One of my modest passions is cooking. Another is self reliance under adverse circumstances. (i.e. “survivalism” or as I like it “urban preparedness advocate” ;-)
So a natural outgrowth of that is what I like to call “Hotel Camping”.
Cooking in a hotel room.
After a while “on the road” you get tired of “restaurant food”. Doesn’t matter how good it is. Sometimes you just want a simple ‘gooey yolk egg’ without needing to talk the server through what it is, then waiting 20 minutes, to get something that isn’t quite right and is a bit cold… and sometimes you just want to put on comfy shorts and not face a room full of strangers just to have a game hen with vegetables. Sometimes it is just a whole lot easier and more comfortable to do for yourself exactly what you want, in the privacy of your own space.
It isn’t as simple as you might think. There is the smoke detector, in my present room located about 9 feet (3 meters) from the most reasonable cooking location. That means most flame based cooking appliances are “right out”, and methods of cooking prone to making smoke are also to be avoided or mitigated. Think frying… and the smoke it can make… Not exactly a secure feeling as you eye the smoke detector. Then there is just no practical way to put a miniature oven into a hotel room. Forget anything like real baking or roasting. (You can make a ‘toaster oven’ work, but the size is just way small).
Then there is just the size and weight of equipment. Dutch ovens and cast iron are pretty much impossible from a practical point of view. Even the typical electric frying pan is huge when packing a small car.
What to do, what to do…
Well, first off, think water based cooking and / or cold “cooking” like making sandwiches and salads.
But a ham sandwich is not exactly satisfying for breakfast…
So here’s an example of “hotel camping”. In this case, the equipment is two particularly specialized bits of kit. I also show an example of ordinary camping equipment. The first thing is a Norelco “Hot Stuff” hot pot. Made in the ’80s or so, and as near as I can tell, no longer available. I love it. It is in my standard “working in the locked back room” bag. So when “sequestered” in some cold computer room with no exit allowed, and more sensors than a fire department, it’s my “go to” kit.
Low power consumption (so no blown fuses from 2000 W ) and strongly water based. You can boil water in it to a full rolling boil. IF you put a thick canned food in it, the temperature rises above 212 F / 100 C and the device senses that and cuts the power back so as to heat slowly and not scorch the bottom of the food. I’ve tested it on canned ravioli (as the hardest case I could think of) and it worked fine. Thick soups, stews, whatever. So you can make a cup of coffee (with the TWO built in cups that slide on each end and lock into the handle) and the included coffee filter (holding two containers for coffee grounds and sugar / creamer in a divided canister). The drip filter can sit on one cup, or straddle both to make two cups of coffee at once. Just well thought out. (It has two drip holes in the bottom of the filter holder).
You can do the same job with a small single burner electric hot plate and a pot to set on it, along with a ‘coffee filter’ and some dishes; but it just doesn’t pack up into anything nearly so compact and well thought out. Yet near as I can tell, there is no modern analog of the “Hot Stuff”; so you need to “roll your own”.
So you can heat thick canned foods, thinner soups and stews, boil water to reconstitute freeze dried camping packets, or cook ramen noodles and more. Make coffee, tea, whatever.
Clearly, too, if you can boil eggs, you can then make deviled eggs or egg salad sandwiches… In this case, I’m having morning tea while making breakfast.
Now eggs, alone, are OK, but I like mine with a bit of ham. Sandwich ham can do double duty as lunch meat, and as breakfast ham. I leave two slices stuck together as a ‘thick slice’ for breakfast. At a local grocery store I found this miniature electric frying pan for something like $15. It works reasonably well and is small enough to pack easily. It comes with a glass lid that helps to keep “vapors” from getting too close to the smoke detector. Set up on a counter near the bath, and with the bath exhaust fan on, both smells and vapors tend to leave…
Note the spoon for scale…
At this time the eggs have 3 1/2 minutes to 4 minutes on them and are getting a short cooling bath (so as to be handled) while the ham gets a quick sear.
Then it goes onto the plate. The presentation is a bit plain. No toast (as other than packing a toaster I’ve not figured a way to do it; and one burned bit of toast could get the whole hotel evacuated… so it’s plain bread or a bit of bagel…) and the lack of ‘egg cups’ means they come out of the shell.
These were just about the way I like them. Glossy and thick yolks. They could have been about 20 seconds less cooked, I think, but were good all the same. Ham warm and with a bit of brown. Oh, and a side grapefruit:
Then, to finish, while cleaning up, a bit of coffee. This is THE smallest “coffee kit” I’ve ever found. You could make one from a large nail and #2 Melita filter cones. I’ve also seen very nice hand carved hardwood versions:
Here I’m using a Trangia alcohol stove to boil water in a small frying pan. Yes, I could have fried the ham in it as well. The point is to demo / test both options and “compare and contrast”. The alcohol stove does not set off smoke detectors and cooks a bit more nicely than the electric skillet, yet it IS fire and IS indoors… I generally prefer to use electric cooking when Hotel Camping. It is “free” power, you need not worry about finding fuel, it’s very easy, and there is no open flame / fumes. Mostly I’m just demonstrating that you can use an alcohol stove if that’s all you have. The “coffee maker” is that dark brown plastic “stick” poked through holes in the hanging paper bag filter. I generally like a Melita Drip Cone better, but this was smaller and I already had the larger filter from the “Hot Stuff” set, so could not justify packing THREE coffee makers ;-) It also let me “set up” for coffee on the far side of the counter away from the narrow strip near the power outlet.
In general, it’s best to avoid any camping stove indoors, especially those with gasoline, white gas, kerosene, etc. fuels. The fire risk and potential to set off the smoke detector is just too great. Alcohol (and near a source of water like the sink for putting out any unwanted fire) is about as much as you can risk. (Sterno is the standard indoors. Methanol stoves are essentially a Sterno stove using fuel that is not jellied). I have used a propane single burner stove as an experimental test, but only once. At that, I set up inside the separate bathroom with the door 1/2 closed and the fan going. I managed to fry 2 perch I’d caught that way, but it was “risky business”. (I only did it as I felt compelled to eat the two fish I’d caught and not toss them out… and at the time had no hot plate or electric skillet.)
Small electric hot plates ( I have one … a future posting…) and the miniature electric appliances are your best choices.
OK, that’s about it for this posting. You can make acceptable foods, the way you like them, at far lower cost and usually quicker than going to a restaurant. You don’t have to be limited to what can be cooked in a tiny microwave oven, nor to cold sandwiches and salads; nice those they may be from time to time. Things may end up a bit more “plain” if you don’t have room to store a lot of side dishes and garnishes, but still, having as many eggs as you like, or more ham if you feel like it, makes up for a lot. I often use pancakes instead of toast, and that’s a nice combo. Something for next week ;-)
I have also used the small electric skillet as a kind of slow cooker. A Cornish game hen, slightly squashed, fits under the lid. Then it ‘simmer roasts’ on medium for about 1 1/2 hours. Longer if you like. Had that a few nights back. Nice, very nice. A carrot in bits or chunks with it cooks nicely as do baby potatoes. One need not feel cheated when Hotel Camping ;-)
“Your game hen with baby carrots and new potatoes, sir”…
I’ve also used a small slow cooker to do “hotel camping”, but it’s a bit tricky as you need to know when the maid comes ;-) It’s best to use it on weekends when you can start it just after the maid is done.
As you have most likely already guessed, there will be more postings in this series over time. As I find other interesting dishes “that work”, I’ll post them. I’m thinking of trying a ‘small pan lasagna’ just to see if I can do it ;-)