When moving onto a boat there are a variety of things one must get used to. Limited space is an obvious change, and this also applies to the amount of storage in your refrigerator and freezer. For many, including myself, there is no room in the galley for a microwave and no way to use one without shore power, so reheating left overs becomes a new challenge. Limited counter space makes simplifying meals and using less dishes attractive. I can’t claim to be a foodie or a culinary genius, but I have found a few ways to adapt.
I have a small Nova Kool fridge for boats or RVs. It mounts into the wall and has 3.5 cubic feet of storage. There’s a tiny freezer like you would expect in a dorm fridge, but as you can see, there isn’t alot of space. Frozen vegetables are out because one package takes up almost the entire freezer space. I rarely need ice cubes, but if I do, I use a small flexible tray and just refill it each time. Mostly this space is used for meat and the rest of the refrigerator is used for deli meats, eggs, sodas, cheese and other dairy products and occasionally salad vegetables (although these usually keep pretty well behind the settee against the hull here in the Pacific Northwest).
HOMEMADE HALF CARTONS
Homemade Half Cartons
Although I know this isn’t a new discovery, I did happen on it by accident. I noticed that in the grocery store that were were some half cartons of eggs which looked like they would fit nicely in the fridge, and I go through eggs pretty quickly. I also noticed that the pre-made half cartons cost almost as much as a full carton of eggs, so I decided to make my own. I cut the carton in half (be sure to remove the middle eggs first!) and they stack nicely in the space beside the freezer. Since I’m not using an icebox or stacking things on top, this system works well. I save my half cartons to fill the next time without having to repeat the process every time. A stack of three (18 eggs) works well in the space that I have. If you are using an icebox or a top loading refrigerator where things could fall onto the cartons, I’d recommend the hard plastic type egg holders. Honestly I could keep the eggs in the area against the hull in a rigid container if pressed for space. If going on a quick overnight with multiple people, we’ve also pre scrambled eggs in a ziplock which can fit pretty much anywhere in the fridge (thanks Cassie!)
MEAT IN THE FREEZER
Meat in the Freezer
A good Southern breakfast usually includes bacon and/or sausage – but honestly, who wants to deal with the splatter and the grease and the clean-up? I am a lazy cook and a lazier dishwasher (I like to blame on this on my tiny sinks, but it could be the lack of a dishwasher). I buy the pre-cooked “microwave ready” bacon. Yes, per package these cost more than a package of raw bacon, but I suspect by the time the fat and grease are cooked out of the raw bacon, on a weight-by-weight basis the difference is much smaller. Count the resources used to clean those greasy pans and for me, it’s worth it. Now if you want thick sliced bacon, you may want to try lining a baking pan with foil and baking bacon at your oven’s top temperature (around 400F0) on an oven rack. You can throw out the foil with the grease when it cools and solidifies, and just wash the rack (not as bad as pans and splatter). My favorite pre-cooked bacon is made by Hormel because they come in a ziplock bag which I re-use for other items. The other brands are fine, I just like the re-use potential. I take the bags out of the boxes, crush the boxes and recycle them, so I can almost halve the space. I also buy the Jimmy Dean pre-cooked sausage which comes in two vacuum packed 4 piece units per box or a bag of 20 which are a bit thinner. Again, I ditch the boxes to the recycle bin and whittle down the space. If I’m not going to use all 4 sausages, I put the remainder in the zip locks I have left from the bacon, and the thickness of the zip locks holds up well to the freezer.
Save Almost Half the Space
As long as we are talking about meat and saving space, Hormel also makes some fully cooked meat entrees like Beef Roast with Au Jus as well as Pork, Chicken and Turkey products (look for the $1.00 coupon inside the cardboard cover). The packaging is a little bulky and I think they could do better with this, especially the plastic tray. My solution for space is to discard the packaging (recycle of course) and move the meat to ziplock (from the bacon if I have it because the zip locks are thicker) and put these in the freezer as well. They cook well on the stovetop as well as a short period of time in a slow cooker with some roasted garlic cloves or other precooked veggies and some broth if you want a quick stew – the meat really just needs to be reheated. I’ve used this in beef stroganoff, as a beef side with vegetables, or on a roast beef sandwich. Most recently I added a little to vegetable beef soup (there’s hardly any beef in there!) and it really made a difference. I’m a big fan of this product. The trays are sturdy and do stack, so they could be used for other things – I’ve put left over rice or pasta in them and covered with aluminum foil or used them to marinate other meat.
I don’t do the potato-based meals often because of the space they take up, but if you were making yours from fresh potatoes which are easy to store, you could have them all the time. When I do use them, I like to buy O’Brien-style potatoes, which already have onions and peppers in them and are partially cooked.
I throw these in a baking pan with some meat (usually sausage or ham, but it could be anything) and diced, roasted garlic cloves after coating the pan with a smear of butter or a non-stick spray. Near the end of the cooking time, I add some shredded cheese and cover with tinfoil until it’s melted. It’s a twist on the old tinfoil camping recipe; I’ve used the tinfoil packets on a boat grill as well before I had my propane stove and it worked very well – just open the packet at the end and sprinkle the cheese and close it up for a minute and you have a very yummy breakfast. O’Brien potatoes also work well in a variety of casserole type dishes or as a last minute addition to a stew since they don’t need to cook long.
GET CREATIVE WITH CANNED BISCUITS
I have been a fan of canned biscuits since childhood, but I never need all the biscuits in the can and they don’t hold up well after opening. If you can quickly transfer the unused biscuits (still in the can for their shape) into a ziplock and suck out all the air you can, they still work the following day. They won’t rise as high or be as flakey, but they are definitely usable. You can also convert these left overs into a desert like Monkey Bread, appetizer cups like Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato, Cheesy Florentine, or Mini Beef Pot Pies to be heated up later on. Recently I made breakfast poppers by splitting the biscuits into two pieces and stretching them out, filling them with sausage, bacon and hot pepper shredded cheese, closing them up and baking them in a muffin pan until the biscuits were done. These were shared with a few friends on a raft-up and they went over great. You really don’t need the muffin pan, but it gave them a cute shape.
REHEATING WITHOUT A MICROWAVE
Reheating in a Steamer Pan
How to heat/reheat things without a microwave took a while for me to figure out. For creamy rice and pasta dishes, I put these either in a small foil bread pan that’s covered with foil (see photo) or just in a tin foil packet, and place this in a steamer basket with the lid on the pot. The creamy, steamy goodness remains with no crusty, dried out pieces, and again – no cleanup.
This one may sound a little kooky, but I heat a can of soup in the can in a pot of boiling water. Just remove the lid (and the label!), place it in water that comes about halfway up the can, and put a top on the pot if you are able too. The soup gets cooked right in the can and just needs a little stirring here and there to heat throughout. I’ve used this with potato, cream of broccoli, vegetable beef and tomato soups. Once the soup is heated, pour it into your bowl, rinse out the can, toss in recycling – no soupy pot to wash. Save the water in the pot for the next use or use the hot water to rinse dishes.
Again, I’m clearly a pretty simple cook, making small meals on a budget, and I don’t want a lot of cleanup. My next galley goal is learning to use my crockpot more so dinner will be ready when I sign off work and there will be less temptation to head out to a restaurant. If you have other space saving, simple, or cheap meal ideas that don’t require a lot of kitchen gadgets, I’d love to hear them. Email me at email@example.com and I can share your recipes or ideas.
As seen in Three Sheets NW and Pacific Northwest Boater