Tag Archives: Cooking

Adventures in Traveling with kids

With eight hours worth of driving between NOLA and Houston, we decided to turn it into two shorter days of driving.  The kids and I had gone to Avery Island (Tabasco factory and Jungle Gardens) a few years back, and I had been wanting to take Gabe since then.  Ironically, even though we pass within ten minutes of it every 4 weeks, we just never made it there with him.  Since we decided to take two shorter days, we figured it’d be perfect timing to stop by when we had half a day without much else to do.

It rained off and on, which is par for the course in the south in summer.  But the Jungle gardens were swarming with mosquitos and we ended up with several very large welts.  So instead of a leisurely few hours spent walking under the huge oaks, we drove through at a fast pace, getting out only twice to look at things, before finally giving up and staying in the car for the rest of the tour.

By the time we left we were starving and decided to stop and get some diner food at Mel’s diner on HWY 90 between New iberia and Lafayette.  Actually really big portions for cheap prices.  My type of place when the kids are going through their growth spurts!

While we were inside, though, it rained.  Hard.  We brought the most expensive things into the cab of the truck, but most had to stay in the back.  We hoped all would be well.

Fast forward to bringing things into our hotel room. I opened the homeschooling suitcase to find half of the books with some sort of water damage.  SIGH.  They are now draped over the various tables in our hotel room, with me not holding my breath that they’ll dry by morning.

My daughter has very long, thick, curly hair.  We’ve been swimming all week.  And yes, it was tonight that the rat’s nest was brought to my attention.  The good thing was that I watched a semi-horror flick (October is the month for “scary” movies with us) that was entertaining while I brushed through her hair, taking breaks frequently because she got her mama’s tender head.

As a cap to a perfect day, I asked a certain son of mine to put the bag of left over Italian sausage and marinara in the mini fridge (I’d left the cooler in the truck because we are only here for one night and just brought in dinner).  He managed to not understand how gravity works and that the bag is called a ZIPLOC because you’re supposed to ZIP it shut.  Needless to say, I ended up scrubbing marinara off the room floor, under the mini fridge while my husband tilted it back.  SIGH. At least the carpet is already sort of brownish reddish.

On a good note, Cutthroat Kitchen is hysterical!  Love it.

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Food Traveling Tips pt 1

On top of fun trips we take, we also often go on shorter drips for business.  Every 28 days, I either drop Gabe off, or pick him up.  We have one car and so me and the kids make one over night round trip from Waco, TX to Houma, LA every four weeks.  Every 2nd or 3rd month, we also include a slight detour to my doctor which is located about an hour out of the way, but all in all, not too bad considering the whole trip is 8 hours.  When we see my doctor, because the appointment is typically a few hours long, we break it up into two days of traveling in the car.  On top of that, we also we sometimes take our first few days of Gabe being off the boat to hang out somewhere in a cabin.  Or, like this week, his office needs him to go to a class.  They pay for the hotel and me and the kids tag along for the week.  Because we’ve done so much hotel stays, but I’ve rarely blogged about them, and this trip has had more than it’s share of weird issues crop up, I thought I’d blog a bit and share what’s worked for us.

First question, before I get into how much work it is to prepare for even a one night turn around with four kids, why?  Why not just grab some McDonald’s?  Or taste the local cuisine?  Enjoy the trip, right?  Well, there’s a few reasons.  First I want to admit that we DO eat out!!!!!  We’ve stopped at gas stations and grabbed Hunt’s pizza (yuck), and breakfast at Bucee’s (double yuck!).  We’ve had brisket in small places that looked closed but were amazing, and some over priced crap that looked pretty.  In fact, the main reason I go through the work is that Gabe and I LOVE to eat new foods and eat GOOD food!  And it’s costly.  For six value meals at McDonald’s (My kids have been eating adult meals for quite some time now…they’ve always had good appetites), it’s almost $40.  For six meals at Chili’s (good food, but generally middle of the road, price-wise), we are up at around $100 (not including alcoholic drinks).  When we go out to an oyster or sushi bar, we are at about $150-200.  Keep in mind this price is for ONE meal!  We eat three times a day.  If we don’t, my kids are great at pointing out how they are starving!  Now, because Chili’s is typically the minimum we are all willing to eat (I’m a good cook, and we like better foods), you can now see how $300/day in food isn’t sustainable for long.  Food is the number one cost of any trip we take. If we didn’t have kids, the hotel room or the diesel might be on top, but we have kids.  So food it is.  I work hard to provide most meals ahead to help with not eating out simply because we’re hungry, and nothing’s made.  Also, that way we can focus on a few restaurants over the course of a week and the financial hit isn’t so bad.

Alright, let’s get started.

1.  Tools of the trade.

We have a cooler (bought at Walmart) that’s 110 qt capacity.  I can fit about 5-7 days worth of food in it, plus the ice.  It’s also a great size for me to sit on, straddled on one end, and cut up food for dinner on a cutting board on the other end.  This is good for when we are tent camping and counter space is at a premium.  It’s not a yeti.  And it works just fine.

Ice.  The source of all cooler frustrations.  If we are tent camping and the cooler will be outdoors in the summer, dry ice is the way to go.  You put it on the bottom of your cooler, cover with newspaper.  Then put your frozen items on top, including regular ice, then another layer of newspaper if you don’t want the other food to be frozen, and finally the rest of your perishables.  In a hotel room, it stays around 70 and it’s in the shade, so dry ice isn’t needed as much.  In that case, some ice, and some frozen meals will pretty much get you through.  Pack frozen at the bottom and work your way up.

Ice PT 2: Don’t buy bags of ice.  Buy a few gallons of water, open and drain out 1/4 c.  And Freeze.  Will keep for 3 days indoors in a filled cooler.  When it defrosts, you have water to drink and none to drain from soggy veggies at the bottom.  Make ahead freezer meals and use those as ice.  And in the case that you weren’t expecting to need to buy bags of ice and then you do, keep it in block form (don’t drop it and spread it out) because it’ll stay frozen much longer.  Finally, if you are in a hotel and getting ice from the machine, get your gal. of water (that’s now empty) carefully cut the top off, leaving the handle.  Put ice in that.  It’s easy to hold, and when the ice melts, you won’t have to try to drain the huge cooler, just the jug with the handle still intact.  Refill, and replace in the cooler.

Food prep:  Few things are really needed.  Yes, I watch the Food Channel and drool.  But most of that stuff isn’t necessary.  You don’t need to bring your flash freezer with you to have good food while on the road.  A large plastic mixing bowl , a good knife, a small plastic cutting board, wooden spoon, can opener.  Other things that are usually in our pack are electric kettle, french press, corkscrew, and whatever other implements I’ll need for that specific meal plan, like tongs, or a spatula.  A potato masher works well as a whisk, and also helps break up ground meat as your frying it up.  An electric skillet can be used for hamburgers as well as something with sauce because it has high sides and a lid.  And I generally buy paper plates, but bring 6 bowls, 6 sets of silverware, a few steak knives, and everyone has their own hot/cold cup.

Food Clean up:  A few garbage bags, dish soap, washcloth, a few hand towels for drying.  Whether we are in a hotel, or we’ve stopped for a short hike and lunch on a long car trip, it’s important to clean it up and pack it out if you brought it in.  Don’t be a slob.

Road Food Part 2, Salads and Sandwiches

In the last installment of rood food, I listed some generalizations of ways to make food on the road.  In this installment, I’ll talk recipes, salads and sandwiches.  Feel free to tweak any to your own taste buds.  And some of them are pretty generalized and can be mixed and matched.  For any hot sandwiches, you can either wrap in aluminum foil and then wrap in a towel.  Or you can place it in an ice chest without ice, as they are meant to insulate and will keep things hot or cold.  Or you can let it cool and find a microwave where ever you are going to reheat.  Hot sandwiches are the most difficult to bring with you because they aren’t large and so they won’t retain their heat as well as a casserole will.  So I prefer to have the ingredients ready to go and then plan on having it for a meal when we get home.  You have limited dishes and time to prepare them, but it’ll be something warm and with some substance after a long day out sightseeing.

Green Salads:

You can pre-make a basic green salad after you do your typical grocery shopping.  When I come home from our weekly grocery-shopping trip, we put away groceries, except produce.  We have a very small refrigerator, and putting whole veggies in it means there’s no room for anything else.  For any veggies that are specifically for a meal, I’ll cut, dice, chop, etc, and then put it into a small Ziploc with the name of that meal written in sharpie on the outside.  For any veggies meant to be eaten raw, I’ll cut up into sticks/chunks, like carrots, celery, broccoli, and put those into a large Ziploc all together, so that we always have a portable veggie tray ready to go.

For salad, per person, per week, I buy about 1 head of lettuce, 1 tomato, 1 carrot stick, half a cucumber, a few green onions, and a large broccoli floret.  I chop up the veggies really small and toss with lettuce.  Then I put it into Ziploc bags, zip most of the way shut, push out all the air, and the zip the rest of the way.  It will be very small, and take up very little space.

For add-ons:

Cheddar cheese

Croutons

Crumbled feta or bleu cheese

Ham, chicken, bacon

Raisins or dried cherries

Apples or mandarin oranges or zest from oranges or lemons

Cilantro, lime, coconut, and shrimp for a Thai salad

 

Green salad doesn’t have to be boring!  It can have a variety of tastes and proteins added to make it more of a full meal.  And with different dressings, you can add a lot of flavor.  Be careful of dressings if you have certain dietary restrictions, though.  Some people can’t handle any cream based dressing.  If you’re needing low sodium or low sugar, you can easily make your own dressings with vinegar and oil and fruit or herbs.

 

Pasta Salads:

I have three basic pasta salads that we all like.

 

  1. Pasta salad:  1 pound cooked macaroni, 1 can diced olives, 1 cut up avocado, 1 cut up tomato, 1 handful of shredded cheddar cheese, and about 6 oz of cooked and cut up ham.  Add all to a bowl, pour in half Italian dressing/half Ranch dressing to taste, it’ll probably be about ¼ a regular bottle of each.  Mix well. Serves 4
  2. Tortellini-Asparagus salad: Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cook 18 oz cheese filled tortellini, 1 pound asparagus cut up, an 1 large yellow pepper cut up, until tortellini is cooked.  Drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cooled.  In another small bowl, mix together the zest and juice of 1 lemon, ¼ c olive oil, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp sugar, ¼ tsp salt, 1 clove minced garlic, and mix thoroughly.  Add dressing to large bowl with pasta and veggies.  Add ½ c parmesan, ½ c sliced green onions, and ¼ c chopped almonds.  Toss together and refrigerate (or place in an ice chest with ice) for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.  Serves 4
  3. Crab Salad: a pound of pasta shells cooked and drained, half a pound of bacon cooked and crumbles, a package of Krab, two ribs of celery diced, one small red onion diced, and half a bottle of ranch dressing.  Mix all together and refrigerate (or put in an ice chest with ice) for at least 2 hours, or up to 24.  Serves 4-6.

 

 Cold Sandwiches:

Deli Sandwiches are great because like the green salads, you can keep a lot of stuff on hand and use it depending on your mood.  A lot of the items can also be used for both a deli sandwich as well as green salads.

To keep on hand:  Thinly sliced meat such as turkey, ham, roast beef, sliced cheese such as Colby Jack or Provolone, tomatoes for slicing, lettuce, pickle slices, mayo and mustard or any other dressing you might like such as a vinaigrette or Italian dressing.

I’ll typically make ahead sandwiches, wrap them up in a paper towel, put them into a sandwich sized Ziploc, mark the outside so we know which sandwich is for whom, and put it into the ice chest.

Tuna fish is another favorite of mine.  In my tuna, I’ll put mayo, mustard, sweet relish, diced onions and celery, and a bit of paprika.  I also like cut up hard boiled eggs in mine, and I like to top it with sprouts.  You can make a chicken salad sandwich by subbing out chicken for tuna.

Egg salad is hard boiled eggs with a bit of mayo, mustard, and paprika.  Basic but yummy.

 

Hot sandwiches:

Hot sandwiches come in two basic forms, those that are grilled on a press, also known as a Panini, and those that are open faced and baked.  There are a few exceptions to this: hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, and BBQ sandwiches such as pull pork.  For now, I’ll talk about the two main ones, as it’s a basic concept with a few different ingredients.

The Panini.  To make a Panini, you put ingredients between bread, oil up a press/forman grill/skillet, and cook till bread is browned and ingredients are warmed.  If you use a skillet, you can wrap a brick in foil to use as a weight.  Another way is to use an additional pot or pan that fits inside the skillet, put two cans from your pantry in it, and use it as a weight while cooking your Panini.  I’ve never used an actual Panini press.  Forman grills tend to make the sandwich a bit slanted because of how the lid comes down.  Using the skillet method I prefer, simply because often the bread gets browned before the ingredients inside get warm.  My grill doesn’t have temperature settings.  It’s either on or off.  So with a skillet, you can put the heat on low and give it a bit more time.  If you just can’t wait that long, you can always microwave the ingredients for a minute before assembling the sandwich and grilling.

Here’s some frequently used grilled sandwich combos we use.  They tend to be ones that all of us like, as well as ones that have common ingredients we typically keep on hand anyways.

 

  1. Mozzarella/tomato/basil leaf
  2. Turkey/apricot preserves/brie
  3. Tuna melt/ Colby jack or cheddar
  4. Roast beef/ grilled onions and mushrooms/ Swiss
  5. Rueben’s, pastrami/ 1000 Island/sauerkraut/Swiss or provolone
  6. Roast beef/with a mix of onions, bell peppers, jalapeno olives, and artichoke hearts that have been marinated in a bit of olive oil with oregano and red pepper flakes/Swiss or provolone
  7. Patty Melt, cooked ground beef patties/ grilled onions/ tomato/ American, Cheddar, Colby jack or all three!

 

Baked Sandwiches

I include bruschetta in this category because we eat it as a main course often enough.  These are pretty easy to make ahead, pop in the fridge, and when you get back you can pop it into the oven at 400 for a few minutes and dinner is ready!

A few of our favorites are:

  1. Meatball subs
  2. Tomato/green olive/olive oil/basil/and cheddar bruschetta
  3. Cooked shrimp/lime juice/mango pieces/cilantro/brie bruschetta
  4. Open faced on a hollowed out French roll, Dijon mustard, cooked ground beef with a bit of Worcestershire sauce, topped with Swiss.
  5. Open faced/dip in a hollowed out French roll (use extra pieces to dip), cooked and diced ham/green onions/cream cheese/sour cream
  6. And of course pizza!  It’s not really too much different than an open faced sandwich.  There’s endless toppings you can put on it.  It’s helpful to have a pre-made crust.  Then you can just add the sauce/cheese/ and toppings and bake for ten minutes.

 

Finally, the last group of sandwiches.  Slow cooking a “cheap” cut of meat will give you delicious pulled BBQ sandwiches.  When slow cooking, you can add some onions, garlic, a bit of wine, and it will turn it into a delicious feast!  Hamburgers and hot dogs are quick and easy.  As a way to spice them up a bit, you can add pretty much any topping that you would on a pizza, plus chili cheese, bacon, BBQ, and sauerkraut.  Sausages can be made similarly to hot dogs, and Gabe and I will often eat sausages as the kids eat hot dogs.  Sausages are eaten on a hoagie roll.  You can put some grilled peppers, onions, and mushrooms, along with some Swiss cheese.  Or you can put spicy mustard and sauerkraut.  BBQ sauce or teriyaki sauce.  They are very good.  As a warning, both hot dogs and sausages are FULL of salt.

The last sandwich that we make fairly often is a Spam sandwich.  Yeah, I know.  This is totally bad for you, but we all enjoy it from time to time.  And if any of you are saying to yourself “I will NEVER eat spam”, I’d encourage you to try it.  It doesn’t take up valuable freezer/fridge space.  And it pairs well with eggs, pineapple or fried rice. For our spam sandwich, we grill sliced spam.  Set aside.  We put mayo on the inside of hamburger buns and grill them.  Set aside.  We grill two eggs per sandwich, over easy or sunny side up.  Then you assemble the sandwich, topping with a bit of cheddar cheese.  It’s fast, easy, and what I consider comfort food.  Not the healthiest by ANY means.  But it makes for a halfway decent lunch.

Road Food, cooking on the go part 1

If you haven’t been able to tell by reading most of the my other posts so far, I’m a bit of a foodie.  I like trying new foods, and regional foods, and off the beaten track restaurants.  As a family, we like pretty much every type of food.  While there might be certain foods one of us doesn’t like, such as mushrooms, there’s not one restaurant we’ve ever been in that we didn’t all get something we like.  We’ve been to small hole in the walls and large fancy restaurants, Greek, Brazilian,  Thai, we like it all.   But there’s a few reasons why we try to limit eating out.

1.  It’s hard on your budget.  For example, in order to eat sushi for our family of 6 in a half way decent sushi bar, it’ll cost us about $150 after tax and tip.  If I make sushi at home, it will cost us roughly $20, and we typically end up with more than we can eat at that meal.

2.  General health reasons.  Eating out is unhealthy.  Period.  Full stop.  People tend to eat more.  Eat more fat and more sugar.  And just eat more in general.  We often leave with that “stuffed” feeling.  Further, the chefs at any restaurant tend to add more calories in the way they cook so that the meal tastes better.  For example, if you would add 2 Tbsp. of butter to a recipe at home, they will add 8.  What about higher class eateries?  Yes!  Them too!  If you go to the Macaroni Grill and get Chicken Marsala, it will be a whopping 1,100 calories!  That’s more than half the average daily amount in one meal!  And it doesn’t even include the bread before hand, the olive oil you’re dipping it into, the wine you’re drinking with it, or a dessert or salad.  When I make Chicken Marsala at home, it comes to just over 500 calories, which is a whole dinner plate size, and yes, I use real butter!  And just for the record…..mine tastes better anyways!

3.  Personalized health reasons.  Most of us will go through at least a short period at some point in our lives of having a restricted diet.  In many cases, it makes eating out incredibly difficult.  In my case, I’m currently on a low-protein, low-sodium, low-potassium, low-phosphorus diet.  I know what you’re thinking. So what exactly DO you eat?  Well, a lot of things.  But eating out is almost impossible.  For me, I can’t have any sauces, because of the way most restaurants make them.  I can’t have any salt on anything.  No potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, and my meat/protein has to be limited to about 2 oz for the whole meal.  No soy products, which discounts most “vegan” options.  Think about that.  We recently went to a small truck stop on I-10 Louisiana on the way to get Gabe off the boat.  We’d gone too long without food and there wasn’t another town for awhile.  So we walk in and I order, no salt, no potatoes, no cream based salad dressings, and no sauces.  In a southern diner.  HAHAHAHA!

On some diets, splurging is ok from time to time.  If that’s you, then traveling becomes a bit easier.  Currently, if I break my diet, I end up with four hours of intense cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.  So, currently, it’s not worth it to me to break the diet.

Alright, so what do you do?  How do you do the touristy thing on the go and not eat out?  Or what if your regular schedule at home is busy and you find yourself having dinner at Tae Kwon Do practice, or soccer practice, or Ballet?

First things first.  You have to plan things out.  I find it’s generally easier to under schedule a trip because you don’t end up exhausted and you can enjoy things better when you’re not feeling rushed to get to the next thing.  The perk of this is doing things like eating lunch at home, going to see a site, and then coming home for dinner.  A few times this week, since we are about 30-45 minutes away from most sites, I’d make lunch with breakfast, we’d leave about 11, tailgate when we first arrive at the destination, and then go in to do the tourist thing.  We typically get home around 5-6 and have dinner then.

So when you plan things out, think about timing.  Will you have enough time when you get home to fully prepare a meal?  If not, what are some things you can do in the morning to prepare it so that it’s basically ready to bake when you get home?  What’s the weather like?  Planning for a simple soup is a great idea unless it’s Texas and August.  Further, while freezer meals is great, if you are traveling in an RV, you will likely not have enough room in your freezer for a week or two worth of meals.  In general, simple meals for the most part, with more open days having more complicated meals.

Things to keep on hand:

Salad and sandwich supplies.

Bread, lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes, shredded cheese, croutons, sliced cheese, deli meat, pickles, and condiments/dressings.  You can make ahead salad in bulk.  Don’t add dressing and place in a gallon sized ziploc, zipping it most of the way, pushing out as much air as possible, and zipping the rest of the way.  Salads made like this will keep in the fridge for up to 14 days.  The main idea is to make sure you eat out of one bag at a time, and that each time you use some salad, you get out as much air as possible.

Sandwiches can be made easily enough, and with a few bucks, you can get a small cooler and bag of ice from the local grocery store to cart around with you during that week you’re on vacation.

If you’re planning on getting home right at dinner time and want an easy meal, you could also add warm sandwiches.  Panini’s can be made of about anything.  Grilled cheese is always a quick easy favorite…..with colby jack and tomato.  Meatball subs can be made ahead of time and popped into the oven for ten minutes.  And open faced baked sandwiches/bruschetta are also good and easy to make/make ahead.

There are also some pasta salads that do very well in a cooler.  Most of them are made to sit for awhile and let the flavors melt into each other anyways.  So making it in the morning and eating it for lunch or dinner is actually preferred.  Sushi is a good take along.  The only problem is that it’s only good for a few hours afterwards, in order to eat at the peak of flavor, but it takes awhile to make.  I’ll use sushi when it will be eaten during Tae Kwon Do, so I can make it in the afternoon and we can eat it within a few hours of making it.

Some of these make for more mess on the go than others.  Obviously, most pasta salads are eaten better in a bowl.  So now you’ve got dirty bowls and forks. Well, bring along a few plastic grocery store bags and a roll of paper towels.  Wipe the bowls, throw away the paper towels, and put the dirty dishes into a bag and tie it at the top.  When you get home later, you can just bring in the bag and wash up those few dishes easily enough.  Also, when bringing sandwiches or salads, I bring them in a ziploc bag.  That way it’s easier to fit into the cooler and there’s less dishes to clean.  We’ve tried putting saran wrap on a large mixing bowl, but it’s hard to be mobile with a huge mixing bowl and other bowls to eat out of, etc.  So, ziploc is your friend!  Oh, and you can also bring it home and wash out the bag and reuse it.  No need to throw them out daily.

Hot Meals:

There are some hot meals that actually travel well.  Any type of casserole works well.  If I make a lasagna, it will have aluminum foil on the top already.  Then I take one or two towels and wrap the whole thing.  Because it’s so solid in the casserole, and it’s wrapped, it will stay warm for at least four hours.  I’ve never had to have it stay warm for longer, so I’m not sure past then.  But, lasagna, enchiladas, wet burritos, anything like that will work well.

A slow cooker is also a nice way of having a good meal.  1. You can set it before you leave and it’ll be done when you get home.  If you do this, I recommend taking all precautions such as not leaving it on a flammable surface, making sure the cord isn’t torn anywhere, or is in water, keeping curtains away from it.  That being said, leaving a slow cooker on an open counter for a few hours has never burned down my house.  Another way you can use a slow cooker is cooking your meal on low all night long.  When you wake up, it’ll be done.  You can either wrap it up like the casseroles and eat it for lunch, or leave it to reheat when you get home for dinner.

Lastly, the number one reason for splurge eating out is bad judgement on how long we’ll be out and not bringing snacks.  So, even if you eat lunch at home and plan to be home for dinner, bring some fruit or veggies, crackers or cookies such as fig bars, or even some chips.  Bring along enough to drink as most tourist attractions mean a lot of walking.  This way, by the time you’re done seeing an attraction, you’re not starving and exhausted and prone to “just stopping for some burgers and fries” instead of coming home to eat a delicious meal of Chicken with cherry-apple stuffing.

I will post some tried and true recipes that we all like and that are regulars for our busy, on-the-go lifestyle in Part Two.