Kitchen Confidence column: Create a roadside cafe
May 4, 2016
Food always tastes better outdoors. You want to make the best-tasting sandwich you've ever had? Just put some ham and cheese between two slices of bread and drag it to the top of a mountain. When you bite into that puppy at 14,000 feet, you'll be amazed at how good it tastes. Your camping meals can be a little more sophisticated. With a few basic strategies and some carefully chosen provisions, you can eat like a king while out on the road.
My number one strategy is to steam vegetables. Broccoli, carrots and red bell pepper will all stand up to life in the cooler. They are versatile and of course cleanup is easy. Once steamed, they can be tossed in with a package of Ramen, added to some cooked tortellini, or simply dipped into some hummus. When going after the Ramen, I also like to include some fresh ginger when steaming the vegetable mix. If you have a grill with you it's pretty easy to cook a piece of fish. If not a piece of smoked salmon, some cooked shrimp, or even a can of crab meat will do nicely. When it's time to eat, a topping of minced green onion makes the dish complete (see a demo video here https://youtu.be/Jkx7awf3wRI).
Next on the list is to use pre-sliced chicken breast. Even small-town grocery stores will have a meat counter. If you ask them to slice the chicken for you, you will save on some cleanup of your knife and cutting board out at camp. If you cook the chicken in a skillet, the pan will still be pretty easy to clean (I'll share my secret cleaning tip later in the column). Meanwhile, boil up some fresh ravioli and you've got yourself a pretty good dinner. Add some steamed vegetables, or even a salad, and you've got yourself a really nice meal.
When it comes to lunches, nothing is more portable than a sandwich. I prefer smoked turkey because it does well in the cooler. I like to add avocado and use sourdough bread. If you want to spike it up a little, sprinkle some bacon bits into it. I used Hormel. You can find the pre-cooked bacon crumbles on the salad aisle. Another strategy for sandwiches is to hard boil some eggs before you hit the road. When you're ready, chop them up for an egg salad sandwich. Be sure to add diced celery so you are including some vegetables. Speaking of celery, smearing some peanut butter on a stalk makes a great snack.
Finally, for breakfasts, there is always instant oatmeal. Add some raisins (or dried cranberries) and walnuts to give it extra punch. I also stir in some powdered milk for flavor and added protein. When you have the time in the morning, fried eggs are a great way to start the day. Sprinkle some of those bacon bits on them while they're cooking. Once the eggs are out of the pan, use a piece of bread or tortilla to wipe out the butter. You will be cleaning the pan and toasting your bread at the same time. Be sure to put some of those pre-steamed veggies on your plate, or even a small salad. My favorite camping salad dressing is Dorothy Lynch homestyle dressing.
To really get the pan clean, once it cools a little, squirt some lemon juice in it and give it a good wipe with a paper towel. So there it is, my secret cleaning tip. I buy one of those little plastic lemons with just plain lemon juice in it. It's great for cleaning up pots because the acid will cut any residue. No rinsing is required and there will be no soapy taste to worry about.
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Some other handy things to keep in the cooler are cottage cheese, a jar of fermented vegetables, and a bag of shredded cabbage (add to your Ramen, top a sandwich, or toss into a salad). Just remember to think in terms of items that can stand to get wet. I keep some soy sauce and a bottle of Cholula on board too.
When you transfer your kitchen skills to the great outdoors, you'll still be able to eat well on the road and the food will taste phenomenal. Camping doesn't have to mean Lipton cup of soup and Rice a Roni. Healthy eating is a lifestyle choice and goes hand-in-hand with hiking, mountain biking, or river rafting out in your favorite place. Have fun out there!
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