Sunday, September 14, 2014

Food that travels well for cooking out


Eggs are just fine out of the refrigerator for a week, and russet potatoes can go indefinitely. Together, they make a tasty fry-up. photo

From page A5 | August 20, 2014 |

My friend Rebecca is planning to drive her car from Alaska to Davis (long story).

She wrote me after my camp food article appeared: “I just saw an article you wrote and realized that I’m stupid for not having asked you before this. So I’m driving down through the Canadian Rockies and we’re planning on camping a lot (because it’s cheap and we’re saving up for restaurants in Vancouver). I don’t know if we can manage to keep a cooler cold and if we do it’ll be tiny, do you have thoughts for non-perishable camp food that I can keep in my car for a few days? I don’t want to survive on beef jerky and nuts … those are for snacks, not dinner.”

And, of course, I do!

While refrigerators make food safety easier, they aren’t strictly necessary — people survived for centuries without them, even on long migrations. (True, they would have survived on jerky or hunting when traveling the Rockies, neither of which will work for Rebecca, who burst into tears when she had to learn to shoot a rifle in case of bear attack. Also a long story.) Choose your foods carefully, start with scrupulously clean tools, and practice excellent food sanitation as you go.

Obviously, you could pack your car with boxed macaroni and cheese, pre-pack Indian meals and cans of stew. Equally obviously, that’s not what most people want to eat for any length of time. Again, people survived for centuries without Kraft (or even Annie’s) mac n’ cheez, and we can take a page from their book to make our menu.

Start with shopping. In the produce section: onions, russet potatoes, garlic and small winter squash, like delicata, will last indefinitely in the car. If the onions are big, substitute shallots — you don’t want to carry half an onion around in your car. Bell peppers will last for a week if they’re firm to start, as will limes and lemons to add a bit of flavor to dinner and post-dinner gin or tea.

Avocados and tomatoes don’t like to be refrigerated anyway, and with a little luck you can get a variety of ripeness to last the length of the trip. If you’d like fruit for breakfast or dessert, mangos, melons and bananas will do well. Small firm summer squash, fresh ginger, fennel bulbs, new potatoes and carrots will last a couple of days once the ice is gone.

In bulk, grab dried mushrooms, whole wheat couscous, falafel mix, your favorite nuts, some pasta shapes and rice. You’ll also want small amounts of spices — oregano, thyme, powdered mustard and red pepper flakes would suit me, and maybe curry powder or chili powder.

We do want some packaged foods: bouillon cubes, canned beans, canned tuna, packaged curry or enchilada sauces, olives, hot sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, salsa in a jar, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, and crackers would fill the bill for me. If you didn’t get tomatoes you may want a can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. If you can eat tofu, a box of shelf-stable tofu is a good protein choice, and you might want a can of coconut milk if you’re a curry fan. Those tubes of shelf-stable polenta are nice if you have enough people to eat one up at a meal.

The dairy section calls for your good judgment. Eggs, uncooked or hardboiled, are just fine out of refrigeration for a week. I keep my butter on the counter in all but the hottest weather anyway, so I’d pop a cube into a plastic container without hesitation. Hard cheeses like Parmesan will last nicely, although they may get a little oily.

Some processed cheeses, like Laughing Cow and Baby Bells are shelf stable until opened, and most cheese lovers will tell you that many cheeses prefer to be a room temperature anyway. (Remember that “room temperature” and “trunk temperature” aren’t necessarily the same.) If you must have milk, you can get canned evaporated milk, aseptic packaged milk or dried milk to use – choose the one that tastes OK to you.

I usually get a salami for camping, and skip the rest of the meat. If you’re on trek, you may have opportunity to stop now and then to get a nice steak, or a little sliced turkey.

You will also need some cooking equipment. For these recipes you’ll need a cutting board and knife, fry pan with a lid, mid-sized mixing bowl, tea kettle, spatula and serving spoon.

Nothing here needs to be measure very precisely, but it’s a good idea to figure out the volume of your camping mug for measuring.

But what, I hear Rebecca ask, can I actually make with all this? Just for starters, here are five nice combos. Recipes follow for everything but the tostadas.

Dried mushrooms + rice + broth + Parmesan = risotto
Beans + peppers + onions + tortillas + salsa = tostadas
Eggs + peppers + onions + tortillas = migas
Tomatoes + pasta + salami + olives = spicy pasta
Tofu + coconut milk + onions + peppers + curry powder + couscous = curry

Dried mushrooms can be sandy. You can leave the last bit of liquid in the soaking container, or carry extra coffee filters with you to filter it.

Camping Mushroom “Risotto”

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 Tbsp. butter
Handful of dried mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups rice
3 cups water
1 stock cube
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
Putting it together:
Heat up the water and pour it over the dried mushrooms. Toast almonds in your dry pan until fragrant. Set aside. Drain the mushrooms, saving the liquid, and chop. Cook mushrooms and onions in butter until tender. Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the grains with the fat. Add mushroom water, stock cube and soy sauce. Cover and cook, stirring once in a while, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and parmesan cheese before serving.

Camping Migas

2 corn tortillas
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. oil
1 tomato
1 small pepper
1 small onion
4 eggs
½ cup cheese
Putting it together:
Heat butter and oil in a skillet. Tear tortillas into bite-sized bits and fry in fat 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan & reserve. Cut vegetables into bites and cook in skillet until tender. Beat eggs and add to skillet along with tortillas. Scramble. Serve with cheese & salsa as desired.

Camping Pasta

1 onion
1 pepper
Dried oregano
(red pepper flakes)
2-3 large tomatoes or 1 can of diced tomatoes in juice
Water or wine
A handful of pasta shapes – macaroni, bowties, etc.
Parmesan cheese
Putting it together:
Chop the onion and the pepper and fry in a little oil 2-3 minutes. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for another minutes. Chop the tomatoes or open the can and add them to the pan with all their juice and a pinch of salt. Add enough water or wine to make an inch or so of liquid and stir in the pasta. Cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally and adding a bit more liquid if needed, until pasta is tender. Stir in chopped salami, drained olives and cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.


Couscous is ideal for camping, because it “cooks” by being covered with an equal amount (plus an extra splash) of water. Make it in the mixing bowl with a dinner plate for a cover, fluff with a fork before serving.

Camping Tofu Curry

1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper sliced
1 tsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. curry powder
½ tsp. hot sauce
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
8-10 oz. tofu
salt to taste
Putting it together:
Heat oil in frying pan and sauté onions & peppers 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat. Add ginger and spices and cook 1-2 minutes. Add coconut milk, hot sauce and tofu. Cover and cook gently for 20 minutes. Serve over whole wheat couscous.





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