One of my “interests” is “ersatz cooking”. This can be “car camping” (where I found a neat little lunch boxed sized 12 VDC electric “oven” at the truck stop so enjoyed roast Cornish Game Hen and Potatoes while driving cross country – just plug in and drive a couple of hours ’till you can’t stand how good it smells! ;-) or it can be “After the Quake” with bricks and parts of house rubble for fuel…
One of the areas that I have sometimes wondered about is “camping in an apartment”. I’ve not thought about it much, as it’s been, well, “a long time” measured in over 1/3 century since I lived in an apartment… And even then it was a ‘patio unit’ so I had a hibachi / BBQ on the ‘patio’. But from time to time I’ve wondered what folks in, oh, a high rise in New York City could do in a major power outage. Rather like what happened in their (absolutely normal and expected) storm recently.
No patio at the 20th floor. Not a lot of ventilation (so things like indoor charcoal or even a gasoline stove are large Carbon Monoxide risks). It’s just not the kind of place where you can set up the camp stove and go.
The general “solution” I’ve leaned toward is the Sterno Folding Stove. It’s fairly cheap and works well. Sterno in a new sealed can on a shelf in the pantry is stable for years. (In the trunk of a car in summer in The West it can slowly evaporate over a year or two… yes, I had that happen.) But cans in the kitchen have sat for years and been unchanged.
But that folding stove can drive some folks nuts trying to put it together. I’ve often thought ‘there ought to be something’ that the average person in a $Million condo in NYC could have ‘on hand’ that would be usable. (Or even their servant in a tiny little flat in the poor side of town…)
Well, I think there is, and that we’ve all seen them; but not thought it through much.
The Chaffing Dish.
As the Wiki describes them:
A chafing dish (from the Old French chauffer, “to make warm”) is a kind of portable grate raised on a tripod, originally heated with charcoal in a brazier, and used for foods that require gentle cooking, away from the “fierce” heat of direct flames. The chafing dish could be used at table or provided with a cover for keeping food warm on a buffet. Double dishes that provide a protective water jacket are known as bains-marie and help keep delicate foods, such as fish, warm while preventing overcooking.
So not just for keeping precooked foods warm at conferences… but originally a kind of stove for gentle cooking.
Widely used at various presentations, meetings, parties, whatever. They clearly are ‘acceptable’ for indoor use and ‘safe’ for cooking on top of a cloth covered table. (Since that’s what they are used for all the time…)
Normally we see food presented in them, just ‘warming’. Sometimes with a ‘water pan’ between the food dish and the fire.
Yet in the old Family Restaurant we would cook some dishes in the ‘steam table’. The water bath server / chaffer is just a small ‘steam table’. Running at those temperatures it is remarkably like a ‘slow cooker’ in how you cook. (So put meats and stew vegetables in and wait…) Not the most fuel efficient kind of cooking as the heat loss is higher in slow cooking, fast hot cooking is more efficient as there is less time for heat loss. So while the Sterno Stove is ‘better’ for things like fried eggs and making hot water for instant coffee; the Chaffing Dish would do an “OK” job of cooking several kinds of foods. Especially things like warming cans of ravioli or canned stews and vegetables. Exactly the kind of “emergency food” a completely non-prepared city dweller would be likely to have and cook. (If you are eating most of your meals at ‘restaurants out’, it is unlikely you are skilled at cooking dry grains and rehydrating dehydrated vegetables & jerky to make ‘jerky stew’…)
It’s also the case that you can cook directly in the pans that have direct exposure to the heat. Yes, it may discolor the stainless steel a bit if you heat it enough to fry eggs in the ‘water pan’, but that pan IS a stainless steel pan. You can cook in it just like any other thin stainless steel pan.
Many even have a “fuel cup” with an adjustable lid / flame control, giving some control of the heat level. That lets you choose “slow cooker” vs “boiling” vs “fry”. (I’m sure many of you have been at ‘events’ where these were set too high and some bit of prepared food was cooking too fast right over the heat. That becomes a ‘feature’ if the food is raw and you have a spatula in hand cooking it…)
So if you happen to live in a high rise apartment, have been wondering how in the heck to ‘prepare’ for post disaster cooking, I think that in addition to a ‘Sterno Stove’ and cans of Sterno (and presuming you are not interested in learning to use an alcohol camp stove – that can also be used indoors) you ought to consider that Chaffing Dish (that many of us got for wedding gifts, stuck in the back of the pan shelf, and promptly forgot…) It even can look nice.
OK, no particular endorsement, but just a couple of links I ran into while looking at Chaffing Dishes:
An interesting small ( 4 qt so about 1/2 the ‘usual’ size) one with an industrial style. All of $30 at a restaurant supply place.
An 8 quart foldable for cheap. $26.
Then there’s the ‘disposable’ approach. A chaffer / warmer that uses those thin aluminum ‘tin’ pans from Sterno, with fuel included:
Though it’s also $26, so has me wondering why I’d not just buy a more ‘industrial’ one…
You could even go much more ‘fancy’ at $51, but as a ‘5 qt round’ don’t know if it has a ‘water pan’:
So ‘warming’ canned stuff, slow cooking what was in the fridge when the power failed, stewing and wet cooking, and even some ‘not quite ideal’ frying on thin stainless steel if that’s the only choice. Still, post “Aw Shit” it’s a very “doable” option. And not the kind of thing that is ‘out of place’ in a New York City apartment. Just add a ‘flat’ of Sterno (from the same vendors very cheaply) and a shelf of canned food and you have a “one week solution” for not much space or cost. And if some visitor at a party opens that cabinet, they will not see “Red Neck Prepper”, but “Upscale Chaffing / Fondue”… just for those folks where that might matter ;-)
While I’d love to find an ‘old school’ style with a liquid alcohol burner, as in that top picture, it’s just a whole lot cheaper and easier to get the ‘economy 4 qt’ style and some cans of Sterno.
I could easily cook on one of those for a week, with a flat of Sterno cans, and be happy. At the end, ‘gentle’ frying on the bare metal ‘water pan’ would likely leave it a bit ugly, and I’d likely be tired of canned stew; but it’s cheap, and relatively ‘fumble proof’ for city apartment dwellers.