You've hauled out the Scrabble board and dusted off the Monopoly box. Now it's time to turn back time in your kitchen -- to the pre-electrical era. The power may be out, but all is not lost. Here are some tips for creating a meal the old-fashioned way:
1. Know what needs refrigeration and what doesn't.
There may be items in your refrigerator that needn't be there. The following foods can be safely held at room temperature. Butter and margarine, hard and processed cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, unopened pasteurized fruit juices, dried fruits, breads, cakes (except cream cheese, frosted or cream-filled), open jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jams, mustard, ketchup and peanut butter.
2. Make use of the great outdoors.
The forecast over the next few days is for temperatures in the 35- to 55-degree range, so if you have a garage, porch or fire escape, you've got a pantry. Find a container that will keep out hungry squirrels (or neighbors) and store anything you'd like to keep cooler than room temperature.
3. Now, about those eggs
Here in America the health and safety authorities advise consumers to keep eggs refrigerated and certainly anyone with a compromised immune system should follow that advice. However, it's true that in large swaths of the civilized world (like in Europe), eggs are sold and stored at room temperature. If are strong, healthy, are in possession of some eggs and want to go old-school, get out your whisk: Now is the time to make your own mayonnaise.
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon white vinegar (or lemon juice or any non-balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or, in a pinch, brown or yellow mustard)
3/4 to 1 cup oil (preferably a neutral one like canola, but olive oil can be use too)
Place a medium bowl on your counter and make sure it doesn't slip by putting a dampened paperbowl underneath it. In the bowl, combine the egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water and whisk until completely integrated. While still whisking constantly, slowly dribble in oil until the mixture emulsifies -- the oil is completely incorporated into the mixture. Now you can add the oil a little quicker, in a thin stream, until mixture is thick and creamy. Makes about 1 cup. Use immediately, or keep outside.
Once you've made mayonnaise, proceed to use it lavishly, slathering it on any bread or crackers, using it as a dip for any vegetables. Mix it with canned tuna.
4. Canned fish
You could do worse than curling up with a can of tuna or, fancier still, salmon or sardines. Or you can improvise a salad: Drain the can and mix up the contents with any or all of the following: chopped onion or scallions or peppers or celery, capers, chopped olives. Moisten with some mustard or salad dressing.
5. Be inspired by peanut butter and jelly.
PB&J is the ultimate power-outage meal and is probably keeping a lot of people going. But you can mix it up by varying the elements. First, you don't need bread. Crackers, rice cakes, matzo, sliced apples or bananas -- anything stiff can serve in a pinch. Not to mention a spoon or a finger. Smear apricot preserves on a cracker and sprinkle with chopped nuts, or mixed nuts, or no nuts.
6. Canned beans
A lifesaver. They're great right out of the can once you rinse them in water and drain. Or mash them up and you've a whole new entree. Hummus is nothing more than chickpeas mashed up with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and tahini (sesame paste) but you could leave out any or all of those ingredients, sub in vinegar for the lemon juice. Adventurous? Try peanut butter instead of the sesame paste. Mashed beans can be spread on virtually anything flat, or can serve as a dip for anything solid.
7. Storm pizza
Some kids -- and a few grown-ups -- will eat almost anything if it's called "pizza." A cracker, a squeeze of ketchup and a piece of American cheese. A stale English muffin, a spoonful of Ragu and a sprinkling of green-box Parmesan. Be creative.
8. Cold soup
It's all the rage at the very toniest establishments. While no one wants to eat cold chicken-noodle or cream of mushroom soup, most clear or chunk-free soups can be eaten at room temperature; tomato soup comes to mind. Put cans of soup outside to get them chillier. If you're lucky enough to have a can of beef consommé on hand, it is jelled at room temperature. In other words, you are in possession of a can of aspic. Turn it out of the can and chop it up and use it to garnish your canned beans or storm pizza.
9. Make stale bread
There's not a lot to do with semi-stale bread, but really stale bread -- that's the foundation of Tuscan cooking. To get it stale, just leave out on the counter to dry out. Presto! Melba toast for your smearing pleasure. Or, cut sliced bread into cubes before drying and you've got croutons which you can mix into your tuna salad or float on your cold soup. If you have some canned tomatoes on hand, you can make the great Tuscan dish pappa al pomodoro: Combine croutons with chopped canned tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and, if you have them, olive oil, garlic, onion, etc.
10. Mix up the serving pieces
Sometimes food is more fun if it's served in an unconventional manner. You're already dining by candlelight. Why not break out the good china? Or serve cold soup in juice glasses? Or use your hands?