The best place to dine...
Nothing brings people together like good food or a campfire. Combine the two and the results can be remarkable!
Some of my fondest childhood memories are from family camping trips. I remember spending endless hours in the water, exploring the woods throughout the campground, riding bikes to just about everywhere and then wrapping up the day with lots of laughter as we would gather back at camp for dinner. There was something magic in the way that cooking a hotdog on a stick, over an open flame, turned it from a boring old hot dog, to a gourmet affair. To this day I really can't tell whether the hot dog actually tastes better being cooked over a campfire or if it is a combination of the experience and the exhaustion from a day in the sun that effects the flavor. Whatever the reason, that is one mystery I care to not have solved. I like to think it simply tastes better!
As I've gotten older my love for eating and cooking outdoors has remained the same. The only real change now is that I'm the one that is responsible for the planning, packing, meal prep, etc. I'm also the person that wants to have my cake and eat it too. In other words, I want more than a camping trip full of hot dogs and hamburgers, but I also don't want to waste my entire vacation cooking and washing pans. (And no, I'm not against burgers and dogs, but there is a limit to how many times I want them a summer.)
Tip 1: Plan in advance
In general, when it comes to cooking, there is one thing that I dread more than anything, and that's the 4:00 panic; you know - when you are almost done work, you know you have to stop at the store, and you simply have no idea what you are feeding the family for dinner. When it comes to camping, trust me... there is nothing enjoyable about having to decide at the last minute what you are going to make and then hunting down the items you need to pull it off. The other thing I find myself doing when I don't have a good plan is over-packing and even wasting.
Before heading out on a camping trip I recommend that you outline a meal plan and try to do as much prep in advance. I would much rather get my vegetable chopping done at home, so then I'll be able to spend more time on the water later.
Tip 2: Grill Packets
When you are camping, aluminum foil can be your best friend! It can be used as a pan, as a way to wrap leftovers, as a serving dish... the list goes on and on. But one of my favorite things to use aluminum foil for is to create that one-dish-wonder like you would at home with a crock pot or a casserole dish. Tell me it isn't sweet when you hit that dreaded 4pm panic I mentioned and you realize you have already done the work in advance? Now, picture that when you are out in the kayak in the middle of the lake and you realize you don't have to hurry back because you already did all the work at home. You just need to throw it on top of the grill or over the campfire for a few minutes and voila... dinner is served.
But that is not the only perk to grill packets! Since everything is chopped and prepped in advance, and the grill packet is essentially working as your pan as well, you have very little else that you need to tote along with it. So, if you are backcountry camping and you've prepped in advance, all you need to do is grab your grill packet, something to keep it cool, and a utensil to get it on and off your campfire.
The opportunities with grill packets are endless! Simply chop and season everything the way you like, spray down some heavy duty aluminum foil with cooking spray (or lightly brush with oil), wrap the aluminum foil packet up and pack it up. Never tried it?
Check out these grill packet recipes:
Sweet Potatoes & Ham
My mother and her friend go for an annual camping trip and this recipe is one of their staples.
1. Dice up a ham steak
2. Par cook 2-3 diced up sweet potatoes and two large diced carrots.
3. Spray aluminum foil with cooking spray, fold up sides and place ham and veggies in it.
4. Add diced onion, garlic.
5. Add a few slices of canned pineapple and 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice.
6. Add brown sugar, cloves and crushed red pepper to taste.
7. Seal up foil, pack and store until meal time.
ADK Bloody Mary Veggies
Mixologist and Entrepreneur, Christine Marquis of ADK Bloody Mary Tonic shared her super easy veggie pack with me recently.
1. Create foil packet and spray with cooking oil.
2. Add chopped zucchini, asparagus, onions (and/or other veggies of choice).
3. Mix in ADK Bloody Mary Tonic and pack away for meal time.
* My twist. Add a little cooked chicken and you have a complete meal ready to go in no time.
Tip 3: Cook Once - Enjoy Twice!
Leftovers are not just something that are wrapped up to go in the cooler until someone - or, no one - eats them. I actually plan for leftovers when I'm camping. But not in the "everyone grab a cold hot dog sort of way." For example, if on night one I am planning on grilling up chicken, I grill extra in advance. Then on night two, I repurpose the chicken into another meal.
Here are a couple of fun ways to repurpose leftovers:
From Salt Potatoes to Home Fries!
When you have a full day of activity scheduled, a hearty lumberjack breakfast is the way to go. Fry up leftover salt potatoes in a cast iron pan or a aluminum foil packet for a great side for your bacon and eggs!
From A Grilled Chicken Dinner to Mexican Corn Salad & Quesadillas
1. On a recent camping trip I had grilled up a bunch of bone-in chicken and served it with corn on the cob. When I was cleaning up, I pulled the extra chicken apart, seasoned it with my favorite Mexican spices and packed it away. I also cut the extra corn off the cob and packaged that up as well for night two.
2. The next day I diced up some onions, garlic and bell peppers. Added half of those items to the corn and threw the other half in a cast iron pan and sauteed them. (Note: another great time saving tip is to chop all of this before leaving home and store it in a plastic travel container in your cooler.)
3. After a few minutes over the heat, mix in half a can of black beans and the seasoned chicken prepped from the night before.
4. Next, take the mixture from the cast iron pan, place the filling and some grated cheese in flour tortilla shells and individually wrap in foil.
5. Once the cast iron pan was empty, I then added the reserved corn, onion, pepper, garlic mixture and other half can of black beans to the pan. Then we added juice of a fresh squeezed lime, some cayenne pepper and a little oil.
6. Finally, place the aluminum foil wrapped Quesadillas and cast iron pan with corn salad on grill rack over low burning coal bed. Cook for a couple of minute on each side and serve.
Tip 4: Tortillas, Flatbread and Wraps...
Soft tortilla shells, flatbread, wraps and even pre-baked pizza crusts are all items that store well and very useful for throwing together a quick camping meal.
As you can tell from the Chicken Quesadilla recipe above, tortilla shells make for a convenient way to repurpose camping leftovers into a whole new meal. But there are so many other ways they are useful and they are easy to pack and store. From making breakfast burritos, to transforming leftover burgers into a Quesadilla burgers, the possibilities are endless.
Grilled pizza is one of my family's favorites. At home I usually use my favorite homemade pizza dough, but when we are camping flatbread is great alternative. Load your favorite toppings on the flatbread, grill for a few minutes until the toppings are warm and flatbread starts to turn golden brown, and dinner (or a late night snack) is ready in minutes.
(Flatbread pizza, left to right: Buffalo chicken, pepperoni, Mexican)
Wraps are another good alternative, I'm a firm believer that you can make a good wrap out of just about anything... you just need to be creative. These are great to pack up and take with you when you are out for a hike, paddle or bike ride.
Tip 5: Get Everyone Involved!
Preparing meals when camping can be fun. From preparing individual grill packets and finding cooking sticks, to table setting and clean up, regardless of age, there is something everyone can do to get involved. Delegate tasks so the whole family takes part in the meal preparation process. Not only will it lighten your workload, it will create a more memorable camping experience. I've also learned that kids are more likely to try new foods when their hands helped make it.
Plan Your Next Family Camping Getaway
Come see if my theory is right and if food tastes better when cooked over a campfire. With so many camping meals to try, it's time to start planning your next family camping trip in the Tupper Lake area. Book a site, plan your meals and hit the road. When you are planning, don't forget to give yourself a night off from cooking and try some of the local cuisine. This is also a great time to pick up some local craft beer from the local brewery or store near your campground to pair up with your campfire masterpieces.
Got your own camping recipes you want us to try? Share them in the comments section below.
Backcountry camping? Check out some of these great open fire recipes and tips.
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