Cooking on the Road – and a Reader Request

by Britta on 17 February 2010

in European Adventure,The Freelancing Life

Produce Market in Aix-en-Provence

Produce Market in Aix-en-Provence

One of the things I realized I’ve been missing while traveling is cooking. It’s a little difficult to create any sort of gourmet meal when you don’t have most of the essential ingredients for even a basic meal, let alone a complicated one. Dried pasta and canned marinara, or bags of pre-cut veggies and cans of sesame sauce, which have become my staples, simply don’t fulfill the wannabe chef in me. I have been itching to cook something that takes a little effort and ingenuity.

Unfortunately, I don’t carry spice racks and cooking oils with me, and I’m loathe to buy things that I can’t finish or take with me, so I’ve had a hard time finding any sort of variation to my recipes. Sometimes I buy a jar of pesto instead of marinara, and sometimes I use a curry sauce instead of sesame, but that sort of variety is not adding a whole lot of spice to my cooking, and I really don’t like the fact that virtually everything I’m eating is packaged or prepped.

I’ve also just finished In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, which I listened to as an audio book on various train and bus rides. The book advocates eating whole, un- (or less-) processed foods in order to improve health, both of people and of the planet. The book was fascinating, and listening to it made me feel a rare bit of nostalgia for life in Hawaii, where I had access to a fantastic farmer’s market, and where I discovered my love of cooking. Unfortunately, listening to the book also added to my angst over not being able to cook (although I do still highly recommend the book for anyone interested).

A Meal Made in Paris

A Meal Made in Paris

In my apartment in Paris, I cooked a little, but the kitchen was so small and poorly equipped, I couldn’t do a whole lot, although I did take a certain amount of pride in what I was able to come up with (using ingredients from the local markets, of course). In Aix-en-Provence, I had even less space and fewer utensils to cook with, so about the only thing I could do was boil water, and boil things in water, namely eggs and pasta. Since I’ve been on the road, I’ve been through some hostels with much better kitchens and equipment (and some much worse), but the fact that I’m not staying put anywhere limits my ability to cook big meals, since it’s impractical to buy a lot of something I’ll only need a little of, or things I can’t pack up and take to my next destination.

I do carry some food with me: I always have a jar of peanut butter, occasionally I’ll buy a small bag of rice and carry it until I use it up, and I do hold onto small loaves of bread. And I do carry a travel mug/French press and a bag of coffee (the British love for instant coffee has so far not rubbed off on me). Occasionally there are oils available in the free food bin in the hostel, and some even go so far as to provide spices, but this is the exception, not the rule.

So, I have a request for all of you faithful readers out there: What recipes can you come up with for cooking on the road? I’m talking ones with a few (4 or 5 or so) ingredients, mostly fresh, mostly unprocessed, in which I use up all (or most) of the ingredients. I am willing to consider carrying more/other items with me, as long as they’re small and light, and I’m open to any sort of cooking style or type.

I was always better at the cooking than the planning, and unsurprisingly, this task has been much harder for me than I expected. So I need your suggestions, otherwise I’m stuck in pasta-land (and I do not mean Italy).

Any suggestions? Tips or tricks? Post them in the comments for all to see!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

David Reynolds February 19, 2010 at 1:40 am

Probably sounds a little boring but a bottle of soy sauce is great for dousing steamed vegies and also good for meat or fish if you dash a bit of it on the plate and soak the pieces of meat in it before you devour them. You can have avocado on toast with a splash of it for a snack as well and i am sure there are a zillion other things you could do, so put some of that in your swag and you will be able to have lush meals most days. david

Cindy February 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I say POP TARTS for breakfast! You may also want to consider lemon pepper; a spice to add frolic to your veggies or tuna (in soft pouch). Or a small botle of tobasco sauce could spice up your meals. There’s always lutefisk in Norway!!! Good Luck, Britt!
Love from your Aunt! (the nice one!)

Janine Walton February 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I would add Italian bread crumbs to your stash of food- they can be added to ground beef with an egg for meatballs which can be topped with spaghetti sauce for spaghetti and meatballs or meatball sandwiches with mozzarella if you like that or use sweet and sour sauce with rice, or use a dry gravy packet which you could add a chicken bouillon cube to(another must)along with water.

You can also dip fish (red snapper is great) or a chicken breast in Italian bread crumbs and fry in oil to make a tasty dish. The breaded chicken (already lightly fried) can be coated with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella (Chicken Parmigiana ) and baked for about 30 min. at 350. The fish can be breaded, fried, then stuffed with sauted vegies liked onions, peppers or other vegies with a little butter inside and baked. Or cook it all in a fry pan!

Salmon patties are great with canned salmon, Italian bread crumbs and an egg. Mix and make into patties. Cook in fry pan. and serve with a fresh salad with available greens and other vegies.

Yes, Italian bread crumbs are a must!
Happy Cooking and Exploring,

Love, Aunt Janine (The Nicest One!)

Donna Grosso February 22, 2010 at 10:34 am

Hey Britta, I’m not much of a cook so I did many 5-ingredient recipe searches on the Internet. Seems you can make just about any fresh vegetable and protein in any size portion you like if you use olive oil. I’d buy the smallest amount I could find and transfer it to a similarly sized plastic container (not the best way to store oil, but you won’t be storing it for long so it shouldn’t matter). You can choose a spicy or flavored oil to do double duty. Adding roughly ten to twelve ounces to your pack shouldn’t be a strain, and I’ll bet every meal would get a whole lot healthier, tastier, and more inventive. Bon appetit! Love, Donna

Jordan Walton February 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Hi Britta, I think I can help you out. Try using bread and eggs as your main ingredients. Tear up the bread into a pan, then break the eggs over the pieces. Cook for awhile then add sliced onions and/or peppers. You can also mix in a diced potato, beans, or pasta shells (but those have to be cooked on the side). This is an extremely fast meal that lets you improvise. Good luck. I’ll probably add more ideas later…

Janine Walton February 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Hi Britt,
(Refering to my last posting) Just wanted to add, remember to dip your chicken or fish in an egg (beaten with a little water added) before the breadcrumbs as it works better. Do you have Grandma’s apple pie recipe for when you’re in Norway, maybe at a relatives house? Let me know if you want it. Enjoy your travels. We miss you!
Love, Aunt Janine

Pat Perry March 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Okay, all the great comments have me ready to go make dinner! I have one idea – change from pasta to baked potato – should you have a microwave oven its fast. Can top a potato baked with anything – stir fry – marina sauce – cheese – whatever.
Just remember – when you get back to Alaska – the kitchen is waiting, along with some of your unusual ingredients that I haven’t figured out how to use! Coconut milk??? 3 cans are waiting for you! Travel on…. ciao!

Britta March 3, 2010 at 7:36 am

Thanks for all the tips and ideas, everyone. I’ll start putting them to use! I’ll also keep you updated on what sorts of things I make with them!

Carmen March 13, 2010 at 5:08 am

Funny, I thought of you and my alternate experience here in S. America. I love using eggs for a dinner option. Omelets are a great change of pace and light, or you can boil eggs for a good breakfast option too. Some sliced tomatoes, cheese, cold cuts…feels like a nice brunch!

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