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Fancy Pants Camp Cooking

You, too, can work wonders with a cast iron skillet, aluminum foil and a plastic tablecloth.

By Barbara Rodriguez

First, you’ll need a few supplies

Buy two cheap plastic laundry baskets ($2.50 each at Target), one for cooking gear, another for food. Carry all your gear and food to and from the cooking and washing zone in the baskets.

Keep snack foods in a lidded plastic box. Cookies and chips stay fresh, dry and out of the hands of raccoons (or kids).

A plastic tablecloth eliminates the need to scrub a soiled picnic table and sponges off nicely. But if you’re truly in need of élan, bring a fabric cloth to throw over the plastic one. The only drawback is that if you forget and leave the fabric cloth out overnight it will be soggy with the morning dew, whereas a plastic one can be toweled off quickly.

A bouquet of flowers on the table makes you feel you are dining al fresco in Tuscany. You can’t pick wildflowers in the state park, so bring your own bouquet and vase from home.

Finally, since I’ve already revealed how truly soft I am as a camper: cloth napkins don’t blow away, create less garbage and look elegant. And, unless you’re six or really sloppy one napkin per person can be reused throughout a weekend.

Ode to The Cast Iron Skillet

Cooking over a campfire can be a testy thing. Timing is everything. If you want to have everything to the table and hot at the same time, follow these steps:

The Gear

  1. Get your fire started at least 45 minutes before you’re ready to cook. If the grill sits high enough, gentle flames are OK; evenly hot coals work best with a low grate. Cooling coals are very bad indeed. At Fort Richardson State Park, I initially opted to cook at both the grill and the campfire, but there were too many steps between the two. Eventually I went straight for the campfire pit, which had a built-in iron grate that swings down over the pit. It was perfect for a cast iron skillet, if not my back.
  2. As foods are ready, remove them to a double layer of aluminum foil, fold up a nice tidy packet and keep warm to the side of your fire. When you’re ready to serve, scoop all the foil packets into a towel and to the table for serving.

The single most indispensable piece of gear for campfire cooking is the cast iron skillet. With a skillet, one good-sized saucepan, a spatula, wooden spoon, two good knifes (chef and paring), aluminum foil, a cutting board and a French coffee press, you have all the gear you need to cook a feast.

The Menu

Nothing could be easier than buying fajita fixings already prepared — pre-sliced meat, peppers and onions shrink-wrapped together. Mix up some salt, pepper, cumin, chile powder and red chile flakes to carry along in a baggie. Pack the cooler with tortillas, tomatoes, avocadoes, and a baggie of chopped chile peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro leaves and a teaspoon of salt and a coarse grind or two of pepper.

To start dinner, toss your tortillas one at a time into a stoking hot skillet till they begin to puff up, flip with a spatula and count to six, and repeat. Stack the hot tortillas between sheets of foil till you’ve heated all you want. If you bring a bag of pre-shredded cheese you can melt a handful on top of each of the last few tortillas folding each in half as the cheese melts. Voila! You’ve got appetizers—quesadillas. Keep the other tortillas in the foil close enough to the fire to stay warm.

Toss your fajita meat and veggies into the skillet with a few pinches of the seasoning mixture and assign someone to stir occasionally as you prepare the pico de gallo tableside (coarsely chop tomatoes and avocado and mix with the onions, garlic, cilantro and hot-pepper mix). The same dinner plan works equally well with sausages (baggie the prepped green pepper and onion slices) with a freshly made side salad of tomatoes and avocado.

For breakfast fill the tortillas with scrambled eggs, onions, tomatoes and cheese. If you have to have toast, make it in the skillet by swishing in butter and sopping it up with slices of bread, quickly flipping the bread slices several times until they’re grilled. Wrap in foil to keep warm while you scramble the eggs.

The saucepan is for boiling potatoes that you will slice and fry the next morning with the eggs. More important, it is for boiling water to pour into the French coffee press, the absolutely easiest way to make gourmet campfire coffee. Because I am a true coffee sissy, I also travel with half-and-half in the cooler. With a thermal pitcher you can enjoy hot coffee all day.

For an impressive feast, serve everything with a sideboard of good cheeses, French bread and grapes, and sliced tomatoes. Scramble extra eggs and cheese in the morning and make egg sandwiches to carry along for lunch.

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