With the summer season ready to glow, I've been busy lately rearranging my cooking essentials: the little tools that I can't do without. Of course, everyone needs a kit of plates, utensils, cups, some matches (or even better, a lighter) and a stove or a grill for the fire pit. The camp kitchen essentials that I'm talking about are little pieces of luxury: my autonomy or my security won't be jeopardized if I forget them at home, but they make my cook's life much more enjoyable.
Here's a list of my 10 favorites:
- Grater I rarely leave on a kayak trip without my grater to prepare croquettes, salads, grated cheese, etc. See my previous article on the wonders of this item. Plus, find a few of my favorite recipes made entirely with the precious help of a grater.
- Aero Press Coffee Maker There is also my beloved coffee maker. For a long time I used to work with a traditional Italian small espresso maker. But it tends to be messy and very hot to unscrew when you want to make a second pot. Since I discovered the Aero Press coffee maker, my camping mornings have never been the same. It's a simple concept that allows for the perfect cup of java (espresso type) cup after cup and it is very easy to use.
- Small whisk Another essential cooking tool that I don't think I could do without is a small whisk. Mine is covered with an anti-adhesive substance so it allows to whisk all types of surfaces without scratching them. With my whisk I prepare canned soup (not a single lump), a nice sauce (like béchamel or wine sauce) in no time, I beat eggs, I make hot chocolate, I melt butter or chocolate, I prepare a delicious vinaigrette, and so on.
4. Small prep knife with cutting boards Rather than using a big chef's knife I prefer to carry 2 or 3 small prep knives because they are much lighter, they are safer to use and they work perfectly well with a small plastic chopping board, which is, in my opinion, just as useful as the knife. It is very light, very cheap and you can carry 2 or 3, which will not only allow your friends to help chopping food but also simplify preparation time. I bring along 3 different colors: one for veggies, one for fruit and one for bread. When I work with raw protein such as meat or fish, I prefer to cut them on a separate surface such as a plate.
5. Large ladle-measuring cup Another perfect kitchen tool that I love to carry around when I go camping is a large ladle-like spoon that serves to pour liquids such as soup or chili and that is also a big help for measuring because it is a one cup content. It spares me the effort of carrying a measuring cup, which I don't particularly like because I've always found that it tends to spill food all around. My ladle-measuring cup can be found in specialized kitchen shops.
6. Foldable grill I love to grill! So when I know camp fires are allowed in the sector where I plan to camp I carry a solid foldable cooking grill. You can make toasts or panini sandwiches, grill vegetables with a bit of oil, cook pizza, prepare wonderful fish or meat. It really brings a lot of fun to your meal. I've always noticed that when I take the grill out and ask help to set the fire the guys tend to become more participative and enthusiastic in the camp kitchen!
7. Collapsible Strainer Talking about foldable, I always carry a large collapsible strainer with very fine holes in it, which works for pasta and for rice. It's light and sturdy and doesn't take much room in your boat.
8. Chopsticks Another tool that I really enjoy are chopsticks, which are useful to turn delicate pieces of food and to mix things without spilling or splashing. They also work well when you want to cook pasta in sauce. They replace a metal thong quite well and you can also use them to eat!
9. Can Opener Of course, I would never leave camp without a very sturdy can opener (if the menu has a lot of cans involved I pack another one just in case). Don't use the small, cheap camping version; they never last long.
10. The big-big pan! Since everyone knows my passion for one-pot-dishes, there is one very crucial piece of cooking equipment that I could really not live without anymore. It is a very large, deep and sturdy cooking pan that allows to cook anything from omelets to crepes, soups, stews, pasta dishes in sauce, etc. It takes up a lot of room and it is not that light, but it is just so amazing that it's been replacing my cooking pots and pans even at home. It is called "The Rock", it comes either in a 10 or 12 inch format and is also available in various shapes and capacity as regular pots. I use the 12 inch pan to prepare all sorts of food. It is made of a very sturdy anodized aluminum surface that creates a textured totally non-stick bottom.
I've bought many types of non-adhesive skillets in the past and have never been too impressed until I met this beauty. I use it for everything, from frying fish or chicken, preparing risotto, carbonara or tomato pasta. I also roast vegetables or make a quick stir-fry. It cooks evenly and quickly and requires a minimum amount of fat to cook. So there is no way that I am going to leave this new best friend at the cottage when I plan a kayak overnighter.
But be aware: it is big and it is a bit heavy too, so it requires wise packing. Create a menu that requires only the big pan to carry around instead of a pan and two other pots. Plan recipes that will all cook in one pan, with veggies, rice, pasta and the like to cook together with the protein you've picked. Go for chili, risotto, fried rice, minestrone; even pastas can be cooked in sauce directly, as long as you add a bit more liquid to your sauce in the beginning.
Recipes for Paddlers
Cabbage Ragout (4 portions)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 small green cabbage, chopped
- 2 or 3 garlic gloves, finely chopped
- 1 package vegetarian meat (soy meat)*
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 large can chopped tomatoes with juice
- 1 cup white rice (long grain)
- Salt, pepper and dried oregano to taste
In a big skillet cook onion in olive oil for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and cook 5 more minutes. Add vegetarian meat, and cook for 5 more minutes over high heat. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until cabbage is cooked.
* If it's your first night out you can bring some frozen lean ground beef that will be kept in a cooler with some icepacks all around. For the rest of the trip, please use soy meat. It's a good substitute.
- 1 large onion, chopped in small quarters
- 1 tbsp olive or canola oil
- 2 red or orange bell peppers (or another sweet variety), chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano (or regular)
- 1 tsp chili powder (or more, to taste)
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 can corn, drained
- 1 medium can (12 oz) salsa (medium hot)
- 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Corn tortilla or corn chips to serve
In a large pan, cook onion in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add peppers, spices and herbs and mix well. Add beans and corn and cook for 10 minutes or until really hot. Add cheese, mix well. Pour the salsa on top and serve with corn tortilla or corn chips.