Thursday, July 10, 2008

Food & Cooking, Part 1

CKL has been bugging me to post about cooking on the road. His biggest argument has been that people really enjoy my cooking when they come to our house. I always argue back that Team Snout is made up of people who are grateful for anything that someone cooks for them. It's not really an argument in favor of the quality of my particular cooking.

But what the heck... I'm going to post anyway. It's actually pretty fun to cook on the road. It's like a fairly easy puzzle.

Of course, it's only easy because I brought my own stuff. We spent a week at a Residence Inn before we set off on this road trip. I was quite unhappy with the food results produced by the provided cookware. Good tools are critical to decent food preparation.

These are the cooking supplies that I thought were indispensable:
  • 3.5-cup Bodum electric kettle
  • 3.5-quart All-Clad soup pot and lid
  • 10" Calphalon non-stick fry pan
  • 3 wooden spoons (two are more like spatulas)
  • My three favorite knives (one good 7" Wusthof Chef's knife, one utility knife, and one cheap-ass serrated knife that looks a little bit like a carving knife. Guess which one I use most often?*)
  • a dishwasher safe cutting board
  • 2-cup and 4-cup Pyrex measuring cups (Thus far, the 4-cup has been most useful as an iced tea pitcher)
  • utensils (measuring spoons, can opener, ladle, serving spoon)
There was some room left in the cookware crate, so I threw in some pasta bowls, 2 cereal bowls, 4 acrylic juice glasses, and some flatware. Except for the utility knife, measuring spoons, and can opener, all the cookware and dishes have turned out to be necessary at every location. And mine are still far, far better than the ones provided.

We also brought an 11"x15" plastic storage bin for critical pantry supplies, which we replenish as we use them. They are:
  • A bottle of really flavorful olive oil (We use B.R. Cohn--thanks Loren & Suzie! Our 6.7-oz bottle ran out last week, but we had found a replacement in a gourmet store in Charlotte.)
  • Disposable pepper and salt grinders
  • Red pepper flake (I just save all the packets that come with pizza)
  • Trader Joe's low-sodium broth concentrate (I love broth. We brought 3 boxes--36 packets--and just bought 2 more boxes in DC.)
  • Brown rice (pre-cooked packets or the "instant" kind)
  • Grits/Polenta (I'll use cornmeal if I have to, but haven't had to yet.)
  • Cous Cous
  • 14-oz can diced tomatoes (or puree. I miss my stick blender but I'd only use it to turn tomatoes into puree. As Alton would say, "No unitaskers in the kitchen!")
  • Pouch pasta sauce**
  • 7-oz packet of chunked chicken (if I can get it. If not, I grab a can of tuna.)
  • Tea bags (iced tea anyone?)
  • Instant oatmeal & dried fruit (our standard quick breakfast)
  • Pudding cups, applesauce cups, and microwave popcorn (snacks)
The idea is to always have something we can eat out of the pantry. This is especially important for dinner when we arrive tired, sweaty, and cranky at a new location. Usually, I make a quick soup or we have polenta with pasta*** sauce. The next day, we figure out how many meals we plan to eat in the room and go shopping.

Next time, I'll talk about our shopping trip for Buffalo. A preview: the produce was terrible.

* If you guessed the crappy, serrated, maybe a carving knife, you'd be absolutely correct. I love that knife, tiny rust-spots on the blade and all. Cost me $8 at a Wal-Mart in Illinois in 1995 and I've never been able to find another one like it. Just feels right in my hand. If it's dirty, I use the Wusthof.

** I very rarely bought pasta sauce at home. I could make vastly better pasta sauce in just a few minutes. At home, I had fresh herbs, a stockpile of dried herbs, fresh and frozen garlic, lots of kinds of olive oil, a huge stockpile of good canned tomatoes, and my stick blender. Here, we have to sacrifice flavor and economy for convenience.

*** Pasta would seem like a no-brainer for a portable pantry, especially if we have olive oil, red pepper flake and pasta sauce, but turns out that more than one hotel kitchen's crappy electric burner hasn't been able to boil enough water for pasta, or to maintain a boil long enough for pasta to actually cook. So we don't keep pasta on hand. That was a blow; pasta's always been my go-to for quick pantry cooking.

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