Eating Well On The Road: Our Compendium of Two Burner Fallbacks!

July 17, 2013 in Inspiration

Exported to Griffle

Once upon a time I had a really fantastic kitchen…

More than once, actually, the house we built in Indianapolis was great… but the house we remodeled in NH was even better. A lovely stove designed for a growing family and the largest fridge a person can buy in the USA without special ordering. I had a chest freezer, a big pantry, chef quality knives and surgical grade steel pans to work with. I had spring form pans, and the complete line of Pyrex. I had the big Kitchen Aid mixer, complete with pasta extruder and grinder. I had a wheat grinder. I made everything from scratch, even butter for months at a time. There was bread dough rising on my counter almost every night. Bean sprouts. Yogurt. Cheeses. Granola. Pasta noodles. Almost nothing came out of a box. These weren’t special occasions, these were all the time, every week, several times a week.

Then, we sold my beautiful kitchen and started traveling.


The first year, on bikes, we had two fist sized camp stoves. In Tunisia I had the tiniest three burner stove, but it had an oven. The fridge seemed decadent, even if it was less than a third of the size of the one I’d had before. In Guatemala our house had an oven, a very rare thing, and I became known as the person to see if you wanted a birthday cake baked. On Cape Cod I had a proper stove again, and a carbon copy of my African fridge! In Thailand I had two gas burners, nada mas. In our camper I have two burners and the tiniest oven ever. Just big enough to tuck one 12 inch pizza inside. I love it!

I have become great at cranking out real meals on two burners and not much more.

It’s become quite normal, actually, but it seems that there are a few others who are stumped by the challenge of cooking for a tribe with less than a Western style kitchen. I count myself blessed to have been introduced the this particular form of wizardry by my mother who could crank out five star fare on an old coleman camp stove no matter where we found ourselves. A particular favourite: lobster with clarified butter, ceviche, fruit salad and coconut crus (little pies she perfected) on the shores of the Mar Caribe when I was 8. I aspire to her greatness.


So for those of you who’ve been asking, here are a few of my tips and tricks, as well as a few of the recipes that serve us well.

1. Don’t compromise your health

Just because you’re living with less than your ideal kitchen does not mean that you have an excuse for compromising your health, or that of your family. It will just take more time, more effort and more creativity. Commit to that.

2. Cook your starch first.

If you’re working with only two burners then one way to stretch that to almost three is to make your pot of rice, noodles, or potatoes first and set them aside. They will hold their heat (wrap the pan in a towel) while you cook the remaining two pans.

3. Soups and Saucy Things are your friend.

One big pan full of beef stew, or lentil curry, or stroganoff, or pasta sauce will go a long way and be easily stretched by whatever starch you have wrapped in a towel on the side!

4. Salad. 

Green vegetables are best for you when eaten raw anyway. Who needs a third pot? Make a huge salad every night and serve everyone seconds. We add fruit (apples, pears or mandarin oranges are popular) cheese (feta, blue, chevre, whatever you can find) seeds or nuts, dried fruit and veggie bits to our salads on top of the usual suspects.

5. Bread.

We have three teenagers as of this week. THREE. They are voracious. None of us have gluten intolerance issues, so I serve a big loaf of crusty bread with every dinner, and more than a few lunches. When I don’t have an oven, I buy it. Or, I buy a toaster oven if we’re going to be in one place for a while (like in Thailand) so that I can bake a loaf every morning for dinner that night. It’s not hard.

6. Have a few fall backs.

We have a few standard meals that I can crank out with little preparation, few ingredients, and NO kitchen if necessary. Case in point:

Ferry food: Asian Chicken Salad: a roasted chicken torn to bits on top of a big pile of lettuce, add chopped carrot, red bell pepper, onion, chow mein noodles, mandarin oranges, frozen edmame (thawed, obviously and topped with a sesame ginger dressing of some sort.

taco chopRoad Trip Lunch Food: Taco Chop:

  • canned black beans (rinsed)
  • bag of frozen corn (thawed, you can use canned in a pinch)
  • chopped peppers of three colors
  • chopped onion
  • chopped tomatoe
  • chopped avocado
  • chopped onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • drenched and tossed with lime juice

Eat it with a spoon or in tortillas. This has been solidly road tested (with varying ingredients, including mango, chicken, pineapple, tomatillos, jicama, and a range of whatever else was on hand!) across five continents. It will not let you down, even if you’re cooking for thirteen people, ELEVEN of them under 15 years old, on an 8 week cross country road trip… on… two burners.



road trip

So, what are our old standbys?

Mrs. Gardner’s Pasta

  • 1 can of red pasta sauce
  • 1 can of white pasta sauce
  • chicken or shrimp (bite sized)
  • onion, chopped
  • noodles

Cook the noodles in one pan.

Cook the onions and the chicken (add some garlic, a handful of basil or other fanciness if you have it) add the sauces, salad & bread: dinner.

shrimpy pastaShrimpy Pasta

This is Gabe’s favourite and the ingredients are entirely negotiable.

  • shrimp (or chicken, bite sized)
  • chopped onion
  • chopped garlic
  • chopped kalmata olives
  • frozen peas or corn
  • chopped roasted red peppers (or chopped raw ones)
  • chopped sun dried tomoatoes
  • half a block of feta cheese, crumbled
  • half a block of parmesan cheese, grated
  • juice from four lemons

Cook the noodles in one pan.

Cook the chicken with the onions and garlic in a little olive oil. Add everything but the cheese. Stir in the noodles. Stir in the cheeses. Bread. Salad. Dinner.

Beef Stroganoff

  • ground beef
  • chopped onion
  • chopped garlic
  • Mushroom soup
  • Sour cream
  • rice or noodles

Cook the rice in one pan, set aside wrapped.

Brown the beef with the onions and garlic. Add the mushroom soup (if you’re in a country where you can’t get the canned kind, then you’re going to have to make the powdered kind… but make it thick, like a concentrate… it usually takes 2 packages for our family) add the sour cream, salt and pepper to taste.

In your second pan, cook some veggies (the rice is set aside, staying warm, remember?  You have a whole ‘nother burner!)

Quinoa Salad

This is a make ahead staple that is excellent for an “on the road” day.

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup mild or medium picante sauce
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed under cold water
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (14 oz)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen yellow corn kernels, cooked, drained and cooled
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 scallions (white and green parts) thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

In medium saucepan over high heat, combine water, picante sauce, quinoa, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Uncover and toss with a fork.  Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly.  Add remaining ingredients to quinoa, tossing well to combine.  Serve slightly warm or let cool to room temperature.  Alternately, cover and refrigerate for up to two days and serve chilled.   4 servings.

Sausage & Apple Skillet

  • 1.5 lb sausage cut into 1-in slices
  • 1+ tsp oil
  • garlic
  • brown sugar
  • 1 med cabbage, cut into slices/wedges
  • 1 c apple cider
  • 1/2 c red onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground white pepper
  • 2 lg golden delicious apples, peeled, cored & thinly sliced
  • apple cider vinegar

In big pan cook onion and sausage in hot oil for 5-7 min or until lightly browned.

Add cabbage, onion, sugar, cider, salt & pepper.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat.

Cover & simmer for 15 min.

Add apples & cook uncovered for 5-10 min more until cabbage is tender and cooking juices are reduced slightly.

If desired, serve with cider vinegar drizzled on top.

Beef Barley Soup

  • 2 teaspoons olive Oil
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 chopped leek
  • 1 onion
  • 8 oz mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 3 stalks of celery chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 box beef broth
  • 1 cup uncooked pearl barley

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with oil. Add beef; cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides.

Remove beef from pan. Add leek, onion, mushrooms, saute until carmelized. Add thyme and paprika, garlic then later tomato paste near the end.

Return beef to pan along with the broth and barley. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour.

Add carrots,celery, water and bay leaf; Allow to slow cook for an hour or more or until beef and barley are tender.

Discard bay leaves.

Veggie Patties

One of our favourites from the Moosewood Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup chopped pepper
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • 3/4 cup scallions
  • 1 cup carrots
  • water chesnuts
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 1 TB toasted seseme seeds
  • 1 tb soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • some baking powder

Mix it all up and fry .5 c at a time in olive oil

dipping sauce

1 tb soy

1 tsp dark seseme oil

.25 tsp chili oil

.25 tsp honey

1 tb water

Thai Fish Cakes

We love these, but they take a little more time, not something I make when we’re camping, but still good on two burners!

  • 1 lb (.454 kg) white-fleshed fish fillets
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, snipped into thin strips with scissors
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. shrimp paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/3 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 thumb-size piece galangal OR ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chili, sliced, OR 1/2 tsp. dried crushed chili
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cucumber (to accompany cakes)
  • oil for high temp. frying
  • To SERVE: Thai sweet chili sauce, lime wedges, handful fresh coriander

Rinse fish and pat thoroughly dry (if using frozen, the fish will be more moist so be sure to dry it as well as you can). Cut into chunks and place in food processor or large food chopped.

In a cup, combine the coconut milk, fish sauce, shrimp paste, chili powder, cumin, ground coriander, and brown sugar. Stir with a fork to combine, then pour into the processor over the fish.

Add remaining ingredients (lime leaf strips, green onion, galangal/ginger, garlic, and chili). Pulse to create a thick fish paste.

Picking up a small amount in your hand (about the size of a golf ball) pat the paste into a small cake and set on a clean plate. Note that traditional Thai fish cakes are small (about 2 inches in diameter and 3/4 to 1 inch thick) and not too thick. Tips: If your paste is too wet to easily form into cakes, add a little flour or breadcrumbs to the mix. As you continue making the cakes, it helps to rinse your hands every so often with cool water to prevent paste from sticking.

Set plate of cakes in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up. Meanwhile, prepare your pan for frying as well as your garnishes. Pour oil into a small frying pan or wok (at least 1 inch deep).

Cut the cucumber length-wise, then dice up into small cubes. Set aside

Heat oil. When hot enough (a bread crumb should sizzle and cook immediately when dropped in), gently place cakes in oil. Allow to fry 30 seconds to 1 minute before turning, gently lifting cakes from the bottom of the pan (they may stick a little). Fry until golden-brown and drain on paper towel.

Serve fish cakes immediately with the chopped cucumber and Thai sweet chili sauce drizzled over. Top with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice just before eating. Excellent like this, or served with rice for a main course dish. ENJOY!


Black Bean & Brown Rice Cakes

These are fantastic and can be pan fried instead of oven baked. If you want to pan fry them, add two eggs to the mixture

  • 2 cans (15 oz.) black beans rinsed and drained
  • 2 large scallions coarsely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • .25 tsp. ground cumin
  • .75 c. cooked brown rice
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • .5 c. plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro plus leaves for serving
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice.

Preheat to 450F

Mash  the beans with scallions jalapeno and cumin until a chunky paste forms.  In a large bowl combine bean puree with rice and remaining beans, season with salt and pepper.  Divide mixture into eight 3 “ wide patties.

Brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil.  Place in oven to heat. 5 minutes.  Carefully place patties on hot sheet.  Bake until bottoms are golden brown (10-12 min.) rotating sheet halfway through.  Let rest on sheet 5 minutes before removing.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, combine yogurt, cilantro and lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve patties topped with yogurt sauce and cilantro leaves.


Shrimp Fried Rice (from our friend Lana in Belize)

  • onion
  • bell pepper
  • celery
  • cabbage- grated
  • carrot- grated
  • curry
  • black pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • rice, cooked al dente
  • shrimp
  • 2 eggs

Cook veggies in oil with a little curry powder.  Add a little water and let steam a little.  Stir into cooked rice, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook shrimp separately and stir in.  Beat 2 eggs and stir through, heat on low.


FoodCream of Cilantro Soup (from our friend Carla in Germany)

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 8 oz. Sour Cream
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 2 T. flour
  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin


  • Red, Yellow and Green pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 can niblets or shoepeg corn
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. olive oil


Heat and process 1c. broth with cilantro in a blender and set aside. (when I don’t have a blender, I just chop the cilantro very fine!!)

In a big pot, melt butter, add flour, gradually add rest of broth, boil one minute.  Stir in sour cream, cream cheese, garlic, salt, red pepper and cumin.  Simmer about 15 minutes.

Make salsa with petters, onion, 1/4 c. cilantro, corn, beans, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Put salsa in bowls, ladle soup over top.


lucyMiss Lucy’s Fancy Macaroni & Cheese (we met her in Vienna)

  • 1 box rigatoni
  • monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • some brie cut into chunks
  • milk or cream (ad lib here)
  • handful or two of cilanto
  • 3-4 ears corn steamed and cut off of the cob
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped Peppedew peppers (or other small, sweet red pepper)

Cook pasta, drain, and put back in pot on very low heat; add cheeses and all other ingredients, make sure cheese is nicely melted, and serve!

Pomegranate salad:

Dressing: curry, acidic honey, olive oil, pepper, lime juice

For salad: pomegranates, toasted almonds (which never got in there!), cilantro or basil or mint, greens, and when we have it, finely chopped green onion, and goat cheese.


butternutMiss Lucy’s Butternut Squash Soup

She served this as a first course before the Mac & Cheese when we visited her in Chicago it is Ezra’s all time favourite soup.

  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 pounds butternut squash peeled and cut into chunks
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 cup cream or milk
  • a pinch (or more!) of nutmeg

Saute onion in a pot for 5 mins; add squash, broth, thyme and nutmeg; bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 25 mins.

Puree soup, return to heat and add the cream/milk.  If too thick add addition broth; sprinkle with nutmeg to serve. (It’s best if you have a blender, or a hand blender, but you can get a chunky version with a potatoe masher and some patience!)

Note from Miss Lucy: I added a tablespoon of brown sugar to the final recipe and that made it a lot sweeter, which has always been my experience of the soup, though I’ve made it without and like it that way, too.


Hopefully that gives you some inspiration and a place to start.

Do you have any great two burner recipes you’d like to share with us? I’m always looking for new ones!