I’m not a brilliant cook. My Mother wasn’t even a good cook. It’s ok, she would tell you so. My childhood menu consisted largely of red meat & potatoes, canned/boxed goods, and spaghetti. It was practically mandatory to go to the local seafood restaurant once a week (a tradition that I really loved, thanks Mom!) and a really big deal to get the occasional supreme pizza… delivered! Sundays were spent at Grandmas, who just happened to be a FANTASTIC cook! Boy, what I could have learned from her! I didn’t realize I could cook or even liked to cook until about 15 or so years ago.
When I left for college the doors of culinary delights were opened. I had “Mexican” for the first time courtesy of Taco Bell and Chinese via stir fried rice take-out! It would be another few years before I braved Indian, Thai and other exotic palates. And I wasn’t disappointed. Each new set of flavors seemed to out-do the last. I decided that I would try everything (well, almost everything) at least once! (PS. Don’t worry, I have since had the pleasure of really tasty “Tex-Mex” and sampled the gamut of Chinese fare.)
What I lacked in food prep prowess I made up for with my new found love of food and innate creativity. How hard could it be? Right? I mean, “Anyone Can Cook.” At least that’s what Gusteau and my favorite Rat (not to be confused with my favorite M-O-U-S-E) told me. BONUS: 10 points if you know his name without having to look it up! 😉 Yes, anyone can cook! And once you learn (the hard way – by blowing up your blender) that you have to bake the pumpkin BEFORE you can puree it for your pie, sky’s the limit.
Skip ahead several years, the beef ragout, cheese soufflé, pie, and pudding on flambé all mastered. Just kidding, you can only find that stuff in enchanted castles. And homemade pudding, although delicious (just like the grey stuff), can be a painful endeavor.
Ahem, where was I? Ah, yes… Michael and I started doing fun things to gamify life and get out of debt. We started cooking at home to cut costs and to save even more on our grocery bill I started using coupons. I discovered that I could get our meals to less than $5 per person per meal – seemed like a no-brianer. Then by meal planning using coupons and the circular I could consistently get them under $2 per person – mind blown!
It really was a fun game trying to see how low we could get each meal while still enjoying tasty, healthy dishes! We call it Eat Frugally and continue to experiment with new recipes to keep our meals as low as possible. I don’t coupon as much these days since we rarely buy items from the “middle aisles” (except a few staples like pasta, flour, etc. and some junk food – I know! I know! I love potatoes chips and don’t always have the patience to make them myself.) We have incorporated ibotta which is great for fresh produce as well as packaged items and it’s good at lots of other shopping venues too. (Sign up with that link to get a $10 Bonus and try it for yourself!)
Now that we have committed to living full time in our RV the challenges of cooking come from:
1. I purged 90% of our kitchen gadgets, pans, utensils, etc.
2. We have a fraction of counter, cooking, cabinet and fridge space.
3. You have to cook with a propane range and OVEN… o_O.
Problem #1 is really not a problem. I culled everything I didn’t use in the first place, didn’t do dual duty, or literally didn’t fit in the RV – a 16″ wide stove means the 16″ baking stone not including the handles gets kicked to the curb (I still miss you sweet, perfectly seasoned, Pampered Chef bar pan stone. sniff). Everything that’s left does it’s job and I don’t really need anything else, except a new baking stone that will fit in the oven.
Problem #2 took a little more time to adjust to. I wasn’t sure what we really needed when we started out and quickly discovered I’d actually kept too much. We’ve left a trail of belongings at various resale stores across the south and midwest in the last 4 months. I still assess what we’ve used every few weeks to see if anything else can go to free up more space. Plus I have gotten better at organizing what we do have to fit optimally. I just have to meal plan for a fewer days to make sure everything fits in the fridge/freezer which seems to work out since we move every 5–14 days.
Problem 3. Oh boy! The propane burners weren’t a big deal. It’s just like cooking with a gas range. I like it actually. I was super intimidated by the oven however. All the articles and vlogs made it seem like a big scary, waste of time. Everyone is on the Insta-Pot bandwagon (which I would like to check out eventually as well). But I like to bake and things like baked mac’n’cheese are so much better than stovetop versions!
So here’s what I have discovered about baking with an RV oven to help you conquer your oven fear and get on with baking your favorite dishes.
- Make sure your oven is level to avoid spills.
- You have to start the Pilot Light first. It’s a bit of a contortionists act to get under there but once you know where it is it should be fairly easy to get going.
- Preheat a little higher than your actual baking setting. Having the oven hotter quicker and keeping your dish at the right baking temp will keep your bake time down and will help you use less propane in the long run.
- The only way to know when you have hit the right temperature is to have an internal oven thermometer and just check after a few minutes. Think about how long it takes a regular stove and use your best guess. Once you do it a few times and have the thermometer to help check you’ll get a feel for your oven. Then you can set a timer on your phone or microwave to help remind you. (RV ovens don’t have buzzers to tell you when it’s reached the target temp or timers.)
- Turn to the actual baking temp once your dish has been placed. (see above for accurate temp reading.)
- RV ovens tend to have hot spots since the flame runs down a middle channel so turn your dishes periodically to cook evenly.
- Place a baking stone (see problem #1 above) in the bottom to help distribute the heat more evenly. The metal plate above the flame is supposed to help with this but a stone will be more effective. Be careful not to block the vent holes.
There you have it. After only a few tries I am super happy with baking in the RV oven. Granted I waited until after the miserable heat of the summer to figure this all out. I can see how it might not be optimal to bake in your oven, in Texas, in August. To solve that I say – head north for the summer! =D
I’d love to hear your RV baking tips and tricks and please share your favorite recipes!