Indoors 452

Published on July 6th, 2009 | by Greg


Truly Outdoors: Kitchen and Bedroom Away From Home

Throughout July, we’ll be reviewing a wide array of interesting outdoor items for a section we call Truly Outdoors. Last week, we took a look at a variety of seating options, a hammock, bags, hats, and even a sleeping bag and tent. Today, we continue helping you outfit your campsite or even RV with a compact cooking utensil set and some easy meals.

GSI offers a large line of outdoor cookware, tableware, and chef's tools. We tested out one of their fairly complete sets, the Kitchen 11, which offers a small but OK cutting board, mediocre towel and scrubbing sponge, and two small squeeze bottles for various liquids (soy sauce, for example). You also get a grater and whisk that were a balance between size and convenience- good enough for scrambling eggs and grating some potatoes, not good for cakes. The salt and pepper shaker is cute, though, and the spatula and spoon are interesting in a way- they telescope, with pop-out handles. Unfortunately, none of the items was particularly durable, or fun to use and though the kit is lightweight, it still manages to pack up at about 28 ounces.

At around $30, it's an inexpensive way to get your basic kitchen supplies in a decent portable case. You may end up leaving the case at home though, and just taking the things you need. Also, expect to need more items- for instance, the Kitchen 23, which is the same set but comes with a 12-piece cutlery set.

Once you have the tools, you need something to cook… and to eat. We've been starving our interns and unleashing them on meals from Backpackers Pantry and Mountain House, in hopes of deciding what camping meals pass the TrulyObscure taste and convenience test. Points off if the meals take too long to make, or are too complicated, and bonus points if the food can be enjoyed with OR without a frostbitten tongue.

Backpackers Pantry offers organic meals, along with single, two-person, and family-sized (four) portions- plus the usual assortment of sides, and even complete meals for four. As with most dehydrated meals, these were mostly of the "just add boiling water and wait thirteen minutes" type, and the pouches remain the vacuum sealed plastic that seems at odds with environmental friendliness. The single-serving Organic Spicy Omelet required a little extra work- slow mixing, cooking over low heat, but was worth the effort. It wasn't quite as good as making an omelet yourself, but darn decent. The two-person Pad Thai was a bit disappointing- bland, oddly textured, but totally edible, and reasonably satisfying. It was a good change after the Fettucini Alfredo with Chicken, a dish that seemed like a good idea, but failed in execution. Finally, the Organic Lasagna is not really anything of the sort, and serves as a reminder that it is possible to make bad Italian food. At around $8-$10 per serving for the organics, but as low as $2 or so for some of the others, they have a wide range and something for most anyone.

Mountain House, similarly, has a wide range, though a less-than-interesting website. Serving sizes also go from single- to four-person meals, though no complete meals with sides are available. Unfortunately, we didn't see any organic listings. Prices are in the same, though lower, end of the spectrum, with an entree for two running around $7. We tried an wide variety of samples, and each was more freeze-dried-seeming than the ones from Backpackers Pantry, making the interns curious what dark science could reduce a bag of precooked scrambled eggs and bacon to a crispy, crunchy mass. Unlike others, these pouches come with an odd bonus- an oxygen absorber in each pouch that you have to be aware of. Cooking times varied a bit, from 5 to 9 minutes, and they also offer a Pro-Pak option that reduces the size of the pouch greatly, but are a little bit harder to make as they need extra stirring. We tried Pasta Primavera, Chicken Terriyaki with Rice, Beef Stroganoff with Noodles and the aforementioned eggs… but reviewers were fairly negative, as most items had textural issues and didn't grab anyone's tastebuds. The sole dessert on our testing menu, though, their Raspberry Crumble, received thumbs up all around.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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