Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Camp Cooking

We used to camp a lot. But then we bought a house. I haven’t yet figured out how these two things are related exactly, but there it is. We started camping again last year, and just returned from this year’s trip, where we met our friends Ryan and Judy. I love it. I love being outside, I love the quiet, I love being away from my computer and my cell phone. I even to a certain degree love the campfire smoke that infects everything – everything – that goes with us. I love the stars at night, eating outside, and reading by the open fire. And when I say “camping”, I’m referring to car camping, just so you know.

This year’s camping trip concentrated a little more on food than in the past; I baked while camping, and my husband Eric, who does all of the cooking in our house, did more food prep at home before we left. Both experiments were (for the most part) successful.

The first morning we had pancakes. Nothing fancy. I considered making a scratch mix, but the recipe I prefer to use at home calls for egg whites, and I didn’t want to mess with that while camping, so I just used a store-bought mix.

Carnitas one night consisted of – well, Trader Joe’s Carnitas, found in the deli section, about $4/1 lb. First a few onions and cilantro were sautéed over the campfire. (He later remembered he’d packed garlic and cumin, but forgot to use it.)

Add a little cabbage seasoned with vinegar, diced green chiles, salsa, add a squeeze of lime, and you’ve got a fine camp meal.

That night I made buttermilk biscuits for the next morning’s biscuits and gravy. Baking this at home I would have made them the same day and served them warm, but I figured this was acceptable. We were supposed to be camping, after all.

I measured out all the dry ingredients at home and transported them in a Ziploc bag. I added a stick of butter, sealed the bag, worked in the butter with my fingers, then added the buttermilk.

I have to stop here to talk about buttermilk for a minute. Why is it not available in pint-sized cartons? Who needs a quart of buttermilk? If I’m faced with a half-full carton of buttermilk in the refrigerator, I’m bound to come up with something to bake. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t appreciate the pressure. Usually I end up cheating and use the milk-vinegar method of creating exactly the amount I need.

So I add the milk into the bag and mix.

And I make a huge mess trying to extract the dough from the bag. I hadn’t thought about that. I ended up cutting the bag and scooping it out with a couple of spoons. Next time I’ll have to use a mixing bowl.

Since I was working with a seasoned Dutch oven (thanks, Judy!), I didn’t bother to add butter to the pan before setting it into the fire.

The next morning Eric heated them up a bit before serving them with the sausage gravy he had prepared before we left.

Sooo good served with eggs.

The big experiment was blackberry cobbler. I’ve discovered a huge sunny patch of berries on my dog walk route, so I collected a few days’ worth of berries before we left, found a random Dutch oven recipe online, and crossed my fingers. Again, I mixed all the dry ingredients before we left. We got to camp and I realized I didn’t have enough sugar to add to the berries, so Judy came up with the brilliant idea of using some of the sweetened condensed milk I’d brought for her coffee.

I melted butter in the bottom of the pan, added milk to the dry mix, then poured that on top of the milk and poured the berries on top of that.

Into the fire it went.

Have you started laughing yet? The fire was WAY too hot. The recipe called for a certain number of briquettes on the bottom, and a certain number for the top. We didn’t have any briquettes, so I just decided to stick it in the fire and keep an eye on it. It became obvious pretty soon that if we were going to be able to eat any of it, we’d be salvaging the middle. About 30 minutes into it the center was still soup, and Ryan asked, “Do we still have s’mores?” Thankfully, yes, we did. I took these the next morning.

A total disaster, but it makes for a fun camp memory. I’ll probably try it again next year, but not without practicing it at home first.

Other homemade camp food highlights included oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and ginger-sesame-honey toasted almonds. (3-lb. bags of raw almonds from Costco are a gold mine!)

Who says you have to eat like crap when you’re camping?!

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