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Updated: November 26, 2013 5:17PM
For those of you traveling with food to holiday destinations, winter food packing is a little different from summer — most items are being kept hot rather than cold.
If you’re traveling to a destination within a couple of hours, keeping food hot in a cooler is very doable. For longer trips, you can buy a large food warmer that plugs into your car’s lighter.
Smaller casseroles can go into an insulated casserole carrier. For the turkey and big bakers of steaming stuffing, get a large plastic cooler and plenty of clean bath towels.
For the best heat retention, heat everything. Fill the cooler (I think they really should be called insulators, as they work for either cold or hot items) with the hottest water you can manage, and let it sit, closed, for at least 15 minutes so the insulation in the cooler can become hot through. Time it so it is hot just as your food is finished cooking.
Heat bath towels in the dryer on high.
Cook your food and then do what those in the restaurant business call cater-wrapping it. Household-type plastic wrap is not ideal for this job, instead get a roll of restaurant quality wrap. (Try Restaurant Depot or use the heaviest you can find.)
The idea of the cater-wrap is that if your pan of gravy goes flipping through the air, bouncing off every surface in your vehicle, all the gravy will stay in it and be none the worse for wear. First, pull a long sheet of wrap, about three times as long as the item you are wrapping, out of the box. Set your food in the middle of it, and bring the ends up to cross over the top of the dish.
Repeat, turning the dish sideways, making sure to cover the entire surface area of the dish. You may need to do it twice, side by side, if your dish is longer than the wrap is wide. Repeat a couple more times, just for safety’s sake.
If your dish has a lid, put the lid on and then cater-wrap it anyway. Better yet, cater-wrap the dish without the lid, put the lid on, and cater-wrap it again. For those to whom this seems excessive, the first time you drive up and down a few hills with garlic soup for 100 in the back of your truck, you’ll become a believer.
Once your food is well-wrapped, pack it in the hot cooler, padded with the warm towels. When you’re driving, it’s a good idea to lock the cooler into a seat belt, just in case. My folks once went into a ditch on a rainy Thanksgiving afternoon and wound up with a trunk full of sticky sweet potato goo.
Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to take along a food thermometer to make sure everything has stayed up to temperature. According to restaurant standards, you don’t want any hot food to drop below 140 degrees while it’s being held or transported. If it has dipped below that, reheat it immediately to 165 degrees for absolute safety.
Scripps Howard News Service