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A bag of basics for the traveling chef

it's summer and up here in Canada that means one thing: cottage season. For those of us who don't own our own cabin or cottage, this also means renting and frequently putting up with less than perfect kitchens.

I am thinking about putting together a box or bag with some essentials, anchovies, olive oil, some tomato puree, spices, a decent knife and a steel. Perhaps a cast iron pan. Would a Dutch oven be overdoing it?

Has anybody else put together a kit like this, perhaps for camping? And if so, what are you packing and how did you go about this? Did you built a box, use a bag? I'm eager to learn.

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  1. For the last several Thanksgivings, I've taken a whole batterie de cuisine to my mother-in-law's. What's worked well as a container is a very sturdy woven basket. A cardboard box that's sufficiently sturdy will work, but the handles give the basket the edge.

    If I were in your situation I'd take the knife and steel, a bamboo cutting board, a skillet, a pot big enough for boiling potatoes or pasta, and a colander. At minimum. Pretty sure I'd take my stainless tongs, my favorite blunt spoon, the tomato/utility knife, and a peeler. On vacation, it's even more important for cooking not to be a drag...

    1 Reply
    1. re: ellabee

      Do you have access to a BBQ up there? That would be my biggest concern.

    2. Over a span of two decades, I did the cooking while camping thing. A lot of the trips started by airplane, so I was really limited in what I could carry.
      My method (cooking for two) ended up being based on a propane powered tripod one burner and a small Revere ware fry pan. That's it. First thing in a new city: stop at KMart and get a small propane tank and a styrofoam freezer chest. Buy butter. Have salt and pepper. two knives and forks, disposable paper plates. A spatula.
      Veggies- stir fry them. Meat light pan fry. Fresh fruit. Etc.

      So simple. So good. many well remembered meals.

      1. I pack the cooking gear form car camping in one or more Rubbermaid totes (Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote, 37.9 L). With a compact stove I can fit most of the pans, table ware and tools in one such box. Another box has most of the dry food (spices, boxed, canned etc). If I want to use a dutch oven with coals top and bottom, that (a compact 10" model) goes in a third box, along with associated tools and some charcoal.

        A convenient knife is Kuhn-Rikon with sheath, like this one
        The blade is thin and lightweight, but well protected by the sheath, and quite sharp. They also have sheathed paring knives.

        1. We always take some level of travel kitchen. When we travel for business, we're in hotels but have a big zip lock with a good 5 inch knife with a sheath, silverware, paper plates, salt, pepper and a few little pkges of condiments and a corkscrew.


          When I am cooking, in a condo, I have rubbermaid container with a half sheet pan and release foil, a cast iron skillet, coffee grinder and coffee, a couple of good knives with sheaths, tongs and disposable cutting sheets. I bring a few spices and a small pepper grinder.

          1. I've been in this situation in the past, and found that some of the most basic things are the easiest to forget. For example, I'm so accustomed to freshly ground black pepper that I never realized that there would be no pepper mill in the kitchen (just a shaker with listless pre-ground pepper). I make sure to bring knives and spices, pepper mill, and kosher salt (I don't like cooking with table salt).

            Good tool suggestions already up in this thread (like tongs!). Pans have been less crucial for me, because you can usually make do with crappy pans for a few days. But it can't hurt to bring a pan for any larger or special thing you have in mind (like a roast). Heavy duty foil could help a lot in a pinch.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bada Bing

              GSI Outdoors makes a nice traveling pepper mill - compact with a cap for the open end. Many backpacking/camping shops carry GSI products.

              has other camp kitchen tools, some gimicky, others innovative and useful.

              MEC (Mtn Equip Coop) sells GSI in Canada

              Boating stores can also be a good source for portable kitchen tools.

            2. Include freezer bags, a multitude of uses.

              1. I have no idea why, but rental accommodations worldwide seem to always be missing a usable knife and kitchen towels -- so I always pack a decent 8" chef's knife and a paring knife -- both cheap enough to be replaceable if forgotten. (I don't travel with my home knives -- I'd cry if they were lost/forgotten/confiscated by airport security) I buy the towels on clearance or even at Goodwill/Salvation Army -- as long as they're in decent condition, it doesn't matter what color they are -- I couldn't care less whether they match a rented kitchen or not. If I have room/weight in my luggage I bring them all back, if not, I donate them for the next occupant.

                I also had a stroke of genius a few years ago -- go down to the drugstore and get a 7-day pill minder with the biggest compartments you can find. Put your favorite herbs in each of the compartments -- I usually have a few bay leaves, some thyme, cinnamon -- the bare-bones basics.

                Now put a layer of plastic wrap over the open compartments, then close the lids over the plastic wrap. Wrap securely in more plastic wrap. This is usually more than enough herbs/spices to get me through a couple of weeks -- and again, is cheap enough that I don't care if it's lost/forgotten, or I just chuck it to make a little more room in the luggage.

                1. Good recent thread on this subject here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/786024

                  I'm just back from two months in Guatemala. I actually packed my 10" cast iron skillet. Friends thought I was nuts, but I cooked nearly everything in it from fresh fish and shellfish to roasted chicken, eggs, and beans. What I didn't bring and will next time was some kind of citrus juicer: I'd probably bring a wooden reamer to cut down on the weight, but if that weren't an issue I'd bring one of those lemon/lime squeezers.

                  When I was a kid I'd go camping every year with my family. My dad built a kitchen box to contain pots and pans, utensils, dishes and silverware, and some food staples--mostly seasonings. That box traveled with us for at least a dozen years.

                  1. If you want a Dutch Oven that is not too heavy, GSI has a dandy 10" hard anodized aluminum one.
                    It's on the shallow side, so volume is about 3 quarts. With a the rimmed lid it will work for true DO cooking - with coals on top as well as under. It does not have feet, but GSI sells a 3 leg stand that does the job well. Plus with a flat bottom it works just as well on the stove top and in a regular oven.

                    Hard anodized aluminum does not take seasoning like cast iron, but is about as low-stick as enamel.

                    It has a bail handle, but don't try to suspend it over a fire, or carry it without a steadying hand. Its too shallow and lightweight to be steady that way.

                    1. Having just come from a short trip, I am mindful of one more item: bring a trustworthy can opener!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        ah, yes...we also travel with a Opinel folding knife, and a waiter's corkscrew...which we found fit neatly into a standard eyeglasses case.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          My camping can opener is the super compact P38 style, not the easiest to use, but it does not take up any space. My second choice is the opener on Victorinox Swiss Army knives.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I'm not sure that space/size looms large for the OP in this thread, as opposed to campers.

                            in my own experience, there is generally plenty of space to use regular equipment at a Summer cottage. It's just that the cottage's "fully equipped" kitchen is likely to have pretty bad equipment (poor can opener, no pepper mill, warped cookie sheets, etc.), not to mention an unreliable selection of spices and other pantry staples.

                        2. Whether traveling for vacation or business, I bring glassine-style envelopes full of all the herbs and spices we use, plus a few other odd things like dried mushrooms. (I can usually fit the lot in a business sized envelope, then either toss it in my suitcase or into our camping box.)

                          Our camping box is a large Rubbermaid container. We use one of those cast iron dutch ovens where the lid doubles as a frying pan.