Eating Well When You Camp: Part 4: Convenience Foods that are Worth Using

So last time we discussed some ideas about what sorts of pre-cooked home-made dinners could be vacuum packed and reheated in hot water. This food is truly yummy – after all you made it yourself, but extra calories are often a mandate when you are camping. So what can you do that will be yummy, and maybe even a little healthy? Now first of all, let me say that I use very few preprocessed foods at home when I cook, but I have found a few that are truly awesome, especially when camping.

Dehydrated potatoes. A standard for our camping events. You can buy them completely plain, and rehydrate them with milk and butter, or by the “butter flavored” version and just add boiling water. They take less than 5 minutes to make, and they are darn good. Some versions even come with things like cheese and bacon – check it out in the pasta aisle.

Couscous and couscous blends. Be sure to read the instructions well to be sure of what you are buying. Some of these products are almost totally instant – add boiling water, allow to sit, fluff it up with a fork and serve.

Dehydrated stuffed pasta meals. I try not to mention brand names, but Barilla makes some really good pasta dishes – ricotta & spinach, and three cheese. A two person package is small, shelf stable, and cooks up in about 10 minutes in boiling water. You can serve it as a meal, or a side dish. Add butter, or sauce, depending on what you prefer. These meals also come in a four person serving size. The quantity is fairly generous.

Pre-made Roll Biscuits. These are the biscuits that come in the tubes, usually in the dairy section at the grocery. We rarely use them at home – we prefer to make rolls from scratch, but they cook up really well in our little camp oven. Be careful not to burn them, some camp ovens are a bit fussy. Once you have conquered biscuits you can also buy breakfast rolls and cookie dough. We often make our cookie dough at home, create uniform cookies with a scoop, and freeze the uncooked cookie dough. If you want instant friends at a camping event bake up some fresh chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon rolls in camp.

2009-03-12 - Potatoes & Biscuits - 0007

2009-03-12 – Potatoes & Biscuits – 0007 (Photo credit: smiteme)

Canned Fruit, V-8 Juice, individual fruit cups, granola bars, individual yogurt cups, individual fruit juice drinks, and store-bought cookies are only a few of the other items that you can add to your basic cooked meals to make them special. Reheated Roast Pork and gravy served with applesauce and freshly baked biscuits – not a bad way to finish the day. “Cheating” by adding a V-8 juice or fruit juice during the day helps to up the “healthy factor” on your diet, and obviously reading the labels and choosing your products carefully makes a huge difference.

We even carry an emergency kit for my Service Dog that includes a container of shelf-stable pre-cooked rice and a can of chicken stock. This will actually work for people with upset tummies, too. We rarely need it, but it is cheap insurance.

As someone who regularly camps at SCA events for a week or more, having something safe and yummy to eat is a very important thing to me. And you may ask: But What do We do for a REALLY long war like Pennsic? Next week.

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Eating Well When You Camp: Part 3: The Ultimate Cheat – Precooked Meals

Last time we asked the question “Why the BBQ on Friday?” And the answer? Raw meat. Raw meat spoils waaay faster than cooked meat. Properly cooked meal, which has been cooled down carefully and stored safely has a much longer “cooler life”. So on to a brief discussion of pre-cooked meals.

For people who are good cooks, have food allergies, or just want to be able to eat specific dishes, there are many excellent options for camping. Remember those vacuum bags that we mentioned last time, well those waterproof lovelies can be safely used to freeze pre-cooked meals from home and then used to reheat them in camp.

If your brain draws a blank when you think of precooked meals, let me mention just a few of the very successfully reheated meals that we have had in camp over the years.

Beef Stew, Chili, Chicken Pot Pie filling, or any thick soup. Simply freeze in a plastic container and once the food is solid, pop it out of the container, place it in a vacuum bag, vacuum the bag, label, and place back into the freezer until you are ready to use it. Pre-freezing the very wet contents make it easier to vacuum the food well and avoid freezer burn if you store the food for a while. We often do a big bunch of frozen dinners after Thanksgiving or a big roast and use them for both home and camping. I love to use the disposable plastic boxes that come with pre-packaged cold-cuts for freezing wet foods. The sides of the boxes slope outwards slightly, which makes it easy to pop out the solid blocks of food. The blocks will also melt more slowly than thinner flat packs of food. We know from experience that a full container, with lots of chunks of meat, is enough for two of us for dinner, so a dinner for four is two large blocks.

A nice beef stew for dinner.

A nice beef stew for dinner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turkey and gravy, or Pot Roast and gravy, or Roast Pork and gravy. Just put the pre-sliced meat into the bag and add gravy. The safest way to do this is to pre-freeze the gravy and put the block of gravy in with the meat right before you vacuum it. Be sure to label – sometimes it is NOT obvious what the food is. We have had a couple of “creative” meals at an event where someone forgot to read the labels on the bags and two things looked alike.

Lasagna! Lasagna is one of those things that really does freeze and reheat well. You can make your own from scratch or use pre-frozen lasagna (be sure that it is fully cooked). Lasagna reheats well in a boil and seal bag. The one drawback is that it takes a LOT longer to reheat than some other foods, but it is yummy.

Vegetables? We use frozen peas a lot when we camp. Just put half a bag of frozen peas, or other vegetables, into a vacuum bag, vacuum it, and label. You can even add a couple of tablespoons of butter or seasoning, so that the vegetable comes out “completely ready”.

Now we are not just eating the frozen dinners for supper – honestly that would NOT be enough food when I am camping. I get HUNGRY, and therefore next time we will discuss: Convenience Foods that are Worth Using.


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Eating Well When You Camp: Part 2: Why the BBQ on Friday?

Last time we started talking about the rather delicious camping trip that I had just returned from and my theories of camp food. I asked the question “Why the BBQ on Friday?” And the answer? Raw meat. The weather was not particularly warm, and all of the food was being carefully kept on ice, but the item that needed to be cooked first was raw meat – in this case hamburger. The more a raw meat product has been processed the easier it spoils, so the hamburger needed to be cooked as quickly as possible.

Whenever we carry raw meat to an event, heavily processed items, like ground meat of any sort, are the first items to be cooked. If we need to delay their use at all, we bring them frozen solid, preferably from a zero degree freezer. Items like steak and whole chicken breast can easily be kept for a day or two more by making sure that they arrive on site very cold and are kept on ice until they are used. Since the vast majority of camping events are only a weekend long, that makes it simple to do fresh meat two nights in a row, or fresh meat followed by prepared meat the next night.

Aside from the issue of raw meat and food safety, another reason for the BBQ on Friday night was scheduling. None of us had any responsibilities on Friday night, so we knew that we could all just sit around and relax while the chef de jour did all of the grilling. The “sides” were super simple, buns, condiments, purchased potato salad and a birthday cake. The grill was set-up right on the edge of the shade structure that we were sitting under, so no one was stuck off somewhere cooking.

Pulled pork is a form of barbecue. It is a met...

Pulled pork is a form of barbecue. It is a method of preparation in which pork is cooked using a low-heat, long-cook method. The meat becomes tender enough that its weakened connective tissue allows the meat to be “pulled”, or easily broken into individual pieces. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And talking of scheduling, that was also the reason that we had pre-cooked pulled pork for dinner on Saturday night. We knew that all of us had responsibilities with a very uncertain end-time. So dinner had to be something very stable that could be heated and held without losing its quality. This is where the vacuum seal bag really shines. The meat was prepared at home and sealed in a boilable vacuum bag. Why a vacuum bag? Two really big reasons: water and water. The first water that we needed to worry about was the melted ice in the cooler. I have personally lost several meals over the years because they were stored in resealable bags and the bags allowed the ice water in the cooler to leak in. Resealable bags are NOT waterproof. The second water was the water that was used to reheat the meat. Reheating in boiling water is a very “gentle” way to reheat food. The food will not dry out or scorch and precooked meat will not overcook, even if held for an hour. Once the meat is thoroughly heated, the hot water in the pot is still clean and can be used for washing dishes. If we had used a waterproof plastic container to store the meat, the reheating process would have involved getting a pan dirty AND risking drying out or scorching the meat.

Next time: The ultimate cheat – precooked meals!

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