Cooking: The Basics
As a Prepper, you may think you have bigger things to worry about. You are concerned about a terrorist attack on your city, or a 10.0 magnitude earthquake, a super volcano or an armed invasion by another country. In your mind, there are literally dozens of things to worry about before you even think about cooking. However, if you cannot cook during a crisis people may go hungry including you.
Some people may make the mistake of assuming certain things will be the same during a catastrophe as during a normal day. During a disaster, you will not be able to pop a dish in the microwave, or run to a fast food restaurant or even to a grocery store.
Pre-prepared meals will be a distant memory. You will be cooking from “scratch”. You will have to be able to make a meal with what you have on hand in your cupboards and pantry. This means you need to know how to cook.
Cuts of Meat
You may have heard the term “eating high on the hog” and it can apply to beef and other animals as well. Butchers in years past sold and priced cuts based on how far the cut was from the hoof and horn, so the best cuts, the tenderest cuts would be the rib and tenderloin on an animal. Muscle meats are worked the most making them the toughest cuts but if cooked the right way the so-called lesser quality cuts can be as good as any tenderloin. It is all in the cooking method.
Tough cuts need to be cooked slowly with moisture while more tender cuts need to be cooked fast and hot to seal in the natural juices. Steaks are best cooked fast over a flame and roasts covered and cooked slow.
You may not be able to use an oven or a cook top range unless the range is gas and you have a supply. This means cooking on a gas or charcoal grill or over an open campfire.
Cast iron Dutch ovens are ideal for all types of cooking to include baking. You can essentially cook anything in a Dutch oven. Leave the lid off to sear steaks on the bottom or cover a roast and cook slowly. Certain cast iron ovens are designed to where you can put hot coals on the lid and place directly in a bed of hot coals. Use this method to bake breads, biscuits and to cook large roasts slowly or to make stews with leftover vegetables and meats.
Ingredients What Should You Have
You should be growing your own herbs right in the kitchen or in your garden plot. Herbs such as thyme, sage, basil, mint, chives and others grow well inside the home in a windowsill box. Outside you can grow garlic, dill and green onions, for example.
You can of course stock up on dried herbs and spices, and for the most part, if they are less than a year old, they make acceptable substitutes when fresh herbs and spices are not available. Black pepper and iodized salt are staples that everyone should have and salt has what is considered an indefinite shelf life if stored properly. You will know when pepper has lost its potency. You can use peppercorns or buy it already ground.
Honey has an indefinite shelf life and it makes a great substitute for sugar and is healthier.
Cooking oils are an important part of cooking and most have a shelf life of one year if unopened. Peanut oil by most accounts is one of the better all around cooking and frying oils because it can withstand higher heat without breaking down.
Lards are used for baking and some still use real lard for pan frying foods that do not have any natural fats in them. Pre-heat your pan and oil before adding any foods. Crisco is a suitable substitute for real animal lard and much better health wise. Use Crisco for frying, baking and in other recipes that may call for shortening or lard.
Flour is a staple and it is shelf stable for years if sealed well. All-purpose flour is just that, it can be used for any baking recipe or for breading meats and fish for baking or frying.
Yeast is needed for baking bread if you expect it to rise. There are self-rising flours that do not need yeast but it is recommended you do not use this type of flour in some recipes. To keep from stockpiling various types of flour use all-purpose and have plenty of yeast on hand for baking breads.
Sugar of course is also a staple used in many different recipes and for baking in particular.
You should also have apple cider and white vinegar, along with baking soda and baking powder, do not get the two confused, as some tend to do.
Baking soda has many uses around the home besides for baking. It can be used for brushing teeth and general cleaning around the home. Baking soda is sometimes used to “sweeten” sour drains and garbage pails. It can also be mixed with water and taken to help relive certain stomach ailments, but follow the directions on the package carefully before taking.
What is an article on cooking basics without a recipe? Here is one that is easy to master, will allow you to show off your baking skills, and may very well help you out during a crisis because without bread there is not life as some may tell you.
Make sure all ingredients and your mixing bowl and other utensils are at room temperature. This recipe does not require you to activate the yeast separately. If you use hot tap water, the water will be cooled by the other ingredients and the mixing bowl enough to where it does not kill the yeast.
Six (6) cups of all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups of tap water temperature should be between 125 and 130ᵒF (51.6-54.4ᵒC)
Three (3) tablespoons of sugar
Two (2) Teaspoons of salt
Five (5) Teaspoons of yeast
Three (3) Tablespoons of butter
Mix the dry ingredients (no need to sift the flour) then cut in the butter until the mixture begins to form crumbles then make a hole in the center of the mix and add the water. Work the mixture by hand. You can dust your hands with flour to help keep the mixture from sticking to your hands. Once mixed well put on a flour-covered surface such as a counter top or baker’s board.
Now comes the hard part, kneading and you will need to work the dough for up to 15 minutes and this is best done by hand. Keep in mind during a crisis you will not have the use of electric mixers or bread machines.
Why do I need to work the bread dough so long? You have to mix the gluten, water and proteins together until they bond. This process creates a structure to help contain the gases created by the now activated yeast. This is what causes the dough to rise.
Your dough is ready when it stretches and does not tear when pulled on. Once ready, it must set in a warm place to rise. The room temperature should be at least 70ᵒF/21ᵒC if not you need to cover the dough with a warmed not wet cloth.
The dough must double in size. Once doubled cut into sections and place in greased bread pans or some other baking container.
You can bake this bread in a Dutch oven. The only drawback if you can call it that is the bread will be in the shape of the container. However, the crust will be crispy using this method. Pre-heat the Dutch oven with the lid on at 450ᵒF/232ᵒC for 10 minutes.
Grease with Crisco or spray the inside with cooking spray. You can place the dough ball on parchment paper (must be baking parchment and not waxed paper) and lift the paper and dough and place in the pot. This may make it easier to remove the loaf once baked.
You can bake bread this way using hot coals by covering the lid and placing the oven in hot coals. The crust will not become as crispy this way however.
Bake with the lid on for 15 minutes then remove the lid to allow the crust to brown up. Cooking with the lid on allows steam to penetrate the dough. Bake another 25-20 minutes until the color is golden brown.