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Holiday Cooking in Your RV
Right around the time the last piece of Halloween candy has been devoured, it is time, (in my humble opinion,) to crank the holiday music and start planning the festivities. Although we are living full-time in an RV, we can still prepare delicious holiday feasts! I feel pretty confident with maximizing my kitchen space after two years on the road, but wanted to consult an expert for some meal-prepping advice for the holidays!
I sat down with John D'Hondt, the Executive Chef from JC's Riptides restaurant in Florida, to share some tips and tricks for meal planning with big flavors, even when your space is small! His southern-style family restaurant specializes in fine steaks and seafood, and is beloved by locals and tourists alike. Since John knows his way around the grill, I had him spill the beans about how to maintain your grillmaster status even if you choose to move a holiday entree outdoors for cooking.
John D'Hondt, Executive Chef, JC's Riptides
If you're preparing a turkey on the grill this year, you probably don't have room in the RV kitchen for a bucket of brine. Opt for a dry brine! John recommends a light coating of kosher salt and spice on your bird, and then leaving it uncovered in the fridge for 24-48 hours. This technique will result in tender, juicy meat with a classic brown, crispy skin. While we all know the thickest part of the turkey breast (or any poultry you prepare) should be 165°F, the USDA advises that as long as your turkey spends at least 3.7 minutes at or above 150°F, it is safe to eat. In other words, considering the resting time your turkey will still be at a high temperature, don't feel the need to overcook at 165°F for any length of time.
Speaking of thermometers.... ya know that plastic pop-up one that likely came with the turkey? Toss it. Use a more trusty digital meat thermometer (some can even communicate with your phone!) or an old-school long probe variety. You may want to calibrate your thermometer by placing it in a glass of ice water for at least 30 seconds to ensure a 32°F reading.
Don't forget your drip pan! John recommends a pan underneath your bird to catch those juicy drippings. Add carrots and onions, water, white wine, and the organ meat 'innards' your turkey likely came with. This drip pan can act as a buffer from the direct heat of the grill, increase the humidity within your cooking space, and best of all- when your turkey is ready, you can strain the contents of this pan to make amazing gravy!
Don't feel like grilling? Depending on the size of your turkey, cut it into sections and cook in the air fryer! Regardless of how you plan on heating your meal, John suggests making delicious stuffing separate from your bird. Stuffing the turkey before it's heated is an easy way to make absolutely delicious stuffing... inside an overcooked turkey. Because the inside of that stuffing will need to reach 165°F, chances are, you're drying out that potentially juicy white meat. For an extra pop of flavor, add fresh sage leaves under the skin before cooking.
If you're like me, the turkey is nice and all.... but Thanksgiving is really all about the sides! John has a favorite go-to option that is sure to please your entire guest list: killer homemade mac n' cheese. We tried this recipe using our portable induction burner outside, and it was definitely worthy of your holiday feast! First, make a roux by melting butter, then adding equal part flour and cooking for a few minutes until the color gets a little darker. Whisk in your heavy cream or milk (depending how decadent you want this mac to be!) and stir continuously for a few minutes until it thickens. Add your desired type of cheese, then a little more cheese, and maybe just a little more cheese for good measure. Add some dry mustard, paprika, salt & pepper, and (<insert chef's kiss here>) you're all set. Just in case cheese-covered pasta needs a bit more carbs to do the trick for your table, finish with some breadcrumbs! This whole delicious side can be baked in a cast iron skillet right on the grill. Using the indirect heat of your grill for baking is a game-changer for holiday meals!
Another trick to consider in a small space is to utilize some ready-made options and then doctor them up at home! Grab yourself some Costco mashed potatoes which can simply be microwaved, as opposed to peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes inside that coveted kitchen space. Add some garlic, parmesean or boursin cheese, or other fixins your family loves to make it your own style.
Even when you have great recipes, sometimes it's difficult to manage multiple dishes cooking at once in a small space. John had a few tips on how he stays organized when the dinner rush begins in his restaurant. Start your "mise en place," or prep work, a day or two before the big day. (I wrote that in my best Anne Burrell voice... did you hear it?) Any gathering of ingredients, chopping, dicing, or preparing your workstation that you can do ahead of time not only saves you time, but also saves your counter space! Begin with writing a list of your menu and how long each item needs your attention in the kitchen, then start cooking the longest item first to get going! Don't be afraid to use timers, especially since you may be using a combination of indoor and outdoor kitchen tools. Some dishes, like your turkey, need to rest after cooking or can tolerate waiting half an hour before serving. Other items are best served piping hot directly to the table. When you write down your game plan, you can avoid that last-minute scramble and forgotten components on your table. (Why is it so difficult to remember the rolls!?)
Whether you're rocking dinner in your tiny RV oven or using the wide open spaces of the outdoors, we hope your tiny space is filled with big flavors! Do you have a favorite RV kitchen tip that helps you prepare a holiday feast? Any recipe that you'd like to share? Join in the comment section to share the love. We hope your holiday celebrations include wonderful food and happy campers around the dinette table! (And pie.)