I have a soft spot for casseroles. Perhaps this is a result of growing up in the culinary wonder that was the 1980s, or it is a latent expression of my family’s Midwestern roots, but I unequivocally enjoy a good casserole. The foundation for a good ‘role is a starch — often potatoes and topped off with lots of melted cheese. Good things happen tend to happen when potatoes and cheese meet.
So, how does one create a casserole-like dish over a camp stove while backpacking? Well, we’ve discovered a way purely by accident. Awhile back, we had some potatoes lying around and decided to try thinly slicing them and putting them in the dehydrator for lightweight camping meals. To prepare, we simply boiled them for a while — well, a long while by camping breakfast standards — then added melted cheese and hotsauce. Incredibly the result of this haphazard meal was akin to a scalloped potato casserole! The only ingredient that would have made it more tasty was some bacon, and perhaps a dash of garlic or onion powder. The potatoes were still slightly firm with the texture of a potato casserole, impressive for a good roiling boil at high altitude. In all, a good breakfast for a hike out of the woods.
When camping, meals are often created that would never satisfy under other circumstances. (There is also the hunger factor with camp food, too; everything just tastes better eaten outdoors.) Take ramen noodles and hardboiled eggs, I would never conceive of this concoction in regular home life, but before a day of kayaking, this becomes the breakfast of champions. There are a lot of packaged meals that garner high esteem while camping — instant rice mixes, instant potatoes and mac and cheese. They work well for camping, but they are so highly processed and full of ingredients I never learned about in chemistry class that I am turned off. And, there is a high price for convenience. Now, we have an alternative. There is a hearty homey recipe that costs little, has no preservatives and takes only a little extra prep. For the price of one boxed meal, I can dehydrate a whole bag of potatoes for a season’s worth of camp meals. Of course there is additional time and energy (including fuel) involved, but the result is pretty satisfying and is all worth it when away from the bounty of home.
You can replicate the home kitchen outside with just a little preparation and an openness to creativity. This time we lucked out and got scalloped potatoes. Who knows what can be created next?