I’m back home after three weeks of travelling together with Kees from national park to national park with an RV in Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Colorado. It was a wonderful trip and very different from most of our vacations in the sense that they usually involve a lot of eating out at gourmet restaurants. This trip included only one such meal (at Alinea) plus two dinners at steakhouses (of which I can recommend Fleming’s).
I had saved up some posts before leaving that I had scheduled to be published while I was travelling, so there have been at least three posts a week even while I was on vacation. Besides the restaurant reviews I also posted out of the USA about Emmy’s kale salad (which I ended up making four times during the trip since we liked it so much and because kale was available unlike at home) as well as about improvised chicken fajitas. I don’t have any more recipes to share with you, but did think it would be interesting to tell you a bit more about what and how I’ve been cooking.
[Because I was travelling I did not keep up with other blogs as much as usual. My apologies for not leaving as many likes and comments as usual — I will be making up for this soon.]
For those of you who are not from the US, RV stands for “Recreational Vehicle”. We had rented a 19 foot (5.8 meter) motorhome (also known as “camper” in other languages) that came with 2 propane gas burners and an electric microwave/grill oven that we could only use with an electric hookup at a campground or by using the on-board generator. The oven was quite good, but the burners very crappy and let’s not even mention the very crappy pots, pans and knives. I did not even have a cutting board (which explains why the knives were so dull). Since there weren’t many restaurants worth going to, I did all of the cooking (except for the three nights eating out mentioned above and one night eating at friends in Salt Lake) and thus had quite some improvising to do and challenges to overcome.
The first challenge was grocery shopping. Since the primary purpose of the trip was to visit national parks, I did not want to spend a lot of time searching for ingredients. So even though there must have been great trout in the area, we didn’t come across it (except for seeing it swim in rivers). Most towns we visited only had a single place for buying groceries, and in many cases this was a Walmart. I do not envy those of you who live in the US in a sparsely populated area, as the choice of ingredients to buy I found was quite limited. It was very difficult to find good cheese (which usually means imported; although I’m sure good cheese is being made in the US it is very hard to find), no lamb or veal, hardly any fresh fish (no surprise given the location, but why no local trout?), and even fresh herbs were difficult to find.
On a bright note: the USDA “choice” beef at Walmart is very good: much better than what is available in the Netherlands and at a great price. (See my post about Fleming’s for more about USDA beef grades.)
Despite fire restrictions we were allowed to use a wood or charcoal grill at most campgrounds, so we had a lot of rib eye and strip steaks from the BBQ. I just rubbed them with salt, freshly ground pepper and olive oil.
Without a meat thermometer (not to mention sous-vide equipment) we simply seared the steak on the fire and then wrapped it in foil to rest. If the steak ended up too rear, we just grilled it a bit longer. This was very good.
Using the gas burners in the RV was no fun because it was too hot, took forever to bring something to a boil, or completely impossible to brown anything with the feeble flame and thin pans. So we also grilled our vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, and green asparagus. Again with nothing but olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper.
I did use the stove a few times to cook pasta. This was either when it was cold outside, or when I could cool off using the roof airconditioner because we had electricity.
One evening I made a simple pasta with shrimp (the only seafood I don’t mind frozen), tomatoes and a ‘poblano’ pepper. In the Netherlands we usually only have one kind of ‘Spanish’ hot pepper, but on this trip I usually saw several kinds and this was a nice medium-hot one. Another evening I did a pasta with chicken, peas, and blue cheese that turned out so well that I may write a separate post about it.
Something I had never heard of before were ‘microwave potatoes’. These are potatoes wrapped in plastic wrap that are sold for about $1 each.
You cook them in the wrap for 6 minutes or so in the microwave at full power to get baked potatoes (double the time for 2). When we had electricity, this was an easy way to get baked potatoes that worked well.
When we didn’t have pasta or potatoes, we had tortillas. The nice thing about tortillas is that unlike pasta, rice, or potatoes, you don’t need to cook them. We just put some salsa (from a jar) and grated cheese between two tortillas and heated them briefly on the grill. Sometimes we added slices of grilled zucchini as well.
The one time I found ground lamb at Safeway, I roasted eggplant on the grill and then mixed the eggplant pulp with ground lamb sauteed with onions and rosemary, as well as ‘parmesan’ cheese (for lack of freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino, since we obviously didn’t have a cheese grater) and used this as stuffing for tortillas that were subsequently heated on the grill. It was outstanding.
For dessert we had the same as at home: one square of 72% dark chocolate. In the US we found Ghirardelli to be a good brand.
A final note I like to make is about wine. I noticed that it is easy to find good American wine (mostly Californian, but also from Oregon or Washington state; mostly varietals such as chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio) but that a good bottle is usually above $10 and often even above $20. This explains why American wine is in limited supply in Europe: from a price-to-quality point of view it can’t compete very well (with a lot of good stuff in Europe between $5 and $10). Because the limited availability in Europe, I don’t have as much experience with American wine as I have with Italian or French. Because of that and because we were in sparsely populated areas, we bought generic but good wines from big producers like Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson.
In Deadwood we tried some wine from South Dakota at the Belle Joli Winery, made from hybrid grapes (that can withstand the winter, like St. Croix, Frontenac Gris, and Edelweiss) and blended with Californian grapes for body. The wine was quite bad to just drinkable despite the hefty prices (between $18 and $30). Some of the wines were so bad I had a hard time keeping a straight face for the poor girls who were serving the wine tasting.
Those of you in the US who are blessed to live in a populated area with places like Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s should count yourself lucky: there are less populated places where it’s hard to find good and varied ingredients. But with a bit of improvising you can make a nice meal out of almost anything. I had a lot of fun cooking like this and we ate well every day.
13 thoughts on “RV cooking in the USA”
I grew up in a sparsely populated community and my Dad still lives there. it is very difficult to find good quality ingredients and, yes, Wal-Mart (Wally World) is “where America shops.” Too bad you didn’t stumble across some little roadside shops selling fresh produce while traveling. These are great places to get fresh ingredients, i.e. fruits and veggies. Glad you had a good trip despite the limitations.
The only stalls we saw were for melons, and perhaps some other fruits, but no veggies. I forgot to mention in the post we did buy organic grass-fed beef from a farmer in Aspen! Unfortunately the rib-eye and strip steak were sold out and they only had frozen, but the sirloin was pretty good.
Stefan, my mom used to make microwave potatoes when I was growing up. How can you eat that? They turned green and pasty and tasted like, well paste! Maybe she cooked them too long. Turned me off of baked potatoes entirely! By the way, come tour the parks of California next time, and you will find some better ingredients to work with!
These baked potatoes were actually quite good, so either the microwave potatoes were different back then or your mom did something wrong indeed.
When visiting California we would probably go to restaurants 😉
I did quite a bit of camping out West, staying at some of the same places you visited. It is a beautiful part of the country.
Absolutely! That’s why we love going there so much. This was our third time (after 2001 and 2009).
My heart goes out to people living in those areas who like to eat and cook but are relegated to only Wal-Mart or Safeway. And the weather isn’t really conducive to growing your own produce, either!
I second that!
Although Safeway seemed slightly better than Walmart. At least they had fresh herbs, including parsley that hadn’t been dead for a week like I saw at several Walmarts.
Very resourceful! I am pressed. Once a cook, always a cook no matter where you are
I meant impressed..
Stefan, I just ran across your blog when someone posted in a sous vide Facebook group about your warm aging technique (HINT: It works!).
Next time you come to America, come visit us here in the South: Besides having great restaurants here in Atlanta, the BBQ you’ll find varies widely by region: What you get in Texas is way different than what you get in Kansas City, which is different than Memphis, which is different than Charlotte.
But the real story is the BBQ joints which have their smokers out by the side of the road, so you can
Unlike out West, where the grocery store choices can be sparse, we have Publix, Kroger, Ingels, and Fresh Market; and also Costco, where you can get A5 Wagyu.
Plus, if you have Amazon Prime, you can get free delivery within a few hours from a nearby Whole Foods.
If you rent an RV, there’s no better experience than taking in a NASCAR auto race, parking in the infield (or at smaller tracks, in the RV lot): You’ll meet plenty of friendly people who will gladly share a cold beer & a burger with you; and some of them have quite elaborate setups.
[By The Way, COVID didn’t really hit us here in the South: Our restaurants here in Georgia were open for indoor dining by June 2020; and we’ve been “mask-off” since about April 2021.]
If you visit us here in America, shoot me an e-mail to Brakeshoe4515T@gmail.com & I’ll help you plan out a trip you & your family will never forget!
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