Traveling with a recreational vehicle, whether a trailer, fifth wheel or motor home, offers an opportunity to vacation without many of the traditional expenses, particularly at popular resorts. A trailer-park hookup rents for a fraction of a hotel room and the savings are compounded if good use is made of the camper's kitchen.
Those unfamiliar with RVs are usually astounded by their kitchens, many complete with four-burner stove with full-size ovens and broilers, microwave ovens, double sinks, refrigerator/freezers and lots of counter space. Anything prepared in the home kitchen can conceivably be cooked in a well-equipped camper.
Once you get used to the relatively close quarters and hook yourself up to cable TV, the only thing you'll miss about hotels is the maid service. Being able to bring along your fully stocked kitchen (Dove Bars, six packs, fresh fruit and veggies -- whatever you want) definitely helps to ease the pain.
Breakfast and lunch don't even seem much different from at home, with everyone grabbing toast, cereal and sandwiches. Dinner can get more complicated, particularly for the designated cook, who more often than not is tired from working hard at relaxing and probably hasn't spent a lot of time thinking about easy, quick and satisfying dinners (other than those involving going out somewhere). If dining out is in the budget, great. If not, read on.
Kitchen equipment (beyond the above mentioned standard items, i.e.: stove, fridge, etc.) on board, availability of ingredients, and the cook's energy level are the most important considerations for cooking in your camper; let's discuss them one at a time.
Plenty of cooks who are unable to function in their home kitchens without their Cuisinarts and Kitchen Aid mixers (like me) don't have such appliances in their trailers, and magically they don't die of starvation on vacation. The worst part of cooking is cleaning up, and on vacation I don't want to be worrying about washing a dozen blades and bowls. Considering that, none of recipes to follow really necessitate the use of anything more complicated than a knife, garlic press and can opener.
Of course, you'll need a cutting board, measuring spoons and cups, wooden spoons, spatula, colander and mixing bowls, not to mention pots and pans. Don't make the mistake of taking along second-hand or inferior quality cookware, which only serves to frustrate you on vacation just as it does at home. If it's not good enough at home, it's not good enough on the road. Also, make sure your knives are of good quality and sharp; dull knives can be more dangerous than sharp one.
Stocking your camper's pantry is similar to your home kitchen, except that of course you should only take along what you'll really use. Five-year-old spice tins and cans of veggies everyone hates take up valuable space and reduce your gas mileage. Staples such as dried pasta, rice, olive oil, dried fruits, nuts, grated cheeses and canned soups, vegetables, tuna and salmon can form the basis for many varied healthy, hearty and easy meals.
Plan ahead as much as you can to insure you'll have most of what you'll need. Intensive grocery shopping on vacation is a contradiction of terms and hardly relaxing. If you're camping in an out-of-the-way spot, it may even be impossible. Don't forget semi-perishables such as potatoes, onions and garlic. Perishables such as eggs, milk, butter, etc., should be bought upon arrival; usually even the more remote destinations have convenience stores. Also, some of the following recipes feature vegetables so bountiful during summer at roadside stands. Try to buy them close to arrival to avoid bruising.
All the recipes I've chosen require relatively little actual preparation time. Some of the dishes spend enough time in the oven to allow the cook to relax a little before dinner. Many of these meals are so simple, nourishing and inexpensive they're bound to become favorites at home as well as on the road.
My mom's incredibly easy macaroni and cheese recipe will surprise you. It's my favorite simple meal at home and in my trailer. I usually serve it with a salad featuring cucumber, Boston lettuce, shredded mozzarella and smoky-tasting roasted red peppers from the jar. Just add a splash of good quality olive oil and tarragon vinegar to a bit of the jar's liquid for a great dressing.
# Char's macaroni and cheese Serves 4.
1 pound uncooked macaroni, rotini, shells, ziti or any other small pasta
2 11-ounce cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain then combine pasta and Cheddar cheese soup in an oven-proof casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or slightly longer for crunchy crust.
* Because fresh herbs make such a difference in most recipes, I take along some sprigs of rosemary from my garden for this dish. Fresh rosemary will keep for about a week if kept cool. If fresh is unavailable, dried rosemary substitutes quite nicely. This recipe is from the "Classic Sicilian Cookbook," by Mimmetta Lo Monte, Simon & Schuster, 1990.
# Pasta acciurata Serves 6.
1/4 pound oil cured black olives, pits removed, each cut up into a few pieces
8 cloves garlic, pressed or cut into a few pieces
1 tablespoon whole fresh rosemary leaves, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried
3/4 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons to toast bread crumbs
16 small anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, mashed
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 1/4 pounds spaghetti
Cook the black olives, garlic and rosemary in the oil over low heat, until aromatic. Turn off the heat and stir in the anchovies and the pepper.
In a skillet, toast bread crumbs lightly with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
Cook the spaghetti al dente according to package directions. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce and serve immediately topped with the bread crumbs.
* Embellish the following stuffed eggplant recipe with raisins, pine nuts and grated carrots for a festive touch. And, as with all summer vegetables, go for the just-picked roadside or farmers' market eggplants. I like to serve this dish with crunchy roasted new potatoes, which cook while I prepare the eggplant, and anything else green and fresh and barely cooked, such as green beans or snow peas. This recipe is from "Vegetarian Dishes From Around the World," by Rose Elliot (Pantheon Books, 1981).
Eggplant stuffed with cheese Serves 4.
4 medium size eggplants -- about 1 1/2 pounds in all
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups grated cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (if available)
ground black pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the eggplant and remove the stalk ends. Fill half a good-sized saucepan with cold water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the eggplant in the water for about 5 minutes, until they feel just barely tender when pierced with the point of a knife. Drain and cool, split them in half lengthwise, and scoop the flesh out into a bowl, leaving the skins intact.
Arrange the skins in a lightly oiled, shallow oven-proof dish. Mash the eggplant flesh with a fork, then stir in the onion, grated cheese, egg, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Bake the eggplant for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
* Sometimes even the most imaginative camper cooks become overwhelmed when faced with mountains of Maryland tomatoes and zucchini. Simple is definitely better. Serve with a side of rice for a nice light supper. This recipe is from "The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook," by John Shields (Aris Books, 1990).
% Squash and tomato casserole
6 tablespoons butter
4 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 onion diced
4 tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper to taste
pinch Old Bay seasoning
1/4 pound mozzarella or provolone cheese, sliced
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the zucchini and onions and saute a few minutes until half cooked. Remove from the heat and add tomatoes, salt, pepper and Old Bay. Pour into a buttered 4-cup casserole. Top with cheese and bake 10 minutes, or until cheese melts and begins to brown.
* Throwing my first big party as a teen-ager, I needed to prepare something hearty, cheap and easy for a crowd. I gambled coming off a total geek and served tuna casserole and spent part of that party in the kitchen preparing seconds and thirds for my appreciative guests. Everyone loves comfort food, and on the road it can help to ease a case of homesickness. Feel free to substitute beans or asparagus for the peas. Canned is fine; fresh is better. Recipe from Square Meals," by Jane and Michael Stern (Albert A. Knopf, 1984).
. The perfect tuna casserole Serves 3 to 4.
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 6 1/2 ounce can oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup slightly crumbled potato chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Blend soup and milk in 1 quart casserole. Stir in tuna, eggs and peas. Bake 20 minutes. Top with chips; bake 10 minutes longer.