How to use your car as a kitchen
Can your car become a multicooker?
They say owning a car is bad for your health.
They argue that travelling on wheels, instead of on foot, speeds up your gaining weight and ageing.
They also say a car-centric lifestyle makes you easier to eat junk food. The fast and “furious” food. “Furious” for your body.
They claim you roll into the drive-thru more often than you would like to admit. You also hang out in your favourite burger-spots far longer than you might have thought.
They provide numbers. According to the US Food Institute, in the late 2010s, you and your millennial friends spent in the restaurants almost half of the money assigned for food. To compare, your grandparents spent only 38 per cent of the food money outside; cooking and consuming meals at home was a social norm in the late 1970s.
They try to make you feel scared for your life.
Burgers and cola which taste so good are crammed with carbohydrates. Your stomach has no problems with digesting these, but when it does so, a lot of glucose gets pumped into your blood. This increases your blood sugar and, in the long run, may lead to insulin-related troubles, excessive kilograms, and even Type-2 diabetes.
Speaking of sugar, many snacks have it in abundance. It is not your body’s best friend, though. When it gets into your mouth and interacts with saliva, some acids form. These acids erode tooth enamel and voila you have cavities. Nothing pleasant, plus bad breath. Apart from this, sugar “supplies” you with a plethora of useless calories, which lead to weight gain and, very likely, obesity.
Now, obesity. When being produced, fast food meals gain and accumulate trans fat. This is a substance which may increase your LDL (bad cholesterol), lower your HDL (good cholesterol), develop Type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Goes without saying that trans fat adds to your weight. In turn, excessive kilograms lead to problems with bone density and muscle mass. People who are obese have a greater risk of falling and breaking bones. Not to mention that obesity makes it harder to breathe and may cause asthma.
Apart from fat and sugar, fast food contains lots of sodium (salt). If you eat too much of that stuff, it will elevate blood pressure and make your heart work harder. Not a good thing. Sodium is actually dangerous for people who suffer from high blood pressure daily.
Finally, every fast food addict is 51 per cent more likely to develop depression than a person who prefers healthy food or chews burgers occasionally. Sort of disturbing statistics.
They say a car-centric lifestyle is dangerous. They advise to live without cars and to live longer. They are wrong, aren’t they?
Cars are not the reason for having health issues, but the solution! Cars do not only bring you to a drive-thru but can be converted into healthy-food cafés. Like the Citroën H Van where I buy my orange fresh and coffee during Warsaw Motor Shows. Or like the Mitsubishi Delica L300 which serves Italian pizza in the “Meals on Wheels” movie with Jackie Chan (one of the first Western movies I have ever seen in the post-Soviet space). Or like the Cadillac STS in which Richard Hammond cooked supper during the Grand Tour Special in China, black beans and cheese souse.
On second thought, I am crossing out Hammond’s supper from the list.
Cars have already become much more in your life than simply means of transportation. You made your trunk look like a warehouse, where a can of WD-40 is wrapped in your spare T-shirt. Your girlfriend uses passenger seat as a boudoir when she applies the last touches of make-up (at least, my girlfriend does it). Then there is Blee Carswell who transformed his Saab 9-5 Aero in a sort of apartment on wheels. Why not making your car a place you cook food?
So, put on your chief’s apron, pop up the bonnet, and welcome to “Academic Driving” kitchen.
Yes, yes, you read it right. Pop up the bonnet!
As you know, the internal combustion drivetrain radiates warmth when it operates. Therefore, let your engine run for 10-15 minutes, turn it off and start touching flat surfaces to find hot spots. The spot you are looking for is the one which hurts your finger and makes you pull it away immediately. Optionally, you may spray some water around the engine and observe from where it starts evaporating. Cooler spots are good for heating meals, not cooking. As a rule, professionals in engine-bay cuisine create a temperature map of their vehicles.
When I mention professionals, I mean Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller above all. These two wrote a book “Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine!” which provided me with a plethora of information for this article.
Useful tip: pre-2000s cars are rich in hot spots. In particular, these are exhaust manifolds and engine blocks. Post-2000s models have a lot of plastic elements under the bonnet, which does not work well for cooking. Exhaust manifolds, however, are always made of steel and always get hot enough.
Now, let’s speak of the size of your “frying” or “baking” space in the engine bay. On the one hand, it should be big enough to cook reasonable amounts of food. On the other hand, this space should be tight enough to grasp the food firmly so it neither gets squished after you close the bonnet nor slides when you drive (yes, right, you will cook while cruising). So, before placing edible ingredients, I recommend you to run a couple of measurements with sponge-aka-steak wrapped in aluminium foil (yes, right, wrapping is a must). If needed, you should add more layers of the foil to make food more “fixed”.
Important note: your food and foil should never touch any belts, fans, or moving parts. Also, avoid placing food on hoses as this may loosen them or even detach from their mounts. To secure your food’s position in the engine bay, you may use wires, but again, make sure they do not touch any moving parts. Goes without saying that you should not use in-car wires to secure your food.
Exhaust fumes are noxious, so you avoid them at all costs. Do not place your food anywhere close to the tailpipe’s end. Fumes do both: ruin the taste of your food and damage your health, which goes against our core idea of cooking healthy meals. Even if you try to smoke some meat or fish, as Jeremy Clarkson tried in the Grand Tour Special in Mozambique, fumes are not fit to the job. Burning petrol is not burning cherrywood, and will never be.
As a rule, Maynard’s and Scheller’s recipes are based on mileage, not minutes. This makes the in-city cooking trickier as it gets hard to count “kilometres” when you are stuck in a jam. The idling time on lights is still the time your food stays hot. Therefore, the engine-bay cooking will work great for America’s denizens who cover wide distances with no interruptions.
Do not try to cook stew under the bonnet. No matter how hard you try keeping liquids under control, they will definitely spill out somewhere. Especially if you use aluminium foil to engineer a sort of a saucepan. Then, the engine covered in the stew will stink dreadfully every time you turn it on. Some short circuits may also happen if your stew reaches sensible electronics or fuses. This said, if you decide frying meat, then a little moisture is a must. Otherwise, you will have to chew super-dry pieces of organic fibre.
Speaking of aluminium foil, you will need it a lot. My recommendation is to opt for the “heavy-duty” or the industrial-strength ones. You will have to wrap the food in several layers and add another layer every time you accidentally rip a hole. The food should be as “containerised” as possible. Therefore, the impenetrability of the foil has an enormous effect on the taste and quality of your meals.
Now, let me stop here and share some recipes from the “Manifold Destiny”.
My favourite is probably “Cruise-Control Pork Tenderloin” with the cooking distance of 400 kilometres (250 miles). This is a long journey, but a very soft and tender meal. To cook it, you will need one large pork tenderloin, butterflied, three tablespoons of Dijon mustard, two tablespoons of dry white wine, 1/2 cup of minced red onion, 2 tablespoons of fresh crushed rosemary, salt and pepper. Maynard and Scheller advise to blend together all of the ingredients, except the pork, and spread across the inside of the pork tenderloin. Then, you should close up the pork, triple-wrap in foil and place on a medium-hot part of the engine. Turn once – 200 kilometres or 125 miles – during cooking. Yum yum.
By the way, if you prefer chicken to pork, here is an appropriate recipe.
The cooking distance of the “Any-city Chicken Wings” is 225-320 kilometres (140-200 miles). This meal is known for its sweet and spicy after-taste. The ingredients you will need are as follows: eighteen chicken wings, 1/2 cup of ketchup, one tablespoon molasses (optional), one cup of red wine vinegar, one or two tablespoons of red pepper flakes, four to six minced jalapenos, three cloves garlic, one tablespoon of honey (optional), one tablespoon of oregano, one tablespoon of brown sugar, pinch of salt, fresh black pepper (optional), splash of Tabasco Chipotle sauce (optional), splash of Worcestershire sauce (optional). Maynard and Scheller advise to blend together all of the ingredients, except wings, and pour over chicken wings. Then leave the meal covered tightly in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Drain wings (save the marinade) and divide into three foil packages. Brush with marinade, then triple-wrap each package tightly and place on the medium-hot part of the engine. Yum yum again.
I have also found something interesting for vegetarians.
The meal is called “Eggs On Cheese Pie” and is presented as a breakfast food. Its cooking distance is 90 kilometres (55 miles). Speaking of ingredients, breadcrumbs (Italian or fresh homemade), 1/2 pound cubed mozzarella cheese, six eggs, six empty tuna-fish cans for cooking, a pinch of cayenne and paprika (optional), butter or spread, salt & pepper. Wash six empty tuna cans and butter the insides. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs into each can and shake to cover the base evenly. Dump out excess. Cover with mozzarella. Now crack an egg on top of each, add seasonings and spices on top, then cover with mozzarella. Wrap cans tightly in foil, place on a hot part of the engine with good contact for the base of each can, and after 90 kilometres they should be good. If not, keep driving till the cheese has melted.
If non-vegetarians also want to have breakfast, consider adding Diced Canadian bacon into each can. This is exactly what Maynard and Scheller recommend.
Feeling hungry already?
Ready for a ride?
P.S. The article was first published on "Academic Driving" tribe, Drivetribe.
P.P.S. My popular science books are available on Amazon, Ost Neer's profile.