Extreme hotel cooking...without a kitchen

Extreme hotel cooking…without a kitchen

Today’s guest post comes from my roommate and fellow travel blogger Melissa Hogan over at Suitcase and Heels. Enjoy!

I must’ve been a sight. Standing in my kitchen holding my clothes iron upside down balancing a small pot of water on it, waiting for it to boil, watching Netflix. I was testing a theory. Could you actually boil water with a clothes iron?

Turns out, give it 20 minutes and you can.

Why did I want to know this? I was about to road trip to a digital arts conference in rural Newfoundland and I was looking at five days in a hotel, eating in mostly deep-fried food joints. While I do have a weakness for onion rings, I was also trying to eat a bit lighter and save money for a trip to Europe. I figured take-out for the duration of the conference would cost me around $200.

So I started to wonder if I could assemble something resembling a real meal in my hotel room without a kitchenette. One thing to know about me, once I latch onto an idea that seems a bit offbeat I want to see it through and this was pretty off the wall.

What I’d have at my disposal was a clothes iron and a Keurig-style coffee maker. There was a mini-fridge in the room, and since I was driving, I could raid my pantry and bring my own groceries. That made things easier. If you’re flying to your destination that will definitely add another level of restriction since you may not want to pack a small cooking pot with you or pack baggies of rice and instant potatoes.

Hotel cooking

I took to Google to get some meal inspiration but most of what I found was pretty uninspiring: ramen and oatmeal with the occasional whimsical grilled cheese or quesadilla. I figured I could do better than that. I looked for versatile foods that I could mix and match into different meals. The only key was that I mainly needed one-pot meals since I only had a single hot surface on which to cook.

The Tools

The stars of the show were my camping pot and 5.5” Starfrit mini frying pan. The pan is thin enough to be heated quickly by the iron-turned-hotplate. I once cooked an egg in it using tea lights during a blackout.

Tools for hotel cooking

I also packed a spatula and wooden spoon, camping utensils, and a plate and bowl. The articles I read advocated for using heavy duty foil wrap as a pan/plate but that seemed awfully flimsy and I could just see myself having to clean half-cooked egg off the floor, and myself, so mini frying pan it was!

The Menu

Breakfast

This was the easiest meal to put together. A tub of plain Greek yogurt and some granola along with a cup of coffee and I was good to go. On more leisurely mornings I made grilled bacon (the pre-cooked, shelf staple kind), egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches.

Egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich, a la clothes iron.

Egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich, a la clothes iron.

Lunch

Next easiest to sort out was lunch, since a loaf of bread can go a long way.

Ham & cheese sandwich with soup: This one needed minimal heating and warded off a chill I picked up while on an outdoor photography workshop. Just make sure the soup comes in a can with a pull top lid, not the kind that requires a can opener. I made my ham & cheese the English way using butter rather than mayo so that was one condiment I didn’t have to pack.

Chicken & veggie ramen: I did, in fact, pack ramen, but I added some diced pre-cooked chicken and frozen mixed veggies to jazz it up and make it more filling. You could also add an egg to up the protein.

Classic dehydrated ramen dish garnished with fresh garden vegetables from the Freezr Sektion.

Supper

There were two dinners included at the conference so I only needed to sort out three evening meals.

Mexican chicken & rice: Pre-cooked chicken strips, brown minute rice, taco seasoning, salsa, frozen chili veggies. I made the rice and then I mixed in the rest of the ingredients and heated through.

International flavours -- Mexican fried rice with free-range pre-cooked chicken.

International flavours — Mexican fried rice with free-range pre-cooked chicken.

Indian curry: Brown minute rice, microwaveable veggie curry packet heated in pot, naan. Again, cooked the rice and then mixed in the curry to heat through.

Authentic Indian fare preparation.

Authentic Indian fare preparation.

Chicken dinner: Pre-cooked chicken strips, instant mashed potatoes, steamed matchstick carrots. I made the potatoes first and then steamed the chicken and carrots for a few minutes to heat up

Smashed potato with lightly-whipped butter, chicken, and glazed julienne carrots.

The Technique

I ended up only using the coffee maker to make tea and coffee and also to pre-heat water I planned to boil in my pot. Everything else was cooked on the clothes iron.

Set the iron to its highest setting (empty any water from its steamer first). Flip it upside down and you’ve got a makeshift hotplate. I used the ironing board as my “kitchen” counter since I didn’t want to accidentally burn a dresser or desk and I always kept a hand on the inverted iron to further prevent spills. I found this particular iron a bit wobbly, so I used a towel as a prop on one side. Never leave your iron-stove unattended.

Pro tip: Practice strengthening your wrist muscles before attempting to cook with a clothes iron, as great endurance is needed.

Tips

  • Use pre-cooked meats or things that are safe to eat raw since you’ll be cooking on a low heat. Save the steak for another time.
  • Don’t let the iron surface come into direct contact with your food. You don’t want to ruin the hotel’s equipment.
  • Only run water through the coffee maker – any other liquid will trash it.
  • Never leave your clothes iron hot plate unattended.
  • It takes 15-20 minutes to bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a covered camping pot so leave yourself enough time to cook.
  • While you can make separate dishes, keep in mind that you only have one “burner” to work with (and no warming drawer) so one-pot meals are your best bet.
  • Leave no trace. Any equipment should look, and smell, just as it was when you arrived.

While I didn’t feel stylish or elegant cooking my dinner on a clothes iron, I did feel pretty crafty. It got the job done and I ate relatively well and cheaply without leaving my hotel room, so I’m going to call it a win. Will I continue to MacGyver my cooking when I travel? Maybe, from time to time, but it’s nice to at least know that it’s possible if I need to.

Would you ever consider clothes iron cooking?

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