Cooking on the road has been both fun and challenging. One of my favorite activities in a foreign country is checking out the grocery store. Even in a place like New Zealand where English is spoken and many things we eat in America are available, you still find odd things. They don't refrigerate eggs (this was true when we lived in London as well). Plus, they are labeled as "caged" or "cage-free," which cracks me up. I can imagine the marketing meetings where you discuss labeling your eggs "caged" in a way that appeals to consumers. They sell sliced lamb for lunch meat alongside the turkey and ham. Feoija is a common fruit (it tastes like guava). The yogurt is delicious here (equivalent to or better than Noosa). Bell peppers are called capsicum. Grocery stores sell craft beer and have a large wine section. I have no concept of how much food I'm asking for when I purchase anything from the deli, seafood, or meal counter, nor do I understand how much it costs (hello, metric system). I can't wait to explore the grocery stores in Japan.
The difficulty with cooking while we travel is that we are often only in places for a few days. We can't stock up on food and have to be sure we can move excess food wherever we go next (we are constantly trying not to waste food). I also don't have many spices and pantry staples at my disposal and, again, am trying not to accumulate anything. We frequently grocery shop before we've seen our next home, which means I don't always know whether the kitchen will be bare bones or well-equipped.
As a result, we often grill meat and have simple sides. Pasta is a staple and I try to be creative with what we add - Kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta one night and sausage, basil, and mozzarella the next. Stuffed peppers have actually proven to be quite simple. I purchase instant Mexican rice, canned black beans, and fresh or frozen corn for the stuffing, plus some shredded cheese to sprinkle on top. Last night, I made a simple gado gado sauce and we made veggie bowls with quinoa, steamed broccoli, roasted vegetables (pre-cut so we had a variety), and red pepper.
WWOOFing was fantastic for getting back into the cooking groove because I did have a fully pantry and spice rack, plus all of the fruits and vegetables on the farm available to me. One night we were contemplating what to have for dinner and didn't want to have corn on the cob for the 3rd night in a row. I knew we had potatoes as well, so I made Potato & Corn Chowder for the first time. It was a cold, rainy day on the farm and the chowder was warming and delicious.
One note about the broth used in the chowder - I was inspired by Mark Bittman's corn chowder recipe and didn't want to just toss my corn cobs, so I added them to my broth to enhance the flavor. If you make this with fresh corn, consider bringing your broth to a simmer in a separate saucepan with the corn cobs in the broth. It doesn't create extra work other than one additional pan to wash. If you are using frozen corn, just skip this step and add the chicken broth as is.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 pound bacon, diced
- 1 cup chopped onion
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 4 cups peeled, finely diced all-purpose potato
- 4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (4-5 ears of corn)
- 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
1. Shuck corn, and use a paring knife to strip kernels into a bowl. Set kernels aside. Put cobs and the chicken broth in a pot; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer while you continue preparing the chowder. Remove the cobs prior to adding broth to chowder.
2. Put the butter into a heavy-bottomed pan (such as Le Creuset) and melt over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook till crisp. Scoop out the bacon and drain on paper towels; set aside.
3. Pour off all but 1/4 cup of fat from the pot. Add the onions, seasoning them with salt and pepper. Cook till soft; add the garlic, cooking it all for 1 minute more. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to combine. Add the broth and potatoes. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or till the potatoes are tender. Add the corn. Cover and simmer 5 to 6 minutes longer to blend the flavors.
4. Stir in the half-and-half or whole milk. Season with the thyme, cayenne, salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the bacon bits and serve immediately.
* This could easily be made into a vegetarian dish by substituting vegetable broth/stock and omitting the bacon.