PCT Food Review: Dinner Pt. 1

The food reviews continue. Now we move on to the really exciting stuff: dinner. Dinner was often the best part of the day for us, by far. It was the only time we were assured a filling meal.

Trail food is it’s own unique class of food. We learned that quickly on the AT and we ate the classics all the time: ramen, mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, tuna fish, pasta sides, etc. The list you are about to see is not the classics. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the classics! Especially if it is your first thru hike those foods are cheap, light, and easy to prepare. Also they are readily available in towns along the trails if you are resupplying as you go. But after a whole five months of pasta sides Kyle and I were pretty done with them. Not to mention I felt like I was in good shape after five months of hiking but unsure about the shape of my insides after pumping them full of shitty food. We decided we needed a change for the PCT. That is why the majority of our resupplies were food drops, it allowed us to buy food from stores that we wouldn’t see on trail very often (Whole Foods, PCC, Trader Joe’s) and attempt to have a healthier diet. The food we ate on the AT wasn’t just sub par in quality, it really doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients. I could actually feel that, after eating ramen for dinner, I had less energy the next day. We were out to change that on the PCT!

NOTE!

We cook all of our dinners using a pot cozy, made by Antigravity Gear. They will make a pot cozy to fit any pot. Basically you get your water to boiling, add your dinner (sometimes I cook certain components of the dinner a little bit before taking the pot off the heat) and then stick the pot into the pot cozy for continued cooking. The food continues to rehydrate in the pot cozy without using any extra fuel and in the end you get a really nicely cooked meal without the risk of burning food to the bottom of your pot.

Mac n’ Cheese:

Justification: So I just told you all about how we tried to stop eating the classic trail foods and then I throw mac n’ cheese at you right off the bat. That’s because we don’t just make any old trail mac n’ cheese.

Description: For a meal that feeds two people Kyle and I buy one regular box of Annie’s Mac and one deluxe Annie’s Mac. The deluxe box is the most important part of the meal, because instead of coming with a powder cheese it comes with a squeeze pouch of cheese. Which is amazing. Also it’s Annie’s, so organic noodles and real cheese. It tastes way better than the velveeta or Kraft versions you can find on trail. We also buy a small summer sausage or salami to go with it.

On Trail Preparation: While we are in town we cut up the salami or summer sausage and put it in a zip lock bag. Usually we eat the mac n’ cheese the first night out because it is such a heavy meal so the meat isn’t going to go bad and cutting it up really reduces on trail prep. Also, we finally got tired of trying to turn books into cutting boards. Boil water and add the noodles. Usually I let the noodles cook for a couple seconds before taking the pot off the stove and placing it in the pot cozy. Then you wait until the noodles are fully rehydrated. At this point drain off the excess water and add the cheese. If you hike with a partner they can begin to cook the sausage in the pot lid while you add the cheese and some salt and pepper. We always cook the sausage a little bit to get it hot and crispy and then you get to add some of the oils from the sausage into the mac n’ cheese as well. Combine it all together and enjoy!

Pros: Totally delicious and a filling amount of food for two people.

Cons: Definitely the heaviest meal, so we would always eat it first. If we were trying to go extra light for a section this wasn’t our first choice. Also, this is one of the harder meals to clean up after. If you cook the sausage in your pot lid the lid is pretty greasy and crusty and the squeeze cheese is kind of hard to get out of your pot. Boiling a little water in your pot lit can help clean that up a little bit and using a finger to really scrape all the excess cheese out of the pot is a good idea. We (and by we I mean Kyle) always drinks the dish water.

Verdict: After two thru hikes of eating this meal it is still our favorite dinner. Some things never go out of style.

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Cuban Beans and Rice:

Justification: This is a slow cooker meal that we made a lot at home so we figured, why not make some for dinner one week and dehydrate two servings of it.

Description: So for this meal we used the above linked recipe, which you can make in your slow cooker. You can also dehydrate your own white rice (or some kind of grain) to go with it or buy instant rice. We actually took the beans and the rice and put them together and then dehydrated them as one unit because the beans have some juices with them that we didn’t want to loose. By combining them the rice soaked up those juices and we didn’t look any of the flavor. We also bought Fritos to go with each meal, to add some salt and crunch.

On Trail Preparation: Really easy meal (most of our dinners were). You just boil water, add the dehydrated beans and rice, place in the pot cozy, and wait!

Pros: This meal actually produced a ton of food, almost more than our pot could handle. We would sprinkle the Fritos in as we ate through the layers of beans and rice. It is delicious and very filling. Also, for how much food it makes it is really light. And since there isn’t any meat in the recipe this is a great one for food drops, if you vacuum seal it and store it in a nice cool place you don’t have to worry about it going bad.

Cons: No cons.

Verdict: A really really amazing meal. The only thing I would change is the portion size, since it hardly fit in our pot and sometimes a couple beans wouldn’t fully rehydrate. We loved this meal!

Split Pea Soup with Ham:

Justification: Another meal that we love to eat at home and once again we figured, why don’t we just dehydrate a serving of it after we make it?

Description: Just prepare split pea soup at home the way you normally would and put aside a couple of servings to dehydrate. The only thing to watch for here is the ham. Pork is a pretty impossible meat to dehydrate because it is so fatty, which can cause your meals to go rancid later on down the line. Usually I simmer a ham hock in the soup but in this case I made it without the ham and then chopped up a nice lean breakfast type ham and added it in later. While dehydrating I made sure to pat down the soup to remove any oil that was bubbling up. We vacuum sealed and refrigerated this meal until it was sent to us.

On Trail Preparation: Another easy one, just boil, pot cozy, wait. Once again we probably had too much dehydrated food for out pot, the soup ended up being pretty thick.

Pros: It was a good idea?

Cons: We didn’t die or anything but this meal definitely had a funk about it. Maybe I was just paranoid because of the ham? Anyway, if done again I would just do it vegetarian and reduce rise of rancidness.

Verdict: Only a repeat if done differently, but probably not going to try it again.

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Green and Red Pozole :

Justification: Kyle and I freaking love pozole in real life. For those of you who haven’t tried it pozole is a Mexican soup with hominy in it. It can be either green (lots of tomatillos) or red (lots of peppers).

Description: Figuring out how to make a trail pozole was tricky. I dehydrated all the toppings (radish, cabbage, and cilantro), which was easy enough. Pozole can either have chicken or pork in it, and we had discovered this strange pork stuff, apparently called pork floss, at our local asian food store so we decided to try that (we also used it for our ramens). The hardest part was figuring out how to make the soup/broth. A real pozole cooks for hours and hours to develop depth of flavor. Not knowing how to recreate that I decided the best thing to do would be to take all the solid ingredients that go into the soup and create a leather out of them. So for the red pozole that we made I took all the different kinds of dried peppers, soaked them, blended them along with any other ingredients (onions and garlic), and then strained them to get all the lumps out. That sauce got dehydrated into a leather. The green was a very similar process involving tomatillos, poblanos, onions and cilantro. Each baggie of soup got chunks of leather and a bouillon cube to replace the veggie stock that would normally be used.

On Trail Preparation: Any mean that had leathers involved was a little trickier to cook once we got on trail. The question was always: should we throw the leather in first and let it cook for a while or throw it all in together? We tried both ways and I think ripping the leather up first and giving it a little extra time in the boiling water is a good idea. Once the leather had boiled for a bit we would dump everything else in and let it soak in the pot cozy.

Pros: There were no pros. See cons.

Cons: Oooh boy the pozole did not work out! We actually only ate it once (the red version) so who knows if the green would have been any better but I feel pretty confident it would have been terrible. The taste was just not great and you are going to hear me bitch about the pork floss a lot so let me start now! That pork floss is weird and gross and I hated it. With the pozoles it was especially problematic because it does have a bit of a flavor to it, one that pairs better with things like soy sauce and siracha. It was a little out of place in a mexican dish. Then the leather just didn’t have the right kinds of flavor. In retrospect one of the biggest things I did wrong was not cook the leather and all of the things in it before blending and dehydrating it. Also, even if this had tasted good it still wouldn’t have been a great trail food because there just wasn’t a lot of actually solid sustenance going on here. The hominy is really the only thing you end up eating, and there wasn’t very much of it. The one time we ate this meal we ended up adding instant mashed potatoes to it in order to make it some what palatable. It was still awful.

Verdict: This was one of the few times that deciding to make a bunch of meals and never test any of them kind of came back to haunt us. Won’t be trying this one again!

Jambalaya:

Justification: We love home made jambalaya and it has a good consistency for dehydrating.

Description: As with many of our meals we just made a big batch of it at home for dinner and dehydrated two servings of it. The jambalaya we made at home even had sausage, shrimp, and chicken in it! We vacuum sealed it and stored it in the fridge.

On Trail Preparation: You know the drill. Boil water, add food, pot cozy for a while, enjoy.

Pros: Um, totally freaking amazing and delicious! Because of the meat we had this meal sent early on, in our first two drops, and it was so yummy. The serving we sent ourselves could have been a little bigger, but it was spicy and rich and creamy and amazing. All the meats rehydrated well and the flavors were awesome. It was just like eating it at home.

Cons:  There wasn’t more of it.

Verdict: We will definitely be doing this on again in the future and if we make it closer to the time we leave for trail we can probably have more meals to eat later on. We made it pretty far ahead of time so we were getting paranoid and wanted to eat it before it went bad. Also, this would be a really easy one to make vegetarian for anyone out there who doesn’t eat meat.

Okay, this post is getting ridiculously long so in an attempt to keep it near a respectable number of words I am going to split dinners into a couple of different posts. Stay tuned for more ideas and verdicts!

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."