put it right in the fridge. I've done both and no one has ever died or even gotten sick from my food safety practices.

So there you go! Now you won't have to worry about going hungry during the Collapse as long as you have a pot and a stove and a refrigerator. And beyond that, you'll be eating pretty well, too.


beaver4 said...

A cast iron Dutch Oven works best for stews. Unfortunately they are expensive.
I spotted an interesting, old house, garage sale one day, across the street from a farmer's market. Found a rusted pot and top. Picked it up for $5. Scrubed it up and seasoned it with Crisco and heat. Use it all the time.

John M. said...

We called that a "long pot" where I grew up.