Friday, May 8, 2015

What's Your Emergency Meal?

Spaghetti with Clam Sauce
Everyone needs to have an emergency meal—something you can make at the last minute when dining-out plans fall through, your phone service is dead or it’s 3 a.m. and you’re too hungry to sleep.

College students fall back on ramen soup and cereal. No refrigeration is necessary. Who needs milk on your cereal if you’re desperate?

However, you can do much better if you plan just a little. Just don’t do what my friend Michael did. He knew he wanted to eat chicken at some point during the week so he went out and bought some. Then he forgot it was in the fridge. A week or two later, he noticed it and decided to make it for dinner. He was sick for a couple of days. A few years later he did it again. I wonder if he still keeps his doctor’s number on speed-dial?

If you’re going to buy meat for an emergency meal, keep it in the freezer and thaw it in the microwave. The freezer is a wonderful place. Store flour tortillas there. Toss in packages of frozen veggies, bread and ice cream. Keep some basics on hand in the cupboard. Here are 3 of my favorite emergency meals.

1) Pre-Cooked Sausages, and I don’t mean hot dogs--although if you love hot dogs, I guess they count. I like Bruce Aidells sausages. My favorite is Habanero & Green Chile, which is on the spicy side, although I’m also happy to eat Chicken & Apple or any of the others the company makes. Just make sure the label says “pre-cooked.” They come in 4-sausage packages at the grocery store or in bigger amounts at warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club. Cost varies from $1 to $2 per sausage, depending whether or not they’re on sale. Keep them in the freezer. When you need one, heat it up in a pot of boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. You can eat it immediately with or without a bun. If you want to get fancy, fry up a sliced onion and red bell pepper. Then thinly slice the sausage, add it to the vegetables and eat.

2) Black Bean Tortillas couldn’t be simpler. All you need are flour tortillas (you can store them for months in the freezer), a can of cooked black beans and a jar of salsa. Grated cheese and chopped lettuce would be nice additions but not necessary.

Drain the black beans in a sieve, rinse thoroughly and put in a bowl. Get out the salsa, grated cheese and chopped lettuce, if using. If you have any left-over vegetables, you could also include them.

To make the tortilla taste better, heat it in a dry frying pan over medium high heat for about 30 seconds per side, or until the surface of the tortilla is still bendable but has developed some brown spots. Remove from the frying pan and lay on a plate. Cover with beans and salsa and cheese and lettuce, if available. Fold the tortilla in half or roll it up and eat it.

3) Spaghetti with Clam Sauce is the one dish my husband Bart can cook. It’s easy to make, filling, cheap and ready to eat in 20-25 minutes. Here is the recipe, adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen.”
Spaghetti with Clam Sauce – serves 2

1 small onion
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (see Mom Cooking Tip 2)
1 15-ounce can ready-cut tomatoes
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 6-ounce can chopped or minced clams
1/2 pound (8 ounces) spaghetti
Salt & black pepper to taste
Half-fill a large pot with water, cover and begin heating over high heat.

Make the sauce. Peel the onion and cut it into small pieces. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir for about 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the soy sauce and the liquid from the can of clams. Save the clams to add at the end.

By now, the water should be boiling. Add the spaghetti to the water and stir to keep the noodles from sticking together. Check to see how long the noodles should cook, and set the timer accordingly. Continue stirring the sauce. It will gradually thicken.

When the timer rings, add the clams to the sauce and stir. Test the noodles to see if they’re done, and if they are, drain them in a colander. To serve, either transfer the noodles to a large bowl and pour the clam sauce over the top or divide the noodles into 2 bowls and cover with sauce. Pass the salt and black pepper.


  1. Meatless sausages are also delicious for vegetarians.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I always buy one or two roasted chickens from Costco (what can beat $5 chickens???) and blocks of cheese that I shred and put in the freezer. Add sliced avocados from our avocado tree, some greek yoghurt, and we have our emergency meal -- quesadilla, which everybody loves.