Camping with the Chef

Camping is all the rage right now. Used to be, we’d be sitting at our site, watching everyone leave the campground on Sunday morning and have the whole place basically to ourselves. Now, it may semi-empty out on Sunday morning, but by Sunday afternoon most of the sites are back to being occupied, and weekday camping seems as busy as weekend. Even in October. Which mean lots of campfires and grills going, lots of burgers and bacon going.

Kevin has always been a “live fire” kind of outdoor cook. He uses hard wood charcoal on the BGE, (here’s his favorite brand, conveniently available at JBK…) and hardwood in the Fire Pit. We purchase a couple of cords of wood each year, basically to support his fire habit. (I should say “our” fire habit, since I am the happy beneficiary of his proclivities.) So campsite cooking is not that much different from backyard cooking, as far as he is concerned.

The difference mostly lies in the prep. Space is limited. Sinks are small. Weather can be influential. One popular solution is meals in foil packets, which can be prepped at home and then cooked on the fire or grill when needed. Cast iron is vital. As are tongs, gloves and the ability to adjust to your surroundings. We try to do some prepping in advance, but generally Kevin will be out at the picnic table, chopping garlic, dry-brining chicken, peeling potatoes, browning short ribs. And surely everyone is wondering what do I contribute? Well, I open the wine. And I do the dishes of course!

Typically we eat 2 meals a day: “brunch” which happens in the morning, usually before 10:30 or 11, and which can be anything from grilled focaccia (brought from the K-B Market) with butter and jam, to sliders (also known as ‘brunch burgers’) on the fire with cole slaw from the larder. This morning meal is much more fluid than the evening one; this menu depends on if we want an early fire, what’s going to be had for dinner, and if there is anything in the cooler that *needs* eating.

On this last trip, to Assateague State Park, just south of Ocean City, we needed to plan for seven dinners. We figure on at least 2 meals of leftovers, so that’s 5 separate meals to prepare for, with some flexibility on scheduling, depending on any defrosting that might be going on and perhaps some weather that might need to be worked around. And you can believe that we start talking about this menu planning project several weeks before the trip – it’s part of the fun! What are we going to have??

Night one: shrimp poached in shrimp oil, over butter lettuce that became a bit frozen in the cooler so worked well with the hot shrimp. Messy but a meal worth repeating:

The short ribs of beef – purchased from our reliable online butchers at Porter Road – were early in the week. He made a sort of stew of bell peppers beneath the beef and that became the sauce, which made a perfect compliment to those rich ribs.

He cooked the ribs low and slow during the day, and after they had cooled so we could remove some (a lot) of the fat, we re-heated them on the trailer stove top, with some spinach and corn concoction, brought from work leftovers, on the side.

One of our all time favorite campfire meals, which we have at home quite often and on almost every camping trip? Why, campfire nachos of course!

Hell yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! The imagery would have been better had the sour cream and guacamole not been spread over the chips and beans like that, but it was all about the eating, not the looking. We keep the foil wrapped pie pans in the trailer, ready at a moment’s notice. The Beans, by the way, were originally another meal all unto themselves – black beans from Rancho Gordo, cooked in the fire in the Kevin’s bean pot.

One of our dinners came directly out of the October issue of Bon Appetit: Stovetop Mushroom Lasagna. It was a bit of a project, making skillet lasagna over the fire, but it turned out pretty good, if ugly. We’d tweak a few things before we’d do it again – including soaking the noodles a bit first – but overall this was a camping hit. If you click on the link, you’ll see what inspired us, even though our results were not nearly as Instagramable.

Of course poppers are always a campfire favorite, and we joined the crowd, stuffing our Havasu peppers with cream cheese, some of that spinach and corn mixture, and wrapped it all in bacon before grilling over the coals. We’ve never done poppers ourselves before, so it was a bit of an experiment, but one that was well executed and well received!

Quesadillas are another standard in our house, and cooking those over the fire was a snap. We had the leftover roasted chicken, avocado – we always seem to have avocado – pickled peppers, cilantro and all the rest of the fixings you might want to amp them up to vacation mode:

The first thing I did when we got home was to jump on the scale! No harm done, thank goodness!

Camping with the Chef, you never leave hungry!

This last scene is one of my favorite views on the National Park side, the ever changing marshes, home to ponies and herons. This alone is enough to keep you coming back.

2 thoughts on “Camping with the Chef

  1. Thank you, Barbara, for always writing such great blogs that make the reader feel like they’re right there at the campsite with you and Kevin, eating all those wondrous foods with “how to do” descriptions. I’ve thought this before- but don’t recall if I actually suggested to you-these collective writings would make a great book! I sure would purchase it.Haven’t been camping in too many years  but you sure make me want to do it.Thanks for the gift of your words.Nancy McCloySent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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