Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Family Meals and Packing: Backpacking Style

   This past weekend, my family and I did a kid-friendly backpacking trip to Green Ridge State Forest with some friends. We hiked two miles to our wilderness campsite at a great swimming hole along Fifteen Mile Creek. To get there, we needed to bushwhack off the trail before it ascended a steep ridge. It was a beautiful spot where the kids had fun playing in the water and cooling off from the hot sun. Packing for a successful trip is time consuming, particularly when I do it occasionally and for the family.
   Our camping gear is in three bins in the basement. They are easy to pull out and separate backpacking supplies from car camping supplies. For me, meal planning is most time consuming, particularly creating the dinner menu. Time is spent: planning the menu, making the grocery list, going to the store, and then repackaging it to reduce the waste and weight.
    Our standard breakfast menu is instant oatmeal and bagels with cream cheese (bought in the plastic tub). I didn't take bagels this time to reduce space. To add protein to the oatmeal, I chopped almonds and put them in a zip bag with craisins. Coffee is a must to get my husband and I going in the morning. Starbucks Via packs are as good as coffee grounds without the clean-up.
    Lunch is easy and packed with protein - cheese (smoked Gouda works well and doesn't get greasy) and salami or pepperoni. We eat them with Naan bread and apples or baby carrots. Naan is a great alternative to pita and bagels. It stays moist long and doesn't crumble or take up lots of space. Something sweet is a must and a dark chocolate bar hits the spot.
    Burritos, tacos, or fajitas are a standard camping meal particularly when car camping because it is a very simple meal. However, making this meal while backpacking causes a lot of clean-up. This is my least favorite chore whether camping or at home. Therefore, I like to minimize the dish washing. I really like freezer bag cooking which allows you to make a one-pot meal in a freezer bag.
    I made two freezer bag meals: one recipe I got from trailcooking.com, Italian mashers with chicken, and a second I created, tuna polenta casserole (see recipe below). I prepped both meals at home combining the dry ingredients in freezer bags and wet ingredients in another.  Instead of cooking the meal in the freezer bag, I cooked them in one large pot for a hungry family of four. Freezer bag cooking is great for one or two servings in a gallon size bag but cooking for four in one is difficult to stir and get all the ingredients combined. My family loved the tuna polenta casserole. Clean-up was easy with four bowls and sporks and one pot and spoon. Just the way mom likes it!

Tuna Polenta Casserole - 4 servings
I measured some ingredients and eyeballed others. Therefore, you will need to adjust based on your own taste buds.
1 1/4 cup polenta
5 cups of water
3 stalks of celery chopped
2 chicken bouillon cubes
Onion flakes
Black pepper (no salt, bouillons have lots)
2-5 oz. Packages of tuna
Cheddar cheese
   Combine the polenta, onion flakes and bouillon cubes in a freezer ziplock bag. Chop the celery and place in a small zip bag. At the campsite, combine water and celery in the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and slowly add the dry ingredients while stirring. Once polenta is mixed in, then add the cheese and tuna and stir. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir again before serving.

Just as good as mom's tuna noodle casserole!

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