December 7, 2012 by annmquintero
I promised a post about cooking on the road a while back, and decided that since I’m in Boston this week, it would be the perfect opportunity to share my habits with you. First off, most of my traveling tends to last 1-8 weeks. The requirements and freedom afforded by this are very different than for a lot of you who do frequent overnight business travel. If I’m not going to be a single location for more than 4 days, I generally assume I’ll be living on take out and salads for those days. However, when I’ll be settled in someplace for a while, I always make sure wherever I’m staying has a kitchenette.
My Go Kit:
Two knives. One santoku knife for chopping and such. One small serrated edge knife for slicing tomatoes and eating meat. Mine are bright orange, making them easy to identify as mine, and came with their own plastic sheaths. They are also unusually light, making them not my favorite knives of all time, but handy for travel. I have never in my life encountered even halfway decent cutlery in any corporate housing, hotels, or even sublets. To be fair, if I were letting a stranger in my place, I’d hide the good stuff too.
Flexible cutting board(s). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up someplace to discover there isn’t a suitable surface for chopping? A flexible cutting board will take up virtually no space in your luggage and will provide you with a safe, hygienic surface. (They also double as a makeshift funnel when necessary!)
Pepper mill. I have bought dozens of these things over the years. I’m continually amazed that salt and pepper wouldn’t be present in every kitchenette of corporate housing. It’s such a small, but helpful thing. I don’t actually mind buying salt when I arrive somewhere because I’m particular about my salt and I use sea salt both for cooking and for medicinal purposes (gargling, nasal rinse), and it’s dead cheap. Pepper grinders, on the other hand, really add up. It’s worth it to carry one of those cheap plastic ones with you.
The spice you reach for most often. For me, it’s probably either paprika or adobo, but for you it could be something entirely different. But bring that one thing that you seem to grab out of the cupboard more than anything else. Maybe it’s curry powder or red pepper flakes. Just remember you’re going to be using it pretty often, so make sure it’s something you love!
Coffee. Oh, coffee… I’m sure a lot of us have a hard time starting the day without that first cup of coffee before we face people. I always try to check ahead to see what the coffee situation is in my housing. If it’s looking pretty dire, I’ll pack my #2 filters, my collapsible silicone filter cup, and a baggie of my favorite grind to get me through til I can find a suitable replacement. I’ve also been known to pack a baggie of tea bags just in case.
Shopping bags. If you’ve spent enough time in Europe to do some grocery shopping, you know that most places don’t have complimentary shopping bags and will charge you a pretty penny for some re-useable ones. My canvas tote that I use at home is somewhat cumbersome, so I always travel with my oh, so awesome TARDIS shopping bags! Truth is, we should all be mindful of our plastic consumption and try to use eco-friendly, non-disposable bags whenever possible anyway. Having cute, convenient options just helps a bit!
Take stock. Check your kitchen for what tools you have available. Do you have a microwave? What kinds of pots and pans? What kinds of burners? Do you have an oven or just a stovetop? I always do a quick inventory of what tools will be at my disposal before hitting a grocery, because what you have will definitely affect what you purchase. What’s the use in buying something you’ll be unable to prepare?
Fat. I usually go for butter when I’m on the road, largely because my first priority is breakfast, and butter and eggs seem like a match made in heaven to me. If you’re more interested in being able to throw together an easy salad or some sauteed chicken breast, definitely opt for a small bottle of olive oil. If I’m being fair, olive oil is definitely the more adaptable of the two, so unless you’re a butter freak like me, it’s probably a better option.
Produce. Pre-washed greens and pre-chopped veggies are a godsend on the road. They just take some of the hassle out of the process in a world where bringing your salad spinner with you just isn’t reasonable. But most importantly, look for the freshest things possible. Without your spice rack at your disposal, it’s even more important that the natural flavors of what you purchase be at their peak. This is a great opportunity to learn what food really tastes like without all the bells and whistles! Always buy citrus! Lemon juice is great in salad dressings, over meats, and in tea!
Protein. Same goes for protein. Your options for dressing it up are going to be limited, so make sure you get yourself something nice. This might be the perfect time to treat yourself to a steak or a thick cut pork chop. Something very simple to prepare that has enough flavor to stand on it’s own with little more than salt and pepper. That with a simple salad or lightly sauteed veg always makes me happy!
Bulk bins. When you don’t want to buy an entire package of something because you’ll never go through it before you leave, look to the bulk bins. Those of you who are still on rice and quinoa will benefit especially from this. You can also grab some nuts or dried fruit for snacking. And you never know what a store will have in the bulk bins. You may be able to purchase a custom amount or salt or coffee.
Cooking while traveling takes a lot of forethought and menu planning. A trip to the store has to be more of a precision strike than a meandering journey of discovery and improvisation. Don’t buy things you won’t eat in the time allotted. Assume you’ll be eating out more than usual (the best laid plans of mice and men…). And choose things that will be very easy to prepare, because if you’re anything like me, working on the road takes its toll; and sometimes at the end of the day, ordering in room service pizza sounds like a perfectly healthy idea.
Edited to add: I won’t lie to you, Amazons. I wrote most of this on the train up, and on arrival, discovered my kitchenette was severely lacking in cookware. If I were more motivated, I would’ve asked the lovely people at the front desk to remedy the situation, but I was lazy and grabbed some ready to eat rotisserie chicken, salad, and a bunch of olives and other antipasti from the shop around the corner instead. Sometimes a girl just wants to eat olives out of the tub and call it a day. Not saying I’m proud, just honest.
(If this is your first time reading EATS, I encourage you to check out the Introductions post for my philosophy and list of must-have kitchen items.)