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A chef in the trailer

We received this email from blog reader Larry Ko:

I love to cook Chinese, Cajun, Mexican, and Italian, making do with ingredients on hand. My kitchen is stocked with lots of infrequently used kitchen tools. What tools and appliances do you feel are a functional must for your AS kitchen? What basic items do you keep stocked in your pantry?

Hi Larry!
Good to hear from you. Lots of people ask the same questions you just asked, so I think this time I’ll “blog” the answers.

We don’t eat out a lot, but we are full-timers that travel around a lot. So, as we travel, I like to pick up local food items and cook with what I purchased. We always try to go to farmers markets and those little roadside stops that offer unusual local fare, like smoked fish, tangerines from 7th generation trees, garlic fried peanuts, or mutton tacos with a pickled serrano.

If you plan to camp some place remote, and want to have the “local fare” for your meals, pick up what you need along the way instead of packing it ahead of time. But, if you plan to be in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and think you may want Thai or Cajun, then make plenty of room and pack it with you. My philosophy is “I can always hand-wash t-shirts and undies but I can’t purchase gumbo filé in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.”

What basic items do you keep stocked in your pantry?

Fresh is best, so our refrigerator is always full. However, we gravitate toward out of the way places where diverse food items are not readily available. As a professional cook, there are certain things I refuse to do without. I love to cook many different cuisines, so I have way too much stuff in the “pantry”. Even though each thing is in small/single quantity, I still manage to fill four rubbermaid tubs, two overheads, and one cabinet. Rich complains that we have a trailer full of ingredients, but nothing to eat. 😉

My staple ingredients are:

rice: Basmati or Jasmine, Arborio (for risotto), wild, brown, and dried rice paper rounds (Vietnamese salad wrappers)
pasta: long, short, pearl, couscous
barley, lentils, flour (all-purpose & whole wheat), oatmeal, cornmeal, white grits, biscuit mix, baking powder & baking soda, white cake mix
raw honey, molasses, pure Vermont maple syrup and sugar: granulated, raw, dark brown, confectioners
tea: black, green, white, red, herbal (We don’t just drink it, I cook with it too.)
coffee: drip, perk, espresso
peanut butter, cashew or almond butter, white & black sesame seeds, unsweetened dry coconut
various dried fruits & assorted raw nuts (good for snacking & cooking), unsweetened chocolate, chocolate chips
oils: olive (reg. & Extra-virgin), soybean, macadamia, cooking spray
vinegar: balsamic (white & red), cider
salt: kosher, sea, iodized
pepper: whole black peppercorns, coarse & fine grind, white fine grind
canned/jarred: red & green chilies, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn, black beans, mushrooms, coconut milk, coconut water, evaporated milk, olives, artichoke hearts, pineapple, pickles, salsa, garlic, ginger, basil, tamari, mirin, fish sauce, hoisin, nori, red & green curry paste
broth: chicken, beef, vegetable Progresso soups (for when I’m too tired to cook or we are very short on time)
wine: 2 dry reds & 1 white
dried herbs & spices: whole green cardamom, cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, bay leaf, saffron threads, orange peel, lemon grass, sage, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, ancho chilies, chili powder, ground & stick cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, red pepper flakes, gumbo filé, curry powder, and my own mixes for dry rubs, bbq, & Indian masala

What tools and appliances do you feel are a functional must for your AS kitchen?

Now I need to be able to prepare and serve all those ingredients. As you know, storage space and weight are an issue, so I try to make sure that the things I have can serve more than one purpose. For example, the carafe of my 4-cup coffee maker is also used as a teapot, a pitcher, and a gravy boat.

I didn’t bring my “best” cookware — too heavy and too large. But I don’t like “non-stick” aluminum pans, so I purchased a standard 7 pc. set of mid-weight, durable, stainless steel pans (by Wearever) with the sandwiched-disk style bottom. To this, I added my favorite “risotto” pan, and an 8″ fry pan with sloped sides. Our friend Brad brings his favorite cast iron skillet for “blackened” cajun dishes he loves to prepare.

I also have:
-small roasting pan with a collapsable rack that multi-tasks as a cooling rack and trivet
-broiling pan (purchased as an extra from the oven manufacturer)
-4 qt. crock pot with removable “crock” – multi tasks as a “deep” casserole dish w/ lid, and a great way to slowly reheat or keep foods warm
-4 cup auto-drip coffee maker and a 6-cup stove top percolator (when there’s no electric and I still want coffee)
-2 cup stove top espresso pot (what can I say… I like coffee)
-hand blender (not mixer) and a 2-slice toaster
-3 pc. stainless steel mixing bowl set (multi-tasks as salad/serving/storage bowls)
-small metal colander and a small fine mesh strainer
-four culinary knives: 1 each – paring, 8″ serrated, 8″ chef’s, 6″ slicing
-small bamboo cutting board (doubles as a cheese board) and a medium one for use with my larger knives
-two serving spoons, 1 serving fork, metal tongs (multi tasks as salad/cooking/bbq tongs)
-two metal spatulas, 3 rubber spatulas and 3 wooden spoons of various sizes/shapes
-manual can opener, cork screw/bottle opener, citrus zester, instant read thermometer, pastry brush, small “box” grater, vegetable peeler, egg slicer, and kitchen scissors
-six metal skewers, a 2 oz. ladle, ice cream scoop, 1 cup measure and measuring spoon set
– metal serving platter, two metal pie plates, a bread basket and a fruit basket
– four oven mitts that double as hot plates
– disposable plastic containers of various sizes/shapes
– 4 bottle wall-mounted stainless steel wine rack (from IKEA)
– under-cabinet mounted paper towel holder
– wireless remote digital thermometer for the refrigerator (ambient temperature affects the refrigerator’s performance so I adjust the setting accordingly)
– “Corelle” dinnerware, four each: dinner, salad/sandwich, & dessert plates, soup & dessert bowls
– 4 stackable coffee mugs (from IKEA), a 5 pc. flatware set for four, and 4 steak knives (Man can only eat off paper and plastic for so long.)

We also have a small “disposable” (good for about 12 uses) charcoal grill that we store in the outer compartment, and a step stool so Emma can operate at a proper counter height and I can see what’s in the back of the overhead compartments. 😉

I didn’t start our trip with all this stuff aboard. It is a 15-month culmination of things I decided I wanted to have along in my kitchen for comfort as well as function. To help you determine what should be in you kitchen, I can suggest this technique: Put what you consider your kitchen necessities out onto your counter, review each piece and see if any can be used for more than one purpose. Those are the “keepers”.

Other items that are favorites or “must haves” are next, and so forth. You can cut a lot out with this type of process. Then find a place in your kitchen for everything you picked out – in order of importance. Make sure that the most frequently used or favored items are easy to access. Then cook a few meals in it. You will find that you missed some items, but also that you packed ones you didn’t use. Swap them out. I know there are things in my kitchen I could do without, but it would make cooking less fun, and I want to enjoy my kitchen — small as it may be.

7 Responses to “A chef in the trailer”

  1. Danine Says:

    Holy mackeral! I was going to email you about how you stocked your kitchen for our upcoming year about, but never mind! You’re way too advanced for me! Great to read all that, though. I’ll cull from your list. Miss you guys!

  2. Michelle P Says:

    Thanks Eleanor, this is a fantastic post which will help me to stock my Airstream pantry.

  3. Bill Kerfoot Says:

    One suggestion regarding knives. We have a Wilkenson knife in a case with sharpener which we purchased many years ago. It is very nice since there is a safe place to store the knife and it stays sharp. I have seen similiar knives from Pampered Chef also.

  4. Larry Ko Says:

    Thanks so much for the information. I will be packing some dried Chinese ingredients, which are compact, store easily, and some have an indefinite shelf life without refrigeration like oyster sauce and fermented black bean. The 1000 Recipe Chinese Cookbook is my favorite reference.
    Wishing you good eats,
    Larry Ko

  5. Lynn Says:

    A hungry world awaits chapter two.

  6. Zach Woods Says:

    Howdy Eleanor –

    One of my many personal crusades (you know me so I am guessing you are not surprised to hear both that I have personal crusades and the contents of this one) is to educate the world about using the correct grade of Maple Syrup!

    First, only use real Maple Syrup (doesn’t have to come from Vermont but the best stuff I’ve seen comes from VT, NH, ME, NY or Canada).

    Second, counter-intuitive as it may sound, Grade B is better than Grade A. Grade A has been boiled down longer and is weaker in taste and thinner in consistency.

    You can use less Grade B and still get more flavor (both in recipes and simply pored over pancakes . . .)! Grade B will also allow you to carry less weight and volume (important when travelling light).

    If you talk to the Maple Syrup producers they will tell you that the grading system was created in order to allow them to keep all the good stuff for themselves!


  7. eleanor Says:

    Hi Zach
    Thought you’d like to know we carry Grade A Dark Amber (the closest to B), none of that “Fancy A” for us. 😉