From devouring a slice of deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s in Chicago, to savoring tender brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, to basking in the powdered sugary goodness of beignets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, eating across America can be a mouthwatering adventure. My boyfriend and I have been at it for more than 2 years while traveling full time in our motorhome. Although feasting at popular eateries is one of the best perks of our travels, dining out can be costly to your health (do you really want to know how many calories are in deep-dish pizza?) and wallet. But here’s some great news that will ease your bathroom scale and bank account: Cooking on the road is easier than it ever has been. More RV kitchens are being designed for full-time use, making mealtime seem less like camping and more like your traditional family gathering around the dinner table.
Cooking in your RV might seem like a daunting exercise in patience. It requires maneuvering in small spaces, with limited counter space and fewer unnecessary tools. Yes, you can survive without that French fry cutter you impulsively bought at a Williams Sonoma Black Friday sale. No, you won’t ever use it. Instead, stock up on essentials, like skillets, sautépans and a stockpot. If an item hasn’t been used within a year, and it’s not seasonal (no one expects you to use those Christmas cookie cutters in July), donate it so your pasta maker can find its forever home.
Our motorhome is outfitted with a microwave that doubles as a convection oven and a two-burner propane cooktop. This is a fairly common setup for most RV kitchens. Our old fifth-wheel trailer had a microwave and an oven, but the oven was only big enough for one rack of food. I’m still dumbfounded how I made a 7-course meal for Thanksgiving our first year on the road. We splurged on tools that enhance our use oflimited cooking options, like a toaster, slow cooker and a propane grill. The grill is perfect for grilling chicken or vegetables for a light, summertime dinner. The slow cooker has been a savoir for chili, stews and soups. I like to think of it as a magic genie, where I throw in a bunch of random ingredients in the morning and my wish of deliciousness is granted by the end of the day.
The best part of cooking on the road is that you can transform the mundane task of grocery shopping into an adventure in its own right. Before our lives turned nomadic, I loved frequenting craft markets to buy trinkets,artwork and jewelry. Since space is now at a premium, I’ve channeled my love for shopping at bazaars into something more practical: Food. Farmers markets are an affordable alternative to grocery stores to buy fresh produce, dairy and meats. By eliminating a third-party distributor, you can source fresh eggs straight from the hen. It’s also a great way to find unusual local delicacies and tackle new ingredients for recipes. A great resource for finding farmers markets around the country is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. You can find markets, their operating seasons, the types of products sold and even which payment methods are accepted through the site’s handy search engine.
You probably don’t need a search engine to find the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. The popular open-air market has been operating as the city’s first farmers market since 1907. Housed inside is the iconic Pike Place Fish Market, known for its amiable fishmongers who throw seafood orders to one another while joking with customers and tourists. I came prepared to take advantage of this seaport city’s fresh catch by concocting a recipe for seafood paella.
The fishmongers at Pike Place were happy to oblige fulfilling my order of clams, scallops and shrimp. In fact, they insisted that I join in on the fun by catching a fish on the stand. Fact: It looks easier than it is, and the smell of trout is still lingering on the sleeve of my peacoat. At least, I caught it! Aside from its famous fish markets, Pike Place Market has many specialty booths, produce stands, cheese shops and evena store dedicated solely to miniature cars. I was able to find 95% of the items I needed for my recipe here, and at a price comparable or cheaper than I’d pay at a supermarket.
Seafood paella is a perfect dish to make in an RV because you can cook everything in just one sautépan. That’s the secret to successful RV cooking: The fewer dishes you need to hand wash, the more delicious the meal will taste. I added a fewhot peppers to give it some heat, so this spicy variation is perfect to keep you warm on those cold, gray Seattle nights.Make this roadside recipe on your travels when you can resist the temptation for those French fry-loaded signature sandwiches at Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh. Your cholesterol levels will thank you.
Seafood & Vegetable Paella
By Rachel Purdy
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 ½ cups of vegetable broth
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into strips
- ½ green bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 poblano pepper, cut into strips
- 2 fresh aleppo peppers or other spicy peppers, chopped (optional)
- 1 dozen yellow cherry tomatoes
- 1 dozen red grape tomatoes
- 1 dozen green beans, ends trimmed
- ¼ cup of fresh parsley
- 1 8.5-ounce can of peas
- 10 ounces of yellow rice, uncooked
- 6 strands of saffron (add or subtract, to taste)
- 20 Manila clams
- 15 shrimp, deveined and peeled
- 15 scallops
- Lemon wedges to garnish
Heat oil over medium heat in large sauté pan. Add onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add rice and saffron and stir continuously for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, and then reduce heat to low. Add peppers, green beans, tomatoes and peas. Cover, but stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. Once rice is almost absorbed by broth, add clams, shrimp and scallops. Cover for about 10 more minutes, stirring periodically. Add parsley and stir for another 2 minutes. Rice and seafood should be tender, but not overcooked. Garnish with lemon wedges to serve.
Note: For vegetarians or those with seafood allergies, leave out the seafood or substitute with Andouille sausage.