Go Light, Not Hungry

The One-Pan Gourmet shows how to eat like a king.
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The One-Pan Gourmet shows how to eat like a king.

Call me crazy, but I refuse to eat worse outdoors than I do at home. Even when I'm on the trail, I want first-rate meals, with fresh vegetables and meats. I will lug a wok uphill so I can enjoy a crispy batch of tempura. I will bring tiny portions of four kinds of vegetable oil to make succulent sauces just right. I'm proof that you can be a backpacker and a hedonist.

Many ultralighters will shudder at such talk. But in 25 years on the trail, I've discovered you can have the best of all worlds--fresh, delicious, nutritious foods without complicated preparation or a ton of extra weight. The key is the one-pot method. When I go camping, I may bring only two out of the seven pieces in my cookset--usually the 11/2-quart pot and lid (which doubles as a fry pan). Just there, I save nearly a pound by leaving the other five pieces at home.

After you pare down your cooking gear, tent, pack, and boots, food is the only variable left. Be as tough on chow as you are on your gear; get a scale and use it. But be ruthless about wasted weight, not worthwhile luxuries you choose to carry (like a small can of pineapple or whole potatoes). A half-cup too much of rice weighs a few ounces. A slab of cheese that fits no recipe means a useless half-pound in your pack. Cardboard boxes add more. Over the length of a whole trip, you could end up hauling several extra pounds of food and packaging. Instead, use the space and weight allotment to bring the ingredients for mouthwatering meals. After all, fresh vegetables taste better than

cardboard.

The next trick is to develop menus that work with a single pot. Lucky for you, I've written two cookbooks on the subject. Here are four of my favorite one-pot recipes, each of which delivers big-time taste with minimal hassle.

Chicken 'n Green-Eyed Gravy

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

7-ounce pouch chicken breast (fully cooked)

1 medium onion, chopped

3/4 cup water

1 chicken bouillon cube

4-ounce package freeze-dried peas

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon flour

Heat a 1.5-quart pot over medium flame. Add the oil and brown the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion and cook it until it's soft. Mix in all other ingredients except flour and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to rehydrate peas. To thicken the gravy, combine the flour and enough water to make a paste, then slowly add the mixture to the pot, stirring to prevent lumps. For even creamier gravy, stir in 1 tablespoon of powdered milk. Variation: Include an additional cup of water and 3/4 cup of instant rice after the chicken and onion have been sauteed to make a complete meal. Serves two.

Tennessee Stir Fry

1 tablespoon corn oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium green pepper, julienne-sliced

3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

8 ounces turkey ham, precooked and diced

black pepper to taste

Over medium flame, heat the oil in a 12-inch fry pan and cook the onion and pepper until they're soft. Add the potatoes and brown them, then mix in the ham. Stir until the mixture is hot. Variation: For a breakfast treat, add reconstituted egg powder for a stir-fry scrambler. (To cut weight, use dehydrated spuds.) Serves two.

Corn Chowder

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup water

4-ounce package freeze-dried corn

1/2 cup powdered milk salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 2.5-quart pot over a medium flame. Add the oil, onion, and celery. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the flour and cook (without letting veggies or flour brown) for another 4 minutes. Stir in the water, corn, and powdered milk. Bring to a boil over high flame, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook for another 10 minutes. Add enough water to achieve the desired thickness of soup. Serves two.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup brown sugar

8-ounce can sliced pineapple (4 slices), drained

9-ounce box yellow cake mix

2 tablespoons whole egg powder

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons water

In the pan of an Outback Oven, swirl the oil until the surface is covered. Rub the brown sugar into the oil, creating an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan only. Lay the pineapple on the sugar and set aside the pan. In a mixing bowl or pot, stir the dry cake mix and egg powder until fully blended. Add the water and mix for 3 to 4 minutes. Pour evenly over the fruit and sugar. Set the oven on top of the stove, heating over a medium flame until the temperature indicator reaches "Bake." Cook for 25 minutes. Serves six.

For even more delectable recipes, read the author's latest outdoors cookbook, The One Pan Gourmet Cooks Lite ($12), available at www.backpacker.com/bookstore.