Today we have a special guest blog post from Janna from North Dakota, who writes about thinking outside the box when it comes to cooking in a disaster or emergency.
Janna from North Dakota:
The method for cooking food in an emergency is always a matter of choice, especially when the power is out . . . barbeque grills, wood fires, camp stoves, etc. All have their pro’s, but also come with a big con. You’re going to have to go outside . . . or at the very least into the garage to safely vent your heat source. When you live in northern country where the winters get to be well below zero (before the wind chill) and the wind chills can freeze flesh in a matter of minutes, finding another option isn’t just a matter of convenience. I’m not ready to give up hot meals in an emergency; in fact, based on my experience of several years working in emergency management, I’ve come to believe that hot meals are an important part of maintaining good mental health in an emergency. The more “normal” we can make things for our families, the better we are all able to cope.
I found the solution in a very unexpected place. No, it wasn’t one of the online stores or websites, although they do have some excellent advice and supplies for emergencies. No, this solution came from on high…literally! While I was downstairs in our store room arranging a few items, a box of never-used wedding gifts fell from the top shelf. Luckily I caught it before it smashed to the floor, because as I opened it, I found the answer to my cooking dilemma…a fondue pot! We got married in 2005, during the height of the “new fondue revolution” and actually got 3 of them for our wedding. It seemed impractical at the time, but since then I’ve reconsidered. Really, what’s a fondue pot but a saucepan with its own heat source? PERFECT!!
Being in an emergency management occupation, I’ve been drilled in the “exercise every plan before it’s needed” school of thought, so I tried my new idea of using a fondue pot to make other non-fondue dishes. It works GREAT for pasta, pasta sauce, vegetables, and warming up soup and other canned food. Oatmeal and cream of wheat cook nicely too. I’ve even used it to heat water for hot chocolate. Basically, if it can be cooked in a saucepan, it can probably be cooked in a fondue pot in an emergency.
After some basic experimentation, I’ve learned a few very valuable lessons:
- This one falls into the “duh” category, but is worth mentioning anyway. Make sure you get a fondue pot that is not electric. Find one that uses liquid (not gel) fuel and comes with its own small heater. (Almost all of them do.) Also make sure it has a way of adjusting the amount of heat. This usually means there are some holes on the side of the small heater that will allow you to control the amount of air flow.
- Don’t buy “fondue fuel”. Cooking and kitchen specialty stores sell a small bottle of this for about $8 for a few ounces. Instead, go to your local hardware or home improvement store and get a can of denatured alcohol. It’s the exact same thing! This is why I recommend using the liquid fuel instead of the gel. The liquid “fondue fuel” is nothing more than 100% denatured alcohol. (It’s true- I read it on the label of several brands). You can buy a big can of denatured alcohol at a home improvement store for about $12 a gallon. They usually also have smaller quantities available too.
- When shopping for a fondue pot, try to find one that has a lid. Usually the metal ones tend to have lids, and I’ve found that those lids are very handy when I’m cooking with an unfamiliar heat source. More than once, I’ve prevented spaghetti sauce from burping up, just because I had the lid in place.
- Even though fondue pots are meant to be a cooking tool used at a table, remember that they are still a heat source and could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Keep small children away from the cooking area when using this form of cookware. Unless you and your family are very familiar with the whole fondue process, I really recommend that you not try to cook your food at the table, but use your pot as a cooking tool before the meal, just as you would normally use your stove.
- Be sure to place your fondue pot on a heat-safe surface when cooking. Yes, they do have stands that elevate the heat source off of the table or counter-top, but extra caution is always a good idea when using heat sources. Also, be sure that there are no flammable objects in the near vicinity. Safety is key, as in any kind of cooking, but the advantage is that you are using a tool that was designed to cook food at the table.
- If you decide to use a fondue pot to cook your food in an emergency, get one (or two) now and practice, practice, practice! Under stress, we humans tend to have more trouble thinking outside of the box and like to do things we are familiar with. That’s not a good time to start learning new skills. Find which of your family’s foods are amenable to this kind of cooking. Have fun experimenting with new recipes or adjusting favorite family recipes to allow them to be made in a fondue pot.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 3 thank-you notes for wedding gifts that I feel like I should rewrite and send again- this time with a whole new appreciation for the lovely thoughtful gift. A fondue pot- thank you so much! I know just what to do with this.