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Reviews > Food > Packaged Meals > Cache Lake Foods - 2007 > Test Report by Carol Crooker

CACHE LAKE FOOD
TEST SERIES BY CAROL CROOKER
FIELD REPORT
December 06, 2007

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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Carol Crooker
EMAIL: cmcrooker AT gmail DOT com
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Phoenix, AZ
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)
TORSO LENGTH: 19 in (48 cm)

For the past 8 years, I've backpacked about 30 days each year. My trips were from 2 to 28 days, with my usual trip being 3 to 6 days long. Most of my trips have been in Arizona with the High Sierras, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Pennsylvania, and New York thrown in for variety. Weather has varied from 107 F to a low of 0 F (42 to -18 C). Most of my backpacking trips are solo. My three-season base pack weight varies from 10 to 5 pounds (5 - 2 kg), depending on the weather and trip length. My winter base pack weight is about 16 pounds (7 kg). I use a tarp for shelter all year round.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Cache Lake Cornucopia

Manufacturer: Cache Lake
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.cachelake.com/


No Cooking RequiredMSRPCalories per package (two servings)Net Weight listed on package oz (g)Actual Weight oz (g)
Outfitter's Choice Banana Cream Pie$3.505044 (113)4.7 (133)
Outfitter's Choice Chocolate Pie$3.254944 (113)5.0 (142)
Quick & Tasty Pudding, Vanilla$1.954164 (120)4.2 (119)
Quick & Tasty Pudding, Lemon Cream$1.953184 (120)4.3 (122)
Outfitter's Choice Peas & Carrots$2.65341.5 (42)2.2 (62)
Quick & Tasty Cheesy Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon$5.507406.4 (182)6.6 (187)
Wild Rice Vegetable Salad$5.50224 + salad dressing packets3.5 (100)6.0 (170)
Calls for Simmering
Outfitter's Choice Beef, Vegetables & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes$5.955485.6 (158)6.6 (187)
Outfitter's Choice Beef Stroganoff$6.506625.8 (164)6.3 (179)
Outfitter's Choice Chicken Noodle Casserole with Vegetables$6.755546.6 (187)7.7 (218)
Outfitter's Choice Chicken Ala King with Rice$6.75 4007 (199)8.3 (235)
Really Tasty Chicken Stew (recommended to eat with Really Tasty Dumplings)$5.754225 (142)6.0 (170)
Really Tasty Dumplings$2.954403.2 (90)3.2 (91)
Calls for Frying
Outfitter's Choice Sloppy Joes with Fryin' Pan Buns$6.306646.4 (181)10.7 (303)
Outfitter's Choice Hash Brown Egg Scramble$4.764486.7 (190)6.7 (190)
Sweet Potato Corn Bread Fryin' Pan Bread$3.95 3006.5 (190)6.9 (196)
Wild Rice Pancakes with Real Blueberries$5.95 4326 (180)8.6 (243)
Curried Sweet Potato Latke$3.757486.4 (182)5.1 (145)

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I am not a gourmet chef or even a good cook. I knew before the Cache Lake food arrived that instructions for some of the foods would call for more than my typical cooking method of just adding boiling water and letting the food sit till it rehydrates.

Still, when I started looking over the food selection and instructions I panicked for a second. Most of the foods require frying or extensive (five minutes or more) cooking/simmering after the water boils. Some of the preparation instructions are quite complex - at least they seem that way to me. The Sloppy Joes include buns that get fried as well as five minutes of cooking for the Sloppy Joe mixture. Reading the pie instructions I was dismayed to see that the pie crust gets fried, then relieved to read the Quick and Easy instructions where the crust is just dropped on top of the rehydrated filling with no cooking required.

Four of the six dinners call for bringing food and water together to a boil. The two noodle dinners call for adding ingredients to already boiling water.

Each packet contains two servings. Calories for the whole packet range from 34 for the Peas & Carrots to 748 for the Sweet Potato Latkes. Dinners are in the 400 to 800 calorie range. I like to eat a main dish for dinner of about 400 to 500 calories. I may split up the Beef Stroganoff (662), Sloppy Joes (664) and Chicken Stew packet plus Dumplings packet (862) into two meals.

The packaging is sturdy plastic with ingredients separately bagged within the main package in many cases. The packages do not have rip open tops and will require a knife to open. Packages are compactly sized to the contents.

If the listed net weight is accurate, packaging weight adds up - up to 4.3 oz (122 g) for the Sloppy Joes. (I'll weigh some of the emptied packaging during the test to determine actual package weight.)

I normally repackage commercial freeze dried backpacking entrees from their foil pouches to freezer zipper bags to save packing space and about half an ounce (14 g) per meal. The Cache Lake foods are efficiently packaged as is.

The entrees with vegetables include a nice variety: peas, onion, carrot, celery, green pepper, leeks and tomato.

Of the 18 food packets, 13 are vegetarian, including the Sloppy Joes which use TVP - textured vegetable protein.

Many of the foods are "Outfitter's Choice." From what I can see, these foods come with a plainer label and are available in four-person packets.

The Cheesy Sweet Potatoes are ready in five minutes and provide a whopping 740 calories.

The packages have a "Sell By" sticker on the back. Everything is good till at least summer 2009.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Cooking directions are listed on each package. The instructions appear detailed and clear. Field testing will determine if this is the case.

Several items include a quicker/easier set of instructions. For example the Wild Rice Vegetable Salad has no-cook instructions where the rice is soaked overnight in the included zipper pouch, as well as the instructions for cooking it in 15 to 20 minutes. The pie crusts can be cooked in a fry pan or just sprinkled over the filling with no cooking. (Guess which method I'll use.)

TESTING STRATEGY

My plan for testing this food is to see if a non-cook using lightweight gear can make it taste good enough for a hungry hiker to enjoy. I will often depart from the label directions in order to simplify or lighten the cooking process (e.g. use a lighter stove, fewer or smaller pots, less fuel, less attention and skill). I will also cook some dishes according to package instructions so I can test how Cache Lake intends the food to taste.

After my initial panic at the complex instructions, I broke the foods into cooking categories (see table) to more clearly see what I was up against. I was relieved to find that seven items can be made without any cooking.

The bread, pancakes and latke call for frying but I'll steam bake some of them instead using an alcohol and/or wood stove. I'll also try frying just to see how badly I can burn them.

The Hash Brown Egg Scramble calls for boiling, cooking, and then additional frying for best taste. I've steam baked freeze dried or dried egg mixes, added hot water and drank them, and even tried some fried per the directions on several occasions. Even though I love "real" eggs the eggs haven't tasted that great and only rebelliously sat on my stomach after each of these cooking methods. So, I plan to cook the Cache Lake eggs as directed to give them the best chance of agreeing with me.

The final product that calls for frying is the Sloppy Joe buns. I'll try frying at least one set of the buns and maybe try steam baking the other two (top and bottom) buns.

All six dinner entrees call for more cooking after the boil, up to 10 to 15 minutes more. I'll try several shortcut methods: pop the boiling food/water into an insulating cozy and let it sit; boil water, add the food, bring it back to a boil and let it sit; and depending on how well food rehydrates with those methods I may also cook a dish with my standard add boiling water and let it sit method (never getting the actual ingredients to a boil). Testing will determine if any of these techniques result in adequately rehydrated Cache Lake food.

The Chicken Stew instructions call for 10 to 15 minutes of boiling on reduced heat with the Dumplings dropped in and cooking too. I plan to split this high calorie dish and cook half as directed using a wood stove for the sustained boiling. I'll try one of the above short cut methods with the other half and steam bake dumplings while the stew is cooking in a cozy.

I'll be using a variety of stoves and pots and methods with an aim to determine the lightest cook setups that result in a palatable meal. One of the driving factors is the pot size required. The Sloppy Joe mix can be made in my typical cook pot - the Snow Peak 600 ml (20 oz) titanium cup. The Chicken Noodle Casserole requires 3 cups (709 ml) of boiling water and will need a 1 qt (1 L) pot or larger depending on which short cut method I use.

I will use alcohol and wood stoves for the most part, but bring out the canister stove when simmering as instructed.

Anticipated pot/burner combinations:
- Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 alcohol stove with Snowpeak 600 titanium cup
- PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove with FireLite SUL-1100 titanium pot
- Bushbuddy Ultra 5 oz (142 g) Wood Stove with FireLite SUL-1100 titanium pot
- MSR SuperFly canister stove and AntiGravityGear 2 qt (2 L) aluminum pot

SUMMARY

The Cache Lake food is nicely packaged and has certainly caught my interest with the variety of flavors and types. I'm eager to get into the woods and start cooking...and eating!


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1
Buns fried over an adjustable alcohol stove.
September 27 and 28, Blue Ridge Reservoir in north-central Arizona
This trip introduced my two-year-old niece and an adult friend to backpacking.
Steep, rocky forest trail descending less than a mile (2 km) to the reservoir with a 100 yd (90 m) paddle across to the camp site.
Elevation about 6700 ft (2040 m).
Clear and hot with temperatures into the low 80s F (27 C) and down to 45 F (7 C) overnight.
Starting pack weight including packraft but not a ginormous tent (which I carried in my hand) or toddler (whom I only had to carry a little bit): 33 lb (15 kg).
Cook gear: MSR SuperFly canister stove, AntiGravityGear 2 qt (2 L) aluminum pot and 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan.

October 10 - 13, Wilderness of Rocks on Mt Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona
Rocky trails in forest and boulder fields.
Elevation 7400 - 9100 ft (2260 - 2770 m)
Clear with temperatures from the 80s down to 44 F (29 - 7 C) overnight.
Starting pack weight: 20 lb (9 kg).
Cook gear: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot and 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan.

November 12 - 15, Pisgah National Forest, Mount Mitchell area, North Carolina
Very rocky trails usually covered in dead fall foliage and sometimes flooded or muddy.
Elevation 2800 - 6600 ft (850 - 2000 m)
Cloudy and rainy with temperatures from the 50s (10 - 15 C) down to freezing.
Starting pack weight: 20 lb (9 kg).
Cook gear: Bushbuddy Ultra wood stove and FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot.

November 30 - December 2, near Blue Ridge Reservoir in Coconino National Forest, north-central Arizona
Forest trails, waist deep stream crossing and two swim crossings.
Elevation about 6700 ft (2040 m)
Nearly constant rain with temperatures from the low 50s to high 30s F (11 - 3 C)
Starting pack weight: 20 lb (9 kg).
Cook gear: Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 alcohol stove with Snow Peak 600 cup and 6 in (15 cm) aluminum plate/fry pan.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I list below the amount of water needed to prepare each meal since that largely determined the size of my cook pot. Some of these meals (if both servings are cooked) require too much water to be prepared in my typical pot - a Snow Peak 600 cup.


BLUE RIDGE RESERVOIR

My first Cache Lake outing was also my two year old niece's inaugural backpacking trip. I invited along another adult to help keep an eye on my wicked fast niece. The backup babysitter just so happens to be a very good cook. With her help, I planned to cook a few dishes using a canister stove and following the instructions exactly so I could see how Cache Lake intends the food to taste. Things didn't go exactly as planned ...

OUTFITTER'S BEEF STROGANOFF
INSTRUCTIONS: Bring 2.5 cups (590 ml) water to a boil, add noodles and beef, decrease heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, add sauce mix and stir briskly for 1-2 minutes.
EQUIPMENT: MSR SuperFly canister stove and AntiGravityGear 2 qt (2 L) aluminum pot
COOKING: Everything proceeded as planned except it took 12 minutes of simmering to cook the noodles. It was very nice to be using a canister stove with an adjustable flame.
RESULTS: The Stroganoff had a nice consistency and good flavor although it tasted a bit salty. Even my finicky niece ate her fair share. There was enough to fill all three of us (two adults and a toddler) up.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.3 oz (9 g)

OUTFITTER'S CHOICE HASH BROWN EGG SCRAMBLE
INSTRUCTIONS: Place vegetables and bacon crumbles into frying pan, add 1.5 cups (355 ml) water and mix, stir in egg mix, bring to boil, decease heat and cook 8-10 minutes until water is absorbed. For best flavor add oil and fry both sides until golden brown.
EQUIPMENT: MSR SuperFly canister stove, 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan, and MSR Folding Spatula
COOKING: The fry pan was just barely big enough and it took quite a while to carefully stir the egg mix into the other ingredients before cooking. The water was absorbed only 2 minutes after boiling. The potatoes were cooked nicely and had some texture. Longer cooking as suggested in the directions (possible at a lower heat I believe) would have made them softer as some might prefer them. I forgot oil - I normally only bring in the winter - so I couldn't follow the crisping directions.
RESULTS: Great! A really good flavor with more than enough for two to eat. The hash browns gave the eggs substance. This meal sat on my stomach just fine which is a first for any kind of backpacking egg breakfast I've eaten.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.3 oz (9 g)


WILDERNESS OF ROCKS

I used an alcohol stove with adjustable flame as a lighter option than a canister stove, but still with some temperature control.

CHICKEN ALA KING WITH RICE
INSTRUCTIONS FOR RICE: Boil 1 cup (237 ml) water, add to rice, let stand 5-7 minutes.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SAUCE: Add 1 3/4 cups (414 ml) water to vegetables and chicken and bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes, add sauce mix, stir and cook till thickened.
EQUIPMENT: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen with FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot
COOKING: I boiled all the water at once, then poured a cup off into the rice. I added the chicken and vegetables to the hot water, brought it back to a boil then lowered the flame and simmered for 4 minutes - when the 2 fluid oz (59 ml) of fuel I started with burned out. I covered the pot and let it sit for a couple of minutes, then added the sauce mix and stirred it vigorously, breaking up lumps. I put the cover back on the pot and my fleece hat over the pot to act as a cozy. I came back from some camp chores in 10 minutes and sat down to eat.
RESULTS: Everything was cooked properly. This was good solid food but with no particular pizzazz. I ate about two-thirds and was plenty full. The rest tasted good at lunch the next day. It did not taste too salty even though there were 1,318 mg of sodium total.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.5 oz (14 g)

IMAGE 2
Sloppy Joes ready to eat.
WILD RICE VEGETABLE SALAD WITH RANCH DRESSING
INSTRUCTIONS: Soak the wild rice in 1 cup (237 ml) of water inside the zippered bag at least 8 hours. Add vegetables and soak 10 minutes. Pour off excess liquid and mix in a separate container with the salad dressing. (Can also be prepared in 15 - 20 minutes by boiling.)
EQUIPMENT: Plastic cup for mixing.
COOKING: I added water to the zipper pouch with wild rice and vegetables at dinner time.
RESULTS: I ate the salad for breakfast the next morning. It had a chewy, crunchy, vinegary, ranch dressing taste and texture I liked. It has plenty of calories including 320 calories from the two dressing pockets - all fat. The zippered pouch was a nice touch providing a convenient covered container for soaking the rice.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: Less than 0.6 oz (14 g) which is the weight including residue in the dressing packets.

CACHE LAKE OUTFITTER'S CHOICE SLOPPY JOES WITH FRYIN' PAN BUNS
INSTRUCTIONS BUNS: Add 1/2 cup (118 ml) water to bread mix and mix well. Place 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil into frying pan, divide batter into four equal parts and place in frying pan, flatten each one slightly. Fry buns over medium-high heat until oil sizzles, decrease heat to medium-low and fry approximately 3 minutes or until buns rise and top is set. Flip each bun over and fry approximately 2 minutes or until center is cooked and bottom is golden brown.
INSTRUCTIONS SLOPPY JOES: Bring 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) water and Sloppy Joe mix to boil, decrease heat and continue cooking 5 minutes or until water is absorbed. Serve over buns.
EQUIPMENT: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen, 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot, and MSR Folding Spatula
COOKING: I cooked half of the meal for dinner on each of two nights.
First dinner: Two buns fit fine in my 7 in (18 cm) skillet; there wasn't room for four. The frying went surprisingly well - the secret was the "heavy" pan. It took 8 minutes on one side for the buns to look cooked instead of the called for 2 minutes. I wasn't sure what "top is set" meant but I figured it meant the buns lost that shiny wet look. The pan was not level so one bun cooked in oil and the other cooked on the dry pan. Both buns cooked fine. The bun in the oil had a crisp bottom. The Sloppy Joe mix cooked in the advertised 5 minutes. The meal required 1.5 fluid oz (44 ml) of fuel.

IMAGE 3
Steamed bun.
Second dinner: I steam baked half a bun which was one muffin cup worth. I'd need a wider pot to steam bake both at once. I used three rocks in the bottom of my pot to support a muffin cup and added water to the top of the rocks. Once the water boiled in the covered pot, I turned down the flame and kept the water boiling to steam the bun. I steamed it for 10 minutes since I didn't fear over cooking the bun, but probably half that time would have been enough. I fried the other half bun and even got a little fancy, splitting the bun and toasting it.

I ran out of fuel when the Sloppy Joe mix water was hot but not boiling. I poured the hot water over the Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) mix and it rehydrated fully in five minutes. It was soupy since none of the water evaporated so I'd use less water than called for if I used this method again.
RESULTS:
First dinner: Very satisfying! The taste was good but not spectacular. The texture was the real draw for this meal along with the novelty and sense of accomplishment. The buns looked like biscuits so I split one in half and ate it with honey while waiting for the Joe mix to finish cooking. I split the other bun in half as well and poured the Joe mix over the rest of the three half-buns and ate out of the skillet. The crispy buns were especially nice - I picked them up and ate them like an open faced sandwich.

Second dinner: The steamed bun tasted fine but it wasn't as pleasing to bite into as the fried buns. The Sloppy Joes tasted very salty the second night. It could be that much of the whopping 3800 mg of sodium in the mix settled to the bottom of the package and ended up in the second meal.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.4 oz (11 g)

WILD RICE PANCAKES WITH REAL BLUEBERRIES
INSTRUCTIONS: For maximum flavor, soak blueberries in water separately. Add 1 cup (237 ml) water to mix and stir until just blended. Cook pancakes on lightly oiled fry pan over medium heat. Turn when bubbles form and cook another minute. Makes six to seven 4-in (10 cm) pancakes.
EQUIPMENT: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen, 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan, MSR Folding Spatula, and plastic cup for mixing.
For muffin: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot with three rocks in the bottom, muffin cup, and plastic cup for mixing.
COOKING: I followed the instructions using half the mix for one meal and made three generous pancakes on 1.5 oz (44 ml) of fuel. For another breakfast, I added less water than called for and steamed one muffin cup of mix, then added a little more water and fried two more pancakes. I steamed the muffin by adding the mix to a paper lined foil baking cup resting on three rocks in the bottom of my pot. I added water to the top of the rocks, covered the pot and boiled the water to produce steam.
RESULTS: The pancakes were fluffy, the blueberry flavor was faint, but the sweetness was just right - not too sweet. Serving size of three pancakes was enough and 8 grams of protein per serving is nice. I steamed the muffin 5 or 6 minutes and it was cooked through. It had less of a blueberry flavor than I expected (I soaked the blueberries separately for each meal.)
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.3 oz (9 g)

IMAGE 4
Steamed blueberry pancake.
OUTFITTER'S CHOICE BANANA CREAM PIE
INSTRUCTIONS:
FOR ULTIMATE TASTE: Add 1/2 cup (118 ml) water to filling mix in a bowl, stir briskly for 1 minute and set aside. Put 1/2 tablespoon (7 ml) of oil into frying pan. Put dry crust mix into frying pan, pat out to 5-6 in (13-15 cm) diameter and cook on medium heat till oil sizzles, spread filling on crust and cook till heated through.
QUICK AND EASY: Prepare filling as above. Put filling on crust mix or sprinkle crust mix on filling.
EQUIPMENT: PackaFeather FeatherFire adjustable flame alcohol stove and windscreen, 7 in (18 cm) Mirro non-stick fry pan, and plastic cup for mixing. I needed only the plastic cup and a spoon for the Quick and Easy method.
COOKING: I cooked one serving for "ultimate taste" and used the quick and easy method for the second serving.
RESULTS: The pudding has a really great taste and includes chunks of real banana. The cooked crust definitely adds a nice flavor and texture but it's not worth the effort for me. The pudding tastes very good with an uncooked crust.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)

OUTFITTER'S CHOICE PEAS & CARROTS
INSTRUCTIONS: Pour boiling water over vegetables and let sit 3-5 minutes. Can also be eaten as a dry snack.
EQUIPMENT: None
COOKING: None
RESULTS: I ate this right out of the package, dry. The taste was surprisingly nice with a little crunch. The carrots were cut so small that they were hard to get a hold of; I prefer larger carrot chunks. There are only 34 calories for the two-serving pack which, for me, doesn't justify the space these would take in a food sack.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)


PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST
IMAGE 6
Dumplings cooking in Chicken Stew.


On this cool North Carolina trip, I used a wood stove both to try cooking the Cache Lake food with a fairly unadjustable heat source (given my skills at any rate) and since there are no restrictions on taking used wood stoves as checked baggage on the airlines (as opposed to used alcohol stoves).

REALLY TASTY CHICKEN STEW
INSTRUCTIONS: Place 3 cups (710 ml) water in a 1 1/2 quart ( 1.5 L) cooking pot. Add stew mix to water and stir. Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat and boil for 10 to 15 minutes or until desired consistency.
EQUIPMENT: Bushbuddy Ultra wood stove, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium Cookpot
REALLY TASTY DUMPLINGS
INSTRUCTIONS: Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, add 1/4 cup (59 ml) water and mix well. Drop dumplings by the spoonful into boiling stew. Cook on one side 5 minutes. Turn them and cook on other side approximately 5 minutes.
EQUIPMENT: Bushbuddy Ultra wood stove, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.1 oz (3 g)
COOKING: I split the meal in half and cooked the first half according to directions except I used an extra half cup (118 ml) of water to ensure there was enough liquid to boil the dumplings. Another night, I added boiling water to the other half of the stew which was in a plastic cup covered by a cozy. While the stew continued to cook in the cozy, I steamed the dumpling mix in a bean dip can balanced on three rocks in the bottom of my cook pot.
RESULTS: The stew had lots of corn-sized bits of veggies and chicken. The portion size was satisfying. It tasted a little too salty (1612 mg of sodium in each stew serving with an added 220 mg in the dumplings). I mixed the dumplings I boiled wet and sticky. I made two large dumplings and one tiny one. They more than doubled in size while boiling. The dumplings cooked through in 11 minutes, but I like a more solid dumpling and would mix a drier dumpling next time.

The stew cooked in the cozy just fine. I steamed one large dumpling. It cooked through in 10 minutes, then I broke it into chunks and let it soak in the stew for 10 minutes (while I moved under my tarp since it had started to rain). These dumplings were more solid and to my liking. This second cooking method does not save on time or complexity over the Cache Lake recommended method unless only the stew is cooked. PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)

IMAGE 5
Beef, Vegetables & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes.
OUTFITTER'S CHOICE BEFF, VEGETABLES & GRAVY WITH MASHED POTATOES
INSTRUCTIONS: Add 1.5 cups (255 ml) water to vegetables and beef, bring to boil, decrease heat and cook for 5 minutes. While mixture cooks, bring another 2 cups (473 ml) water to boil and add to potato flakes. Stir just to moisten and set aside. Add gravy mix to vegetables and beef, stir briskly until thickened (approximately 1 minute). Serve vegetables and gravy over potatoes.
EQUIPMENT: Bushbuddy Ultra wood stove, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot
COOKING: I boiled the water for the vegetables and beef first, then added it to the vegetables and beef mix in a plastic cup inside a cozy made of Reflectix (tm). After two minutes I stirred in the gravy for 10 seconds, then later stirred it vigorously for 20 seconds more. I left it in the cozy for about 15 minutes. In the meantime I heated the potato water (since I've read that it takes less fuel to do two smaller boils instead of one big one) and added the potatoes to the water once it heated. I had intended to boil the potato water but only got it hot before I inadvertently let the wet-twig-fueled fire go out. Once the potatoes hydrated I dumped the vegetable and beef mix on top.
RESULTS: The pea-sized beef chunks were fully hydrated, the leaks chewy and the onions had a bit of nice crunch. The gravy had thickened even with my abbreviated stirring. This meal nearly filled my 1 liter pot to the top. I was full halfway through and felt like an over stuffed turkey after forcing myself to finish the whole thing. The potatoes were nothing special. I preferred the vegetable and beef mix alone since it had more flavor.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.4 oz (11 g)

CURRIED SWEET POTATO LATKE
INSTRUCTIONS: Add 1 cup (237 ml) water to mix and mix just until blended. Let batter sit 1 - 2 minutes, then cook just like pancakes on a lightly oiled fry pan or griddle over medium heat. Turn when bubbles appear and top appears set.
EQUIPMENT: Bushbuddy Ultra wood stove, FireLite SUL-1100 Titanium pot
COOKING: I dumped the whole package into a cup and thoroughly mixed it before cooking only half (one serving) since I could see that the ingredients were not premixed. I steamed half the mix in a plastic Betty Crocker Warm Delights Mini bowl. The bowl fit perfectly in the bottom of my 1 liter pot supported on three stones. The bowl held about three muffin baking cups worth of batter (half the mix) perfectly. I steamed the first batch 12 minutes one morning and the second batch 15 minutes the next morning.
RESULTS: I tasted the uncooked mix and did not like it - the curry taste was too strong. Cooked, it had a great taste and felt very warming rather than over powering. The first batch was not quite done in the center. The second batch was done through. From my past experience, a single muffin cup of batter takes about 5 to 6 minutes to steam cook. I used a bowl which holds about three muffin baking cups worth of batter since my pot was not wide enough to steam more than one muffin cup at a time. Multiple muffin cups in a wide pot might cook faster. The Latkes have 8 grams of protein per serving. I like more protein for breakfast, so I supplemented with nuts.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)

IMAGE 7
Steaming the Curried Latke over a wood stove.
QUICK & TASTY CHEESY SWEET POTATOES WITH CINNAMON
INSTRUCTIONS: Add 1 cup (237 ml) water to mix and stir. Set aside for 2 - 5 minutes then sprinkle cheese crumbles on top or mix into potatoes. Mix with hot water to serve warm.
EQUIPMENT: Mixing container
COOKING: None
RESULTS: Mmm, mmm good! I had half for lunch and the second half the next day for a very hurried late breakfast/lunch on the go. This meal had the consistency and look of pecan pie filling and really stuck to my ribs. I loved the taste. The dried cheese adds protein and a very pleasing crunch to the mix. One serving kept me going for hours.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)

QUICK & TASTY PUDDING, VANILLA
INSTRUCTIONS: Add pudding mix to 1 cup (237 ml) water, mix thoroughly with wire whisk or fork, beat vigorously for 1 minute. Let set 1 - 2 minutes.
EQUIPMENT: Mixing container
COOKING: None
RESULTS: Very good. I like these puddings!
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.1 oz (3 g)

OUTFITTER'S CHOICE CHOCOLATE PIE
INSTRUCTIONS:
FOR ULTIMATE TASTE: Add 1/2 cup (118 ml) water to filling mix in a bowl, stir briskly for 1 minute and set aside. Put 1/2 tablespoon (7 ml) of oil into frying pan. Put dry crust mix into frying pan, pat out to 5 - 6 inch (13 - 15 cm) diameter and cook on medium heat till oil sizzles, spread filling on crust and cook till heated through.
QUICK AND EASY: Prepare filling as above. Put filling on crust mix or sprinkle crust mix on filling.
EQUIPMENT: Mixing container
COOKING: I used the cold prep method and mixed the crust into the filling.
RESULTS: Yummy! The sprinkled on crust added a nice crunch.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.2 oz (6 g)


BLUE RIDGE RESERVOIR NOVEMBER/DECEMBER

I used a more typical lightweight stove setup for me on this trip - a nonadjusting alcohol stove with a titanium cup as a pot.

IMAGE 8
This Corn Bread muffin cooked fast in a titanium cup.
OUTFITTER'S CHOICE CHICKEN NOODLE CASSEROLE WITH VEGETABLES
INSTRUCTIONS: Add vegetables, chicken and noodles to 3 cups (710 ml) boiling water and bring to boil. Decrease heat and simmer 5 - 7 minutes or until noodles are done. Stir in Chicken Gravy Mix and cook 1 - 2 minutes or until thick.
EQUIPMENT: Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 alcohol stove with Snow Peak 600 cup
COOKING: I put half the dry mix and half the gravy mix into a plastic cup with cozy, then added boiling water. I stirred vigorously for 10 seconds or so to break up the gravy clumps. I let the mixture sit in the cozy 26 minutes - longer than intended but I lost track of time listening to a book on my iPod shuffle.
RESULTS: The casserole was ready to eat by the time I took the lid off the cozy. The noodles were a bit gummy and nice and thick - perfect for me. I really enjoyed the noodles as a nice change and the typical crunch of the Cache Lake veggies. The taste was salty and the portion size was filling.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.3 oz (9 g)

SWEET POTATO CORN BREAD
INSTRUCTIONS: Add 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water to corn and bell peppers in cup or small bowl and allow to hydrate. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly with fork and add 1/2 cup (118 ml) water and mix well. Stir corn and peppers into batter. Place 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of oil in 8 or 9 inch (20 - 23 cm) fry pan. Put batter into fry pan and pat with fork until batter fills bottom of pan. Fry bread over medium-high heat until oil sizzles. Decrease heat to medium-low and fry approximately 3 minutes or until bread rises and top of bread is set. Flip bread over and fry approximately 2 - 4 minutes or until center is cooked and bottom is golden brown.
EQUIPMENT: Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 alcohol stove with Snow Peak 600 cup for batch one and a thin aluminum 6 inch (15 cm) plate/fry pan for batch two
COOKING: I presoaked the peppers and corn before mixing them into the batter.
Batch 1: I steam baked the batter in a muffin baking cup resting on three small stones in the bottom of the titanium cup.
Batch 2: I fried the batter in lots of oil in the thin aluminum plate resting on top of the Caldera Cone meant for a Snow Peak 600 cup.
RESULTS:
Batch 1: Cooked through after 5 to 6 minutes of steaming. Excellent taste with a nice corn meal texture. I loved the added corn but the peppers did nothing for me.
Batch 2: This experiment was performed at home after my backpacking trip. It was raining cats and dogs and the wind was howling on my trip and I didn't want to mess with a pan of hot oil balanced on top of a Caldera cone under my tent's vestibule in those conditions. I had success with a heavy (8.3 oz/235 g) coated fry pan earlier in this food testing process, but in non-test conditions I'm not likely to carry such a heavy pan. The aluminum plate from a cheap cook set I picked up somewhere only weighs 1.8 oz (51 g) and is more likely to make into my pack. I thought it might be possible for me to fry the bread without burning it in the aluminum pan over the Caldera Cone since the 12-10 stove burns cooler than many alcohol stoves, the pan would be held far from the flames, and the Cone would funnel heat to a fairly large portion of the pan bottom.

Surprisingly to me - it actually worked! The bread came out cooked through without burning the bread or the pan. It tasted great and I liked the taste of the red peppers in this fried batch of bread. Half of the mix was the right amount for this pan and made a substantial snack.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.3 oz (9 g)

IMAGE 9
Frying Corn Bread over a Caldera Cone.
QUICK & TASTY PUDDING, LEMON CREAM
INSTRUCTIONS: Add pudding mix to 1 cup (237 ml) water, mix thoroughly with wire whisk or fork, beat vigorously for 1 minute. Let set 1 - 2 minutes.
EQUIPMENT: Mixing container
COOKING: None
RESULTS: Great. The pudding had a nice tangy, sweet lemon flavor.
PACKAGE WEIGHT: 0.1 oz (3 g)

SUMMARY

There wasn't a single one of the 18 supplied dishes that I had any trouble eating. I really enjoyed a lot of the dishes, but generally found the casseroles and stews just Ok. The weight- and volume-efficient packaging was a real hit, although it was slightly inconvenient to have to pull out something sharp to open them. I really appreciated Cache Lake's attention to texture with added crunch in several types of dishes.

I often split the two-portion packages into single servings in the field. I found I needed to mix the ingredients from the whole package thoroughly before splitting meals since it appears the ingredients are added separately and don't have room to mix during shipping and handling. I also needed to carefully store the unused portions to prevent spilling. I rolled the packages shut and squeezed them in a zipper bag holding something else, but rubber bands would also work.

What I like:
Sweet potato flavor!
Efficient packaging - no need to repackage to save weight.
The best dried egg dish I've ever eaten backpacking.
Added crunch from crunchy veggies, crust for pies and dried cheese in the Sweet Potatoes.
Thick noodles.
The thick and tasty puddings and pies.
Although the directions included multiple steps and heavier cook gear than I like (like a frying pan), all the dishes could be cooked with simpler and/or lighter gear and come out fine.

What I don't like:
High sodium content and salty taste of many entrees.
Needing to have something sharp to open packages.
Lots of packaging to open, e.g. four packs inside the main package for the Chicken ala King.
Needing to pour out dry mixes to mix ingredients before splitting into portion sizes.
Lack of more exotically spiced dishes (with the exception of the Curried Sweet Potato Latkes).

CONTINUED USE

The products that were my favorites and I'll seek out for my typical light and easy trips are the puddings and pies, the Cheesy Sweet Potatoes, Hash Brown Egg Scramble (the best egg dish I've ever had in the backcountry!), and possibly the wild rice salad for something completely different.

For trips where I'm willing to carry a bit of extra cook gear and pay a little more attention to cooking I might take the Sweet Potato Latke and Sweet Potato Corn Bread mixes or anything else Cache Lake makes with sweet potatoes.

I'll pass on the various casseroles and stews which were just Ok. I like spicier entrees with less sodium.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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Reviews > Food > Packaged Meals > Cache Lake Foods - 2007 > Test Report by Carol Crooker



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