RV cooking: Easy meals for an easy life

So we purchased a 25-foot fifth wheel, and I accepted the challenge of RV cooking. The RV counter top is eight inches wide.

Add the cover over the propane stove when not in use and the cutting board that fits one side of the double sink, and that’s my work space. Ken pitches in, when needed, at the dinette table.
Storage space is also limited.

We’ve been traveling for six years, and I’ve learned a lot. The key to success is recipes with interchangeable or substitutable ingredients, and a little creativity.

We carry only four appliances — an electric skillet, Foreman grill, pop-up toaster and coffee maker – which are joined by a microwave steamer, a muffin tin, two covered sauce pans (large and small), a wok-shaped skillet, a  covered baking dish that fits the small oven and a portable grill. A pizza stone does double duty: In the bottom of the oven, it directs the heat upward, increasing oven efficiency; and it allows me to bake rolls and pizzas. A mechanical pump-and-chop and Ken’s Umlat (Alaskan hand-chopper) take the place of the bulky food processor, which we used to take.

I’ve also reduced ingredients, carrying spice mixes such as Italian seasoning and lemon pepper instead of individual herbs. I still can’t live without dried onions, parsley, garlic, ginger, curry powder, rosemary or dill, however. They’re essential for our favorite dishes.

I always travel with canned soups, fruit, mushrooms, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, various vinegars in small containers and  frozen diced peppers and onions. All have multiple uses. Flour, salt, sugar, baking mix and corn meal are also musts.
The refrigerator is too small to hold leftovers along with other items, so I cook for two, relying on one-dish meals to reduce ingredients and preparation time.

I don’t use a lot of store-bought dishes – too many additives. Instead, I make and freeze (in small containers) my favorite sauces, which are handy when we return late from a day of sight-seeing. I can toss a couple of boneless chicken breasts on the Foreman grill and microwave the sauce to pour over them. I serve it with a quick salad — carrot-raisin-peanut salad, perhaps, or slaw or fruit salad. Whole wheat rolls or corn muffins provide carbs.

Other dishes we like are spaghetti with home-made sauce. I vary the meat – hamburger, chicken, shrimp – and add vegetables that suit the meat. We also like hamburger and beans – a small can of vegetarian beans, half-pound of hamburger, a dollop of chili sauce and some dried onions.

We usually shop every five to seven days. We buy milk by the quart, yogurt for use in Breakfast Sundaes and oatmeal and as a fruit-salad topping. We also buy whatever is in season and available in the area we’re visiting: Seafood whenever we’re near a coast, for example. I have several recipes using saltwater fish, shrimp and scallops. We buy fresh produce at highway stands when we see them – citrus fruits in Florida, apples and pears in Washington, corn in the Midwest. We once bought a flat of strawberries in California. We put them in fruit salad, sliced them on cereal and ate them like candy. Delicious!
Without a dishwasher, cleanup is also a challenge! The portable draining rack my daughter gave us makes the chore easier. It fits neatly on the closed stove. Normally, I wash and Ken dries and stows. No air drying; no space.

And sometimes we do eat out.  There is a really great Basque restaurant in Boise, Idaho, a Spanish restaurant with paella and gazpacho to die for in Portland, Oregon, and a German restaurant with delicious spaetzle in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Every cook needs a break once in a while.

Pepperoni Pasta Salad
1 cup uncooked pasta (shells, elbow, wagon wheels)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
½ tsp. each dried oregano, pepper and salt
1 cup broccoli florets, or asparagus cut into 1” pieces, lightly steamed
4 oz. pepperoni slices, quartered
2 oz. low-fat mozzarella cheese, chunked*(see above)
¼ cup bell pepper, chunked (With Umlat)
¼ cup onion (red is best), chunked (With Umlat)
¼ cup carrots, diced (With pump-and-chop)
2 Tbsp. sliced black olives* (see above)

Cook pasta 10 minutes in boiling, salted water. While pasta is cooking, mix the next 4 ingredients and set aside.
Mix cooked pasta, broccoli/asparagus, pepperoni, mozzarella, pepper, onion, carrots and olives. Stir in dressing and serve. Serves 2-3 alone, 4-6 with accompaniment.

Carrot-Raisin-Peanut Salad
2 medium carrots, minced (With pump-and-chop) or grated
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup peanuts (without skins)
1 mounded tablespoon mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and serve. Serves 2

Spicy Shrimp Spaghetti
4 oz. spaghetti, cooked according to pkg. directions
10 oz. small shrimp (if fresh, cook first)
½ cup onion, diced (or ¼ cup dried)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
½ can diced tomatoes, drained* (See below)
½ cup chicken broth (I carry broth crystals)
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped (With Umlat)
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1½ tsp. balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp. margarine
1/8 tsp. cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled* (See below)

While spaghetti is cooking, sauté onion and garlic in oil in electric skillet until tender. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes (more or less). Add spinach, shrimp, parsley and vinegar. Simmer, uncovered until shrimp is heated through. Stir in margarine, cayenne, salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti. Top with feta cheese. Serves 2.

Italian Fish Filets
½ can diced tomatoes with juice* (See above)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 fish filets (your choice of type)
1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled* (See above)

Combine first three ingredients. Place fish in electric skillet and sauté until nearly fish flakes easily (about 5 minutes). Pour sauce over fish and heat through. Top with feta cheese. Serves 2

Ken’s Breakfast Sundaes
2 6 oz. containers blended yogurt, your choice of flavor
Low-fat Granola (enough for two 1-inch layers)
2 fruits (i.e., sliced banana, mandarin orange segments, pineapple chunks, blueberries, strawberries)

In tall glasses (or parfait glasses, if you have them), layer the ingredients in order: Granola, yogurt, fruit. Repeat. Serves 2.
Light Chicken Pizza
1 frozen pizza crust (thawed)
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
½ tsp. Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp. each garlic powder, salt and pepper
¾ cup cooked chicken breast, chopped (With pump-and-chop)
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup mushrooms (canned or fresh) 
2 Tbsp. sliced ripe olives* (see below)
1 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese, chopped fine (With pump-and-chop) (or shredded)* (see below)

Add seasonings to tomato sauce & heat briefly (about 1 minute) in microwave to mix flavors. Spread on pizza crust. Top with remaining ingredients. Bake on pizza stone for 10-15 minutes (until cheese is melted). Serves 2 alone, 4 with accompaniment.