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Posted: July 21, 2013

Campfire gourmet: How to eat well in the woods

Written by: Staff Reports photo

[by Katy Kelleher]

In my years of camping, I’ve learned one very important thing: “roughing it” is a relative term. Some people like to head out into the woods with nothing more than a BB gun and a hatchet. Those people are nuts. Other people bring the bare necessities (I’m talking hot dogs, buns, and beer). However, there is a third type of outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman, let’s not discriminate!) and that’s the campfire gourmet. I am of the third kind.

When I go camping, I like to make the entire experience as pleasurable as possible. I bring several bottles of wine – all sealed with a screw top for easy access – and enough groceries to cook a complete meal. I’ve eaten foil-cooked filet mignon, skewered haddock chunks, and fresh spinach fritattas, all while battling black flies and perching uncomfortably on half-rotted logs. While food seems to always taste better outdoors, this food tastes particularly delicious when eaten under the stars. The fact that it’s already delicious probably helps some.

Want to learn to eat well while in the woods? Here are a few recipes to kick your camping up a notch.

Photo by Katy Kelleher

A note on tools: For the following recipes, you won’t need anything more than tin foil, wooden skewers, a nice, sharp pocket knife, and a surface for chopping. It’s possible to make do with paper plates, but it wouldn’t kill you to bring a small plastic cutting board, would it? Also, make sure you have plenty of napkins, forks, and knives. You’ll also need to bring some olive oil, so I suggest buying a small bottle for your trip. For seasoning, stop at any gas station along the way and stock up on those little salt and pepper packages. Maybe grab some ketchup and Italian dressing (it can be used as a marinade or a substitute for olive oil) while you’re at it.

Steak Me Out

You’ll need:
2 nice, tasty steaks (choose a thick, fatty cut)
4 shallots
1 package of cremini mushrooms
1 bottle of marinade
1 lb small red potatoes
Aluminum foil
A good swiss army knife

For this meal, you can either make two foil packets, or use a pot to cook the potatoes. Since I’m trying to simplify things, let’s say you just have foil. The first thing you want to do is cut the potatoes into quarters, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Put them on a large piece of foil, and pour some oil on the taters, making sure they are well coated. Once you’ve folded and sealed your foil packet, place it into the coals of the fire (or on the grate over the fire, if you have one).

You’re going to do a similar thing with the steak. First, pat it dry and season it with lots of salt and pepper. If you have a grate, you can cook it right on there, turning it like you would on any grill. If you don’t have one (or if you happen to suck at grilling, like I do) you can cook it in foil. I like to slice the mushrooms and shallots incredibly thin and put them on top of the steak before wrapping it in foil. I’ve also had good luck cooking it in marinade. However, make sure you choose a flavor that will go well with the smoke. No matter what you do, your meal will have a certain woodsy, charred flavor because the smoke will get into the foil, and even if it doesn’t, it will be in your nose and hair and everything will taste like woods. It’s part of the beauty of camping, so embrace it! Pick up a nice, earthy sauce and a bold tannin-rich bottle of red wine.

But how will you know when your potatoes and your steak are done? Since the heat of your campfire varies wildly, this is going to be an imprecise number. The general rule of thumb is to flip your steak after seven minutes, and check it after 15. The potatoes are easier, since even if you overcook them, they’ll still taste good. Flip the packet frequently, and check it after 20 minutes. When the potatoes are fork-tender, they are ready to eat.

Fish On A Stick

You’ll need:
2 lbs cubed white fish (choose something firm, like cod or haddock)
1 onion
1 zucchini
1 red pepper
2 lemons
1 bag of delicious thick-cut potato chips
1 package long wooden skewers, soaked
Italian dressing for marinade (optional)

The nice thing about cooking food on skewers is that it’s so very easy. Cut the white fish into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Cut the onion and pepper into similarly sized pieces. The zucchini should be sliced into circles, about 1/2-inch thick. Cut one lemon into very thin circles (we’re talking as thin as you can go). Once the skewers are soaked, you can start sliding on your veggies. Start with zucchini (it cooks the fastest), then a slice of red pepper, next onion, lemon, and finally the white fish. After your fish, throw on another slice of lemon, onion, red pepper, and zucchini. Leave enough space at the bottom so you can comfortably hold the skewer over the fire. If you decided to bring some Italian dressing, you can coat your skewers in it after they have been assembled (the oil makes everything slick and harder to handle, so save this step for last). Now all you have to do is cook your kabob! Hold it over the fire, turning frequently. If you’re not sure whether it’s done, try flaking the fish with a fork. If it starts to fall apart, it is definitely done and you can slide the edibles off the stick and get down to business. Pair with thick potato chips and a few bottles of summer shandy.

Photo by Katy Kelleher

Sausage Fest

You’ll need:
1 package of cooked chicken sausage
1 red pepper
1 yellow onion
4 ears of corn
1 jar of good mustard (I like whole grain mustard, but just buy whatever kind you like best)
1 fresh baguette
Wooden skewers

30 minutes before you want to start cooking, throw the corn, husks and all, into a bucket of water. This will prevent the husks from burning.

While the corn is taking a bath, chop the pepper and onion into thin strips. Place them on the center of a 12″ square piece of foil and pour a little olive oil over the top. Add salt and pepper and whatever other seasonings you may have on hand (dried oregano tastes nice, as does garlic powder). Fold the foil to form a packet, and place on the outskirts of your fire or on the grate.

Now back to the corn. If you have a grate, you can place them directly on top, still in their husks, and cook for 20 minutes. If you don’t, remove the husks and silk and wrap the cleaned corn tightly in foil. Using a shovel, carve out a space for them in the coals. Cover the foil husks with coals and let them steam for 30 minutes.

When everything else is almost ready, you can spike your sausages on skewers and hold them over the fire until they are nice and toasty. Since they are pre-cooked, you don’t need to worry about cooking them all the way through. When they’re warm and a little bit crispy, remove the veggie packet from the heat and open it very, very carefully. Slice the baguette down the middle, leaving a connecting piece so that it forms a bun. Let the juicy, oily vegetables soak the bottom of the bread. Top with a chicken sausage and some mustard. Get your corn out, and commence stuffing your face. Be classy and pair it with a nice cold bottle of Grüner Vetliner, served out of solo cups.

For desert, do like the natives do and toast up some marshmallows. Bring dark chocolate with chips of bacon (yes, this is a real thing) if you want to get extra-creative. Enjoy!

Photo by Katy Kelleher

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