Dinner is served...3 hours from now
March 22, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What to make for dinner for 4 - 6 people that can handle with a 3 hour car ride with no cooler?

A relative has died and the funeral is Saturday, at a place 3 hours away by car. I found out that one of the things I can do to help is to make dinner for tomorrow (Friday) night.

My main concern is transportation. I can make something today and freeze it but it's been unseasonably warm lately and I don't have a cooler. But mostly thawed chili or stew seems like a much better idea than having something like chilled tuna pasta salad warm up in the car. I could go to a local supermarket and buy sandwich fixings but that feels half-assed. I also don't feel comfortable arriving early and comandeering someone else's kitchen.

Extra factors:
- no lasagna (that's slated for Saturday)
- nonadventurous eaters

So what do I make? How do I get it there without spoiling and giving everyone gastrointestinal distress the day before the funeral? Thanks, MeFi.
posted by zix to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You mention a local supermarket. Could you also pick up one of the rotisserie chickens, and side stuff (biscuits, salads, etc.)? Or, bring the salad & biscuits, but only the chicken? Otherwise, I think something tomato based will be the best bet, because of the acidity. It should last a bit longer than other stuff.
posted by kellyblah at 7:27 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does the place you're going have a microwave? If it does, no problem, go ahead and make and freeze the chili or stew - it will thaw a bit in the car, but it'll still be mostly frozen in three hours, and by no means unsafe to eat.

All decent supermarkets sell pretty good prepared hot foods these days in the deli section - chicken, meatloaf, sides etc. If there's a Boston Market in the town, that's easy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:28 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy cooler, cook anything you like.
posted by bdc34 at 7:29 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your local supermarket will likely have a styrofoam cooler for less than $5, into which you can put ice and whatever food you want. So that's what I'd do.
posted by decathecting at 7:29 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree that partially frozen chili or stew will be fine.

You can get big coolers for cheap. If you really don't feel like spending 20 bucks, a Styrofoam cooler will work.

If you don't want to buy a cooler at all:

You could make a casserole the night before and refrigerate it -- don't freeze. When it's time to go, fill bottom of a giant disposable aluminum pan with ice. Wrap your refrigerated casserole like a present with aluminum foil. The entire pan should be encased in foil. Place casserole on top of ice and encase both pans as one with foil. The ice will melt but I think it will be fine for three hours.

Ina Garten's chicken stew with biscuits is a good one to make ahead. The recipe gives instructions on cooking times if you choose to make it ahead. When you get there, buy two packages of refrigerated biscuits and use those to place on top before you stick in the oven. I use Grands flaky layers (not sure if available in Canada) when I don't make homemade. I love pearl onions but tend to leave them out because a lot of picky people don't like them.
posted by Fairchild at 7:31 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

a cooked stew held at 3 hours w/o refrigeration is not going to be risky. Sure its not up to heath department standards, but it is SOP in most of the world.
posted by JPD at 7:41 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just thought of another inexpensive option. Your grocery store will likely have (most do) giant thermal bags. They are under five dollars. They are not designed to hold ice but I have filled one with ice and it worked beautifully.
posted by Fairchild at 7:45 AM on March 22, 2012

Make a giant pasta.
I know you don't want to commandeer the kitchen, but sure you could use their stove for 15 minutes to boil pasta?
Today you could make a sauce, as simple or as complicated as you want, if you're going to freeze it.
Bring a bag of uncooked pasta, boil it there. Heat the sauce on the stove or in the microwave.

A 3-hour Bolognese is awesome; would taste even better the next day. Or a simple one like a sausage pasta I always make: remove the meat from 5 or 6 hot Italian sausages, brown in a skillet, add a large finely chopped onion, bit of wine if you have it, bottle of passatta. Simmer, there's you're sauce. Toss into your cooked pasta with a chopped raddichio.
posted by chococat at 7:51 AM on March 22, 2012

Coolers are actually fairly inexpensive--you can get a plastic chest cooler for $20--25 at Target, Walmart, etc., and the foam boxes are even less, especially at a dollar store (at least, at the Family Dollar and similar places we get around Pittsburgh).

If you can freeze something and find a dollar store on the way--hell, even some gas stations have them--I would think you should be fine.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2012

Fried chicken cutlets / strips. You can also freeze them the night before, so that they slowly cool to room temperature over the drive. Plus everyone likes them and it's really good comfort food.
posted by Mchelly at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2012

Let me direct you towards this thread, and not only because my response was best-answered.
posted by 256 at 8:10 AM on March 22, 2012

Well, you're going to have to commandeer the kitchen at least to the extent of setting the table and getting the food served. So you probably have more leeway than you think you do.

That being said - does the meal have to be hot? You could lay out a very nice mediterranean spread with feta, olives, salad, rice, hummus or tzatziki, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, pita bread, dolmades, and if you have access to an oven, some spanakopita. There's enough in there for the non-adventurous, and Greek food is pretty comfort-food like. All can be purchased at the local supermarket, and assembled onsite.
posted by LN at 8:21 AM on March 22, 2012

Take a large cardboard box and double line it with two large garbage bags. Fill the garbage bags with a couple of bags of ice cubes from the grocery store ($1.50/bag). Place your prepared dinner covered with aluminum foil, in yes, a garbage bag and place it on top of the bags of ice. There, you have a disposable ice cooler that is clean, single use, safe and effective. Good luck and hope this helps.
posted by Mockinbrd at 9:03 AM on March 22, 2012

In the checkout line of most supermarket chains, they sell their store-branded reuasbale grocery sacks: $1 for regular sacks, but keep looing till you see the insulated version, usually mylar-lined, zipper-top, usually $2.

My advice would be a chili or stew, put in the freezer and pulled out maybe even Friday morning. Put in the bottom of hte cold bag, put a tupperware full of salad on top, zip the bag shut. It will still be mostly-frozen when you arrive, and you'll have quite a bit of microwaving to do, but it will be perfectly safe - as will the salad, even if it were mayonaisey potato salad.
posted by aimedwander at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2012

Thanks for the advice and assurances so far. I'm not anti-cooler, but my apartment is currently filled with a lot of boxes and rubbermaid totes due to emptying out a storage unit recently and the idea of trying to figure out where to keep another stackable rectangular thing is a little stressful.

However, I do have a smallish empty storage tote so I could juryrig that into a psuedo cooler a la Mockinbrd. I'll also look for those insulated/thermal bags just in case.
posted by zix at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2012

If you freeze what ever it is you are taking chilli or lasagne say wrap it in plastic wrap and then wrap it in a bunch of towels and blankets you most likely already have around the house. it will help keep it insulated and it will keep itself cool. If it is frozen solid when you start and you and keep it out of the sun in your car it will be fine for the trip and it will keep itself cold so you don't have to worry about ice and the like. Though the do it yourself cooler ideas others have offered are great too.
posted by wwax at 12:03 PM on March 22, 2012

If you do go the $10 styrofoam cooler route bear in mind that you don't necessarily have to go hot->cold->hot. If you put hot food (something cooked slowly overnight, for instance) in a cooler and pack it with oven-warmed towels or something to trap air, it'll hold in heat just as well as cold. Just throwing that out as a possibility.
posted by Scientist at 12:33 PM on March 22, 2012

You could make a pasta sauce (like a ragu) and bring uncooked pasta and cook them both while you're there. If you make the ragu same-day and simmer it for 15 minutes when you get there, while you're cooking the pasta, it will be 100% sterile and safe.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2012

Your rubbermaid totes can also be jury-rigged into a cooler/warmer, if they are big enough. Use newspapers or towels for insulation, add ziploc bags of ice around the pan of food.
posted by CathyG at 4:38 PM on March 22, 2012

Seriously three hours at room temp for anything cooked you really really really don't need to worry temperature control.
posted by JPD at 4:42 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nothing cooked will spoil in three hours at room temperature. Heck, I do worse to my lunch every day of the week and the food is perfectly fine.
posted by Scientist at 8:32 PM on March 22, 2012

What happened was a little bit of everything - I made some crockpot beef stew and some ground beef hash with sweet potatoes and carrots the night before and put it in the fridge.

I tried to find some insulated thermal bags at the local supermarkets earlier and failed. I lined a small tupperware storage tote with a garbage bag and put my stuff in it. We then went to Canadian Tire with the intent of getting an insulated tote and then some ice. But then my husband wanted to buy the small collapsible cooler bag that was on sale - so we did, kind of rendering the whole getting ice thing moot.

However, when we got to our destination at 6:30pm, it was apparently coffee and cake time and so dinner was delayed by several hours. My mother-in-law left the tupperware on the counter at room temperature for at least 90 minutes and then heated up the stew over the stove while I let my rice cooker do its thing. Everything turned out fine.

So ultimately, was going to juryrig a cooler, got a cooler, had to leave stuff at room temperature for extra time anyway, everything turned out okay.
posted by zix at 5:50 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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