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.


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