Monday, June 29, 2009

Get Out! Cooking in the Great Outdoors

Since my recent post about cooking Orange Brownies in the ashes of a campfire, I've gotten a deluge of requests for good camping recipes. So, just in time for the 4th of July holiday when many of us will be heading for the hills, here's a quick run-down of a few tips, tricks and recipes to keep in mind when you're roughing it in Ye Olde Woods.

My theory is simple: you may be a bit removed from civilization when you're camping, but that's no reason civilization needs to be removed from your meals. Granted, we can all subsist on the basics for a few days in the wilderness, but it honestly doesn't take all that much more effort to make delicious and healthy meals, even with dirt beneath your fingernails.

Note of explanation: This post will focus solely on cooking when you're "car camping" (a term not often used outside of California, I might add). By car camping, I mean you pull your car, RV or trailer into a spot and park it. You might sleep in a tent, but you can haul along some creature comforts - like an ice chest and a lounge chair. And a case of wine. You know, the necessities.

That being said, the ideas to follow require minimal refrigeration and minimal gear - everything can be done either right over the fire on a grill rack; in the fire directly on coals or ashes; and/or on a one-burner butane or propane camp stove (or if you're going even lighter, a backpacking stove - my favorite: the JetBoil - worth every penny). If you're interested in backpacking meals or Dutch Oven cooking.... well, those are posts for another time. (Let me know if you are interested - I certainly have plenty of great recipes for those situations as well!).

Getting Started
Assemble a camping "spice rack." I have a convenient tote all loaded up with my favorite dried herbs and spices: garlic salt, basil, oregano, thyme, dill, cilantro, black pepper, kosher salt, red chili flakes, chili powder, mustard powder, ginger powder, wasabi powder, harissa (paste or powder), curry powder, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Even if you do nothing more than grill up chicken breasts, if you have a loaded spice rack, you can have exotic flavors with minimal effort.

Get Cooking
Grilling is probably the most obvious means of camp cooking. I always have ingredients on hand to whip up a variety of marinades - it's easy way to add varied flavors to basic staples like chicken breasts, steaks, fish or veggies. Usually this requires nothing more than some fresh citrus, olive oil, and the aforementioned spices. All you do is combine the marinade ingredients to your taste in a ziplock bag; throw in your meat and/or veggies and coat them well; let chill for 20-30 minutes (or more) in your ice chest, then grill over white-hot coals.

Here's a few of my favorite flavor combinations for marinades (combine with olive oil):
  • lemon juice, basil, pepper
  • garlic, cilantro, orange juice
  • tarragon, shallots, Dijon, lemon juice
  • chili powder, garlic, lime juice
My Go-To Camping Meals
  • Beer Can Chicken - Sacrifice one of the cans of MGD from your stash; beer can chicken tastes amazing around the camp fire. The beer imparts flavor, sure, but more importantly, it imparts moisture. It's the most tender chicken you'll ever have. In order to cook it evenly, place the grill rack close to bottom of the fire, and build a ring of hot, hot coals to provide indirect heat to the bird. Without the aid of BBQ lid, I then tent the chicken with tin foil to create an "oven" effect and keep the heat contained. It can take a couple of hours for the bird to completely cook - but it's so worth it. Make sure you stay on top of rotating the coals, adding new hot ones to replace dying cold ones. And you don't need a fancy roasting rack - just make sure the chicken is balanced vertically on the beer can and the rack is level. And don't bump it.

  • Thai-Style Chicken Satay and Curried Vegetable Skewers - Season chicken tenders and veggies of your choice with a mix of ginger powder, garlic powder, curry powder and oil; thread them on skewers and grill. Bring along a small jar of peanut sauce, and you've got the flavors of Asia in the middle of Yellowstone. Serve it all over a bed of rice that you cook up on your propane stove.

  • Pizza - There's a million ways to grill pizza on the campfire. My favorite is to use raw pizza dough and actually grill it on the rack. You grill the dough on one side, and add the sauce and toppings when you flip it. You can also make it even easier by using pre-baked flat bread or naan as a crust. A simple tomato sauce couldn't be easier: a can of tomato sauce, seasoned with garlic, oregano, basil and pepper; the toppings, of course, can be whatever you want, but a few that travel really well and don't require additional cooking include pepperoni, canadian bacon, prosciuttio, canned black olives, onions, bell peppers, zucchini and canned artichoke hearts. Don't forget the cheese.

  • Grilled Sausages with Peppers and Onions - Grill up the sausage of your choice over the fire (I like chicken sausages) and top with a medley of peppers and onions that you've sauteed in a saucepan on your stove. You can pop them in a hoagie bun if you'd like - but it's certainly not required. In that same vein, grill up chicken, steak or shrimp with Mexican spices (cumin, chili powder, garlic) for Fajitas. Serve with tortillas and the same sauteed peppers and onions.

  • Ash Cakes - This has got to be one my favorite camp treats. You simply take pre-made bread or pizza dough (available in your grocer's freezer), break it off into individual-sized servings, flatten into round disks, and literally throw the dough on top of a bed of white hot ashes, turning once. The outer layer will char and blister, but the ash will brush right off. Top it with butter and honey - heaven! Best. Breakfast. Ever.

  • Grilled Corn with Chili and Lime - Husk ears of sweet, ripe corn and grill until the kernels are plump and juicy. Then forget you even know about butter - you don't need it. Instead, take a wedge of lime, dunk it in chili powder, and then run it up and down the length of the corn cob, squeezing as you go. The juice of the lime will spread the chili powder into the rows of kernels, giving you the most flavorful corn on the cob you've ever eaten. Guaranteed.

  • Foil Dinners - The possibilities for hobo-style foil dinners are endless. They work especially well with chicken or fish (like the salmon foil dinner, pictured above). Use a couple layers of heavy-duty foil, and just add ingredients that will have similar cooking times (chicken works well with diced potatoes; fish works well with pre-cooked brown rice or raw minute rice). Add slices of lemon or lime, seasonings from your spice rack, and veggies of your choice. Seal it all up tight, and place amidst the coals. The juices will steam everything until it's tender and cooked through, and in no time at all, you've got a complete meal in one convenient foil package.
  • Cornbread in a Can - This is really fun and super easy, but you do need a couple of different sized tin cans for each individual serving. I make things simple and use the Jiffy brand cornbread mix (I think you only have to add an egg and some water). Fill a small soup-sized empty tin can (10-12 ounce size; oil the sides and bottom) about halfway with the cornbread batter. Place that small can completely inside a larger empty tin can (20-ounce size or so) of which the bottom has been lined with about a 1/2-inch of pebbles or sand (helps keep the bottom of the cornbread from burning). Cover it all with foil and place it in the ashes to bake. It'll take about 10-15 minutes for fresh corn bread.
  • Fire Nachos - Saute some lean ground beef or turkey on your camp stove, seasoning with Mexican spices (garlic, chili powder, cumin). Place a layer of sand or pebbles on the bottom of a large cast iron pan or dutch oven, then line with tin foil. On top of the foil, start layering nacho ingredients: tortilla chips, black beans (from a can, drained), diced tomatoes, jalepeno peppers (from a can, drained), sliced black olives, the cooked ground meat and cheese. Cover the whole shebang with a sheet of tin foil, and place amongst hot coals or in hot ash, and cook until warm throughout and the cheese has melted.
Anyhow - that's really just the tip of the iceberg of camping recipes, but I had to start somewhere! How about you? If you have any recipes or ideas to share, please include them in the comments below for all to see. I'd love to hear how you survive in the wild!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fresh Pics! Photographic evidence of my haul from the new Berkeley Bowl West

You know you're a food geek when going to a grocery store is the most anticipated event on your calendar. Such was the case with me last week, when I had the chance to stroll, ogle, sample, drool, imagine, and yes, shop, at the brand spankin' new Berkeley Bowl West.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Berkeley Bowl, suffice it to say that it is no ordinary grocery store. Sure, sure - there are aisles of food, and it's arranged as one would expect... you know - deli over here, frozen foods there, bulk bins somewhere in between... but the produce section is what sets this market apart from pretty much any other you've ever frequented. To say that it is massive is putting it lightly (the photo above is but one teeny tiny corner). To say that there are items stocked there that you have no earthly idea how to use and never will is an understatement. To say that it's tempting to become a vegetarian simply to eat more of the gorgeous, unusual, dizzying bounty of fruit and veggies is not really doing it justice.

I counted no fewer than 11 varieties of eggplant, and seven types of green beans. A great deal of the produce is local and/or California grown, but if you wanted to pick up some mushrooms from Serbia, they have those too (every last item is labeled as to its origin).

And the new store is not only bright, open and huge, it fixes the one thing that made stopping at the original location such a chore: no parking woes!

At any rate, I raided the produce section with an eye toward bringing home some unique and unusual items - things I knew I would never find at the chain store in my neighborhood. And here's a sampling of what I found, and how I used (or plan to use) it. So if you live in the Bay Area, pay them a visit. And if you don't - don't you wish you did? :)

Fiddlehead Ferns: I was pleasantly surprised to find these in stock, since I thought the fiddlehead fern season had long since passed. But nope - there they were, all coiled and tightly wound, ready for a turn in my saute pan. I cooked them in a bit of olive oil and crushed garlic, and finished them off with salt and spicy red pepper flakes. They have a wonderful crunch - similar to that of green beans - and a flavor a bit reminiscent of brussels sprouts (but not nearly as strong). They made for a perfect lunch.

Green Heirloom Tomatoes: I don't know the exact variety of these tomatoes, but they're among the first of the heirlooms making an appearance this season. Couldn't pass them by.

Result- Fried Green Tomatoes, of course:
Sliced em up thick, dredged them in flour/egg white/panko, seasoned them with salt, then quickly pan-fried them with some olive oil until golden. Topped them with a sweet and spicy jalepeno pepper jelly. Delish!

Blue Velvet Apricots:
That's right - these are not plums. They are apricots in a royal wrapper. Their skins are a deep purple blue, but the inside flesh is the same gorgeous orange color of regular apricots. No fancy plans for these babies other than to pop them right into my mouth.

Mushrooms Galore:
They had fresh mushrooms in dozens of varieties. I carted home with me morels, porcinis, chantrelles, baby shiitakes, and the cutest little baby erynghi mushrooms you ever did see. I plan to make a funghi grilled pizza - stay tuned.

Oca Potatoes:
Looking at this picture on my monitor, it doesn't really do these spuds justice. The reason I picked them up is because they were a striking, bright orange color. And by bright, I mean as vivid as a carrot. Their shape was intriguing as well....

Result- Smoky Oven-Roasted Fries:
Cut the colorful spuds into thin wedges, dusted them with a combo of garlic powder, salt and smoked paprika, and then roasted them in a hot oven (400 degrees) until they were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The taters didn't really keep their vibrant orange hue, but rather, mellowed to a color more akin to a yam (funny - some subsequent research tells me these Andean tubers are also called New Zealand yams). They had a really nice creaminess to them, and were surprisingly sweet and tangy - a great counterpoint to the smoky spice.

I'm Growing!

While my waistline may very well be expanding (please God no...) - what I mean by "I'm Growing" is that I finally finally finally have a garden to call my own. For the first time since Ran and I bought our house, we were able to plant the garden that we've envisioned for so long. Not that we'd been lazy (ok, only a little lazy) - but our tiny yard has literally taken us four years to get into good enough shape to even contemplate a garden (thanks previous owner!). But the demolition, grading, roto-tilling and earth-pounding are behind us... ahead: Plants! Flowers! Greenery!

To that end, Ran built two different raised beds from lumber that he reclaimed from an industrial make-over project in town (pictures on Twtitpic!). I then got them all planted with seedlings that I purchased from MorningSun Herb Farm, a local grower that sells an amazing variety of plants. Since we have access to a seemingly unending supply of fruit and vegetables at the Farmers Market, I dedicated all my growing space to culinary herbs (and one lone spicy pepper plant!). Check out this list:
  • Spearmint
  • Chocolate Spearmint
  • Chives
  • French Savory
  • Arugula
  • Bergartten Sage
  • Pineapple Sage
  • Wedgewood Thyme
  • Lavendar de Provence
  • Shiso (green)
  • Italian Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Curly Parsley
  • Italian Parsley
  • And five kinds of Basil: Genovese, Lemon, Red Ruben, Thai and a variegated basil called Pesto Perpetuo
Wow! And I think I even have a tiny bit of room for more! So, y'all can look forward to some herb-infused recipes in the future... you know I'll keep you posted. But for now, I'm going to go dig around in the dirt!

I'm Game!

I don't know about you, but when an invitation arrives for a grilled meat fest, I say yes. Immediately. That was the case recently when my friend Betsy announced that her parents were loading up their Suburban with fresh Minnesota trout, salmon, steelhead, venison and wild turkey and packing it West, for the sole purpose of hosting a good ol' Midwestern cookout for Betsy's uninitiated California friends. It was like all of Betsy's childhood comfort foods were pulling up to her doorstep, with plenty to go around. Needless to say, I cleared my schedule.

Betsy's dad is the hunter/fisherman/grill sergeant; her mom is the kitchen commander. Between the two of them, they put on quite a spread. Between the smoked salmon and wild turkey pâtés, the savory Jell-o salad (that's right - a lemon Jell-o and herb concoction), and the heaps and heaps of grilled meat and fish, the eating and socializing went on for hours. There were two choices of grilled fish (both steelhead and trout from Lake Superior); slices of venison loin that melted in your mouth, and wild turkey breast on skewers that would have done Paul Bunyan proud. Everything was beautifully marinated, seasoned and cooked - but I was too busy gorging (and listening to the hunting and fishing tales that accompanied each course) that I didn't even remember to beg for a recipe. (That's probably ok - not sure I'll have access to fresh venison any time soon!)

But in the spirit of why I created Fare to Remember, where community is all about sharing good times and making good memories over splendid meals, this one tops the charts. Thanks Mueller clan for the invitation - I hope I can return the gesture someday!

Smoked Trout

Venison Loin

The Key is in the Limes, Silly

This is my friend Betsy's Key Lime Pie recipe. The flavors simply sing - it's like Summer on a fork. For a non-baker such as myself, it's a great dessert option with a lot of wow factor (not too much of that measly measuring and sifting stuff). So hop to it... your guests are waiting!

Key Lime Pie
Contributed by Betsy Mueller

  • 16 graham crackers, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cube (1/4 lb) margarine or butter
Mix the ingredients and press them into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Cool .

*You could always go the semi-homemade route and buy a pre-made crust. That's why Keebler exists, no?

  • 4 large or extra large egg yolks
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (the juice of approximately 12 Key limes - more if you like a really lime-flavored pie)
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime peel (zest only)
  • Whipped cream
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until they are thick and turn to a light yellow (don't over mix). With the mixer off, add the sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine. Turn the mixer back on to a low speed and mix in half of the lime juice. Once the juice is incorporated add the other half of the juice and the zest. Continue to mix until blended (just a few seconds). Pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Cool completely, and dust the top of the pie with powdered sugar. Optional: Once cool, top the center of the pie with whipped cream (leaving the edges showing); refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Everything's Peachy!

It's peach season! One of the best times of the year, as far as I'm concerned. I love all the stone fruits that are exploding onto the farmers market scene right now, but those beautiful fuzzy peaches hold a special place in my heart. In the past couple of weeks, I've made some awesome peach scones, blended up plenty of peach puree to squirrel away for winter, and eaten my fill of the fresh-plucked globes while leaning over the sink as the juice runs freely down my arms. But my favorite way to enjoy peaches is to grill em!

I simply halve and pit the peach, brush it with some olive oil, and place face-down on a searing hot grill. Turn once after a couple of minutes, and in no time you've got a simple, healthy dessert or a fab addition to a green salad. I've also taken to brushing the peaches with a little dab of jam or jelly that I've rendered into liquid with a quick pop in the microwave (my current favorite, pictured on the white peach, above: Blackberry Cabernet Jam from Napa Valley's own Humble Beginnings).

So get them while they're fresh, and winter will seem like light years away....

Two Words: Bacon Bread

This is just a parting shot for the week - an ode to the last loaf of bacon bread I will ever buy. Yep - that's right, I said Bacon. In Bread. The Model Bakery in Napa makes this ridiculously good French loaf chock full of tasty, fresh bacon (supplied by their Oxbow next-door neighbor, The Fatted Calf). It's only available on the weekends, and I've succumbed twice (how could I not? It's carbs AND pork fat, for crying out loud). As much as I love it, my lardy ways need to stop.

So... I made this hella good open-faced bacon-avocado-tomato-gruyere toasted sandwich to celebrate all that is good and right with artisan baking, and to hopefully get this bacon bread obsession out of my system! Although... come to think of it, I never did make that bacon bread French toast I've been dreaming about... damn. So I guess if someone wanted some, I'd be willing to swing by the bakery to pick up a loaf... for you. Really - for you...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ravenous for Radicchio

This is seriously one of the best salads I've ever had - and that's saying a lot, since I'm such a fan of the rabbit food. But my friend Jeff made this salad for a backyard potluck we had a couple weeks back, and I haven't had my fill of it yet. Not only did I devour a huge portion that first night, I made him leave all the extra fixins so I had leftovers for days and days. And then I went and bought the ingredients and made even more. And as of this very moment, I'm faced with a serious radicchio shortage in my fridge, and may have to stop writing about this salad and get to the nearest Whole Foods before panic sets in. Seriously, this is an addiction folks.

Turns out, that there's a reason it's so damn good. The recipe comes from one of Napa Valley's most acclaimed restaurants; Jeff learned it from the restaurant's equally acclaimed chef when he was working there years ago. (I am going to decline to state the restaurant and chef, since I'm sure Jeff made off with a trade secret!) So just between you, me and the fencepost, make this at home and save the $14 you'd spend on it a la carte in the restaurant that shall not be named.

Even if you're not into radicchio, trust me on this one - it's outta sight. I'm just gonna wrap it up quickly with the recipe, since I've got an errand to run (here I come Whole Foods!).

Radicchio Salad
Contributed by Jeff Hunsaker
  • 1/2 - 1 head of radicchio per person
  • Croutons, heaps (unseasoned, homemade croutons are the best way to go here; just bake up some cubes of day-old bread until they're crunchy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated garlic (use a microplane to grate it extremely thin)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Peel the leaves from the head of radicchio; soak in cold water (this will make them nice and crisp). When ready to serve, dry the leaves in a salad spinner. For the dressing, add the garlic, Dijon mustard, Balsamic vinegar and sherry wine vinegar to a bowl; whisk until combined. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle in the olive oil and corn oil; whisk continually until all of the oil is emulsified. To build the salad, place the radicchio leaves and croutons in a large bowl; sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and toss. Drizzle the dressing over the mixture until everything is well coated, then let sit for at least 10 minutes to let the croutons soak up the dressing. The longer this one sits, the better it gets!

The Radishes, Oh How They Taunt

So all spring I've been ogling the breakfast radishes at the farmers market. They are just so beautiful, sitting there all pretty-like, with their leafy green tops. They beckon, they tantalize - their candy cane-colored red and white tubers still dusted with the earth from which they were recently plucked. I finally had to break down and get a bunch. I love the spicy radishes for their crunch and their tang, perfectly accentuated with a sprinkling of salt - a tasty, quirky snack.

Alas,there really are only so many radishes a person can eat in a sitting, so I shared my pretties with some party guests in the form of these colorful little canapes. They make fantastic, fresh appetizers - and they are simple enough to explain without a formal recipe. Here goes:
  • Slice up a sourdough baguette in to thin rounds
  • Top each round with a schmear of cream cheese that you've gussied up with fresh, chopped dill, a squeeze of lime, and garlic salt (to taste)
  • Top with thin (almost translucent!) layers of sliced radishes and cucumbers (I use a mandolin to get a nice, even slice)
  • Season with fresh-cracked sea salt
Snack on, my friends, snack on.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Gonzo For Garbanzos!

Now I know just as well as the next person that garbanzo beans (or chick peas, whichever moniker you prefer) don't originate from tin cans or Sizzler salad bars. And yet, that's pretty much how people are associated with them in their whole form - right? So there I was at my local supermarket the other day (not even the farmers market or a specialty produce market... just the big ol' chain store down the street), and what to my wonderous eyes did appear? A huge bin of garbanzo beans - in the raw. I had to buy some just on general principle, even though I had no idea what to do with them (that's what google is for, isn't it?).

Turns out, raw garbanzos (which don't resemble their yellowed canned counterparts in the least) are not that an unusual of a find in locales where they are grown (in the U.S., that's largely in Southern California) - and in fact, whole branches of the legumes show up in produce sections on a regular basis. But that was all news to me.

So, after a little research (thanks google), I found out that there's really nothing to cooking raw garbanzos, and in fact, one of the tastiest ways is the simplest. All that is required is coating them with a little olive oil (I used my new favorite, the pecan wood-smoked olive oil I raved about in an earlier post), seasoning them with salt and pepper, and throwing them on a hot grill in a tinfoil packet. A couple of shakes of the packet and 10 minutes later, voila - scrumptious little nuggets of garbanzo goodness. You pop them out of their shells when they are cool enough to handle - eating them like you would edamame at the sushi bar.

So keep an eye out - if they magically appear at a market near you, don't pass them by. A healthier, easier, tastier snack is just moments in the making!

Into the Fire: Ash-Baked Chocolate-Orange Brownies

I don't know about you, but when I'm roughing it, I still like to enjoy good food. In fact, I'm inclined to think that the very nature of cooking in the wild outdoors makes food taste all the better. And I love camp cooking; you give me fire, I'll give you grub that rivals anything back home.

So with the 2009 camping season in full swing, these semi-homemade brownies are one of my favorite camp treats that I thought you might enjoy. I made them just last week while on vacation, and although our oceanside cabin (complete with hot tub, sauna, hammock) was not exactly roughing it, there was a fire ring on the deck that certainly made you feel like you were at summer camp. Only better, because there was lots of good red wine. At any rate, you bake these brownies right in the ashes of the fire, with a hollowed-out orange peel serving as the baking dish (and imparting a delectable orange essence to the brownies' flavor).

There's no real recipe per se - but the experimentation is part of the adventure. So give the s'mores a rest and try something different the next time you're out there communing with nature!

Ash-Baked Chocolate-Orange Brownies
  • 4 oranges
  • 1 package brownie mix (I prefer the "No Pudge Fudge" brand, not only because the brownies are rich and gooey and fat free, but only requires the addition of yogurt to complete the mix - no fussing with oil, butter, eggs, etc.)
Cut the end off of the oranges and use a reamer to extract the juice. Remove the remaining pulp with a spoon until you've got a clean orange interior, down to the white pith. Reserve about 1/4 cup of the fresh-squeezed juice to use in the brownie mix itself, and save or drink the rest.

Prepare the brownies according to package directions. Add the reserved orange juice; stir to combine. Spoon the batter into the hollowed-out orange peels, filling about 1/2 - 3/4 of the way (it will expand - so don't overfill). Individually wrap each orange in heavy-duty tinfoil (I actually use two layers of foil).

Now here's where the experimentation comes in. You'll want to place the tinfoil-wrapped oranges into the hot ashes of a fire, once the fire has produced a lot of glowing coals. You do not want to place the brownies directly in the flame. So, once you've got a fair amount of hot ashes/coals to work with, dig out pockets in the ash for each orange. Sink the oranges into the ashes up to about half of their depth; mound up the ashes and coals around each orange, and even place small hot coals on top. The oranges shouldn't exactly be buried, but fairly well surrounded. And then just let them be for at least 10 minutes. You likely won't know the exact temperature of the ash and coals, so after 10 minutes, pull one of the oranges out, open up the foil and check for doneness. The ones I made last week took 15 minutes. Serve warm, of course!