When we made the transition from a sticks and bricks house to fulltiming three years ago, one thing that didn't change much was the menu. I had wooed my beautiful bride with my cooking during our courtship – 30 years ago this July 4th for our first date she invited me over for dinner and presented me with the raw ingredients to prepare, and I'm still doing all the cooking today. I'm beginning to suspect that I got beat on this deal. But enough about my personal problems – here's how I managed a graceful transition from cooking in a full kitchen in a regular house to the galley of our 2003 Roadtrek 190 Popular.
As in all things Class B, the main difference is space. There just isn't much of it, so organization and careful selection of cooking utensils and food are crucial to being able to prepare three meals a day. We don't eat out much – maybe a celebratory meal when we get back to civilization after weeks in the wilderness, but over 95% of our meals are prepared in the Roadtrek. When we first got it in 2007, there just wasn't much space – one three-shelf cabinet under the countertop held all food, dishes, plus the pots and pans. It was a mess. As I described in my last article, an armoire replacing the third seat to hold the dishes and cooking equipment freed up the original cabinet for food storage alone, and that's the way it's been since we started fulltiming.
Here's what I carry in the food cabinet: top shelf is spices and cooking ingredients like Parmesan, dried onion flakes, and dried parsley, condiments, peanut butter and jam, a few fresh items like tomatoes and rutabagas, a sugar dispenser, and a few shorter canned goods. Middle shelf is crackers and dry pasta, a bag of potatoes, more smaller canned goods like soups, and the all-important cat food container. Bottom shelf is flour, regular and brown sugar, and rice in plastic containers, the tall stuff like oil, vinegars, maple syrup, salsa, coffee and creamer for when we run out of fresh milk, dry stuff like Ramen and trail mix, and many more canned goods. In the armoire, in addition to the pots, pans, and dishes, I store bulky food items like bread, chips, candy, and cookies.
Utilizing space efficiently in the three cubic foot refrigerator is also essential to being able to cook well for a week or three when you're out in the wilderness. Those styrofoam trays for meats and vegetables make for an attractive display in the grocery stores, but they all have to go if you're going to get anything to fit in your tiny refrigerator. When I get back to the Roadtrek with a new batch of groceries, the first thing I do is wash my hands well, get out my Ziplock plastic bags, and repackage the fresh meat. I divide the hamburger, chicken, steaks and chops up into meal-size parcels, which go in the freezer, with one or two left out to eat in the next couple of days.
The same treatment is given to the vegetables – I have plenty of brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but that styrofoam tray the sprouts came in was replaced by a freezer bag in the grocery store parking lot. Things that are bagged within boxes like cereal and cookies lose the box. Everything that didn't come in a bag is in one before we drive away, and I usually have a full trash bag of excess packaging I can discard before we hit the road. Egg cartons are cut in half and stacked behind the gallon of milk – they fit exactly. I use eight and 16 ounce plastic containers for leftovers, which stack nicely and save space. The day before we shop, I freeze one of those big blue ice things in the almost-empty freezer, and put it in the refrigerator compartment to help the refrigerator cool off when the new food goes in.
I also save refrigerator space by not keeping anything in there that doesn't absolutely have to be refrigerated. I leave root vegetables in the cabinet – they keep fine at room temperature. Same with ketchup and mustard- they sit on the restaurant table for weeks, right? Jam, salsa, and maple syrup are also ok if you keep an eye on them – we're not likely to forget about anything, with our limited storage space. I have found that fancy homemade jams and stuff like that lack the vital preservatives necessary to last at room temperature, though. Buy the cheap stuff 😉 For salad dressing, I make oil and vinegar with dried herbs mix – those bulky bottles took up too much refrigerator space to be worth carrying. I usually take apples, oranges and bananas when we head out into the wilderness – the bananas end up as banana bread once they get too disreputable. Delicate stuff like cherries, plums and nectarines are left unrefrigerated and eaten within a few days of purchase.
Use a a combination of fresh and storable ingredients to vary the menu. This can give you a big meal that came mostly from the cabinet, not the fridge. For instance potato or tuna salad – the only refrigerated things I use to make them are the eggs, the mayo, and the celery. Spaghetti? Only the hamburger is frozen. I cook almost everything from scratch anyway, so this helps. A rotisserie chicken from the store tastes great, but that packaging will take up half your refrigerator. Frozen chicken pieces you cook yourself are preferable.
I also have a supply of non-refrigerated staples I can make a meal out of. We spent six weeks up in the Colorado Rockies in 2011 without going to a real grocery store, thanks to our staples – salmon, tuna, chili, spam, corned beef, and a few vegetables like beets and green beans, plus soups, spaghetti sauce, etc – all in cans and used often enough to rotate the stock. I carry a huge jar of peanut butter, extra jam/syrup, at least 5 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of sugar, 3 pounds of rice, all the stuff you would have in a real kitchen. That way, if we find a great place we'd hate to leave, we can stay for a week or four without undue hardship. Homemade bread tastes great out in the wilderness. Once we hit town, we replace whatever we used and we're good to go again.