Monday, July 24, 2006

More camping food! And a food-packing list.

High Camp

Eating is my favorite part of car camping, and I can tell you that I did not feel this way when we were young people backpacking our earnest way across the Sierras. Those were the days of freeze-dried something-or-other that was always rehydrating awkwardly in our bellies because we'd wolfed it down too soon and too fast. Those were the days of too much jerky, too little yumminess, no cold beer, and a dreaded implement we called "the dung trowel." What were we thinking?

Because now we are all about the good camping food--which doesn't mean we're always or ever especially fancy about it. In the ravenous fresh air, a hot dog browned and blistered on its stick is as good a meal as you're likely to eat anywhere. As is cheese melted stinkily on a log near the open fire and served with boiled potatoes and cornichons--our camper's version of the French dish raclette. We fry bacon on thick sheets of foil (crimp the edges up so the fat doesn't run off and catch fire), we roast potatoes and corn in the coals, we prepare various camp classics featuring the word "hobo" in their names, because what could be more enticing than the culinary output of penniless train-riding vagabonds?

We eat and eat, with a kind of righteous ravenousness born of the great outdoors: chips and salsa, crackers and cheddar, sandwiches of goat cheese, cucumbers, and fresh dill. In the mornings we sit with our muesli and our smoky fire-brewed espresso and watch the sun glittering on the pond through the trees. Under the stars, we pop corn and roast marshmallows and gaze sleepily into the flames. One year, on my husband's birthday, we even steamed lobsters in an enormous pot and ate them, dripping with butter, off of paper plates. And when it rains, there are always the clam shacks, where we stall over steamers and fried bellies and onion rings and wait for it to let up. But mostly we cook, and these three recipes here are the ones we return to over and over. If you eat them with a tent and a roaring fire and lots of gigantic clacking beetles nearby, they will be mind-bogglingly fantastic, but here's a secret: you could actually make them at home on your gas grill or in your fire place, and they'd still be good. Excellent, even.

Pie-iron Pizza
Hobo pies make a filling and delicious amusement: two pieces of buttered bread sandwich your favorite contents, then toast over the fire in a long-handled pie iron (Rome Industries, $20) to make the original, low-tech hot pocket. You can crimp any filling you like inside the crisp, delectable pies--cheese, marshmallows and Nutella, peanut butter and jelly, even tinned pie cherries--but this is our favorite:

1 small can tomato paste
Mozzarella, sliced
Favorite pizza toppings: olives, peppers, pepperoni (optional)

Butter a piece of bread, then spread the unbuttered side thickly with tomato paste before laying on the cheese and toppings. Top with another piece of buttered bread, press the sandwich into the pie iron, and toast it over the fire (ideally over hot coals), turning it from side to side, until the bread looks beautifully browned and the cheese is melted. Keep checking, and don't be dismayed if you burn the first one: it takes a while to get the hang of it, but persevere--it's so worth it.

(Variation: Chicken Parmesan Hobo Pies. On your way back from the beach, pick up a to-go order of chicken fingers from a clam shack or restaurant and sandwich them in with the tomato paste and cheese. This is the most decadent and delicious thing--a favorite of kids and grown-ups alike.)

One-pot Camp Couscous
I have been making this meal for twenty years (Twenty years! Because I am a thousand years old!), and my kids refer to it as "The Camp Dinner." You could do this over the fire, but I make it over the same teetering one-burner camp stove we've been using for decades. It's so easy and satisfying and wholesomely wonderful that the truth is I sometimes make it even when we're not camping.

Olive oil
1 onion, sliced or chopped
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Optional spices (such as smoked paprika, cumin, or chipotles)
1 14-ounce can of beans, with their liquid (black and pinto are our favorites)
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce (I use Hunt's)
1 cup of water
1 cup of couscous
1 or 2 cups sliced or shredded cheese (we use cheddar or Monterey jack)
A large handful of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
Hot sauce

Pour a large glug of the olive oil into a pot or skillet over medium heat, then sauté the onion until translucent and golden, about five minutes. Add the zucchini, salt, and garlic, and sauté another five minutes. Stir in the spices, beans, tomato sauce, and water, and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, then sprinkle or lay the cheese over the top, turn off the heat, and cover. Let the couscous sit for ten minutes, stirring once after five, then stir in the herbs and serve it in bowls with hot sauce for topping.

Packing List
A milk crate packed with:
  • Stove and fuel
  • Matches
  • Pot with lid
  • Cast iron frying pan
  • Wooden spoon, spatula, tongs
  • Can opener
  • Pie Iron
  • Metal espresso maker
  • Mini cutting board and knife
  • Half-pint jelly jars with lids (to drink from, measure in, hold bouquets, and store leftovers)
  • Metal or plastic plates and bowls
  • Paper plates (for when you can't bear to wash dishes)
  • Mugs
  • Forks, spoons, knives
  • Heavy-duty foil
  • Paper towels
  • Ziploc bags
  • Wash Basin
  • Sponge and eco-friendly dish liquid
  • Dish Towel
  • Trash bags
  • Oilcloth tablecloth
  • Candle for the table

A large plastic bin packed with:
  • 5-gallon jug of water
  • Coffee and tea
  • Sugar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Smoked paprika and black pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Oatmeal and granola
  • Marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate
  • Couscous (premeasured in a Ziploc bag)
  • Canned Beans
  • Canned tomato sauce and paste
  • Bread and buns
  • Peanut butter
  • Jam
  • Ketchup and mustard (if you forget, swipe a few packets from a restaurant)
  • Onions and garlic
  • Chips and salsa
  • Crackers

A cooler packed with ice and:
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Fruit, lemons
  • Veggies (cukes and zukes)
  • Fresh herbs
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Beer and Wine

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