I had a funny experience on a car-camping trip this past weekend. Our companions brought the typical car camping luxuries: fresh eggs and veggies, coffee, cookset, folding chairs, etc. My boyfriend and I just grabbed our typical backpacking kit. While our friends futzed with their stove and burned their scrambled eggs and lamented their watery coffee, we had already gobbled up our simple and tasty granola-and-almond-milk concoction (topped off with fresh fruit, my idea of luxury) and rinsed out our bowls. I think the would-be chefs were a little jealous.
I very rarely bring a stove while backpacking. I love to cook at home, and have worked in many facets of the food service industry so I know my way around a kitchen, but on the trail I become an incredibly picky eater (the whole theory of "everything tastes good when your outside" never holds true for me). Trying to replicate home-cooked food on the trail is, to my mind, a losing battle. Stuff like eggs and pancakes never comes out right. Mountain House meals always feel like a rip-off to me. Seven-dollar pasta? Really? I like to pack homemade cookies and bars for breakfast, and I consume huge numbers of Clif and ProBars. Energy bars are a guilty, expensive pleasure in real life, but totally justifiable while hiking. ;)
I'm also very fond of those little Ziplock brand tupperware containers for no-heat cooking. The 8-oz capacity ones weigh less than 15 g each, and are way nicer to eat out of than freezer bags (also easier to rinse and reuse). Favourite "recipes"?
Instant Fiesta black bean mix plus instant mashed potatoes inside a tortilla wrap. Cheese and sun-dried tomatoes optional.
Instant split pea soup with toasted kasha (buckwheat), plus a little extra bouillon powder and olive oil.
Rice, bean thread, or ramen noodles with miso powder, ginger powder and dulse. Add freeze dried veggies of choice. (This requires a larger container, I find). Variation: stir peanut butter and tamari sauce into noodles. Yum.
Most of the quick-cook foods we eat on the trail have been pre-cooked. Trail cooking for most is largely a matter of rehydration, which only requires heat for psychological reasons. Throw your "ingredients" into a container with enough water to cover, let it sit in your pack for a couple hours while you hike, and you have a meal that requires virtually no effort to prepare. And, even if you do still bring a stove, it's good to have a back-up method for when the stove fails or you run out of fuel.
For those who hike in places that have direct sunlight (that is, west of the Mississippi...), leaving your freezer bag or tupperware out in the sun, wrapped something black (like that emergency trash bag) can yield a substantially toasty meal. Hey, it's hot enough to melt your chocolate, right?