The Gear Junkie: Cache Lake Camping Food

Oil popped and bubbled in my frying pan. Four burners flickered ablaze under pots of bubbling noodles and stew. It was a Wednesday evening, and I was at home taking NPO Foods' slogan "Camp food so good you'll want to eat it at home!" quite literally.

The company's line of Cache Lake dehydrated camping food (www.cachelake.com) is a notch above the culinary fare I tend to eat on trips. Dishes like sweet potato latke, wild rice soup, chicken stew, scones, blueberry pancakes and chocolate pie can be decadent in the great outdoors.

They can also be a pain to prepare, requiring frying pans, pots, a spatula, oil, measuring cups, measuring spoons and other items not usually brought along while camping.

But for canoe trips, car camping and leisurely backpacking trips, this ilk of quality dehydrated food adds hugely to the experience.

I cooked up a few dishes first in my kitchen to test for taste as well as ease of preparation.

First up was Sloppy Joes with Fryin' Pan Buns, a $6.30 package with pan bread and a vegetarian faux-beef dish flavored with some spice. Preparation required a pot for water to warm and hydrate the "beef," and a fry pan for the bread.

Though a bit salty, these sloppy joes would be a luxurious treat in the woods. The pan bread is good enough to eat alone. Add the meat mix--which is simple to make--and you have hot sandwiches to serve as the main portion of a meal.

Next, I made a side dish of Peas & Carrots. This $2.65 pouch of dehydrated vegetables can be eaten dry or cooked with a bit of hot water. It was easy to make, though kind of pasty and mushy on the tongue. Not a ton of flavor or nutrients here.

Beef Stroganoff was my other main dish. The Cache Lake version--made with noodles, chunks of beef, mushrooms, and a cream sauce--goes at $6.50 for a two-person serving.

Essentially, you boil the stroganoff noodles then pour in the beef/mushroom/sauce packet to stir. It's easy to make and very filling. Taste was again salty, though satisfying and good.

My last Cache Lake experiment--the $3.25 Chocolate Pie mix--was the biggest failure. You add oil to a crust mix and then cook it in a fry pan. Pudding is mixed separately in a bowl, and combining the two at the end makes--in theory--a to-die-for dessert dish.

But whether it was user error or not, my pie crust stayed too mushy and oily while it tried to fry in the pan. It never hardened, bubbling and then eventually burning a bit before I poured in the pudding.

I ended up eating the pudding alone, spooning it out of the oily, burnt shell below. For what it's worth, the chocolate pudding tasted quite fine.

In the end, despite the pie mishap, I give NPO Foods a thumbs up. Its line of camp food is sometimes difficult to prepare. There's extra preparation effort, and clean up will be a pain. But it's good and hearty food overall.

And starting at just $2.65 per item, the Cache Lake packets are about the least expensive outdoors food on the market.


Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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