Friday, August 08, 2008

The Seven Principles of Awesome Camping Food

This summer has been all about city vacations for me (Toronto, Seattle, Vegas coming up in 10 days!), and no camping yet. But I've been meaning to write about last year's camping food successes for, well, a whole year now. I figure that even if I don't get to cook around a camp fire this year, all of you might be heading out to do that right now, and might want a little inspiration... if so, these seven principles are my jealous gift to you.

1. Don't be afraid to go for luxury.
While Camping in Beverly Beach, Oregon, we had a craving for seafood risotto. So, after a long hard day of playing frisbee and jamming on the gorgeous beach...

...we ran to the nearby grocery store to pick up shrimp, scallops and clams, arborio rice, chicken stock, wine and sheep cheese. Then, all it took was some patient stirring at the picnic table while working through our supply of Miller High Life, and voila! The most decadent seafood risotto. It does take longer than hotdogs, but it's easy to keep a spoon going while you're chillin' at your site and watching it get dark. I wrote down the recipe in my sketchbook that night, with plans to share it here (better late than never!) – look for it at the end of this post.

2. Get ingredients as fresh and local as you can (your uncle's garden is perfect).
This is why it's good not to plan all of your meals ahead of time – you never know when you may be treated to a tour of someone's garden and handed big bunches of rainbow chard to take with you!

After a leisurely wander around Kaslo on this sunny morning, we said goodbye to Uncle Steve, took our garden bounty, and continued the great BC roadtrip on to Redstreak campground in Kootenay National Park. Once we set up camp, opened a bottle of cold white wine, consumed the requisite potato chips and chopped the veggies, we saw the sun falling behind the mountains and decided dinner could be delayed for a walk. It was gorgeous, and so worth having to eat by lamplight. The chard we sauteed up with some onions, yellow zucchini and peas, and then served it on boiled new potates, with sheep's cheese grated on top. Yum.

Sometimes the campsite itself offers up fresh goodies, if you know what to look for. As soon as we arrived at Blanket Creek Provincial Park (near Revelstoke) Tessa ran off and started filling her hands with thimble berries. They were so delicate and pretty! A perfect unplanned accompaniment to pancakes the next morning...

3. Your dish bucket makes a great salad tossing and transporting machine, and those foil wrapped garlic breads do have a place it turns out.

I can still taste this salad. It was perfection – healthy tasting enough to offset the day's beer and caesar intake, quick enough that we could run down to the dunes with it to catch the sunset, and delicious enough that I remember it a year later.

So, if you also want something to go well with a caesar and a sunset, grab some spinach, cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion, smoked salmon, feta, and a loaf of garlic bread. Everything except the bread gets thrown into your dish bucket and shook up with some dressing (I think we bought ginger dressing?) while the bread sits in the campfire for a bit. Then just grab it all, run to the beach and chill. And try not to spill your caesar in the sand...

4. Get Inventive.

A campsite is the perfect place to try crazy on-the-spot ideas. You have limited ingredients and tools, you're in a different state of mind, and you're far enough away from home that no one but your camping collaborators will know if it happens to turn out not so amazing. In the case of our tequila glazed bananas to go with French toast, an early morning "hey, why don't we just throw some of that in" turned out incredibly amazing.

I think a cast iron skillet is one thing that definitely deserves a spot in the packed-full car. It's just so fun to cook over an open fire with a cast iron skillet. Feels really old school. And it's great for that charred look that's so important (more on that later).

Doesn't that look amazingly delicious?

5. Indulge.
Holidays are always about indulging, and when on a camping roadtrip you've gotta just stop whenever something tasty catches your eye. Because, why not? Two examples:

a) After a huge greasy breakfast in Newport, OR (including questionable "white gravey" with biscuits, uh....) we spotted this crazy strawberry pie at the counter. It was so tall and shiny and red, we just had to have it. It definitely glammed up our picnic table, and gave us an excuse to lounge around lazily post-pie.

b) Driving through the Okanagan is all about indulging in fruit. In peachland we were determined to find a big box of organic peaches to gorge on. We did find them, at a little farm down a windy dirt road, and man were they good. Sitting in the back of the car, eating something sooooo juicy, dreaming of another swim in the lake... nothing's better.

6. Bring random stuff you love and it goes a long way, day after day.
Mom, smart mom that she is, packed a cooler full of our favourite yummy things, with no particular plan for what would happen to them. That meant we got to spread out all this great stuff lunch after lunch and test every possible combination. My top creation? Mini bite-sized sandwiches with a piece of cheese, a chunk of smoked fish, and fresh herbs. Sitting in front of Emerald Lake, I alternated between smoked tuna and smoked salmon, feta cheese and that other sheep's cheese we had, basil and well, maybe it was all basil. But every bite was soooo good.

7. That burnt taste is an essential part of the camping aesthetic.
Okay, so when it was my turn to cook the pancakes, Mom and Tess mentioned that they were a little, hmmm, black. But I swear, that was entirely intentional. I maintain that a little charcoal flavour must be present in all camping food. Otherwise, how is it different from normal food? And the freshness of the thimble berries and peaches balanced it out perfectly. Look how beautiful that is!

So, go camping! And eat all the time. And then tell me what your awesomest camping food is, so I can make it next year. Once we buy a new tent that is, since our old died the night we made chicken burgers with melted brie and grilled asparagus in the dark at Oswald State Park... mmmm camping food.

Beverly Beach Seafood Risotto
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp reserved for later
3 cups arborio rice
1 cup pinot grigio
7 cups chicken stock
1 cup clam meat
2 cups fresh scallops
1 cup fresh cooked shrimp meat
1 cup crumbled sheep's cheese (we used Myzithra)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup diced tomatoes

1. Saute garlic and shallots in butter for a few minutes. Add rice. Stir and continue to saute for a minute or two more.
2. Pour in the cup of wine. Stir until absorbed. Then add chicken stock one cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed before adding more.
3. When rice is nearly tender, add seafood and tomatoes (probably when you have about a cup of stock left).
4. When rice is done to your liking, remove from heat and add cheese, remaining 2 tbsp butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

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