Q:

How can I spice up my trail cuisine?

I sick of eating the se old dehydrated meals when I'm out backpacking. Can you give us some real suggestions for tasty, convenient dinners? Maybe you could share what you ate for dinner on your last backpacking trip? Matt Albuquerque, New Mexico

Feb 13, 2004
Outside
Outside Magazine

Pesto Salmon Pasta

A: Let's see... my last gourmet backpacking experience was last September, in Montana. And it was, as I recall, Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce. No Michelin stars, but it wasn't bad!

Certainly, camping food has generally improved over the past ten years. Some offerings today are pretty exotic, such as Backpacker's Pantry Pesto Salmon Pasta ($12.50 for two servings). Almost all are an upgrade over the freeze-dried pork chops I ate on one trip long, long ago. Those looked like shoe heels, and had about the same taste and texture.

Still, the stuff is hardly mouth-watering and all begins to taste somewhat similar after a few trips (or meals, even). Plus it's expensive—$5 a serving, on average, and a "serving" isn't a meal. I usually supplement something like lasagna with crackers, dried soup, maybe even some freeze-dried vegetables (the peas are really quite good!).

So what to do? Two tacks. One is to accept the fact that freeze-dried foods offer excellent packability and convenience, at the cost of some flavor. So fix the flavor. Carry a seasoning kit with you. This could contain Parmesan cheese (which improves nearly anything), extra-virgin olive oil, garlic powder (not garlic salt, which has too much sodium), sea salt (ignore previous comment), chili powder, oregano, curry powder, and an all-in-one seasoning such as Lawry's Seasoned Salt. That assortment will punch up just about anything.

The other approach is to cook your own meals. Alas, things now get complicated. Some elements suit space and weight considerations (rice, pasta, beans). Others do not (canned fish, for instance). Refrigeration may be an issue (although for an overnighter, why not freeze some tenderloins, wrap them in foil, and pack them along?). But with a little effort, it's possible to conjure a surprising range of tasty meals. That is, if you're a pretty good cook to begin with. If not, stick to the freeze-dried portion of the menu.

Two other things will help your outdoor culinary efforts. One is an Outback Oven ($68 for the ten-inch model; www.backpackerspantry.com), a clever gadget that turns nearly any camp stove into a convection oven, and gives life to on-trail goodies such as pizza, brownies, biscuits, and frittatas. The other is a good book on outdoor cooking, especially Dorcas Miller's Backcountry Cooking ($17) or the classic, The Well-Fed Backpacker ($12; both available from REI.com).

Bon appetit!

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