Thermos Cooking Quinoa

Yes, it really works

Yes, it really works

For my last Vegan Mofo camp cooking experiment I wanted to try a technique I’d read about, Thermos Cooking. Certain grains can be slow cooked in a high quality thermos, there by saving on fuel. It worked well. Except dealing with the narrow opening. Getting the quinoa in was a bit messy, and getting it out even more difficult. But it did cook the quinoa while I was piloting the Westfalia back to California.

Here’s How:

First, you need a high quality thermos that’s big enough. The Nissan and Stanley ones are well regarded, about 40 oz in capacity. I used a 40 oz Nissan to cook one cup dry quinoa, and it was filled up when done.

Second, you must preheat the thermos. Fill it all the way up with boiling water and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. Dump out the water.

Third, immediately fill the thermos with 1 cup quinoa and two cups boiling water. Cap tightly and give it a shake.

Fourth, occasionally give it another shake. When there is no detectable sloshing, it’s done, probably in a couple of hours. I put mine on the floor of the van and let the mountain roads do the shaking. Ordinarily, that drives me batty. But this time it was cool knowing that my lunch was steaming away.

Uses:

Set it up at night and use it for breakfast.

Set it up while making breakfast as I did, and use it for lunch or dinner.

Other grains can be cooked this way, but I chose quinoa because of its taste, texture, and versatility.

Quinoa Salad

1 C quinoa

2 C water

1/3 C diced red onion

1/3 C cilantro

1 bell pepper, diced

1-2 zucchini, diced

1 can black beans rinsed and drained

juice of 1-2 limes (zest if you can)

Directions:

Cook the quinoa by any method. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Allow to sit for a bit to blend flavors. Add other seasonings, like chili powder, cumin, salt/pepper, or hot sauce as desired.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Camp Cooking Options

Camp Stoves

My Westfalia has a two burner stove as part of its minimalist little kitchen. I like it. I like being able to pop the top, open the stove top, and be cooking lunch or dinner in a few minutes. But I took the time to experiment with a couple of other stoves. In case you are not traveling with a built in kitchen, here are some options for cooking.

The Old Standby: Two Burner Coleman camp stove

Probably the best option for open air cooking. Two burners, room to work, folds up for packing, good flame control, easy fuel availability. There are versions that run on white gas, often known as “Coleman fuel” and propane. Both fuels are easy to find. The only disadvantage is size and weight.

Backpacking Stoves:

These come in a dazzling variety. Over the years I’ve used many. Some run on liquid fuel, some allow for different fuels, even automobile gas, some use gas canisters, others use alcohol or even wood. The advantages are supreme light weight and minimal space. In fact, for this reason I recommend everyone keep one handy for emergencies, or as a backup. I keep two for this reason, and as an experiment. The disadvantages are that flame control is usually tricky, they can be noisy, they are exposed to the wind, and can be tippy. For some models, fuel can be difficult to find. Choose a model that you like, and stock up on some fuel.

Here are some varieties:

White gas: efficient, easy to find, can be messy

Gas canisters: easy to use, good flame control, fuel not as easy to find

Alcohol: available in any hardware store, lower burn temp means longer cooking times

Wood: fuel not available at all campsites, tricky flame control

I chose an alcohol stove o experiment with, since they very light, compact, and fuel is available anywhere. The problem is that the fuel container is messy, and the flame control is poor. I also used a canister style backpacking stove that burns very hot, sorta simmers, but its fuel I’ve only found in specialty camping stores.

Both stoves did an adequate job cooking simple one pot recipes, like my Ramen Deluxe. As a backup, they’re fine. Boiling water is really all they’re good at. If you have the space, a real stove, either camping variety or the version used by Asian chefs and cooking demonstrations will be much more fun to cook on.

And don’t bother with an open fire. That’s really only for burning dead animals, and we don’t do that here. There is the possibility of wrapped foil and dutch oven cooking, but those are difficult options. Open fires are a pain, destructive, and frequently not allowed. Plus, doing this during an emergency is even more dangerous.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Vegan Unplugged: Review

This was a great book, but not quite what I expected. But that was a good thing. This is a book that I think everyone should own and read, regardless of diet style because of its many useful and potentially life saving lessons.

Let me back up.

When I set out on this Vegan Mofo adventure, I wanted to experiment with different cooking styles to reflect different camping styles, from RVing to backpacking. I looked for existing cookbooks, and only found a couple devoted to backpacking, which I’ll read later. I’m not as interested in backpacking as I used to be. And I found the Robertsons’ book Vegan Unpluggedformerly titled Apocalypse Chow. I prefer the old title, but maybe people got the wrong idea and thought it was a cookbook for zombies. Whatever.

This book is not devoted to camping, but all of the recipes will easily work, except for backpacking. The reliance on canned food would be too heavy. It is not a creepy prepare book either, but a practical manual about how to set up several days worth of tasty meals for travel or shelter in place. In addition to the recipes and ingredients, all you need is plenty of safe drinking water and a reliable one burner stove.

The book is the result of losing power for several days because of a severe Atlantic storm. Stuck in place, the authors were able to cook tasty meals using what was left over, and stored for just that purpose. You don’t have to survive on ramen and PB&J, though there are several ramen recipes.

Highlights:

  • an example of a five day food box, with all ingredients to make different meals, no repeats
  • tips on conserving water and fuel
  • advice on food storage, rotation, and use
  • info on stoves and cooking gear
  • lots of disaster survival tips
  • a zillion great recipes!

You can eat better in an emergency than most folks do in normal conditions.

My takeaways:

I will prepare my own, shorter term and simpler box. Kept at home in case of a blizzard, it can go with me in the VW for camping. I will prep some recipes so that they are ready to go. I will prepare for fresh water availability, as that is the big limiting factor.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Do You Eat Your Veggies?

Vegetables On the Road

Eating vegan while road tripping and camping is one thing, but eating healthily according to the principles of Dr. McDougall and Dr. Esselstyn is a whole ‘nother kettle of beans.

The problem?

VEGETABLES

Everybody, vegan or not, knows the importance of eating plenty of vegetables. Sad thing is, for most Americans, eating SAD, fresh fruits and veggies make up less than 10% of daily calories. Meat, dairy, and processed, refined junk make up the remaining 90%. Completely ass backwards. When I watch my fellow campers eat, their meals reflect this SAD fact closely. No doubt many are simply replicating what they do at home, except maybe substituting open fire for an indoor kitchen. But even those who would like to do things more healthfully may run into the problem of incorporating the all important vegetables into meals.

“They spoil.”

“They take up too much space.”

“I can’t use them fast enough.”

These are exact same concerns I had when setting out on this adventure. How could Ikeep up the high nutrient density and low calorie density I am accustomed to when I am limited to a small, inefficient fridge and an ice chest?

Turns out veggies come different forms, and all can be great:

Fresh- obvious, always best, but difficult

Frozen- often just as good as fresh, plus, your ice chest needs ice anyway

Canned- unjustly maligned, cheap, great availability

Dehydrated- ultimate in shelf life, take up the least amount of storage space

To be sure that these various forms of veggies are all health supporting, I checked with Jeff Novick, RD, who works with Dr. McDougall. The short answer is they can all play a role in a healthy diet. In fact he has been experimenting in a similar way. Here is the discussion thread, if you want more:

Meals don’t have to consist of one form, they can be combined. Fresh or frozen veggies can be combined with some canned or dehydrated veg to recreate recipes you’re accustomed to at home. A bag of frozen veggies could make a SNAP meal, especially with some fresh greens. Some dehydrated peppers could help flavor an Asian stir fry. Canned veggies can lie in wait with no refrigeration to be used in a dish like the Moroccan Veggie Stew.

So, when it comes to camping, or an emergency, don’t worry about your veggies, except eating them. By any means necessary.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Vegan Unplugged Recipe Test

Moroccan veggies and couscous ready on the Westy stove

Moroccan veggies and couscous ready on the Westy stove

I have been quite inspired by Jon and Robin Robertson’s book Vegan Unplugged, formerly with a better title, Apocalypse Chow. (in my opinion)

There are at least a dozen recipes I would like to try, and a few more that gave me inspiration to modify a few of my own.

Wanting something spicy, but not necessarily hot, and exotic, not the usual I’ve been doing, Moroccan was just the ticket on a cold, rainy night in Ely, NV.

Here is how I did it:

Moroccan Veggie Stew with Couscous

1/4 C raisins

1/4 C other dried fruit, like apricots or a mix

1-2 cloves garlic minced

1/4 C dehydrated onion, or equivalent in fresh

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t cumin

1 t Moroccan spice blend like raw al hangout (if unavailable, increase other spices)

pinch red pepper flakes

black pepper

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can chickpeas

1 can green beans drained/rinsed

1 can sliced carrots drained/rinsed

Directions:

Prepare couscous according to package directions and set aside. Keep covered.

Begin cooking the onion in a little water to soften. Add fruit. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and spices and simmer a few minutes. Add veggies and simmer until heated through and flavors have a chance to meld. Serve over couscous or rice.

NOTES:

This was my first recipe using canned veggies, and they turned out great. They are essentially already cooked, so the dish comes together fast. The problem with canned veggies is the high  sodium content. Try to find no salt or low salt versions. I drained and rinsed mine, like beans, hoping to remove some salt. I used raisins and goji berries, because that’s what I have on hand. The raisins are important, but whatever else is not.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Deluxe Ramen

 

That favorite of college students, the ski bum’s staple, the camper’s go-to, and absolute cult food, can a compromise be found between camping ease, nutrition, and taste? I think so. Follow along as I tweaked ramen into an easy dish that won’t jack up your blood pressure.

Real Ramen:

Real ramen is cult food in Japan, where people can talk for hours about the best ramen shops and chefs, arguing until they fall off their bar stools. To make this version you have to study with master like an old time martial arts student. Everybody else is faking it. Or at least that’s the way it is in the movies, and Hollywood doesn’t lie, right? Drawback: difficult and fussy, this is gourmet food. Traditional ramen is pork based, and a vegan version is sacriledge.

College Student Ramen:

Follow the directions for your favorite flavor and take in a whole day’s sodium in one slurp. Or just drink a glass of sea water. Drawback: poor nutrition.

Backpacker Ramen:

Start with regular ramen and add more dehydrated veggies and more noodles. Drawback: still high in sodium, flavor not the best, basically easy calories to stuff in an fuel long hikes.

Problems with Ramen:

The noodles are generally OK, but the flavoring packet is very high in salt, with some other spices added. Veggies are really just for flavor, so not much nutrition there. Many use animal products to help the flavor.

The Challenges:

Find a way to flavor the noodles without a kilogram of salt

Find a way to get in more veggies for better nutrient density

Keep it easy to prepare, ideally one pot

The Solutions:

First, ditch the flavor/spice pack! Way too much sodium. Even the reduced sodium versions are too high for most.

Use the noodles only with fresh ingredients. Not quick or easy, and it’s like any other noodle dish. But ramen noodles can be had cheaply.

Use the noodles, and add more dehydrated veggies and dry spices.

Use the noodles with dehydrated or canned veggies and a mix of dry and fresh spices. This is the best compromise.

Camper Ramen Deluxe:

1-2 packets ramen noodles without spice pack

1/3 to 1/2 C mixed dehydrated veggies (I used green beans, cabbage, corn, carrots, and peppers)

3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms, stems cut off

1/4 t each onion, garlic, ginger powder

pinch red pepper flakes

1-2 cloves fresh garlic minced

1-2 t fresh ginger

1-2 green onions, thinly sliced

1-2 t soy sauce

Directions:

Cover dried veggies with water and let soak. The longer they soak, the faster they’ll cook.

Cook ramen noodles less than package instructions, drain and set aside.

Add dry spices to the veggies and cook for a few minutes to soften. Test the veggies, when they’re ready, add the noodles and enough water for desired consistency. Add the fresh ingredients and the soy sauce and heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings.

NOTES:

The Japanese like to make curry variations, so curry powder, especially the Japanese brand S&B could be used. Fresh mushrooms could be added, along with other fresh veggies if available. Some people like a traditional soupier bowl with lots of broth, others, like me, a drier dish. Suit yourself. Fresh ginger and garlic are quite tolerant of inconsistent refrigeration, they’ll last quite awhile, and their flavor is very different than dried. In this dish, the dry spices along with the dry veggies create a broth, and the fresh ingredients add flavor. Vary the amounts to taste.

Posted in Main Dish | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Spanish Rice Tacos with Salsa-Ensalada

 

Can you ever have too many tacos?

Of course, not. Next question please. (Don’t forget last year’s epic Austin Taco Cleanse!)

Why do they call it “Spanish Rice” when it’s always associated with Mexican food?

I wondered about that a lot as a kid, and took traveling to Spain and years of reflection to figure it out. Funny that I never read an answer in a  cookbook before. The answer is simple, it is a fusion dish. A fusion of Old World Spain, and New World Mexico in its ingredients. Rice does not come from the New World. The Spaniards brought it. Rice traveled from Asia across trade routes to the Mediterranean where there are a wet places that can grow rice crops in Italy (think risotto), France (the Camargue) and Spain. (Valencia) Another common ingredient in California preparations are olives, another Old World, Mediterranean ingredient. Spanish Rice is a New World reinvention of the classic Spanish Paella, a dish of rice with other mixed veggies. Here in the New World, those ingredients became tomatoes, peppers, and chilies, and the spices are chili powder and cumin instead of saffron.

I pondered this while making a pot of Spanish Rice that took over my van. I don’t what I’ll blog about for awhile since it will take me days to finish it. I used it as a filling for tacos, because you can never have too many tacos. Is it salsa? Is it a salad? It’s both! Use as a taco or burrito topping, and the eat the remainders as a salad. Or eat it separately as a salad, no one will judge.

Spanish Rice

2 bags Success or similar boil in bag brown rice

1 can Rotel tomatoes with chilies

1 can pinto or black beans drained and rinsed

1 small can sliced black olives

2-3 T diced red onion or 1 t onion powder

1 clove garlic, minced, or 1/2 t garlic powder

1-2 t chili powder

1 t cumin

hot sauce to taste

Directions:

Cook the rice according to package directions and set aside.

In a big enough pot, combine remaining ingredients and simmer for a few minutes. Add the rice and heat through.

Salsa-Ensalada

1/4 head cabbage thinly sliced

juice of 1/2 lime

salt

1 small tomato diced

1/2 avocado diced

Directions:

Place cabbage in a bowl and salt. Mix thoroughly and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

To Serve:

Use as a taco filling as I did, naked, or as separate side dishes.

 

Posted in Main Dish | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment