Apple Cinnamon French Toast Casserole

French toast casseroles are perfect for a Dutch oven breakfast in camp. They go together pretty easily. You don’t have to stand at the griddle flipping French toast and everyone gets to sit down together and share the morning meal—together. That’s what camping is all about—spending time, unplugged, together and reconnecting with nature and with each other.

To round out your breakfast, you could serve this casserole with bacon or sausage, scrambled eggs, fruit, and, of course, some maple syrup. If you really wanted to get wild and crazy, you could include an apple syrup and/or a caramel syrup.

At home, this makes a great, easy family breakfast that you can prep the night before, store in the refrigerator, and bake in the morning. It’s perfect for a holiday morning meal or brunch. You could even take it somewhere and bake it there.

When I make this, I use French bread but you could also use sourdough if you’re looking for a bit of tang. I use golden delicious apples but you could choose sweeter apples or granny smiths for their tartness. For the egg mixture, I use whole milk because it makes it more like custard. I mean, come on, this is meant to be yummy, rich, comfort food.

So, here’s how we prep and make when camping.

12-inch Dutch oven (use a 9×13 casserole dish at home), large mixing bowl, whisk, measuring cups and spoons


1-pound loaf sourdough or French bread, cut into chunks
3 cups apples, peeled and chopped (2-4 large apples)
8 large eggs
2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar, unpacked
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Streusel Topping
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup salted butter, cut into pieces

Prep at Home Before You Go
Cut the bread into cubes and load into a large resealable freezer bag (minimum 2 gallon).

Peel and dice the apple and load into a smaller resealable freezer bag (2 quart oughta do). If you suck all the air out of the bag before sealing, the apples won’t oxidize as much.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining casserole ingredients and pour into a bottle or container that you can tightly seal.

In a 1-gallon resealable freezer bag, combine all the streusel ingredients except for the butter.

When packing for camp, the bread and the streusel topping mix go into the food tote. The apples, custard mixture, and butter go into a cooler.

Assemble and Bake in Camp

First thing when you get up (yes, even before you make coffee), prep the casserole mixture. For easy clean up, line your Dutch oven with foil. Grease the foil. Add the cubed bread and diced apples, toss together, and then arrange in an even layer. Evenly pour the custard mixture over the bread and apples. Pop the lid on and just let it sit for 20-30 minutes, which will allow the bread to absorb all the custard mixture.

Now, you can make coffee, start a campfire, and prep other breakfast items. About an hour before you’re ready to eat, start your coals. You’ll need 25 coals. When the coals are ready, move the Dutch oven to the baking area, and place 8 coals underneath and 17 coals on top. Bake for about 35-40 minutes.

While the casserole bakes, cube up the butter and add it to the dry ingredients for the streusel. Seal the bag and mash the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms a crumbly mixture. When the timer for the casserole goes off, lift the lid and quickly sprinkle the crumbled streusel over the top and put the lid back on. It helps if you have a buddy to either manage the lid or the streusel. Bake another 5 minutes or until the streusel is melted over the top. Serve the casserole warm with syrup.

Prep for Making and Baking at Home

Prep the bread and the apples and arrange in an even layer in a greased 9×13 casserole dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining casserole ingredients and pour evenly over the bread and apples. Cover the casserole and store in the fridge overnight.

When you’re ready to bake the casserole, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the casserole for about 35-40 minutes.

While the casserole bakes, in a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the streusel. Cube the butter and mash into the dry mixture until it forms a crumbly mixture.

Remove the casserole from the oven and crumble the streusel over the top. Continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the streusel is melted over the top. Serve the casserole warm with syrup.

Serves about 12.

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Camp Kitchen Safety and First Aid

Tomorrow (June 13) is National Kitchen Klutzes Day. While I’m not a klutz in the kitchen, there have been a few times when I have brushed against something hot and burned myself or, while working with a knife, I have nicked myself. Nothing serious mind you (I still have all my fingers), but sometimes it does require a band-aid and wearing a glove while I continue to prepare food. I did have to go to the emergency room once in college when I sliced open the end of my index finger on the sharp edge of a can lid.  It required a couple of stitches and a tetanus shot. I still have a small (1/2-inch) scar.

Where I do tend to “get” myself a lot is when working with a grater. I have to be very careful when the piece of cheese or the vegetable starts to get small and my fingers get close to the grater. I always have to remind myself to move slowly and carefully and pay attention to my finger placement.

Following are some of the most common types of injuries that occur in the kitchen and how to prevent and treat them.

We all like to joke that it wouldn’t be camp food if something wasn’t at least a little burnt, but you can burn more than just your food in the kitchen. One of the most common kitchen injuries is damage to the skin from hot liquids such as hot water, grease, or other substances; or by touching or brushing up against something that is hot like a hot pot or hot coals. While causing the same type of injury to the skin, contact burns are more severe than liquid burns because the heat is more direct, causing a more painful and serious burn. However, if the liquid is thick or sticky like a cheese sauce, it will cling to your skin and continue to burn until you get it rinsed off.

Caution is the best practice for avoiding burns. Always be aware of hot substances and hot surfaces, and keep the flame at a reasonable level to avoid splatter burns when frying food. When moving things, instead of hot pads, use oven mitts because they cover more of your hands and wrists. Keep the handles of your pots on the stove-top facing in or toward the back to avoid knocking them over.

Whenever you burn yourself, run your injury under cold water for as long as possible. The cold water cools the skin and stops the burning from causing more damage to the skin tissues. Harder burns to treat are grease burns, because they can be hotter than water, and other liquids such as caramelized sugar, because they stick to your skin and are harder to remove. If there are no open blisters or wounds, you can probably avoid a doctor’s visit, but make sure to treat it with ice and Neosporin. Remember to keep the wound clean and to change your dressings regularly in order to avoid infection.

This simple treatment can be a challenge in camp because water is not always readily accessible. If the water spigot is not close to your camp or your cook shelter, fill a bucket and keep it close by just in case. If an injury occurs and the water isn’t cold enough, have someone grab some ice from a cooler and throw it into the bucket.

Eye Irritation
Believe it or not, but eyes are at risk when working in the kitchen, especially when working with ingredients such as chile peppers or spicy ingredients. When substances with heat get into the eye, it can cause irritation and sometimes even infection.

Always be conscious of the food you’re working with when you’re in the kitchen, and never rub your eyes if you’re handling hot spices or pepper seeds. After working with those ingredients, wash hands really well. When frying food, be sure to keep your face as far away from the hot grease as possible, to avoid getting grease splatter in your eyes.

If there is irritation caused to your eyes, flush them out immediately with water and have someone take you to the emergency room as soon as possible, where you can be treated for possible infection.

Knife Cut
Cuts are probably THE most common type of kitchen injury and can range from small nicks to deep lacerations. And, you can cut yourself with more than just a knife. I’ve caught myself with cheese graters, vegetable peelers, sharp edges on can lids, and Cuisinart blades, which are wicked sharp.

Always be your most serious and most focused when working with a knife or other sharp tool. Never be casual and don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Always hold your knife with a firm grip to prevent it from falling out of your hands and keep the tips of your fingers curled while holding something in place to be cut. And, always use a cutting board. We’ve all held the roll or bagel in our hand and sliced it. Don’t. Use a cutting board.

As soon as you cut yourself, wash the wound immediately — no matter how painful — in order to prevent infection to one of your body’s most important assets. Dry and apply a dressing and hold pressure directly to the wound. Do not elevate or use a tourniquet unless the bleeding is very bad, in which case you should go to the emergency room immediately. You should also visit an emergency room if the cut is large or deep, is on the palm or underside of the fingers, or if you think you will need stitches; and it’s very important to visit one within the first 12 hours of cutting yourself.

Because the hand is such a complex structure, it’s important to be aware of where you’ve cut yourself and how deep because you may have punctured a tendon or an important muscle. Cuts on the tips of fingers and tops of knuckles will not cause too much serious damage, whereas anything to the palm or finger could be detrimental to your hand movement and have long term effects.

After the bleeding has stopped and you’ve applied a bandage, if you need to continue working, use a food handling glove to ensure that food you are handling will not become contaminated. Also, throw away any food that came in contact with blood and thoroughly wash and sanitize your cutting board, the tool that caused the injury, work surfaces, and anything else that might have come in contact with blood.

Bumping Your Head
With cooks constantly on the move in the kitchen, it’s easy to catch a lantern hanging in the cook shelter or stand up and catch the edge of a table, which can lead to blunt force trauma to the head.

Slow down. Everything will get done and out on the picnic table on time, so take the time to look where you’re going and pay attention to your surroundings.

If you think you have a concussion, you should have someone take you to the emergency room right away, otherwise, a good old ice pack to the head will do the trick.

Tripping & Slipping
As silly as it sounds, tripping in the kitchen can lead to some pretty serious consequences, some of which we’ve already discussed.

Never allow small children in the kitchen while working, as they tend to linger around the cook who often forgets they’re there, and while the pooch may serve as a great sous chef in the form of clean up, best that they stay out of the kitchen as well.

Cooks can be a bit messy in the kitchen and we’re not blaming them but spilled liquids or food on the ground or the floor can lead to falls which can lead to bone fractures and concussions. If something spills, clean it up right away, no matter how big of a hurry you’re in. A burnt piece of chicken is way better than having a broken arm.

If it’s raining, the ground in your camp kitchen can become muddy and slippery, so watch your step.

Tripping usually leads to minor injuries that can be treated with an ice pack or a couple of aspirin, but it can also be compounded by a burn, cut, bump to the head, etc.

While not an injury, food poisoning can still lead to a trip to the hospital. Dirty sponges, not washing cutting boards and knives, not keeping hot foods hot or cold foods cold, and more can contaminate your food. Always be sure to use proper food handling in the kitchen to avoid food contamination.

The biggest way to prevent injuries in any kitchen is to simply slow down and eliminate distractions. Be aware of your surroundings and stay focused on the task at hand.

And, always carry food handlers gloves in your chuckbox. In the event of an injury on your hand, clean and bandage the wound and slip on a glove to prevent contamination. Food handlers gloves are also great for messy jobs like making meatballs, handling raw chicken, and handling spicy peppers.

When you’re in the kitchen, stay focused and stay safe.

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12 Days of Scout Camp Song

After my son eagled and reached his 18th birthday, he signed on as one of the troop’s assistant scoutmasters. At summer camp, for the closing campfire at the end of the week, my son and I volunteered to come up with either a song or skit. My son was in one of our high school’s top choirs so, of course, he wanted to do a song. We chose the 12 Days of Christmas as our tune and these are the words we made up to go with it. I’ll just give you the final run through because y’all should be familiar with the song. So, it starts with the 12th day and works its way backward.

On the 12th day of scout camp my leader said to me:
Ask your SPL.
Don’t play in the fire.
Drop that snake.
Where’s your repellant?
Eat your oatmeal.
Go take a shower.
Time for inspection.
Where is your hat?
Don’t throw rocks.
Don’t chew gum.
Clean out the kybo, and
Be careful of the poison ivy.

For another fun song written by some of my Outdoor Chef students, please read my blog post: “Cooking and Crooning in the Camp Kitchen.” I also have a collection of some of my favorite camp songs on my Camp Songs page.

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Chipotle Pulled Pork

When we’re wanting to make pulled pork sandwiches, this is our go-to recipe. It’s flavorful and packs a nice warm heat. We’ve made this at home in the slow cooker and we’ve made it in camp in a Dutch oven. It’s great for camping, game day, potluck, or BBQ.

Serve on a hearty hoagie roll (pictured below) or bun, including pretzel, brioche, telera (pictured above), or French. Serve it with baked beans and a tangy coleslaw for a winning combination. Some folks will eat the coleslaw on the side and some folks will actually put the coleslaw on their sandwich. It is very tasty that way.

If you’re camping in cool weather and think you’ll have a low fire going all day then this is perfect. Your fire will need to be somewhere between 275°F and 350°F. For stability and easier handling, I would recommend placing a grate over the fire and setting the Dutch oven on the grate. This will allow you to tend the fire underneath the oven without having to disturb your oven.

If you have a tri-pod, you could also suspend your Dutch oven over the fire. You can adjust the height of your oven by adjusting the chain.

12-inch Dutch oven (standard or deep, depending on the height of your pork roast), knife, cutting board, measuring cups and spoons.

4 lb pork shoulder or butt roast, whole or cut into pieces
½ cup ketchup
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup minced yellow onion
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies or 3 fresh chilies of your choice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 oz chipotle sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Start 23 coals.

At home before you go, mix together ketchup, brown sugar, onion, chillies, chili powder, cumin, chipotle sauce, salt, and pepper. Load into a container for the ride to camp in your cooler.

In camp, in a Dutch oven, add the pork. Pour chipotle mixture over meat. Mix together until the meat is well-coated.

Bake in a 325°F oven, using 16 coals on the lid and 7 underneath, for 3-4 hours, refreshing coals every hour, which means you’ll want to start coals about 15 minutes before the change of the hour. In a slow cooker at home, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. You want to reach a minimum internal temperature of 200°F. When its pull apart tender, shred the pork. Serve immediately with hearty sandwich buns and coleslaw. Serves 8

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Cheese for Backpacking

We have a deli drawer in our refrigerator that is overflowing with cheese because we hate cheese in this house! With only a few exceptions, just about every meal includes cheese of some kind. Years ago, my children decided that if I had a food-based name, it would be Parmesan because I put Parmesan on just about everything. One of my go-to snacks is string cheese or a wedge of Cheddar.

On a weekend or week-long backpacking trip, I’m not sure I would survive without cheese. And, cheese is a great source of calcium and protein, two important things for rebuilding our bodies after a long day on the trail. In addition, for me, that little wedge of Laughing Cow or that slice of Cheddar on a cracker is a morale booster and puts me in my happy place. So, what to pack?

Hard Cheese

Hard cheese is best for extended trips, hot weather, snacking, and meal topping. Low moisture in aged hard cheeses concentrates flavor and extends shelf life. Hunks should remain edible for more than two weeks in temps in the low ‘80s. All hard cheeses sweat oil and whey, so opt for bricks rather than sliced or shredded and the moisture will be easier to manage and the shelf-life will be longer. Wrap in waxed paper then loose plastic wrap–not a resealable bag. Store in a food-specific stuffsack to prevent an oily mess. Our favorites are Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Parmesan (of course).

Cheddar is good fuel for cold or hard hikes due to its high fat content (9.5g/ounce). I love pairing it with apples or slicing it and eating on crackers.

Mozzarella is another good choice, but it needs to be the low-moisture, semi-dry variety and not the water-packed kind. Smoked hunks and string singles (my favorite) can last two weeks without refrigeration.

Parmesan is considered a recovery superfood because it is protein-dense and salty (450mgs/ounce), and digests quickly and easily. Pack solid pieces (trim off the rind) and shave onto meals after cooking or include the powdered variety in your homemade meals.

Soft Cheese

Soft cheese is best for short trips and cool weather. Their high moisture content makes them mold quickly. Soft cheeses should remain edible for a week at temps below 72°F; at higher temps, they can spoil in as little as two days. Purchase vacuum-sealed packs. After opening, seal in an airtight container and store in a cool part of your bag.

Brie is a creamy, sharp-flavored cheese that is high in salt. The rind is edible so there’s nothing to pack out. If you’ll be hiking through an area where there are good trail berries in season, it goes well with berries. If not, you could pack single-serve packets of jam to go with it.

Cream cheese is a low-fat spread that adds body to sweet or savory foods. If you thin it with a little water, you can substitute it for sour cream or milk in a recipe. Single-serve packets are pretty easy to find and last longer than a week without refrigeration.

Goat cheese is easier to digest than cow cheese. Because of that it makes a great lunch or snack because it is not likely to upset your stomach. However, it is more delicate than many other cheeses so plan to eat it in your first few days on the trail.

Shelf-Stable Cheeses

These long-lasting cheeses can boost flavor and calories in your recipes.

Powdered cheese is dehydrated and lightweight. It can be added to recipes that call for cheese like mac and cheese or alfredo sauce. Mix blue cheese into polenta, Cheddar into pancake mix or sprinkle dried Parmesan on anything.

Processed cheese has a mild taste but it has a high salt content, which, on the trail, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you are sweating so much. Velveeta, Easy Cheese, American slices, and gourmet brands can last weeks so they are perfect for those 50-milers or longer trips like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail (the Triple Crown of Hiking). Blending during production helps “processed cheese food” stay creamy when melted (instead of separating like natural cheese). Stir 1/4 cup into two cups of cooked noodles for a rich meal, or add to soup mixes to increase calories.

So, when you’re planning your meals and snacks for your next backpacking trip, don’t be afraid to cheese it up!

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Oatmeal Breakfast for Backpacking

Oatmeal is an excellent breakfast when backpacking. It’s loaded with nutrition and is a warm, flavorful meal to get you going on a cool morning. The store-bought instant oatmeal packets are great for a breakfast on the trail; however, your flavors are limited and they contain high sodium, artificial flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives.

If you make your own at home, you can radically improve the nutritional value and the flavor possibilities are only limited by your imagination and your taste buds.

Kick Your Oatmeal Up a Nutritional Notch

Whole grain rolled oats (instant or quick) are well-known for their heart-healthy benefits. They are a good source of carbs and fiber, and are loaded with important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant plant compounds. They are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, which is exactly what we want on the trail. Oats are also naturally gluten-free, but if you are particularly sensitive, choose oat products that are certified as gluten-free.

Chia seeds are a superfood, delivering a massive amount of nutrients with very few calories. A one-ounce serving contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (5 of which are omega-3s), as well as calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus, and a decent amount of zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine), and vitamin B2. Yet, while they deliver a solid punch of nutrients, they bring very little in the way of flavor and virtually disappear into the mix. They are the ninjas of superfoods. You don’t know they are there!

Oat bran boosts the oatmeal mix with more heart-healthy fiber and will add a nutrient-rich creaminess to the oatmeal.

Sweetener can be customized to your personal preference. Use your favorite dry sweetener, including brown sugar, natural cane sugar, coconut sugar, dried honey, etc. Sweeten to your liking.

Non-fat powdered milk adds protein & calcium along with creaminess to the texture and taste of the oatmeal, and dissolves better than whole powdered milk. If you need to be dairy-free, you can omit the powdered milk or use powdered coconut milk or powdered soy milk.

Ingredients for a Single Serving Packet
1/3 cup rolled oats (instant or quick)
1 teaspoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed (optional)
2 teaspoons oat bran (or wheat germ/bran)
2 teaspoons powdered milk
1 to 3 teaspoons of your preferred sweetener
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon salt (use less or omit all together)

Combine ingredients in individual ziploc freezer bags (not storage).

To Prepare 1 Serving of Hot Oatmeal
Add 1 oatmeal packet to mug or bowl. Pour in 2/3 cups boiling water and stir (amount of water may vary depending on dryness of ingredients). Let instant oats stand for 3-4 minutes to soften and thicken; stir, and they are ready to eat. Quick oats may need to soften an additional minute or two. I like to use an insulated bowl with a cover so my oats stay warm while they sit.

Adding Variety
For variety, I also add 2 tablespoons of dried fruit and 1 tablespoon chopped nuts. Average weight, including the bag, and additions of freeze-dried fruit and nuts, is 88 grams. Weight will vary slightly depending on how you customize.

Below are ideas to add variety. Feel free to mix and match and create your own flavors. Add the following recommended amounts to the above basic recipe.

Apple Cinnamon Maple: 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 cup freeze-dried chopped apples, additional 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, use maple sugar for sweetener.

Apricot Ginger: 2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots, 1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger.

Blueberry: 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 cup freeze-dried blueberries.

Cherry Almond: 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 tablespoons freeze-dried cherries, 1 tablespoon sliced or slivered almonds.

Cocoa Banana: 1/4 cup chopped freeze-dried bananas (dried banana chips not recommended), 2 teaspoons cocoa powder.

Cranberry Apple Walnut: 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 cup freeze-dried chopped apples, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts.

Cranberry Orange Pecan: 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, 1 teaspoon dried orange peel bits, 1 tablespoon chopped pecans.

Mango Macadamia: 2 tablespoons chopped dried mangos, 1 tablespoon chopped macadamia nuts.

Peach Pecan: 2 tablespoons chopped dried peaches, 1 tablespoon chopped pecans.

Peanut Butter Banana: 1/4 cup chopped freeze-dried bananas (dried banana chips not recommended), 1 tablespoon PB2 peanut butter powder.

Pineapple Coconut Macadamia: 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 cup freeze-dried chopped dried pineapple, 1 tablespoon freeze-dried coconut, 1 tablespoon macadamia nuts.

Raspberry Almond Vanilla: 2 tablespoons dried or 1/4 cup freeze-dried raspberries, 1 tablespoon almonds1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla powder.

Shelf Life

These bags may be made, tightly sealed, and stored for several months, depending on the shelf life of the ingredients used. These may also be stored in the freezer to extend their life further.

These are also great for taking to school or work for a quick, hot breakfast or mid-morning snack. Make your own at home and make it exactly to your liking. Be creative and invent your own favorite flavors.

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Categories: Backpacking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cheese Spread! Don’t Forget the Crackers!

We tend to burn a lot of calories on campouts. We’re playing and/or working hard. In addition to our 3 squares a day, at the end of the day, we’re looking for that bedtime snack to tide us over until breakfast. We call it a cracker barrel. It’s also a place to gather and talk about the day and share stories around the campfire.

For cracker barrel, we like to keep things simple. No cooking and no cleanup because who wants to be doing dishes late at night? Finger foods are the way to go and this make-ahead cheese spread is perfect. It’s simple to make (about 15 minutes) and brings an element of fanciness to a campfire cracker barrel. Folks just don’t expect it and that makes it fun to serve.

To learn more about the tradition of the cracker barrel or for more cracker barrel ideas, please read my blog post: “Evening Cracker Barrel and the Art of Snacking.”

This cheese spread can be made at home before you go. It can be kept chilled up to two days, so I would make it no earlier than Thursday night for a Saturday night cracker barrel. Serve it with crackers, sliced bread or crudités, which is a fancy French word for sliced or whole raw vegetables. I like to serve it with crackers because, growing up, cheese and crackers was one of my dad’s favorite snacks, and that’s a fond memory for me.

We’ve spread it on Wheat Thins, Ritz, buttery club crackers, and plain old saltines. There really isn’t a cracker this cheese spread doesn’t go with. My favorite is the Wheat Thin or some kind of whole wheat or whole grain cracker.

For serving, you can shape it into a ball or a log, or smush it into a shallow plastic container. A shallow container will give the spread more surface area for the chives, parsley, and peppers you’re going to sprinkle on top. You want folks to be able to get a nice combination of everything on their vessel.

I use a 25-ounce shallow Glad container that holds half a batch nicely and allows plenty of room to sprinkle on the toppings (pictured above). If I need to serve a whole batch or more, I use multiple containers. I transport the toppings separately and sprinkle on when I’m ready to serve.

If you’re making this at home for a holiday party or a family gathering, you can line a small, 6-cup Bundt pan with plastic wrap and press the mixture into that and chill for 1 to 48 hours. Unmold it onto a serving platter and cover it with the chives, parsley, and peppers for a festive looking wreath. Crackers, bread, and crudités can be arranged around the wreath or served in baskets, bowls or platters on the side.

This recipe calls for pickled piquanté peppers, such as Peppadew, which is a trademarked brand. Peppadews are hot, very sweet peppers that have been pickled. The heat is similar to a jalapeño and they are bright red, which gives the cheese spread a very festive look. Peppadew peppers are hard to find, depending on where you live. I have to order them from Amazon. In a pinch, we’ve used Mezzetta sweet cherry peppers, but they’re not quite the same. Whichever you use, I recommend removing the seeds because they are very hard. Leftover peppers can be added to the crudités or you can save them and add them to other dishes. They are great on a pizza.

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups shredded firm cheese, such as Cheddar, Pepper Jack or Colby
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pickled piquanté peppers, such as Peppadew, seeded and finely chopped
½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped
Crackers, sliced bread or crudités, for serving

In a food processor or a medium mixing bowl, if you’re mixing it by hand, combine the cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. If you’re using a food processor, transfer the mixture into a medium bowl. Fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the chopped peppers.

Form the mixture into a ball or log and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Or, smush it into a shallow plastic container or a 6-cup Bundt pan lined with plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

At home, if you’re using the Bundt mold, uncover and invert the cheese mold onto a serving platter. If you formed it into a ball or log, unwrap and transfer to a serving platter (in camp, you could use a large paper plate).

In camp, if you’re using a shallow plastic container, you can serve directly out of the container. Sprinkle with the chives and parsley to completely coat the cheese mixture, and garnish with the reserved 2 tablespoons peppers.

Serve with crackers, sliced bread or crudités and you’ll need a knife or spreader.

Serves 16 to 20.

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Ramen Remakes


I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe most adults and youth know how to make ramen. Many of my backpacking buddies and scouts rely heavily on ramen because it is lightweight and cooks quickly in boiling water. In college, many of us lived on ramen (if we couldn’t afford mac & cheese). Some adults still live on ramen. Just sayin….

And, while we all love ramen as a quick, simple meal, it’s not a very well-rounded meal. That being said, it is a blank canvas for creating a great, nutritious, well-rounded meal.

For the photograph featured in this blog, I went to my kitchen to see what I could find. From the pantry, I pulled out a package of chicken ramen. I always have a bottle of sesame oil sitting on the counter. In the refrigerator, I found romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, baby carrots, green onion and a piece of leftover grilled chicken. I sliced the romaine and green onion, julienned the pepper and the carrot, and chopped the chicken.

I started the pan of water and added the seasoning packet and a couple dashes of sesame oil. From the fridge, I added a dash of lime juice, a dash of soy sauce, a dash of sriracha (okay, I’ll be honest; it was half a dash of sriracha). I also added a heaping teaspoon of miso paste and a little minced garlic. The leftover grilled chicken was heavily seasoned so I didn’t feel I needed to add any other seasonings. When the water came to a boil, I added the noodles, vegetables, and chicken, and let it all cook for 3 minutes.

As you can see from the photograph, I loaded my bowl. It was an awesome lunch for a typical cold, rainy Northwest day. For the first time in my life, I wanted to drink all the broth after I fished out all the goodies.

For my ramen fans, this would be so easy to do in camp and campers could even customize their bowls. At home before you go, prep a variety of vegetables (dice and julienne small so they will cook quickly), and decide on your flavorings and your protein (because they will influence each other). Pre-cook and dice your protein.

You could also make and pre-cook meatballs for a fun way to add protein to your ramen bowl. For meatball ideas, please see my blog post, “Make Your Own Meatballs.” Eggs are also a great protein to add to your ramen bowl. For ways to add an egg to your ramen bowl, please see my blog post: “Add an Egg to Your Ramen Bowl.”

In camp, set everything out and make your broth. You could further enhance your broth by using beef, chicken, or vegetable broth in place of the water. Each camper throws whatever they want into their bowl, including a package of noodles (folks will need good-sized bowls or you can break the ramen to make it fit). Get the broth up to a good rolling boil and then add a generous amount of broth to each bowl, cover the bowl, and let rest for 3 minutes. Done!  Such an easy lunch and it is nutritious and will sustain you until dinner.

For backpacking, you could use freeze-dried and dehydrated meats and vegetables. Some of the flavorings like soy sauce and sriracha can be found in single-serve packets. We also found powdered sriracha in the spice section of our local grocery store.

Below is a list of ideas. Mix and match to your liking.

Beef Jerky
Egg (hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached, fried, or drop)
Hot Dog
Pork (ham, bacon, etc.)

Lemon or Lime Juice
Rice Vinegar
Sesame Oil
Soy Sauce

Bamboo Shoots
Bell Pepper
Bok Choy
Green Onion
Mung Bean Sprouts
Snow Peas
Water Chestnuts

Black Pepper

Ramen may be one of the cheapest foods in the grocery store, but with a little imagination, it can be one of the most versatile staples in your home and camp pantry, and makes a great launching point for some fast, easy, nutritious meals.

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Categories: Main Dishes, Meals in 30 Min., One Pot | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Add an Egg to Your Ramen Bowl

We’ve been on a ramen kick lately. We love to make ramen noodle bowls with whatever we have in the house. Making ramen bowls in camp takes a little more planning and prep because you can’t just open the fridge and see what floats your boat.

For ideas on how to up your ramen game, please see my blog posts, “Ramen Remakes” and “Make Your Own Meatballs.”

In true Asian fashion, my daughter loves to add soft boiled eggs to her ramen bowls. The picture above is hers. Eggs are cheap, delicious, a good source of protein, and in most cases, can be cooked directly in the same pot with the noodles or the broth. Here are a few simple ways to do it.

Hard-Boiled Eggs
This is the easiest way to do it. Start with eggs in a pot of cold water. I add a little salt and baking soda (not sure of the science behind this, but it seems to help them peel better). On high heat, bring water to a boil, turn off the heat or turn it down really low and let the eggs cook for about 10 minutes. Have a bowl of ice water standing by and, using a pair of tongs, remove the eggs from the hot water and plunge them into the ice bath. Let them sit in the ice bath for about 5 minutes. Remove from the ice bath, peel, slice, and add to your ramen, or store in your refrigerator.

Soft-Boiled Eggs
These are a little trickier, because the timing has to be a little more precise. Gently drop the eggs into the pot after it’s come to a full boil, start a timer, and pull them out after 3 minutes for super-soft, or 5 for a fully-set white and semi-liquid yolk. I like to cut the eggs open and stir the yolk into the broth as I eat it. My daughter let’s her eggs go about 7 minutes because she wants a more solid yolk.

Lightly beat an egg in a small bowl. Once your noodles are cooked, swirl the noodles and hot broth gently around the pot. While the broth is moving, slowly drizzle in the beaten egg. It will create little wispy ribbons of egg that float in the broth and coat the noodles.

Poached Eggs
If you don’t mind an irregular shaped egg, this is an easy way to add an egg to your soup. Cook the noodles until they’ve just started to separate from each other (about halfway through their total cooking time), remove the pot from the heat, crack a raw egg into the center, place the lid on the pot, and let it sit for 3-5 minutes until both the noodles and eggs are cooked. Experiment until you get the egg poached just to your liking.

Fried Eggs
If all of the above sounds too complicated, you could just a fry an egg in a separate pan and lay it on top of your ramen, but it will require dirtying a second pan and you’ll need a second burner. We fry eggs in a small skillet, on medium-low heat, with just a little butter. I put a lid a on the skillet and let the egg cook 1-3 minutes depending on how hot my pan is (sometimes the camp stove is little twitchy). I give the egg a flip and let it go about 30 seconds more and it’s a perfect over easy to over medium egg.

So, the next time you make a ramen bowl, at home or in camp, add an egg to it. It’s yummy!

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Categories: Under the Lid | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simple Swedish Meatballs

When we roll into camp on a Friday night, it’s all about getting our kitchen set up, getting our tents pitched, and getting our gear unloaded. Our Friday night dinners need to be quick and easy to get onto the picnic table with minimal clean up.

Meatballs and rice is an easy meal that we can get onto the picnic table in less than 30 minutes and we only dirty two pots. It’s a hot, hearty, and flavorful meal. This is also a super simple meal for young and/or inexperienced camp chefs. You can buy a bag of frozen meatballs or you can make your own at home before you go. For meatball ideas, please read my blog post: “Make Your Own Meatballs.”

So, this is our take on simply made Swedish meatballs. You can serve them over rice, like we do, or over noodles. To serve, just lay down a bed of rice or noodles, pile on some meatballs, and spoon on some sauce. Serve with a nice salad and you have a quick and easy meal guaranteed to fill your tummy.

Pot for the rice and a pot or skillet for the meatballs.

26 ounce bag of frozen meatballs
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can beef consommé
2 cups rice, uncooked
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt

Prep the Rice
In a 2-quart pot, on medium high heat, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the rice, turn the heat down to low, and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until rice is done.

Prep the Meatballs
In a large skillet, on medium heat, add the meatballs, cream of mushroom soup, and consommé. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until meatballs are heated through. In the time it takes for the rice to cook, the meatballs should be done.

Serves 6

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Categories: Main Dishes, Meals in 30 Min., Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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