Monday, July 19, 2010

Cooking while camping

I love camping even if I do far too little of it. It's an excuse to get away from all those city-driven stressors and spend a few days completely focused on the arts of fire-building, beer-drinking, storytelling and, maybe, lazy paddling.

Now, I've never been 'middle-of-nowhere, armpit-of-the-country" camping, so for the purposes of making this post easier to understand, I'm dealing with the kind of camping where you park your car on or near the site and don't have to spend 20 hours portaging to get there.

One of the great challenges I've enjoyed over the years is trying to make tasty, nigh-gourmet meals in the camping environment. With enough cheating, anyone can pull it off in the most hostile environments. Heck, I've been to Burning Man a couple of times where the only food available is that which you bring in yourself, and a group of fisherman from San Fran trucked in freah tuna every day. In the middle of the desert, with no civilization for miles around, we were feasting on freakin' sashimi! All that to say is that with the right means of transportation and enough willpower, you can make as gourmet a spread as you want just about anywhere!

But, since this is about how to make it easy, let's start with a few tools that will make it possible to cook more than hotdogs on sticks while camping.

Here's my list of basic camping dishes (for 2 people)

- cutlery for 2 (fork, knife, spoon)
- 2 bowls (I use melamine, which is a super durable kind of plastic, but dishes also come in enamelled metal, although I find they chip and rust too easily)
- 2 plates (also melamine)
- metal or plastic coffee cups (if you're coffee drinker)
- chef's knife (store securely to avoid cutting one's self, I usually fashion a sleeve out of boxboard)
- cutting board
- large cooler (to store all those goodies) and multiple ice packs
- large frying pan - cast iron is ideal since it can go on a fire, but there are ways around that
- medium pot/saucepan with handle
- tongs and spatula (I suggest getting longer tongs that you can use in the fire too)
- grill basket (good for cooking
- heavy duty oven mitts or work gloves (for handling items hot out of the fire)

Now, every good camper needs to have a camping stove. Yes, there's that lovely campfire that makes all food eight zillion times better, but it's a bit of a pain for boiling water, and it takes a bit of time to get a fire cook-worthy. I'm not going to get into the intricacies of lighting a good campfire, mostly since that's not my forté.

So, get yourself a camping stove! I'm a big fan of the butane burners/stoves. Here's an example of one. There are also propane stoves out there. Go to a local hardware or camping supply store (or Wal-Mart, if you have no soul) and pick up some sort of source of flame independent of a campfire. You'll be glad you did.

Also, just in case you don't have access to a picnic table or whatnot, I suggest bringing some sort of portable folding table on which to prep and place the stove, etc. A card table works well.

So, now that you have the equipment, what you eat is up to you! But here are a few suggestions:

1) Whiskey Steak: If you refer to my April 30 post, you'll find the recipe for the marinade. The day before you want to eat the meat, mix ingredients in a large ziploc and keep in a cooler well-stocked with ice or icepack. Let marinate for a day or so and cook on the fire. Remember to discard the marinade, DON'T pour extra marinade on the meat. It might be full of nasty bacteria, especially when kept in a cooler.

2) Shrimp and veggies: Using the grill basket, cook together a bunch of peeled shrimp and cut veggies, pretty much the same as described in my April 30 post (Ok, I admit it, there isn't much difference from cooking on the grill and cooking on a campfire).

3) Fire-kissed lobster: Buy frozen whole lobsters, crack all shells (use a nutcracker-type dealie, or prertty much anything!), extract all meat from bodies, discard carcasses in the fire (as to keep the gourmet bears away!). Using grill basket or skewers, heat meat over fire until hot (but not charred), serve with LOTS of garlic butter (Gay Lea makes a good pre-made garlic butter).

4) Bacon Wrapped Peaches: see June 5 post. In this case, the grill basket is invaluable. Place the peaches in the basket over the fire.

5) Homemade Sausage Patties

I got this recipe from the LCBO's Food & Drink magazine 4 years back and brought them camping with some friends and they were AWESOME! Just grill them over the fire using the grill basket or whatnot, or fry them up as indicated in the recipe. What I did was make the patties the day before we went camping, put them in a tupperware, then cooked them up for breakfast. When they're ready, put them on paper towel to soak up excess grease. If going over the fire, that step probably won't be necessary.

Maple Pork Sausage Patties

NOTE: Covered patties keep well in the refrigerator for up to a day. Patties can be frozen on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet; then peeled off and transferred to a plastic bag. Defrost when needed and sauté as in recipe.


1 shallot (or half a small onion)

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 lb(500 g) lean ground pork

2 tbsp (25 mL) dry white wine

1 tbsp (15 mL) maple syrup

¾ tsp (4 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) dried sage leaf, finely crumbled

½ tsp (2 mL) coarsely ground black pepper

2 tbsp (25 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley

1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) canola or peanut oil


1. Peel and finely chop shallot. Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat until bubbly; add shallot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat; cool.

2. Stir pork with white wine, syrup, salt, sage, pepper, parsley and shallot mixture; mix well with a large wooden spoon. Line a flat baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Divide pork mixture into 8 portions; shape into patties about ½-inch (1-cm) thick. Cover and chill for several hours.

3. Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Without crowding pan, sauté patties in batches, turning occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned and crispy. Add more oil as needed.

Serves 6 to 8

So, there are some ideas beyond the traditional hot dogs and marshmallows. I hope you enjoy them! Remember, feel free to ask me any questions or point out if I've missed anything.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

BBQ Sauce from scratch!

Hello again!

As you may or may not know, I love to make as much of my food from scratch as possible. I think it has to do with being able to control what goes into it. Now, as you saw a few moths back on my post about ribs, there are a plethora of store-bought BBQ sauces that are pretty darned delicious. But they use a lot of salt and sometimes preservatives. Also, there is something to be said about the freshness of a homemade sauce.

This Canada Day (July 1), I smoked 3 racks of ribs using a rub of equal parts berbere spice and brown sugar. I've done this a few times and the ribs with just the rub work really well and have a nice smoky/spicy flavour. Serving the ribs dry with no sauce is commonly known as the Memphis style and it's damn simple. Just smoke/slow cook for a few hours, and serve! But, the past two times I've made a 'finishing' sauce that I serve on the side of the ribs. And, it's that much better with the sauce.

Now, that being said, I can't see why you wouldn't use this sauce in any situation that calls for BBQ sauce, especially when dealing with pork or chicken on the grill. Like a lot of my favourite recipes, I adapted this one from Marcus Samuelsson's Soul of a New Cuisine and it includes a healthy dose of berbere spice as well.


- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4-5 fresh ripe tomatoes, minced or pureed
- 1 onion finely minced or pureed
- 4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced (or put more if you like; a friend once told me you can never have too much garlic)
- about 2 tbsp worth of minced fresh ginger (a piece about 5 cms long, 1.5 cms wide)
- 1-2 cups dark beer (I recommend Tankhouse Ale or Upper Canada Dark)
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 3-4 drops liquid smoke
- 2-3 tbsp berbere spice
- 1/2 tsp crushed or ground coriander seed
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/8 cup honey
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
- 1/8 cup molasses
- 3-4 tbsp brown sugar


- Heat oil on medium heat in medium saucepan
- Saute onions until transluscent (about 5 minutes)
- Add tomatoes, ginger & garlic and bring to simmer
- Add beer, spices, cocoa, and liquid smoke and bring to simmer
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 35 mins. Stir in brown sugar and simmer for another 5-10 minutes
- Add maple syrup, molasses and honey and simmer for another 10 mins.

If you want your sauce to look like store-bought BBQ sauce, puree the sauce using a hand blender, but this does nothing to change the flavour. Keeps up 3 weeks in the fridge (the reason it doesn't keep for a year like most industrially made sauces might have something to do with salt not being one of the main ingredients).

Serve beside ribs or brush onto chicken or pork while grilling. Not sure how well it will go with beef, fish or shellfish... Really good on scrambled eggs though!

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Too hot to cook

Hey dudes and dudettes, It's about 35 degrees (42 with the humidex) in Ottawa today, the kind of day where the only cooking you're doing is in your clothes. Where the person with the pool wins.

On such a day the last thing you want to do is cook, even on the grill. It's a day of salad and cold food.

Now, you've got a lady/gentleman friend coming over to... I don't know... hang out in your freezer? Well, you need to serve something tasty, right?

Well, with that in mind, here are a few ideas for days like today. All these meals should be served with a fresh baguette, loaf of sourdough or ciabatta buns. Or whatever bread looks tastiest at the bakery... If you need to top the bread with anything, I suggest Boursin cheese - Garlic & Fine Herbs.

1) Greek Salad

Dead easy to make and tasty. There are a number of variations, but traditionally it's a combo of cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, olives, green peppers and feta cheese.

In this version, I'm replacing the green peppers with red, because of you're anything like me, raw green peppers are the LAST thing you want to eat on a date! Also, omit the red onion if you wish.

Raw onion isn't exactly what your breath needs when trying to seduce, and I also find it can overpower the other flavours.

Here's how you put it together for two people:


- 1/2 cucumber, diced into 1 cm wide pieces
- 1/2 red onion, sliced or diced (optional)
- 1 small red pepper, diced (OR use roasted red pepper from a jar if you prefer)
- 12 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
- 2 tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces each
- 100 grams crumbled feta cheese

- Assemble all veggies in 2 bowls (try to make it pretty!), top with feta


- 2 tbsp olive oil (highest quality is best for dressings, see my second post - I suggest buying a large bottle of so-so quality stuff for frying/sautéing, a smaller bottle of higher end for dressings)
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 2 wedges worth)
- pinch dried basil
- pinch dried oregano
- pinch sea salt
- black pepper to taste
- a few drops balsamic vinegar (optional)

- Whisk all ingredients together with a fork

- Top salad with dressing, toss and serve

NOTE: I've also added cut up pieces of Genoa salami to the salad for extra flavour (don't do this if your date is a vegetarian!).

2) Saffron Gazpacho I'm cheating a bit with this one, it's actually a recipe a lady friend made and she got it from the following site: I'm reprinting it anyway.

Now, gazpacho is cold soup, a concept which often hurts the brain of less adventurous diners. But it's delicious and amazingly refreshing on really hot days. You can find saffron at most gourmet grocers or produce stores. It's not cheap but a little goes a long way and it adds an earthy flavour to most foods that's quite interesting.

Saffron Gazpacho


- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon instant vegetable broth powder (this is a handy ingredient to have in many soup recipes, which we'll touch on in a few months when the weather's right for it)
- 1/3 cup finely minced red onion
- 1 small garlic clove, finely minced, or 1 large roasted garlic clove
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 lbs. ripe plum tomatoes, trimmed, halved, and seeded
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
- 1 cup coarsely chopped roasted red bell pepper
- 2-3 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste - chopped chives for garnish


- Rub the saffron threads between your palms into a small bowl. Add the broth powder, onion, and raw garlic (if using). Pour the boiling water on top and stir. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes.
- In a food processor or blender, puree the saffron mixture, plum tomatoes, roasted garlic (if using), cucumber, and roasted pepper. Transfer to a glass storage container and stir in vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. (The gazpacho should have a slightly acidic edge.) Cover and chill before serving. Garnish with chives.

3) Antipasto plate

From Wikipedia: Antipasto (plural antipasti), means "before the meal" and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal.

An antipasto-style plate makes for a great light dinner or lunch and is quite good for sharing. the best part? You make NOTHING; it's all buy-and-assemble. Well, mostly. Listed are some of the items you'll find on a traditional antipasto plate. All can be found at Italian grocers and usually the supermarket.

- artichoke or palm hearts
- pickled eggplant
- pickled, marinated or fresh mushrooms
- cheese, namely Provolone, Mozzarella, Pecorino and Bocconcini
- sliced Genoa salami (or whatever other salami floats your boat)
- sliced Cappicollo ham
- sliced Prosciutto
- roasted red pepper
- green olives
- cured black olives
- fresh basil

...and what ever else you feel like! As long as it's Mediterranean.

Basically take all ingredients, drain excess liquid from the marinated/pickled items, pit the olives if necessary and arrange it all nicely on a plate. You might want to roll up sliced meats for ease of handling. Serve with chilled wine or some other cool drink! Enjoy!