Friends and fellow ‘90s children, do you remember “Home Improvement?” (Probably the best PR that the Detroit region has received in the last 20 years beyond those “Pure Michigan” commercials.) Tim Allen, a.k.a. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, used to rev up his Binford power tools with more and more electricity, happily grunting “More Power!” to his “Tool Time” fans.
“More Power,” funnily enough, is what I find myself wailing to the high heavens, now that my power’s been out for 3 days.
Whether or not you’re a big “watch the news” person, you may have heard about a little storm that recently blew through the DC area. It was, according to the History Teacher – a trivia master if I’ve ever known one – a derecho, which he says means “straight ahead” in Spanish (and is closely related to the word derecha, which means “right.” Remind me to never ask for directions in a Spanish-speaking nation). The derecho is a tornado-esque storm that travels in a straight line, rather than spinning in a whirling dervish of destruction. Scary. And, well, very destructive.
The long and short of it is this: the DC area is experiencing spotty electricity and Internet access, due to the lasting effects of this sudden and unexpected wind-and-rain-filled storm. A major heat wave is also in town, raising the heat index to the high 90s and low 100s throughout the week. Thus, my now “steamy” kitchen has been rendered impotent by the vindictive gods of no-electricity and incessantly cold water. (Yep, no electricity means no hot water in my kitchen. 95 degree weather necessitates cold showers anyway.)
But what to cook? Does the electricity-free chef have to suffer through a combination of peanut butter sandwiches, un-toasted Pop Tarts, and a wallet-emptying series of meals eaten out and daily grocery store trips? To face this challenge, I got creative with a basic recipe for Mexican Caviar.
According to one of my old roommates (who taught me this delicious recipe), Mexican Caviar is a salsa-like blend of black beans, corn, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chiles and spices that’s best eaten as an hors d’oeuvre with tortilla chips or crackers. I’ve made it for parties before, adding various spice blends, freshly squeezed lime juice, and even fresh cilantro if I’ve had it on hand. (Read: If I miraculously hadn’t killed a specimen growing in one of my windowsill herb pots.)
This time, I combined basic pantry ingredients with two produce items that comfortably exist outside of my defunct refrigerator – limes and tomatoes – and created More Power Mexican Caviar, a dish that easily serves 4 hungry “refugees,” as a colleague referred to us powerless ones this morning. Happy eating!
More Power Mexican Caviar (serves 4)
- 1 10 oz. can chicken chunks packed in water (optional if you want to go vegetarian)
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can sweet white corn (try Mexicorn for an extra kick)
- 1 tomato, chopped
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp Mexican spice blend
- ½ tsp dried parsley or dried oregano (for fresh herbs, use up to 1 tbsp)
- Garlic salt, to taste
- The juice of ½ a lime
- Whole wheat tortillas or whole grain tortilla chips, for serving.
Here’s What You Do:
- Drain the can of chicken and scoop the meat into a serving bowl.
- Drain and rinse the black beans in a colander, adding them to the serving bowl. Drain the corn and add it to the bowl, along with the chopped tomato and spices.
- Squeeze the juice of ½ a lime over the mixture, and stir gently until well-combined.
- To serve, distribute individual tortillas to each diner, rip them into pieces and scoop up each bite of dip. Tortilla chips – particularly multigrain or blue corn varieties – are also delicious.
Easy peasy, my friends. Here are some other tips for “cooking” in electricity-free environments. Or if you just feel like playing “Little House on the Prairie” and not using that newfangled “electricity” thing. (Note: These are better for summer power outages than winter.)
- Buy minimal produce daily, and make sure it’s specific to your recipe or plans. (Farm stands are great, local sources of fresh fruit and veg this time of year.) So European of you.
- Raid your pantry – you can make great mixed bean salads, for example, with cans of chick peas, black beans, or cannellini beans. Got a can of black or green olives on a pantry shelf? Mix ‘em with tomatoes and chopped herbs for an instant tapenade to share. Canned tuna, salmon or chicken? Toss with bought-that-day veggies and herbs for a fresh take on salads.
- Embrace items that won’t go bad at room temperature – peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches are delicious, for example, and are made that much easier to “cook” given that the PB and honey will last for ages in your pantry.
- If you have a gas or charcoal grill and the weather’s amenable, grill out what you can afford. Remember, though, that if you can’t store the leftovers, you should either buy minimally or commiserate your powerlessness eat with local friends.
- Even if it sounds a bit odd, canned soups are just as edible at room temperature. (Go for the varieties that DON’T need water added; while I can nosh on a room-temperature minestrone, room-temperature cream of mushroom is a bit much, even for me.)
- Oil, vinegar and spices need no refrigeration, and add so much taste, flavor and oomph that you may not even miss the familiar hum of electricity.
What sorts of recipes, shortcuts, or ideas do you have for power-free dining? Do you admit defeat and order a delicious pizza or hit up your local restaurants? Or do you brave the wilderness of heat-free cooking?