Friday, March 13, 2020

How Easy Is It to Cook Inside a "Standy" Tiny Trailer?

The 5x10 foot RTTC Polar Bear. To the right of the door a shelf and cabinets are constructed.
To the left is the bed area and a small table that breaks down for the bed.
The inside walkway is as wide as the door.

To own a tiny trailer is to most likely also own some form of awning or shelter to keep off the sun and rain. Why? Because practically all camp routines take place outside, the tiny trailer functioning mostly as a "bedroom on wheels." Owning a standy tiny trailer, though, opens the possibility of engaging in more activities inside--even if those activities are elbow-bumping, side-by-side versions of activities we routinely engage in at home. Cooking is one example, or at least I thought it should be, so I decided to experiment to determine what could be a manageable set-up for cooking, if necessary, in a tiny standy trailer.

The bed area with the table up for use.

My standy is an RTTC Polar Bear, a tall teardrop. What RTTC has done with the camper design is to eliminate the rear hatch kitchen and use that space inside of the camper to have cabinets, a shelf, and a small walkway up front. One third of the bedspace converts to a small table, creating the classic small trailer configuration of back bed, table, and storage. Because the Polar Bear (and RTTC's shorter versions with the same floor configuration) is indeed tiny, with a 5 x 10 foot floor space, the idea of owning a mobile mini-apartment isn't really a reality. There still is, however, space for cooking if necessary . . . or, at least, that is what I wanted to find out.

The view of the interior front while seated on the bed.

The Challenges

I had cooked before during cold weather ("Cold Weather Cooking in a Tall Teardrop") and had found that cooking in the Polar Bear was possible, even if it involved going outside to get something out of the ice box. Okay, so the cramped space and lack of built-in kitchen would be inconvenient, but could I make the process more efficient, with less clutter and wear-and-tear on the camper? That's what this article is about, the quest for neater and cleaner cooking procedures for inside my tiny standy trailer.

A couple of limitations besides space were challenges that had to be met. One limitation for my Polar Bear is that with its electrical 15 amp wiring, I use only one appliance at a time inside the trailer. Turn off the space heater, turn on the toaster oven, turn off the toaster oven, turn on the Instant Pot. You get the idea--don't overload the extension cords and outlets and burn the thing down. ("Watt's the Problem? Tiny Trailer Electrical Issues.")

Steaming vegetables the traditional method: a great way to increase condensation!

Another limitation to cooking inside is that of condensation. Steaming vegetables on a stove top requires the release of a lot of moisture because of the boiling water. I had steamed vegetables on the table directly beneath the trailer ceiling fan, and that had worked, but I was looking for a more efficient use of space and less release of steam. Any cooking is going to result in some release of moisture, but I didn't want to cook my meal, eat it, and then have part of the clean-up involve wiping down all the condensation on the walls. Condensation can be a real problem, even though the RTTC set-up goes a long way toward minimizing the problem with its raised bed and available space for a portable electric heater. ("Minimizing Condensation in a Teardrop or Tiny Trailer.")

Inside Easy Cooking Solutions

My standy has no established kitchen, and we have no plans to try to create one. Like many tiny trailers, much of our living activities take place outside. My inside easy cooking solutions were those that required little preparation and little clean-up. My plan was to arrive at some recipes and procedures that could be used when necessary--when cold, wind, or precipitation (or perhaps bugs) were just too much to deal with.

My ad hoc kitchen: hot water pot, toaster oven, and Instant Pot pressure cooker

After two years of tiny trailer cooking, including some of cooking inside, I've arrive at three cooking appliances that will provide easy meals, yet also meals of some variety. I have not included a microwave oven, so those that use a microwave will have the options provided by that appliance. I've also not added our induction burner, although I have used it inside, because cooking with that takes up more space--grease-splatter, steam, ingredients preparation. The recipes I've used utilize mostly fresh foods.

A typical outside cooking station set-up 

Breakfast


Often breakfast outside includes scrambled eggs and home fries, but eliminating the preparation and clean-up is essential for a breakfast cooked inside. Here are some simple options that I've used.

Simple: eggs on a bit of oatmeal

A bit more "presentation" but still simple

  • Muesli/one-minute oatmeal: (Teapot.) Using a paper bowl (placed inside a plastic bowl for safety), just cover the cereal with boiling water, cover, and let sit for five minutes. Add milk and sweetener. I sometimes add nuts, pumpkin seeds, and raisins or other dried fruit to the mix.
  • Egg and toast: (Instant Pot and toaster oven.) Poaching an egg in an Instant Pot is very easy, using the trivet, a cup of water, a holder for the egg, and cooking for 1-5 minutes (even "zero" minutes!), depending on how cooked you want the egg. There are quite a few online descriptions of the process. I found Cooking with Curls to be straightforward. I haven't bought silicon cups yet and just use my stainless steel half-cup measuring cup or sometimes a ceramic Le Creuset Mini Round Cocotte.  Toast, of course, is made in the toaster oven. (Reminder: I have to juggle appliances and not use both at the same time in my 15 amp camper.)
Lunch

Lunch is usually my biggest meal of the day. I have the sunlight for clean-up, and I'm able to be active and digest easily so that I don't go to bed overly full. If I'm cooking lunch inside, that means there is some extreme situation outside, most likely wind and precipitation. I'm willing when cooking lunch inside my tiny trailer to have a bit more preparation, but since it's usually an exception to my rule of cooking outside, I still go simple. Below are some simple dishes.

Baked vegetables and feta in a small cast iron baking dish

  • Baked potatoes: (Toaster oven.) It can't get much easier than this, especially if I clean and wash the potatoes at home prior to leaving. I usually bake at 375 degrees, halving or quartering the potatoes. Lately I've been placing parchment paper on the baking tray so that I don't even have to clean the tray.
  • Baked vegetables: (Toaster oven.) Since I now prep my veggies at home prior to camping, baking vegetables is easy. I toss some mixed vegetables into a small mixing bowl, add olive oil and herbs de Provence, mix and bake. I add feta cheese for the last 10-15 minutes of baking. The baking time is usually around 45 minutes to an hour at 350-375.
  • Steamed vegetables: (Instant Pot.) My first experiences with steaming inside the camper with a pot and steamer tray released a lot of moisture. The Instant Pot reduces the steam because I can let the temperature cool before opening the pot, vent the steam on my dinette table with the ceiling fan on high, or just take the pot outside to vent. I use a cup of water in the pot, my folding steaming rack, and steam for zero minutes. Again, as with poaching eggs, the cooking time can be individually tuned with experience. Here is a YouTube Chanty Marie video on steaming vegetables with an Instant Pot. (And, no, that's not the shirt I wear when I cook!)
  • Kitchari: (Instant Pot.) Kitchari is a kind of Indian Ayurvedic stew, I suppose. At its most basic, the ingredients are dahl and grain along with spices. I find it easy to make when camping, especially with pre-cut vegetables. Here is my recipe: 1/3 cup dahl, 1/6 cup wild rice (or rice, quinoa, millet), 3 cups water, chopped veggies, 1 bouillon cube, 1 tablespoon oil, curry spices. I cook for 18 minutes. I add a little more than the 6-1 water/dahl and the 2-1 water/grain proportions for more liquid. This one-pot meal is easy to put together and is also a fairly easy clean-up.
Since I'm in a somewhat emergency mode if I'm cooking inside, my protein usually is just a hunk of cheese, or sometimes sliced tofu placed on top of the steaming veggies for the last five minutes of cook time. My grain is usually a piece of bread or a tortilla. If I felt like getting fancy, a cheese melt, open-faced sandwich or a quesadilla grilled in the oven might be on the menu.

Supper

Lately my camping suppers inside have become simpler and simpler, although I suspect my late-season camping with fewer hours of daylight have had a hand in my dinner choices. Baked potatoes are easy, filling, and the oven also heats the camper. The simplest "dinner" I've cooked (to use that term loosely) is cold cereal and a cup of tea. One step up is muesli and oatmeal with extra nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. As I write this, I'm wondering why I've never invited the squirrels and chipmunks over for dinner.

Another easy meal that only requires boiling water is ramen noodles. I like McDougall's, with Pad Thai or Miso Ramen. I've found the noodle cups to not be filling enough, so I add more ingredients to the cup before adding the water, such as a tablespoon or two of muesli or couscous, some raisins, and some walnuts or pecans. This thickens the broth and provides more bulk.

A fall brunch, Bentonsport Campground, Des Moines River

As a final request for forgiveness to all those who love camp cooking, I have to remind you that cooking inside is not typical for me. Stormy weather usually is the case for cooking inside. Tiny trailers are not really set up for inside cooking, even my standy, which has much more potential than tiny trailers that are mostly bed. Having a back-up plan for extended inclement weather is good, though.

This article shares my experiences with three electric appliances--the teapot, the toaster oven, and the Instant Pot--as the most "tiny friendly" cooking aids I've found for my tiny camper. I could get by with cooking inside for a few days with those three appliances. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if after a while I just said to heck with it and set up outside and happily cooked in the snow. I've done it before and found I enjoyed myself immensely!

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2 comments:

  1. We bring prepared meals kept in our 12V/electric cooler and hear them up in the microwave if we need to be inside for any reason. This has worked very well for us. Good ideas tho... Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. We don't use a microwave, but for those that do, there are some easy meals. When Sandy and I get our new travel trailer, it will have a 12v refrigerator. I'm sure there will be a learning curve with that, too!

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