Finishing Things Up With A 3 Course Camping Meal

A three course camping meal is on today's menu.
A three course camping meal is on today’s menu.

If you’ve been following our week of cubicle cooking you may have noticed that each day our meals have fit a theme but they haven’t always complimented each other. Well, Trent and I were ready for something that meshed and decided that we’d finish things off with a three course meal consisting of a main course with a side and dessert. We picked out three Backpacker’s Pantry pouches including their Santa Fe Chicken, Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes and Creme Brûlée.

Throughout our project, Trent and I have kept the accuracy of serving sizes into consideration. In most cases, we’ve found the two serving pouches from Backpacker’s Pantry are not quite enough to fill up two people. We expected that with an entree used in tandem with a side dish or even just a dessert, two people would be plenty satisfied. All three meals put together might just be a little more food than two people can comfortably eat, even after a long day of adventuring.

We set up the JetBoil, water tank, meals, bowls and utensils for the last time of the week. I told Trent not to cry but he can be an emotional guy sometimes…

Santa Fe Chicken. Yummy!
Santa Fe Chicken. Yummy!

Meal 1, the Main Course: Santa Fe Chicken

The Santa Fe Chicken wasn’t the first course that promised a southern flair (see: Huevos Rancheros in our Trail Breakfasts yesterday) but we were still excited all the same. This one mixed green chili, chicken and cheese over rice – a New Mexico specialty! We were both sold immediately.

Lots of stirring for this one and about 15 minutes later we had our meal…

Joseph’s Review: I’m glad we ended with this one because it was GREAT! The meal might be better labelled as tortilla soup, as that fit the consistency and the taste in my opinion. It wasn’t thick but had enough substance that I wouldn’t call it watered down. Every bite I felt like I was getting lots of flavor and good texture. I really can’t describe it any other way than it tasted just like tortilla soup, and a good one at that! This goes down as one of my top meals of the week for sure.

Trent’s Review: I would call this the heartiest meal of the week. It had great flavor and I agree with Joseph that it was very much like Tortilla soup. If you see that it has green chiles and are afraid of the spice, don’t be. This one had almost no kick at all. I would put this in my top three for the week. Definitely recommend this for anyone adventuring out in the desert… or for a cold night as I could see it fitting both perfectly.

The Garlic & Herb Mashed Potatoes.
The Garlic & Herb Mashed Potatoes.

Meal 2, the Side Dish: Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes

The Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes are one of several camping meal side dishes that we offer. They cost significantly less than an entree like the Santa Fe Chicken ($3.39 compared to $9.39) but despite having two servings, they won’t come close to filling up two people. Other options include things like Strawberries, Vegetable Medley, Apple Sauce, Sicilian Vegetables and more.

They take the same amount of time to cook up as a regular meal and were ready to eat in about 15 minutes.

Joseph’s Review: I really enjoyed these. They’re simple but true to their name – mashed potatoes with a hint of garlic and butter. On their own, I’d call them a little plain and would recommend bringing something to mix with them (some kind of seasoning or sauce might be all you need).

Fortunately, we had a bowl of Santa Fe Chicken, AKA tortilla soup, sitting right next to them. It didn’t take long for me to mix these two meals together and boy did they go great with one another. The somewhat plain potatoes quickly soaked up all that flavor in the Santa Fe Chicken and they turned into one of my favorite meals this week. I’m going to be eating these two meals together on the trail again soon.

Trent’s Review: Joseph kind of hoarded these when he started mixing them with the Santa Fe Chicken, but I had a bit of it plain. I thought the flavors were good but for my tastes the potatoes themselves were a little dry. I could see how mixing them with another meal would work well or if I happened to have some milk on the trail, I think it would taste great mixed in.

For dessert, Creme Brulee!
For dessert, Creme Brulee!

Meal 3, the Dessert: Creme Brûlée

We pulled out the camp blowtorch and got started with this Creme Brûlée. Ok, not really, but the Creme Brûlée was probably the most complicated dessert we’ve had to cook this week, though that’s not saying a lot. Rather than adding water, stirring and let sit for 3 minutes, this meal included a sugar topping packet, a 2 minute mixing period and then 10 minutes of  standing. Was it worth the wait?

Joseph’s Review: This was a very creamy and sweet dessert that felt a bit too complicated to make. We were cooking in the heat and while the sugar packet was sitting out it all melted together, resulting in some chunky sugar. While the taste was good this one wasn’t my favorite dessert of the week.  

Trent’s Review: I enjoyed the flavors and taste and unlike some others we have tried this week it wasn’t overly sweet. I agree that it was a bit complicated to make but the outcome wasn’t bad. I’d go for this one again.

Favorite Meals For The Week

Trent and I really enjoyed ourselves eating lots of great meals for our week of cubicle cooking and thought we should share which ones we liked most. Here are our lists:

Joseph doing some cubicle eating.
Joseph doing some cubicle eating.

Joseph’s Favorites

Favorite Overall Meal: Backpacker’s Pantry Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken. True to it’s name with a little spice, this meal was VERY filling and tasty.

Favorite Dessert: Trail Foods Chocolate PB Pudding. This was the perfect serving size, not too sweet, simple to make and had a taste I know and love.

Favorite Breakfast: Trail Foods PB Banana Oatmeal. I really appreciate Trail Food’s added ingredients to help boost trail performance and I think that’s extra important for breakfast. Couple that with a great taste and you have a winner!

Favorite Lunch: Backpacker’s Pantry Cold Potato Salad. Eating a trail lunch should be simple and easy. I really enjoyed this meal and I could see myself bringing it along for a day hike and appreciating the fact that I wouldn’t need to bring my JetBoil too.

Trent’s Favorites

Favorite Overall Meal: Backpacker’s Pantry Santa Fe Chicken. I am glad we ended with this one because it was great. Hearty and with a taste I know and enjoy.

Favorite Dessert: Trail Foods Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Wasn’t the most appetizing in appearance but when I finally tried it, I really liked this one. I preferred the texture over other desserts we tried which were usually more goopy.

Favorite Breakfast: Trail Foods PB Banana Oatmeal. Combined great taste, nice consistency and lots of goodness to prepare you for the day. Can’t go wrong with this one!

Favorite Lunch: Tie between Trail Foods Tuscan Alfredo and Backpacker’s Pantry Cold Pasta Salad. I couldn’t choose between the great flavors and easy-to-cook Cold Pasta Salad or the Classic Tuscan Alfredo. They were both great!

We hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our cubicle cooking. Let us know your experience with ACK’s line of camping foods by commenting below!

Ultimate Lightweight Camp Foods: No Stove Required

'Cooking' up some trail foods just outside the office.
‘Cooking’ up some trail foods just outside the office.

Some of the biggest reasons people turn to camp foods like the meals from Backpacker’s Pantry and Trail Foods are for their simplicity and light weight. Today, we look at four different options that go a step further by eliminating the need for a stove. Rather than using hot or boiling water, these options require only cold water, meaning you can use the same stuff you’re drinking to ‘cook’ your meal. These are your ultimate lightweight camp foods.

While these cold water meals won’t come in the same variety as the typical style of other camping food, they do provide a surprising amount of tasty options, including the four we tried today. Today’s menu consisted of two desserts from Trail Foods (Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding and Key Lime Pie) and two cold salads from Backpacker’s Pantry (Cold Pasta Salad and Cold Potato Salad). We still brought out the JetBoil Flash Stove and used it’s measuring cup to make sure we were accurate.

Cold Pasta Salad w/ Vegetables from Backpacker's Pantry
Cold Pasta Salad w/ Vegetables from Backpacker’s Pantry

Meals 1 & 2: Cold Pasta Salad w/ Vegetables & Cold Potato Salad

We started with the cold salad options from Backpacker’s Pantry (that way we could end with desserts). Both are advertised as two serving lunch options and are a bit on the pricier side ($7.99) compared to our $5 backcountry lunch options from Monday. We currently stock the cold pasta salad w/ vegetables at ACK and offer the cold potato salad via special order. Similar items like a cold black bean salad and cold couscous salad can be found on our site as well.

Backpacker’s Pantry on their Cold Pasta Salad: The salad uses pre-cooked pasta that’s only partially cooked to help retain the natural nutrients. When you rehydrate them in our meal, you’re able to get the full nutritional value from the pasta and all of the other ingredients.

Backpacker's Pantry Cold Potato Salad - available via special order at ACK.com.
Backpacker’s Pantry Cold Potato Salad – available via special order at ACK.com.

The water measurements were 3/4 cups for the potato salad and 1 cup for the pasta salad. It was handy to have the measuring cup that comes along with the Jetboil Flash Stove which measures out 1 cup. The other glaring difference was that these meals took 30 minutes to ‘cook’! That’s something to keep in mind when planning an outing with these. After our half-hour waiting period, we dug in.

Joseph’s Potato Salad Review: I absolutely love potato salad but I think I’ve only ever had it refrigerated and with a mayo base. I have to say that I was really impressed with this meal and ended up eating it for my lunch today.  It was tasty! It felt like a German style dish that normally might be served as a side but had plenty of substance to fill me up as a regular lunch. I will definitely be adding this one to my trail foods pantry. I gave the pasta salad a try but Trent ended up hoarding most of it for his lunch. See what he had to say about it.

Trent’s Pasta Salad Review: I had the Pasta Salad for lunch today and am going to start with a pointer for those making it: about half way through the 30 minutes of ‘cooking’, open the pouch up and stir. I had a thin layer of noodles at the top that didn’t get the same amount of re-hydration as the noodles at the bottom. That being said, I really enjoyed this meal. It had a very wide variety of flavors compared to several of the other meals I’ve tried. This was my lunch for the day and was very filling.

Chocolate Banana Pudding, yum!
Chocolate PB Pudding. Yum!

Meals 3 & 4: Chocolate PB Pudding & Key Lime Pie

After our salads, we turned to dessert. The idea of using cold water to ‘cook’ these desserts was a little less exotic than having it cook our salad lunches because they were essentially both powdered mixes that needed thickening. A majority of the Trail Foods desserts require only cold water to cook and this Chocolate PB Pudding and Key Lime Pie were no exception.

Both of these meals are listed as part of Trail Food’s ‘Recovery’ line of meals meaning they are intended for a post adventure snack to aid in, for lack of a better word, recovery. They come packed high in protein (especially the pudding!) as part of this line.

Trail Foods Key Lime Pie
Trail Foods Key Lime Pie

Unlike the salads, these desserts were ready in about five minutes so we had them served up quick!

Joseph’s Review: Our first thought on these was that they weren’t the most appealing thing in the world to look at but hey – you can’t judge a book by its cover, right? Plus, what else can pudding look like? And the Key Lime Pie was essentially a pudding. I ended up eating the majority of the Chocolate PB Pudding and have to say that it tasted great! The peanut butter came in an additional packet which I mixed in. It did get a little clumpy rather than mixing in perfectly but I don’t feel like it detracted from the taste. Overall this was a very sweet meal but not overly so with a good mix of chocolate and peanut butter flavor. This is definitely my favorite dessert so far.

Trent’s Review: I tasted the Chocolate PB Pudding first and immediately thought of the pudding that came in the kid’s frozen TV dinners I ate when I was younger. It’s not a bad taste but I’m a key lime pie fan so I went with that option. To clarify, it’s called Key Lime Pie because of the flavor and ingredients, but as you might’ve expected, the consistency is similar to the chocolate pudding. It came with an additional graham cracker crumble packet (pie crust!) which we mixed into the meal. I think next time I’ll leave it as a topping because it kind of messed with the texture. The taste was great but boy was it sweet! I had my fill of it for dessert and still had easily half the bowl left.  My recommendation would be to share this one between multiple people after your meal.

Leave No Trace – Use Your Meal Pouch To Hike Out Trash

Both Trail Foods and Backpacker’s Pantry have designed their meal pouches be more than just packaging. They work to cook the food, eat out of and contain any trash you end up with at the end. While they don’t create much of a mess to begin with, be sure to throw away trash like the torn top and any additional plastic packing for spices or add-ins. Of course, these bags are big enough that you could probably add whatever other trash you need to out in the backcountry! Once you’ve got it all inside, just seal and store in your pack until you’re able to get to a dumpster. Remember, leave no trace!

Keep an eye out for tomorrow when we look at breakfast camp food options available at ACK!

 

Lunch for Under $5 – 4 Cheap Backcountry Lunches

The standard cost of  lunch at a fast food restaurant these days seems to be about $5, so to kick things off for our week of trail foods, Trent and I thought we’d take a look at trail lunches for $5 or less. From my experience with trail eating, it’s important to consider your the purpose of your meal – backcountry lunches, for example, shouldn’t be too heavy but should provide you with the energy you need to get through the rest of the day. Each option we selected for today does just that… well, mostly.

On the menu for day 1 was Louisiana Red Beans & Rice from Backpacker’s Pantry as well as Trail Food’s Tuscan Alfredo Rotini, Veggie Pizza Pasta and for desert, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Trail Foods provided far more options than Backpacker’s Pantry when it comes to meals at this price and the reason has a lot to do with serving size. On average, Backpacker’s Pantry meals make two servings per packet while Trail Foods only makes one. In terms of calories, the Louisiana Red Beans provides 180-200 more than the Trail Foods options.

We fired up the jetboil and got started with some Red Beans & Rice.
We fired up the jetboil and got started with some Red Beans & Rice.

Meal 1: Louisiana Red Beans & Rice

The Louisiana Red Beans & Rice was a great place to start our week. It’s a simple meal that everyone has had in some form or another. As mentioned above, Backpacker’s Pantry packs two servings of food into this pouch for $3.99.  It re-hydrated well and was ready to eat in about 15 minutes. After some vigorous stirring to make sure the spices were appropriately portioned, it was time to eat.

Joseph’s Review: I like my food spicy, and while this had a tiny kick to it I wasn’t that impressed by the heat. Overall the taste was great and it did have quite a bit of seasoning on it to give it plenty of flavor. I definitely would eat this one again, especially at such a great price!

Trent’s Review: Plenty of classic southern flavors in this hearty meal. No one you can go wrong with this one. Definitely a staple in my trail foods pantry.

ProTip: Backpacker’s Pantry Meals offer 2 servings – but that doesn’t mean they’ll fill two people up. Serve this one as a midday snack for 3-4 people or pair with half of a banana and share between two. Eating it solo is always an option, but you better be hungry!

Veggie Pizza Pasta or Pasta Marinara?
What do you think: Veggie Pizza Pasta or Pasta Marinara?

Meal 2 & 3: Tuscan Alfredo Rotini & Veggie Pizza Pasta

Pasta is another very standard trail meal as the noodles cook the same on the trail as they do in the kitchen (depending on your altitude, of course). Trail Foods categorize their meals as Prepare, Perform, Recover or Enjoy Your Day – both of the meals we sampled were labelled as Perform, which means they’re intended to be a lunch or snack and are infused with electrolytes to keep you energized during long periods of activity.

This was our first time eating a meal from Trail Foods and we quickly noticed a difference on the nutrition facts between these pouches and the Louisiana Red Beans & Rice from Backpacker’s Pantry – the list of Vitamins & Minerals was about five times longer on both of the pasta options! While this might not affect every camper or hiker’s decision, this does mean Trail Food meals might have an edge when it comes to energizing you for vigorous activity.

These single serving pouches were both ready in about 10 minutes using the Jetboil and were easily identifiable when we served them up into our bowls.

The Trail Foods Alfredo Tuscan Rotini
The Trail Foods Alfredo Tuscan Rotini

Joseph’s Review: Of the two, I preferred the Veggie Pizza Pasta, which could just as easily be called Pasta Marinara. It claims to use a spicy sauce, but I wouldn’t say it had a kick at all. Overall, it was right on for a simple yet typical pasta with a tomato based sauce. The Tuscan Alfredo Rotini looked a bit more creamy and was heavier, though I wouldn’t say it was much heavier of a meal than the Veggie Pizza Pasta. In my opinion, two were actually quite similar aside from the difference in sauces. The one kicker for me was the basil flakes in the Rotini, I just wasn’t a fan.

Trent’s Review: I enjoyed the Tuscan Alfredo Rotini over the Veggie Pizza Pasta. The sauce was creamy and the flavors were instantly recognizable. Definitely a solid choice in my book. As far as the Veggie Pizza Pasta goes, I felt like it was a little bland and indistinct but it wasn’t bad at all. I would take this one along to mix my meals up if I’m on the trail for a while.

Enjoy your day with some Bananas Foster Bread Pudding from Trail Foods.
Enjoy your day with some Bananas Foster Bread Pudding from Trail Foods.

Meal 4: Banana Fosters Bread Pudding

Remember when I said almost all of our meals would be tuned to energize you midday for some outdoor activity? This meal came to us from Trail Food’s new Enjoy Your Day line of meals and actually isn’t yet available at ACK.com directly (though you are certainly able to put in a special order for it!). Unlike the Pastas which belong to the Perform line of meals, this pudding is meant to help you, for lack of a better phrase, enjoy your day! A quick look on the packaging shows it’s not packed full of the same electrolytes, vitamins and minerals as the two previous meals.

This was the quickest of the meals to cook up and was ready in less than 5 minutes! See more about the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding from Trail Foods’ website.

Joseph’s Review: The pudding was a nice meal to end our day with, I mean, it’s pudding! Great dessert even though it’s not the most appetizing looking food in the world.

Trent’s Review: Not much to look at but a nice treat. The flavors weren’t very distinct but overall this bread pudding was very sweet and tasty.

Blind Taste Test Factoid: Four out of of five ACK employees were given this meal in a blind taste test and thought it was apple cobbler. The fifth thought it was peach although they all enjoyed it just the same.

Grab One Of Our Backcountry Lunches and Hit the Trail!

Enjoying some lunch on top of a rock & wood structure out on the trail.
Joseph enjoying some lunch on top of a rock & wood structure out on the trail.

It only costs $5 to try one of these backcountry lunches yourself so what are you waiting for? Give them a try and have some fun outside – you can eat them just about anywhere!

Our first four meals of the week are done and have to say we had a lot of fun. Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post when Trent and I take a look at some 2 Serving Dinner Options from Backpacker’s Pantry. Comment below if you have any questions or comments about today’s meal reviews!