Sunday, January 16, 2011

Handling leftovers in camp or there’s nothing better that leftover spaghetti

There's nothing better that leftover spaghetti, especially when camping. I don’t know exactly what happens, but the pasta and tomato sauce seems to age with time. It's one of those meals that tastes better the second time around.

Spaghetti also makes a great meal for the first night in camp. It heats up quickly with little fuss. Just fire up the stove, preheat a cast iron skillet and reheat the spaghetti. Toast some garlic bread and toss a salad and dinner is ready. (The recipe for spaghetti that's better leftover follows at the end of the article.)

But before you toss the pasta and sauce in the skillet, you need to understand a few rules about handling leftovers in camp. A few minutes after each meal is all you need to take care of leftover food.

Handling leftovers in camp

Leftover food must be cooled quickly. Professional chefs understand that food must be cooled through the "danger zone" in four hours or less. The danger zone is the temperature range from 41 to 135 degrees. This is the zone in which bacteria and other harmful microorganisms grow rapidly. To prevent rapid bacterial growth, chefs divide leftovers into small portions and place the containers of food over ice. This quickly dissipates the heat in the dish.

It's always best to avoid leftovers in camp. The camp cook often finds it difficult to make sure that leftovers are adequately cooled, especially in hot weather. That's the down side of saving leftovers. But, despite the best efforts of the camp cook, wayward appetites can easily foil the best-laid plans.

Saving leftovers

Few camp cooks like to throw food away. That's guidance I even find hard to follow in camp. So when you're faced with leftovers, use these techniques to save them:
  • Put leftover food away within two hours of being served. The longer food remains within the danger zone, the greater chance you have of contaminating it with harmful bacteria.
  • Place leftovers in plastic containers. Plastic transfers heat more rapidly than glass or metal. I like the Ziploc Brand 20- and 32-ounce containers. They're easy to handle and are the right size holding leftovers in camp.
  • Set the container of food directly on the block of ice to cool. This is especially important in hot weather since your ice chest may be higher than the 41-degree maximum temperature. Once the dish is cooled, you can move it to a more convenient area of the ice chest.
  • Use leftovers within three days. Bacteria growth doesn't stop in the ice chest. It just slows considerably. It's much safer to eat the leftovers within three days. If you can’t, dispose of them.
Reheating leftovers

Leftovers make great lunches. Their also ideal quick meals in camp. So use these techniques to make sure leftover are safely reheated:
  • Wash your hands. A salmonella infection -- or worst yet E. coli -- is the last ailment you want when camping. Hand washing is one of
    your top defenses against food borne illness.
  • Heat leftovers until they're 165 degrees throughout. Add a little water to the pan if the dish is dry. This will moisten the dish and help it heat quickly. Purchase an instant-read or digital thermometer for your camping set-up. It's the only accurate way to test for temperature. Cooper Instruments and Taylor USA both make thermometers for home and camp use.
  • Reheat only what your hungry campers can eat. If you have enough of a particular leftover dish for two meals, divide it in half and only reheat what your campers want. Return the remaining half to the cooler for a later meal.
  • Never save leftovers a second time. Once you’ve reheated a leftover dish, it’s best to dispose any that remains.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. All chefs recite the mantra of food service in their sleep nightly. Camp cooks and campers get sick when contaminated food is allowed to stay in the danger zone long enough for bacteria to grow.

Spaghetti is the perfect meal for the first night in camp. Prepare the sauce and pasta at home two days before the trip and cool in the refrigerator. As hungry campers set up the tent, reheat the spaghetti in a skillet. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese and squeeze a lemon wedge or two over the pasta. You'll enjoy mouth-watering tomato sauce and pasta without all the fuss.

1 pound lean ground beef or Italian sausage
1/2 medium chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces of your favorite pasta

Brown beef or sausage in a skillet over medium heat. Break up meat as it cooks. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Drain fat. Add seasoning, tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes to blend flavors. Makes about 7 cups of sauce.

In a large stockpot, boil 4 quarts salted water. Add pasta to water and reduce to a simmer. When done (5 to 6 minutes for vermicelli and 9 to 12 minutes for spaghetti), drain in a colander and rinse. If desired, mix sauce and pasta. Otherwise, serve sauce over pasta. Serves 4 to 7.

To chill — Chill leftover spaghetti and sauce within 2 hours. Mix pasta and sauce together. Place in a plastic self-closing bag or plastic container, uncovered. Cover once spaghetti has cooled. Place spaghetti into the refrigerator or ice chest and store at 41 degrees or lower. Use within 3 days.

To reheat — Place skillet over medium heat and preheat. Add leftover spaghetti. Stir often with a spoon, being careful not to scorch. Heat spaghetti until it's steaming and hot throughout (heat to 165-degrees). Serve immediately.

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