Alimentary, My Dear
The Joy of Not Cooking
By Tamia Nelson
March 18, 2008
Let’s face it, not everyone thinks it’s great fun to spend an hour or more kneeling before a blowtorch of a stove or choking in the smoke of a smoldering campfire. After all, galley slaves are seldom happy—and for good reason. It’s pretty miserable to be working when everyone else is kicking back and relaxing. Moreover, the end of the day is often the best time to stalk trout, watch birds, or just stretch out on a granite boulder and stare at the clouds. But that’s also when the camp cook is busiest. And then there’s the cleanup to think about. Arrgh!
Well, I have a better idea. Let’s not think about it. Sure, I like to cook. But not every day. Sometimes I just want to…
Say NO! to Cooking
Even foodies need to take a break now and then. And it’s never been so easy. You can stock your paddling pantry with freeze-dried meals, for example. Then again, the cost is high—too high for some of us. But there’s good news for penny-pinchers. Your local HyperMart has a lot to offer reluctant cooks on tight budgets. Skeptical? So was I. So I put the notion to the test. Of course, I had to devise some ground rules. I didn’t want to limit myself to cold food. Even when I’m at my laziest, I’m not too lazy to boil water. In other words, cooking is one thing. Boiling water is another, as is heating precooked food or mixing dried ingredients. So with these guidelines fixed in my mind—a resounding “no” to cooking, but “yes” to boiling, light mixing, and heating—I headed out to do some shopping…
Off the Shelf
The results of my exploratory forays were encouraging. Got a weekend adventure planned? And you’d rather paddle than cook? No problem! A week-long trip? You’re still OK, but you’ll have to work a little harder at menu-planning. How about an expedition? Hmm. That’s tougher. It’s do-able, though. Just. (This is where freeze-dried meals start sounding good—if you’re determined not to cook, that is.)
Let’s look at some examples of economical, no-cook alternatives. The picture at left shows only a few of the many possibilities: instant oatmeal (in various flavors), canned non-condensed soup, instant cocoa, packets of instant dried soup, instant noodles, portion-sized cups of fruit in syrup (and applesauce), raisins and dried apricots, peanuts, instant couscous, and fig bars. Add more dried fruits and nuts, throw in tea bags or coffee (instant, of course) and some sort of powdered fruit-drink mix, and you’ve got meals for a lazy weekend. No cooking required.
And that’s just a sampler. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here’s a longer list of no-cook possibilities to get you started, beginning with the breakfast menu. The best news of all? Every one of them can be found on the shelves of the average HyperMart:
- Instant oatmeal, instant Wheatena®, or other instant hot cereal
- Home-made granola or some other crush-proof cold cereal
- Nonfat dry milk
- Precooked bacon (can or barrier-pack)
- Spam® or one of its imitators
- Canned ham
- Canned fruit
- Dried fruit
Lunch (not to mention snacks and desserts)
- Dense, durable breads (e.g., rye and pumpernickel)
- Pita bread or other flatbread
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Cheeses (hard or semisoft)
- Sausage, including pepperoni
- Peanut butter (or another nut butter)
- Chocolate, candy bars, M&M’s®, or hard candies
- Dried fruits
- Fruit in syrup (cans or individual serving cups)
- Fruit gelatins and puddings (individual serving cups)
- Granola bars (or “energy” bars)
- Cookies (Fig Newtons are my favorite)
- Ready-made cupcakes, mini-cakes, or other baked treats
- Dried beef (in sealed barrier-packs, no refrigeration required)
- Potted meats (canned ham, chicken, roast beef, liverwurst)
- Tuna, salmon, or other precooked fish (can or barrier-pack)
- Ready-to-serve cooked bacon (ditto)
- Spam® and its imitators (the choice of Pythons everywhere!)
- Other canned meats, fish, and seafood
- Canned beans and other vegetables
- Canned ready-to-eat soups and entrées
- Boil-in-bag entrées (no refrigeration required)
- Instant noodles, plain or flavored
- Instant couscous (plain or flavored)
- Instant soups (e.g., Cup-a-Soup®), also bouillon cubes or powder
- Instant mashed potatoes, plain or fancy
- Instant hummus
- Ready-to-serve rice (brown or white, plain or flavored)
- Diced tomatoes and tomato sauces (retort packs)
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Peanut butter (and other nut butters)
- Dried fruits
And since paddling can be mighty dry work…
A Little Something to Drink
- Coffee (instant or ground)
- Tea bags (or loose tea)
- Powdered fruit-flavored drink mixes
- Instant cocoa
- Powdered Ovaltine®
- Your favorite wine or other tipple
Whew! As long as this list is, however, it’s not all-inclusive. Still, it ought to give you enough to build on. You might also want to bring a spice kit, and you probably ought to pack fresh fruits and vegetables to eat raw, at least on short trips. Baby carrots and cauliflower florets hold well for a few days and taste great.
What’s that? You say you’d like
A Week’s Worth of (Almost) No-Cook Recipes
Happy to oblige! Here goes: two basic breakfasts and six evening meals. With a little mixing and matching, these should do the job.
Outstanding Oatmeal For each serving, make one or two packets of instant oatmeal—I like maple flavor, but each to his own—according to package directions. Crumble ready-to-eat bacon into the oatmeal. Or add applesauce or dried fruit. Or both. Then eat.
The Better Breakfast Sandwich (A hint: It’s also good at dinnertime—or build it in the morning and save it to eat under way.) Layer precooked bacon, sliced Spam®, or precooked canned ham between the halves of a split bagel. (You can heat the meat in a skillet if you want, but that’s perilously close to cooking.) Add cheese, too, if you wish.
Quick-as-a Flash-Couscous Use a flavored mix if you have a favorite, though plain instant couscous is fine, too. Reconstitute in a small pot according to package directions—if you’re using a flavored mix, you’re done. If you’ve opted for plain couscous, however, just add one or two packets of instant Cup-a-Soup® (your choice ), stir, and cover the pot. Let sit for about five minutes. Eat. Variations on the same theme: Add the precooked meat or fish of your choice. Stir in dried fruit or nuts, and maybe a take-out packet of soy sauce, too.
Hurry Curry Ready-to-serve rice (Minute® Rice is a popular brand) comes in individual plastic bowls. Pack the sealed containers inside ziplock plastic bags. Once in camp, make instant soup from one or more packets of Cup-a-Soup®. When the soup is ready, stir in the rice, using as many “single-serving” containers as desired. Then add anywhere from one teaspoon to one tablespoon of curry powder. (WARNING! Unless you have a cast-iron stomach, it’s best to err on the side of caution here.) Stir raisins—or dried apricots, or peanuts, or all three—into the rice, along with (precooked) meat or fish. For an even simpler meal make a “room temperature” version. Decant ready-to-serve rice into a pot or bowl. Add curry and whatever extras you fancy. Eat.
Instant Rice and Beans You’ll need ready-to-serve rice, canned black beans (unless you can find instant dried beans), and diced tomatoes (either a small can of stewed tomatoes or a retort pack). Combine rice, beans, and tomatoes with the packing liquid from the can of beans. (If you’re using instant beans, prepare according to package directions, then add some extra liquid.) Heat. Stir in chili powder to taste. That’s it.
Quicker Chicken Stew Bring the canned chicken soup of your choice to a boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in prunes and some instant mashed potatoes. Cover the pot and allow the potatoes to reconstitute. You’re done.
No-Sweat Noodles At home, remove instant noodles (such as ramen) from the foam cup and repack in ziplock plastic bags. Once in camp, bring water to a boil—about one cup per serving should do it—and drop in a tablespoon of peanut butter per cup of water. Stir. Then add the instant noodles. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let the noodles soak long enough to soften. If you’re feeling ambitious, add some soy sauce and a small handful of peanuts. Sprinkle dried Chinese noodles or crushed Triscuits® on top for additional crunch.
Take-Away Tortillas Fold tortillas around a favorite filling: refried beans heated in a pot with some salsa or canned chilies or chili powder, say, along with a hunk of cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. (Drained canned black beans are also good. Heat them along with spices and drained canned chilies. Then wrap the beans and cheese in the tortillas.) Or make roll-ups using tortillas wrapped around precooked meat or fish (from a can or barrier pack), plus cheese and any fresh vegetables you brought along. Carrot sticks, onions, and bell peppers are popular choices. Whatever you choose, you won’t go wrong.
That’s enough to start with, I think. Breakfast and dinner are taken care of for the week. Lunch is on you, but I’m betting this won’t be a problem. Good eating!
Not every paddler has a chef’s hat hidden away is his pack, and even the most dedicated camp cook sometimes tires of the toil and tyranny of mealtimes. I’ve yet to meet a canoeist or kayaker who didn’t like to eat, however. Luckily, there’s plenty of help to be had in bridging the gap from hand to mouth. With a shopping list in your pocket and a reasonably well-stocked HyperMart nearby, any paddler can discover the joy of not cooking, while still managing to eat very well indeed. That seems like a win-win scenario to me. What about you?
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