Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Food - Camp Style!

One of our most favorite things is eating outdoors. In the summer, we eat a lot of trailside yummies, have lots of weekend picnics, and really enjoy weekday "suppers in the park." But eating at camp has to be our number one favorite. Maybe it's because we really work up an appetite, but food is so much more fulfilling when camping.

Being the self-proclaimed "Camp Cook," I love to come up with genius ways to eat well, on a budget, and with more ease than eating at home. I've also been known to bake at camp now that we have a dutch oven, and you wouldn't believe how powerful of an aroma an applesauce-gingerbread cake has. Last time I baked that, you could smell it throughout the campground!

Which brings me to equipment. I always take a cast iron skillet, a griddle, a dutch oven, a dutch oven pan liner, mixing bowl, spatulas, cooking spoon, a small whisk, a hand-crank can opener, a coffee percolator, a good knife, cutting board, tongs and these really cool collapsible measuring cups. For supplies, I bring zipper bags, aluminum foil, non-cooking spray (and the flour kind if I plan on baking), pot holder, paper towels, Glad Cling wrap, paper plates, bowls, and cutlery.

We cook on a double-burner Coleman propane stove and the fire. I used to only cook over the fire, but one camp trip full of wet wood and cold hot dogs was enough to put a stop to that. If the campground also features individual site grills, I'll splurge and buy charcoal for the dutch oven because it's just easier to keep up with temperature like that.

My next trick is to freeze as much as I can. This helps solve a lot of the notorious outdoor refrigeration complication. When placed in the cooler with ice, they will slowly thaw - eventually being submerged in that ice cold water. I pack my frozen raw meats in zipper bags so no icky-yucky-ooey-gooey's escape into the cooler (eeek contamination!) and pack them in the bottom so they stay cold really well. I also make supper plans to use these first. Items that are full of preservatives or are precooked are placed near the top. Foods that will get gross if waterlogged are packed in zipper bags and placed in the protecting tray most large coolers come with. Dry goods are placed in a locking storage bin. We try to refresh the ice daily, and all food is packed away in the car at night. If we're just camping for a weekend, of course this list is dwindled down quite a bit. This is more indicative of a week long trip.

Now that I've discussed how I cook, here's a small sample of what I cook. You'll notice there aren't many recipes. Who wants to carry a recipe book with them camping?! All this stuff is permanently embedded in my brain, but if you have any questions, just leave them in the comments!  :-)

First Night: Pork BBQ Buns
One of my favorite camp meals! Mainly because it's so easy. The day before the camping trip, I stick a pork roast in the Crockpot, cover it with water, and turn it on low. I'll let it cook all day while I get other camping stuff together. After 8 hours or so, I drain any fat, shred the meat in a storage container, add BBQ sauce, let it cool for a bit on the counter and then stick it in the fridge. When we leave, I throw it in the cooler. After a long day playing and setting up camp, I can warm it up over the fire instead of having to break out the stove. Baked beans and potato chips help fill the belly as side items.

Baked beans are easy to warm up, too. Just open the can, cover with foil, and stick the whole thing in some embers pulled near the edge of the fire. In less than 20 minutes, they'll be hot, steamy, and ready to eat!

First Morning: Biscuits & Sausage Gravy
Another family favorite. Sausage gravy is easy to make at home if you want. I actually prefer cooking it the morning we're eating it. The subtle morning light and crisp cool air infused in the gravy makes it that much more tasty. I cook my sausage in a cast iron skillet, then add my flour and salt for a roux, then milk to thin. Biscuits are best cooked in a dutch oven. If you don't have one, you could bring biscuits from home. I usually go the easy road and pop open a can. Then I place them in an oven liner (i.e. a pie pan that fits my oven) and bake.

Use hot coals to get the temperature you need. One coal is approximately 15 degrees. The rule is more coals on top than on bottom. For example: For a 12-inch oven at 350 degrees F, you would need 10 coals on bottom and 14 coals on top.

Second Night: Sausage and Potato Packets
This one's fun and easy. I usually cut up smoked sausage, green peppers and onions at home and put in a storage bag. At cook time, I'll slice red potatoes, mix it all up in a bowl, add seasonings (I like KC Masterpiece's Steak Seasoning), wrap it in an aluminum foil packet and place on the grill over the fire. I don't let the fire hit it directly, and it takes a good hour or so to cook. But when it's done, you can eat it out of the packet and then throw it all away! Got to love easy, camp cleanup.

Second Morning: Oatmeal with Bananas
Tim and I love fresh made oatmeal. Ashby prefers the artificially flavored packet stuff. I usually make hers with boiled water, and make ours separately. The best camp oatmeal (two camp sized servings) - 1 cup of quick cook oats, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of water, 1 or 2 roughly mashed bananas, pinch of salt. Heat slowly to simmer and watch it get thick and gooey. Add lots of extras! Pumpkin pie filling is good with some pumpkin pie spice. Dried fruit (like apples and raisins) and cinnamon are good. A bit of peanut butter (if you've packed some for sandwiches) and a broken granola bar is yummy, too. Honey is a great sweetener.

Third Night: Potato Soup with Spam
Since this meal is so easy, I usually pair it up with something I bake in the dutch oven. Typically, I just open a couple cans of potato soup (pick your favorite) and add diced Spam. This can be heated on the camp stove (quickest method) or over the fire (stir often!). Not the healthiest meal, but after a long hike or a big day playing outdoors, who cares?

Third Morning: Pancakes with Bacon
At home, pancakes from my kitchen are made from scratch. One of my favorites is the Single Lady Pancake. But out camping, I'm a total spaz about things being convenient. So... I love, love, love Shake & Pour pancake mixes. I know there are ways of doing this yourself, but I'm not a total Suzy-Homemaker when camping. I get inventive, but if it's available in the store, I'm there to buy it. I also love pre-cooked bacon. Sometimes I buy it this way, but if I already have bacon, then I'll oven bake it before camping and freeze it in a storage bag. This way, it's an easy camp reheat-and-eat breakfast item that'll last all week in the cooler - if I can keep hubby's grubby hands off of it!

Yummy Dessert: Camp Doughnuts or One-Bite Fried Pies
There's not much to say about canned biscuits. They're biscuits, and that's it. At least, until you get creative! This is a messy camp food, and getting the oil back in the bottle when you're done is the hardest part, but fried biscuits (camp doughnuts) are so delicious! It's the sweet treat you'll crave. After quartering them (don't use the flaky layer kind), fry to a golden brown, deposit them in a storage bag filled 1/4 way with cinnamon sugar and shake, or drain them on paper towels, depress the center with your thumb and add your favorite fruit pie filling - sprinkle with sugar for extra sweetness (pie filling usually needs it). You can heat the filling in the fire coals while you're frying the biscuit dough.

Baking: Applesauce Gingerbread Cake - Dutch Oven Style
When you're baking while camping, you'll want to look for something that doesn't require a mixer or a ton of ingredients. I've also learned that anything chocolate will come out tasting burned. I don't know why. It doesn't appear burned, but it tastes like it. This cake is pretty much out of a box. It is extremely easy to make. All you need is a box of Gingerbread cake mix, whatever the mix requires, and a jar of sweetened applesauce (I like the cinnamon, too). I use the Betty Crocker mix because it only requires water and an egg to make, and no mixer or anything. After your coals get hot, add your applesauce to the bottom of the dutch oven. Mix the cake ingredients and slowly add them to the top of the applesauce. The applesauce keeps the bottom from burning. Now bake by placing your coals on and under your oven. Remember that rule about less on bottom, more on top? It's really important here. Too much heat on the bottom will burn your cake. In fact, if you have access to a charcoal grill, I suggest placing your coals under the grate and placing your oven on top. They have to be really close though for this to work, but it does help.

If you have any questions or want to share one of your favorite camp meals, we'd love to hear it! Just leave it in the comments.

Happy Camping!

Robin & Tim