Same Ingredients, Different Dishes, Redux

Fajita Noodles?! Well, sorta . . .

Fajita Noodles?! Well, sorta . . .

Fajita Tacos One Night, Asian Noodles the Next

Cooking smaller quantities means finding different uses for the same ingredients if you want to avoid eating the same dish over and over again. This time I repurposed the ingredients from deluxe fajita tacos the first night to use for some stir fry noodles. It went like this:

Fajita Tacos:

1/2 each green and red bell pepper, sliced

1/4 lb sliced mushrooms

1/4 red onion, sliced

salt, lime, chili powder, cumin to taste

cooked beans

salsa

sliced avocado

tortillas

Heat a skillet very hot, and sear the veggies until done. Season to taste. Warm tortillas and fill with beans, veggie mix, top with salsa, avocado and hot sauce if desired. The beans could also be served as a side dish, as I did.

Fajita Stir Fry Noodles

1/2 green and red bell pepper sliced

1/4 red onion sliced

1/4 lb mushrooms

1 T minced fresh ginger

1-2 cloves minced garlic

pinch red pepper flakes

1 T soy sauce

cooked noodles of choice (I used soba)

Cook and drain noodles. Cook veggies with seasonings in a large pot or wok. Add noodles, toss, and heat through. Adjust seasoning and enjoy.

NOTES:

With a little advance planning, both dishes can be prepped at once. I used an 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms divided in half. All the veggies could be prepped with one half saved for the next meal.

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Vegan Westfalia Pantry

The kitchen from outside, for perspective

The pantry is the small cabinet lower left, and two cabinets above it. Fridge in the middle, cooking implements to the right.

 

My Westfalia Pantry

I put some thought into what, and how much, I could carry in my “pantry,” or, as my sister and niece like to refer to it, the “dry larder.” Then I realized that I was reinventing the wheel, so to speak, because Jon and Robin Robertson did a good job  in their book Vegan Unplugged. They outline a “five day food box” that fits perfectly in a standard plastic tub and fits a five day meal plan they created. Such a box could serve as emergency prep, or a camp box.

But not everyone will be pleased with their version. So it is useful to consider your own tastes, and try to provide as many ingredients that are shelf stable as possible to make different meals. The book relies mostly on canned ingredients, and I have not really cooked much with canned veggies except for tomato products. But they are very shelf stable. Another way to get your veggies is with dehydrated veggies, like the ones I bought from Harmony House. There are many starches that can be made shelf stable, so, with the addition of some spices and condiments, many great dishes can be made without refrigeration. If you have access to some fresh or frozen ingredients, you can dress them up even more.

Since I follow the starch based diet of Dr. McDougall, I think in terms of first having a few of my favorite starches that I can easily prepare while camping. Then, I think of the various dishes and flavors I like and find the common veggies and stock up on those. Lastly, I think of the spices, seasonings, and condiments to make a variety of my favorite dishes.

Lower cabinet filled with canned goods

Lower cabinet filled with canned goods

Starches:
instant mashed potatoes (Bob’s Red Mill)
noodles (w/w spaghetti, soba, rice, ramen)
small shape pasta, like penne
Success brand quick cook brown rice
Quinoa
Red lentils
Pre cooked polenta
Oats

Dehydrated Veggies:
Peppers
Corn
Carrots
Celery
Green beans
Cabbage
Green peas
Tomatoes
Shiitake mushrooms

Canned Veggies:
Tomatoes
Green beans
Carrots
Potatoes
Spinach
Beans: pinto, black, white, kidney, garbanzo
Green chilies
Olives
Muchrooms
Chinese veggie mix

Spices:

I have a large spice box because I love cooking with lots of herbs and spices, and I like a lot of different cuisines. So I have spices for Asian, Indian, Mexican, and Italian dishes. I have them as individual spices, like turmeric, and as blends, like curry powder. People with simpler tastes could get by with a few basics and a few blends. For me, it takes up almost a whole cabinet. I thought about using smaller containers, but I actually go through a lot.

Upper cabinets under folded table. Starch staples to the right, spices and condiments to the left

Upper cabinets under folded table. Starch staples to the right, spices and condiments to the left

Space:

My pantry takes up a lot of space. To save some space, I could repackage some bulk items into smaller containers. Also, bags are easier to stuff into odd spaces than cartons, cans and boxes. But since this trip is an experiment, I’m keeping original containers for their directions and ease of use. It also means I usually have a partial bag of groceries taking up cargo space.

Emergency Prep:

All of this would be easy to store at home for a disaster. To be uber prepared, package it all in a big plastic tub that you can take with you. Be sure to periodically rotate and use the food, because even shelf stable food does have a shelf life. Drinking water, a stove and a couple pots are all you need to be ready to live without power for several days.

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SNAP Camping

My white '85 Westy to the right, an honorary member of the Colorado Bus Club

My white ’85 Westy to the right, an honorary member of the Colorado Bus Club

Frozen Veggie SNAP Meals

A conversation with neighbors at the Jerome Jamboree VW show reminded me that there is a difference between camping and traveling. Sometimes the two intersect, sometimes they’re different. Traveling in a VW camper may mean using RV parks and KOAs for their hookups, laundry, and hot showers, which I’m doing right now. Camping to me means getting away from such things and bringing everything with you, usually in minimal National Forest campgrounds or boondocking. (camping off grid)

This last weekend was a little of both. I went to a VW show held in an old mine in the old mining town of Jerome, AZ. It was basically a huge gravel parking lot with no services. The town of Jerome was only a mile or so away, but once all the VWs arrived, I was boxed in. I would not be able to get out until the event ended, so I had to have everything with me.

In the Westfalia, I have a three way fridge, which means I can run it on propane when I don’t have a hook up. It’s not super cold, but it kept things from spoiling. I supplemented it with an ice chest, which I filled with ice on the way. I picked up two bags of frozen veggies for my meals and put them in the fridge where they would gradually defrost and be ready for cooking at the event. They would also help give the propane fridge a head start in staying cool.

What I made was two variations of Jeff Novick’s SNAP meals, which are perfect for camping in the short term, since they use a combination of frozen, dry,  and canned ingredients.

What’s a SNAP Meal?

  • S- Simple
  • N- Nutritious
  • A- Affordable
  • P- Plan

In essence, a SNAP meal is 1 lb bag of mixed frozen veggies, 1 can rinsed beans, a handful of frozen leafy greens, a can of diced tomatoes, and the appropriate seasonings. It makes a stew that you then serve over the starch of your choice, like brown rice, or potatoes. Jeff makes them as pasta primavera, Mexican beans and rice, Louisiana beans and rice, or an Indian curry. I bought two bags of veggies to go with canned and dry ingredients already in my pantry. One bag was an Asian stir fry blend, and another was the classic broccoli, cauliflower, carrot blend for pasta. The stir fry worked as veggies (no tomatoes) cooked with fresh ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and soy sauce. The pasta dish was diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning blend, red pepper flakes, Kalamata olives, and capers. I used kidney beans for the stir fry, and garbanzos for the pasta. Each dish took about 15 minutes to prepare and make two meals, dinner and lunch.

For camping, this would be a great dish to make after the fresh veggies you packed had been used up. Frozen veggies can thaw gradually in a cooler and last for several days and then they’ll cook faster. The other ingredients either don’t need to be refrigerated, or are tolerant of higher temperatures. Fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, capers and olives aren’t too picky about temperature, as are a lot of condiments. I put those in the van’s fridge, since its temperature is a little more variable. Frozen veggies can also help keep other food cool, as I used them in my fridge before I could turn on the propane.

Two SNAP Recipes:

Asian Stir Fry Veggies and Rice

1 bag frozen stir fry mix

1 can red beans (azuki, if available, I used kidney

1-2 T minced fresh garlic and ginger, to taste

1-2 T soy sauce

pinch red pepper flakes

cooked rice (I use the Success brand quick cooking brown rice)

Cook the rice and set aside.

While the rice cooks, drain and rinse the beans

Heat up a large enough pot (I used a wok from home)

Cook the veggies with the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes for a few minutes

Add the beans and heat through

When the veggies are as done as you like, add the soy sauce

Serve over the rice

NOTE:

The veggies will not be as crisp as a traditional stir fry because they’ve been frozen, but the dish still works. Likewise, the Success quick rice is not sticky. It’s a compromise, but the ease and speed, especially when camping, makes up for it.

Pasta Primavera/Puttanesca

1 bag frozen veggies of choice (like California or Italian blend)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 can beans of choice (like kidney or garbanzo)

2 t Italian seasoning

2 cloves garlic, minced

pinch red pepper flakes

1 T capers

2-3 T sliced Kalamata olives

cooked pasta of choice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and cook through until veggies are as done as you like. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve over pasta.

NOTES:

This does not make much of a sauce, it is a drier dish due to the volume of veggies and beans compared to tomatoes and liquid. If more sauce is desired, use more tomato sauce, and/or add some more cooking liquid, such as water, wine, or broth. I would have used wine, but I didn’t have any. I had beer. Wrong choice.

Dubs Only! All others park on the road and walk in

Dubs Only!
All others park on the road and walk in

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Same Ingredients, Different Dishes

One of the challenges of cooking in a small space and not a spacious home kitchen is what to do with excess ingredients. I can’t always buy exactly the amount of veggies I need for a dish, and I’m very limited in how much I can store for later. So I wanted to create recipes that use the same ingredients but with different flavors so that while I am actually eating the same thing, it doesn’t taste the same. One of my favorite  healthy, versatile ingredients is green cabbage. It makes a great topping for anything Latin or Southwestern, especially with some lime and salt. It’s great in an Asian stir fry. It makes a good curry. It makes a good salad in the form of a slaw. And while I don’t do it, there are some Eastern European dishes that make good use of it. Another plus is that it keeps forever. Just peel off any wilted outer leaves, or cut off a browning section and you’re good to go. The only problem for my current situation is that often cabbage heads are quite big, and they can overpower my little fridge. So when I buy a cabbage, I need different ways to use it right away.

Here are two:

Curried Cabbage

Curried cabbage

Curried cabbage

Cabbage Stir Fry

Rice cooker, wok, and the resulting stir fry

Rice cooker, wok, and the resulting stir fry

Same ingredients, both served over rice, different seasonings for radically different flavors.

Ingredients:

2-3 C coarsely chopped or sliced cabbage

1/3 C sliced onion

2 T each dehydrated peas and carrots

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 slice fresh ginger

pinch red pepper flakes

dash black pepper

For Curry:

add 1-2T curry powder

For Stir Fry:

add more garlic/ginger and 1 T each of rice vinegar and soy sauce

Directions:

Rehydrate the peas and carrots. Saute in a wok or large skillet with the other veggies and seasonings.  Serve over rice.

Notes:

Potatoes, garbanzos, or kidney beans would make a nice addition to the curry version. Celery, mushrooms, and tofu would make nice additions to the stir fry.

Yes, that is my home rice cooker. I brought it along for when connected to shore power on the advice of Allen Lim, thinking I would be racing and training a lot. Instead the van had other plans…

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The Westfalia Kitchen

The kitchen from outside, for perspective

The kitchen from outside, for perspective

Here is where I am cooking my way through Vegan Mofo:

From outside, you wouldn't know it hides a kitchen

From outside, you wouldn’t know it hides a kitchen

The Westfalia kitchen includes a two burner propane stove and sink in a cabinet with a folding top. When closed up, people don’t even realize what it is. People actually stop by and comment, impressed with the layout when I have the kitchen in use. The sink is fed from a 13 gallon fresh water tank that can be filled from the exterior or interior. At least in theory. I don’t have the key to open the outside access. Another thing to fix! The pump runs off the battery. BUT, unlike larger RVs, there is no “gray water” tank to catch the drain off from the sink. It just runs onto the ground. In some situations that’s no big deal, but in other cases its unsanitary, and could attract all sorts of undesirable critters. My solution is a small plastic kitty littler container with a screw on cap. I fashioned a drain extender from some plastic tubing and a hose fitting. The hose screws onto the drain, flows into the kitty litter jug, and I can empty it when needed, or convenient, by capping it up.

It'll keeps things from spoiling, maybe

It’ll keeps things from spoiling, maybe

The fridge is routinely panned as old, ineffective technology. It’s true that there are new designs, often called “truck fridges” that can run off a 12V battery without killing it and keep ice cream frozen. I could upgrade, but at a cost of $800, I’ll stick to my little Dometic. I don’t need freezing, I just need to keep things from spoiling, and the propane option is nice. The propane tank will last for quite awhile. The only problem is that it is really small, so packing it can be a challenge. Even without power, it can function as a cooler with some ice. I chose to supplement it with a small Coleman “Extreme” ice chest that is better insulated and sealed compared to most coolers, for a little more storage and flexibility. I’m not planning on camping off grid for extended periods, so I can buy a bag of ice periodically.

There are two tables that swing out of the way. One behind the driver’s seat that can be a table for the swiveling front seats, and one to the side of the rear seat. The tables provide good prep and eating space. Actually, they are often in the way, due to the limited space, especially the rear table. When folded “out of the way”, it blocks access to three cabinets. When swung out, the cabinets are accessible, but sliding in and out of the rear seat becomes a challenge.  It just takes consistent fiddling and adjusting.

Ready for action, just unplug the wok and tea kettle from the sink

Ready for action, just unplug the wok and tea kettle from the sink

The stove works great, but the cooking space is small, so you have to be careful with organizing your prep space. With the top popped, there is plenty of room to stand, but because the kitchen is so low, I end up crouching anyway! It works well to sit on the cooler, or even the back seat for dishes that require an occasional poke or prod.

Thinking about how I like to cook at home led me to this collection of cooking implements:

VLUU L210  / Samsung L210

It almost all fits!

10” cast iron skillet

12” non-stick wok

10” bamboo steamer

universal lid

small camping pressure cooker

2 nesting backpacking pots

tea kettle

cutting board

small and large collanders

large mixing bowl

rectangular plastic tub

assorted utensils

The smaller, camping oriented pots work better than larger ones meant for home use. They fit better on the small stove than the wok or cast iron skillet. But, I much prefer the home utensils, they just cook nicer. The small wok from a home kitchen stows in the sink, the handle fits under the burner grate. The bamboo steamer I love to use for fresh veggies, and especially small potatoes. So far I have yet to use the pressure cooker as such, only as my largest pot. But I’m not very experienced with pressure cooking at home, so I need to find a suitable experiment. I also carry a small backpacking stove as a backup, or if I want to cook outside.

Enough VW talk, food time!

So I completely blew up my tiny kitchen making veggie fajitas.

Veggie fajitas and ranch style beans

Veggie fajitas and ranch style beans

The picture only shows the stove’s mess. My prep table was covered in the detritus from prepping the fixins’. They were worth it though.

Vegan Fajitas with Fresh Salsa and Ranch Style Beans

Beans:

2 cans white or pinto beans

1 T dehydrated onion

2 T dehydrated peppers

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 T mustard

1 t agave

1 T cider vinegar

1 T BBQ style seasoning blend

dash Tabsaco

Rehydrate veggies in water, then add beans, tomato sauce, and seasonings. Simmer over low heat to blend flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Salsa:

2 roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 serrano pepper, minced

1/4 C cilantro

2 T minced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 lime, juiced

dash salt

Combine all ingredients and let sit to marry flavors.

Fajitas

1/2 each red and green bell pepper, sliced

equal amount red onion sliced

a few slices jalapeno

6 white mushrooms, sliced

In a very hot skillet or grill pan, sear the veggies and season with salt and pepper.

To Serve:

Wrap veggies in a flour tortilla, top with salsa and a slice of avocado. Enjoy with a side of ranch style beans.

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Campervan Chili Mac Veganized!

Campervan Vegan Chili Mac

Watching fellow campers, I see all sorts of SAD travesties. It becomes abundantly clear why we refer to it as the STANDARD American diet, and why our health is as bad as it is. I understand that people like to bend the rules a little and indulge themselves a bit while on vacation, after all, I can remember camping as a kid, it was the only time outside Halloween that my sister and I got to eat those fun candies. And it was the only time period that we got to eat mainstream sugar cereals for breakfast or drink soda with meals. But I have a gnawing fear that much of what my fellow campers are eating isn’t that far from standard operating procedure. What anyone eats is their business, and I understand that a camper kitchen presents some challenges compared to cooking at home. I hope to show during this month’s MOFO that simple, easy, cheap, and tasty can all coexist even in the small confines of a camper.

ENTER THE CHILI MAC!

Who can resist that on a camping trip? I couldn’t, so I made a way. I first looked to see what it actually consisted of. Like a lot of childhood recipes, I wasn’t quite sure what it was, and in my older and wiser years, I was a little afraid. So a quick Google search turned up a recipe by one of my favorite vegan bloggers, Susan Voisin. Her recipe showed I was on the right track. She added kale to get some good cruciferous leafy greens, and I suspect, a “superfood” boost as well. I didn’t have them, so I left them out. Instead, I topped mine with some finely sliced cabbage.

Here is how I did it:

Go Westy Chili Mac

New and improved kiddie comfort food

New and improved kiddie comfort food

1 can Rotel tomatoes

1 7 oz can tomato puree or salsa (I used a spicy Mexican brand)

1 can kidney beans

1 T dehydrated onion

2 T dehydrated pepper mix

2 T dehydrated corn

2-3 T nutritional yeast

Optional: 1 t each dry mustard and miso (see Note)

cooked whole wheat or gluten free pasta, preferably small elbow

Directions:

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.

Soak dehydrated veggies in hot water for a few minutes to rehydrate.

Combine tomatoes, salsa, beans, and veggies in a pot and simmer for a few minutes. Add nutritional yeast and any additional seasonings desired (salt, pepper, cumin, hot sauce, etc.) and continue to simmer. Add pasta and heat through.

Notes:

This recipe can be very high in sodium, depending on what canned tomato products you use. If sodium is an issue, read labels carefully. If you use plain died tomatoes and sauce, you will want to add a couple teaspoons of chili powder. I made this recipe entirely with pantry ingredients. I used canned food, dry pasta, and dehydrated veggies. It would be even better using fresh or frozen veggies if you had them. But it’s a great meal as is, for later in a trip when fresh is unavailable. If you like a cheezier taste, I find combining nutritional yeast with a little mustard and miso works the best. I had neither, and it tasted fine. But if I had ‘em, I’d a used ‘em!

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Vegan Road Trip

Who can resist the call?

Who can resist the call?


Vegan Cooking On the Road

It can be difficult to find vegan food on the road, and when you add in additional restrictions, like following Drs. McDougall and Esselstyn, trying to eat out is too much trouble. One of the main reasons for choosing the Westy for travel was the functionality of the kitchen. With my little kitchen, I can whip up a healthy lunch while on the road in the middle of nowhere, I can cook off the grid, and with shore power, I can even power appliances, for cooking like at home. I can cook my favorite dishes, to my taste, and I can save money in the process. What I want to avoid is the road trip trap of eating for convenience, either by eating out regularly, or eating processed, refined, convenient crap.

My goal for this year’s Mofo is to experiment and learn about cooking on the road in a small space, on and off the grid. My hope is that it can apply to many different travelers, those with more amenities, like a larger RV, and those tent camping. Much of this can even cross over to emergency preparedness, those times when you are forced to “camp” at home without power, water or other help due to some natural disasater.

Introducing the Westfalia

Home is where you park it!

Home is where you park it!

 

Volkswagen had been making camper vans for a long time. Rumor has it that an officer stationed in Europe after WWII wanted to see the sights before heading home. He was impressed by the functionality of the air cooled VW buses used for both military and civilian purposes. He wondered if the interior could be fitted out with a bed and storage for camping gear, and the prototype was made.

Eventually VW began commercial production by partnering with companies; VW supplied bare buses, and companies like Westfalia built a camper interior, and sometimes added exterior accessories like awnings and tents. Some models incorporated a pop top roof that allowed one to stand up inside the van, and/or have an additional “upstairs” bunk. Some models incorporated a stove, some had a sink, some had an ice box.

Over time, the VW bus grew bigger, but kept its air cooled, rear engine layout. In 1980, VW made a new van, called the Vanagon, bigger than those before, and a couple years later changed over to a water cooled boxer engine for more power and easier smog compliance. The most common camper configuration is the Westfalia, or “Westy”, with its familiar angled poptop. The kitchen includes a two burner propane stove, sink, 13 gallon fresh water tank, and small fridge that runs on 120V external power, propane, or the van’s 12V battery. There are lots of storage cabinets, and two tables that fold away and swing out for use. This is my home on the road.

In the early 90s, VW updated the venerable campervan one last time before discontinuing it, at least for the North American market. It’s a shame, really, as its small, simple layout is quite practical. Easy to drive and park, and when not camping, it looks like a regular van, not an RV. There really isn’t anything quite like it that I’ve seen. 

So off I go, through the four corners area for this trip, doing my best to eat clean, healthy, economical meals under a variety of circumstances.

Since his should be food related, I leave you with another roadside lunch, this time a pasta salad.

Insalata Puttanesca

Lunch somewhere in Northern Arizona.

Lunch somewhere in Northern Arizona.

 

cooked small pasta shape, like penne

1-2 heirloom tomatoes, diced

several kalamata olives, chopped

1-2 T capers

1-2 T diced red onion

1-2 cloves minced, fresh garlic

generous pinch red pepper flakes

minced fresh herbs, like basil or parsley, if available

Combine all ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. No olive oil is needed when you have fresh, juicy heirloom tomatoes.

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