Make Your Own Meatballs

Meatballs are fun and always seem a little fancy. Whether they are classing up a simple meat sauce, serving as a tasty appetizer, or floating in a savory soup like the Miso Noodle Soup I posted last week, meatballs simultaneously add a bit of playfulness and elegance to a dish.

Making your own meatballs is easy and fun, and the flavor possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Here is a mix and match guide to making your own meatballs. And, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you don’t have to miss out on the fun. You, too, can enjoy a little meatball madness.

You could omit or substitute the egg and/or breadcrumbs. They help hold the meatballs together, but they are not required. It will depend on your combination of ingredients. For example, the meatballs for the Miso Noodle Soup are made with ground pork, honey, sriracha, salt, and pepper, and they hold together very well.

Ingredients for a Basic Meatball
1 pound protein of your choice, ground
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
¼ cup breadcrumbs

Proteins
Choose a single protein or a combination like beef and lamb or beef and pork (1 pound total): beef, turkey, pork, chicken, lamb, or 2 (15-ounce) cans beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed.

Seasonings
Add at least 2 (1 tablespoon total): oregano, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, honey, sriracha, chili powder, taco seasoning, grated parmesan, or grated cheddar.

Vegetables and Herbs
Add at least 2 (3/4 cup total): grated onion, grated carrot, minced garlic, citrus zest, chopped cilantro, chopped parsley, chopped rosemary, or chopped thyme.

Prep
In a bowl, mash all the ingredients together. I like to glove up and use my hands, which are the two best tools in the kitchen. (For the beans, if you use a food processor to mash them, be careful not to over process or they will fall apart).

Divide the meatball mix into 16 blobs (technical term) and form/roll each blob into a round little ball.

Arrange meatballs on a baking sheet and bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through, or they can be (gently) dropped directly into a simmering soup or sauce and cooked 5-10 minutes or until done.

Makes 16, nicely sized, meatballs.

Now it’s time to experiment and try different combinations. Have some fun and make some magic, I mean, meatballs!

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Miso Noodle Soup with Meatballs

Want to wow your campers? Serve this savory miso noodle soup with meatballs. This soup is perfect for a cool or cold evening when you are wanting a hot meal, but on the lighter side. It brings a mild, subtle heat and folks can add more or less heat by how they garnish with the red chiles. Both my son and daughter like this soup and they are on opposite ends of the heat scale.

While this soup isn’t difficult to make, it might not be suitable for young chefs. This soup is a bit more sophisticated. It’s a far cry from chili and macaroni and cheese. This is also not a good soup for a large group because you need at least a quart of volume per person. We make this for the 4 of us and I use a 6-quart Dutch oven. I might be able to make this in a 4-quart, but I like having the extra room for stirring and to prevent boiling over.

You could double this recipe in a 12-quart stock pot to serve 8 and even triple it in an 18-quart stock pot to serve 12, but serving might become challenging trying to evenly divide all the noodles between 8-12 bowls. We use tongs to grab the meatballs and noodles and, when you get down to the last few noodles, you’re kinda fishing for them.

Be careful when you’re ladling the broth into the bowls because this soup is hot (boiling) and, if you’re holding the bowl while you are ladling, the bowls heat up really fast and get really hot. Even the heavy ceramic bowls we use at home quickly get too hot to hold.

For photographing, I sliced the red chiles to make it look pretty, but we actually prefer to dice them so we get a little heat with every bite. I also removed the seeds, which is where a lot of the heat is.

We did not use the sambal oelek (ground chili paste) because it contains seafood oils and we have allergies in the household. Instead we used sriracha, which is a straight across 1:1 substitution. So, if you can’t find the sambal oelek or, like us, have allergies, sriracha is a safe alternative without sacrificing flavor.

We find our soba noodles in the refrigerated section. The package has 3 6-ounce pouches and we use all three pouches because we love noodles. We find the fresh mung bean sprouts in the produce section. The bean sprouts add a bit of crunch and freshness to the soup.

Our chop stick skills are not the greatest so we serve this soup with forks, for the meatballs and noodles, and large spoons, for slurping the delicious broth, but you could forego the spoons and just drink straight from the bowl. It’s good to the last drop!

So, if you’re wanting something different or cooking to impress, this makes a great lunch or dinner soup for a small group.  Serve this with an Asian salad and you have a perfect soup and salad combo!

Equipment
6-quart Dutch oven or stock pot, medium bowl, measuring cups and spoons, and tongs and ladle for serving.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 cup green onions, sliced diagonally, and divided in half
9 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
64 ounces chicken stock
18 ounces soba noodles
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste) or Sriracha
16 ounces lean ground pork
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons miso paste (fermented soy bean paste)
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
3-4 red Fresno chiles or red jalapeño chiles, sliced or diced

Prep
Slice the green onions and red chiles, and mince your garlic if you’re using whole fresh cloves. In a medium bowl, combine honey, sambal oelek (or sriracha), ground pork, salt, and pepper. I gloved up and dove in with my hands to mix it all really well. Shape pork mixture into 16 meatballs. Assemble all your ingredients. Now it’s time to put flame to your pot.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the sesame oil. Add ½ cup green onions, garlic, and ginger, and sauté 1-2 minutes. Add chicken stock, increase your heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 8 minutes.

To the stock mixture, stir in miso. By hand, one at a time, carefully drop in the meatballs and cook 6 minutes or until done. Add noodles and cook 2-3 minutes more (depending on your noodles). Divide soup between 4 deep soup bowls (minimum 18-ounce bowls) and sprinkle with remaining green onion, mung bean sprouts, and red chiles.

Serves 4 perfectly. Each person gets 4 meatballs and 4-5 ounces of noodles, and lots of yummy broth.

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Black Pepper Enhances Flavor and Health

In the world of spices, black pepper is considered royalty. Often referred to as the “King of Spices” a pinch of black pepper is added to just about every savory dish.  Like salt, black pepper is a flavor enhancer, adding a depth of flavor and providing a multitude of health benefits.

Black pepper is the fruit of the black pepper plant from the Piperaceae family and is used as a spice and medicine. The chemical piperine, present in black pepper, causes the spiciness. It is native to India. Since ancient times, black pepper is one of the most widely-traded spices in the world. It is not a seasonal plant and is, therefore, available throughout the year. When dried, this plant-derived spice is referred to as a peppercorn. Because of its antibacterial properties, pepper is used to preserve food. Black pepper is also a very good anti-inflammatory agent.

Black pepper is a rich source of minerals like manganese, copper, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and vitamins like riboflavin, vitamin C, K, and B6. Black pepper has a high content of dietary fiber and has a moderate amount of protein and carbohydrates.

Black Pepper is a Healthy Ingredient

Black pepper stimulates the taste buds and stimulates the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion. Hydrochloric acid is necessary for the digestion of proteins and other food components in the stomach. When the body’s production of hydrochloric acid is insufficient, food may sit in the stomach for an extended period of time, leading to heartburn or indigestion, or it may pass into the intestines, where it can be used as a food source for unfriendly gut bacteria, whose activities produce gas, irritation, and/or diarrhea or constipation. Pepper also helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas.

Black pepper improves weight loss by assisting with the breakdown of fat cells.

Black pepper provides relief from sinusitis and nasal congestion. It has an expectorant property that helps break up mucus and phlegm in the respiratory tract.

Because it is antibacterial, black pepper helps fight against infections and insect bites.

Black pepper helps keep your arteries clean by acting in a similar way to fiber and scraping excess cholesterol from the walls, helping reduce atherosclerosis, the condition highly responsible for heart attack and stroke.

Antioxidants in black pepper can prevent or repair the damage caused by free radicals and thus help prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and liver problems. Free radicals are by-products of cellular metabolism that attack healthy cells and cause their DNA to mutate into cancerous cells. Antioxidants neutralize these harmful compounds and protect your system from many conditions and even symptoms of premature aging like wrinkles, age spots, macular degeneration, and memory loss.

Using Black Pepper

For cooking and for adding at the table, it’s better to buy whole peppercorns, not the powdered black pepper. Look for peppercorns that are compact, round, heavy, and wholesome. Peppercorns can be stored for months in a dry air-tight container at room temperature, in a dry and dark place. And you can keep the ground black pepper in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.

For the best flavor, add pepper that you have freshly ground in a mill at the end of the cooking process. Since it loses its flavor and aroma if cooked for too long, adding it near the end will help to preserve its flavor.  Here are a few more  ideas:

  • Coat beef and pork with crushed peppercorns before cooking. For two of our favorite peppercorn recipes (and they actually go together), please read my blog posts: “Peppercorn Crusted Pork Loin Roast” and “Zesty Peppery Parmesan Aioli.”
  • As the pungent taste of black pepper is a natural complement to the deep, berry-like flavor of venison, use it to flavor this meat when preparing venison steaks or venison stews.
  • Keep a pepper mill on your dining table so that you can add its intense spark to all the food on your plate.
  • Olive oil, lemon juice, salt and cracked pepper make a simple, quick and delicious salad dressing.

Adding a pinch of black pepper to every meal helps to improve both taste and digestion. It also improves your overall health and well-being. So, use more black pepper in your cooking and at the picnic table!

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Dutch Oven Nachos

On our last scout campout, Scoutmaster Murray was cooking for the scoutmasters. For lunch on Saturday, he made two Dutch ovens of nachos with turkey chorizo, diced white onion, cilantro, diced tomatoes, and lots of cheese. They were a yummy lunch, filling but not too heavy, which was perfect going into a busy afternoon of teaching outdoor skills.

Nachos make a great meal or an appetizer. They are easy, fun, and completely customizable. You can build them any way you want to. They are great for an evening cracker barrel because they are finger food so there are no dishes to wash late at night.

If you line the Dutch oven with foil, when the nachos are done, you can carefully lift them out of the oven using the foil. Set the foil “bowl” directly on the picnic table and spread out the foil. Campers can just dive right in and start pulling off clumps of loaded tortillas.

The recipe below is for fully loaded nachos. While the list of ingredients is by no means comprehensive, it includes a lot of options. Use some or all of them. Use more or less of something. Treat this as just a guide for helping you decide what you want on your nachos. And I’ve included all the classics to serve with your nachos. Have fun!

Equipment
12-inch Dutch oven, large skillet.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef, turkey, chicken, or pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package taco seasoning, or your own mix
12 ounces tortilla chips
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
1 ½ cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 ½ cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 (4-ounce) can black olives, sliced
¼ cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro, fresh, chopped
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces salsa
8 ounces guacamole
1 (15-ounce) can refried beans, heated

Prep
Line a 12-Dutch oven with foil and start 25 coals.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm oil. Add ground meat and garlic. Cook until meat is browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the meat as it cooks. Stir in taco seasoning. Drain any excess fat.

Place about half of the tortilla chips in the Dutch oven, spreading evenly. Sprinkle on 1 cup of cheese and add the remaining tortilla chips. Top with 1 cup of cheese, ground meat mixture, black beans, corn, tomatoes, black olives, and remaining cheese.

Bake in a 350°F oven, using 17 coals on the lid and 8 underneath, for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately, topped with onion, jalapeno, and cilantro. Serve with refried beans, sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.

Serves 8

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Principles of Pancake Perfection

Camping and pancakes just seem to go together. Sitting at the picnic table with a stack of fluffy round pillows, drizzled in maple syrup. If you serve them with a couple strips of bacon and a cup of coffee, it’s breakfast heaven.

Whenever our troop goes camping, there is always at least one patrol that serves pancakes for breakfast. And, while pancakes are relatively simple to make, there are a few tricks to attaining those light, fluffy pillows we all dream about. Come on, admit it. I know you dream about pancakes, too.

On my Outdoor Cooking Skill Progression Chart, I put pancakes a couple steps up for the following reasons: You have to measure your ingredients because, technically, you’re baking and there is some chemistry involved. It is hard not to over mix them. Skillet and griddle work is a little more challenging because you have to manage your heat better. And, then there is the whole flipping the pancake that takes a bit of skill and coordination, and practice.

So, let’s dive into the principles of pancakes and I’ll share best practices and common mistakes.

Pancake Ingredients

When prepping the pancakes, you want to divide the ingredients into two categories: dry and wet.

Dry ingredients include flour (AP, whole wheat, rice, almond, etc.), sugar (granulated or brown), baking powder (to make them light and fluffy), and salt (balances and enhances the flavors). Your dry ingredients can be prepped at home and loaded into a container or resealable bag. Just be sure you are making enough because you won’t be able to prep more in camp.

Wet ingredients include milk (buttermilk, milk or non-dairy milk), fat (butter or vegetable oil), eggs (for structure and adds to the light and fluffiness), and extract (vanilla, almond, etc.). Your wet ingredients can also be prepped at home and poured into a tightly sealed plastic bottle for the ride to camp in your cooler.

Prepping and Mixing

In two separate bowls mix together all your dry ingredients and all your wet ingredients. When you are ready to combine, make a little well in your dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently stir together just until combined. DO NOT OVERMIX. Resist the urge to stir out every single lump until it’s totally smooth. Trust me, a few lumps are okay.

If you over mix the batter you will end up with stacks of tough and chewy pancakes instead of the light and fluffy ones you were probably dreaming about. Tough and chewy pancakes are only good for one thing: Frisbee.

So, mix the batter just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined, and there are no more visible wisps of flour. The batter will be lumpy and, again, that’s okay.

Resting the Batter

I usually mix my pancake batter and then turn my stove, which allows my batter to rest while the griddle heats. Resting the batter anywhere from 5-15 minutes allows the glutens that were activated during mixing to rest and relax. Also, the starch molecules in the flour have a chance to fully absorb the liquid. This will give the batter a thicker consistency.

Managing Heat

It’s important to allow time for the griddle to get good and hot evenly. You want medium heat or about 375°F. Too low and your pancakes just won’t cook. Too high and they will be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. We’re going for the Goldilocks heat: Just right. And, you may need to adjust along the way so don’t be afraid to do that.

A good way to test your griddle is to wet your fingers with water and flick it onto the surface of the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water droplets sizzle and dance before they eventually evaporate. Medium heat will give us pancakes that are golden-brown on the outside with slightly crispy edges, and soft but cooked through on the inside. Pancake perfection!

Greasing the Griddle

I can’t count how often my young chefs don’t do this and it always leads to disaster and pancake tragedy. Always pack extra vegetable oil when you plan to make pancakes.

When the griddle is up to temp, add a light coating of oil. We prefer vegetable oil, which tends to have a higher smoke point than butter and won’t add any flavor to the pancakes like olive oil.

After your oil has a moment to warm, you can begin adding batter to the griddle. Try to control your excitement. We’re not out of the woods just yet.

I prefer to use a ¼-cup measuring cup. It makes for a nice-sized pancake that is easy to flip. Depending on the size of your griddle, you could also get 6-8 pancakes per batch. This is important because once the pancakes start going down, the vultures will start circling.

If you have the griddle real estate and you are a more experienced pancake flipper, you could bump up to a ½-cup to 1-cup measuring cup for bigger pancakes. You can also use a smaller measuring scoop to make little silver dollar pancakes. Those are always fun.

Lightly coat the griddle with vegetable oil about every other batch of pancakes. Keep it light! Don’t let oil accumulate on your griddle or let your griddle run dry. If you see oil accumulating on the griddle, just use your spatula to redistribute it around the griddle. Remember to adjust the heat if you need to.

Flipping Pancakes

Pancakes should be flipped once, and only once, during cooking. And as long as you didn’t flip them too soon, you won’t need to flip them any more than that. Flipping pancakes too many times causes them to deflate, losing some of that wonderful fluffy texture.

As the pancake cooks, bubbles will start to form on the surface. Do not be tempted to pop them. I know, it’s fun, but when you pop the bubbles, you are releasing air from the neighboring chambers, essentially “flattening” the finished cake by vacating the air that was giving it some of its rise and fluff.

The pancake is ready to flip when the bubbles start to pop on their own and your edges are lightly browned and a little crispy, and the pancake is looking dry around the outer edges. If you’re still a little unsure, it’s okay to gently lift an edge and sneak a peek underneath. Generally, it will take about 2 minutes for the first side and 1-2 minutes for the second side. The most important thing is for the middle to be cooked.

Adding Extras

If you are adding extras like fruit to the pancakes, add after you pour the batter onto the griddle. Blueberries are a classic add on, but you could also add sliced bananas, chocolate chips, nuts, or whatever you like.

When you’re ready to serve the pancakes, you can serve with butter and maple syrup; however, you can also add flavored syrups, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, peanut butter, cream cheese, fruits, nuts, whipping cream, and sprinkles. Just to name a few.

Serving Warm

Serve your pancakes immediately or keep them warm by wrapping them in foil. If I’m making pancakes for a crowd and I want us to all eat together, I’ll warm up one of my large Dutch ovens to about 200°F and line it with foil. As I off load each batch, I add them to the Dutch oven to keep them warm.

It’s no fun to put stone-cold syrup on warm pancakes. If it’s a cold morning, you should warm your syrup. Your campers will love you for it.

Fan Favorites

Here are a few of our favorite pancake recipes (and we’re always adding more) because pancakes are something we dream about:

Buttermilk Pancakes

Snoqualmie Falls Oatmeal Pancakes

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

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Buttermilk Pancakes

 

Buttermilk pancakes are simply the best. We love them. Buttermilk brings a subtle tanginess to the pancakes, which balances nicely with the sweet maple syrup. Buttermilk makes a slightly thicker batter and supports the baking soda and baking powder for fluffier pancakes.

These buttermilk pancakes go together easy. Both the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients can be prepped at home and then combined in camp on the morning that you are going to make them. When making pancakes in camp, always prep a little more batter than what you think you’ll need. Hungry campers always seem to gobble down more in camp.

Serve with warmed maple syrup or flavored syrups, fresh fruit, and nuts. And, of course, bacon or sausage always pair nicely with pancakes.

Equipment
Griddle, small mixing bowl, large mixing bowl, whisk, pancake flipper, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients
1 egg
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Extra vegetable oil for greasing the griddle
Butter and maple syrup for serving

Prep
In a small mixing bowl, whisk egg. Whisk in buttermilk and vegetable oil. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the dry mix and add the wet ingredients. Stir mixture until just combined but still slightly lumpy. Do not over mix. Set aside to rest 5-15 minutes.

While the batter rests, heat a griddle to about 375°F and lightly grease it with vegetable oil. Using a ¼-cup measuring cup, pour pancake batter onto the griddle. When pancakes have a bubbly surface and slightly dry edges, flip to cook the other side.

Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.

Makes 8-10 pancakes

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Nuts About Nuts

I love nuts! My whole family is nuts, including myself! I add nuts to cookies and brownies. I add them to my ice cream. I add nuts to my salads. They are a major component of my trail mix. If I’m hitting the vending machine, my candy bar choice always includes nuts. When I’m looking for a snack, I grab a handful to munch on. Nuts are loaded with protein and flavor and satisfy my crunching, munching cravings. What’s not to love?!

Here is a glossary of great nuts. It is in alphabetical order because I can’t choose a favorite.

Almonds have a mild, creamy, sweet flavor. They are low in calories, higher in protein and calcium than any other nut, and are rich monounsaturated fats.

Brazil Nuts have a creamy, sweet, oily flavor. One ounce contains 780% of the daily recommended intake of selenium, which helps metabolism. During harvest, five-pound pods filled with nuts fall from 200-foot-tall trees and the pods don’t break.

Cashews have a mild, sweet, buttery flavor. They are high in iron (almost 2mg per ounce), zinc, and copper. The shells are poisonous but the red and yellow bulbous stems are known for making cashew apple juice.

Hazelnuts have an earthy, sweet, mildly bitter (from the skins) flavor. They are especially low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamin E, protein, and fiber. They also have the highest source of folate (a B vitamin) among nuts. They are also known as filberts.

Macadamia Nuts have a buttery, creamy, rich flavor. They are high in healthful monounsaturated fats. Studies have proven them effective in reducing cholesterol.

Peanuts have a rich, earthy flavor. They are rich in protein and arginine, an amino acid that can help improve blood pressure and circulation. Peanuts, which are technically legumes, make up 67% of total U.S. nut consumption.

Pecans have a sweet, stringent flavor. They contain the most vitamins and mineral of any nut (more than 19, including vitamins A and E, B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. The largest pecan processors shell 150,000 pounds daily.

Pine Nuts have a mild and creamy flavor. They are packed with protein, vitamin A, and phosphorus. They are actually a pinecone seed and a primary ingredient in pesto. A condition called “pine nut mouth” (possibly stemming from certain varieties) causes a lingering intense bitter taste.

Pistachios have a rich flavor and are very sweet. They are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that may protect against eye degeneration. They are also rich in potassium. The green color comes from chlorophyll and lutein.

Walnuts have a fruity, tart, astringent flavor. They are the only nut that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acid (one ounce contains 25g). Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man and originated in Persia, dating back to 7,000 B.C.

Make Your Own Nut Butter

In a food processor, process 4 cups of your favorite roasted nut. Add 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until creamy, about 4-8 minutes, depending on the nut. Makes 16 (2 tablespoon) servings.

When we go camping, my food tote always includes a mixed bag of nuts. If someone gets the hangries, all they need to do is grab a handful to tide them over until the next meal. Nuts are solid camp snacks. We love them!

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Banana Brown Sugar Caramel Strata

Layers of fluffy French toast cubes, warm gooey bananas, covered in brown sugar caramel sauce, topped with a brown sugar crumble, and drizzled with maple syrup. Do I have your attention?

This strata is breakfast comfort food and, while it is a bit challenging to make (i.e., multiple steps), it’s so worth it. It’s great for camp in a Dutch oven or at home in a casserole dish for a holiday or weekend breakfast or brunch. We’ve made this a couple times at home and in camp and, each time, it’s received rave reviews.

A strata is a great way to make French toast for a crowd without having to stand at the griddle flipping slices of bread. It can be sweet or savory. This one is most certainly sweet. With a few substitutions, this could also be dairy and/or gluten-free.

A strata is also perfect for making in camp in a Dutch oven. A lot of this can be prepped at home so, in camp, it’s just some assembly required. Just allow enough time in the morning to assemble and let it rest while the bread soaks up the egg mixture before baking. About 20 minutes of rest ought to do it. If you want that occasional big hit of banana, slice your bananas thicker. I prefer to dice my bananas so there is a little bit of banana in every bite. Either way is yummy. It’s just personal preference.

If you’re making at home, this French toast casserole can be assembled the night before, placed in the refrigerator overnight, and baked in the morning. In the morning, all you have to do is add the topping and bake. Again, great for a holiday or weekend brunch.

Equipment
12-inch Dutch oven or casserole dish, medium sauce pan or skillet, large bowl, whisk, cutting board, knife, small bowl, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients for Brown Sugar Banana Filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar packed
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ripe-firm bananas peeled, sliced and quartered

Ingredients for French toast
8 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half and half
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 15-ounce loaf French bread cut into large cubes (preferably a day or two old)

Ingredients for Topping
1/3 cup light brown sugar packed
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Ingredients for Serving (Mix & Match)
Maple syrup, caramel sauce, sliced bananas, chopped nuts, and whipped cream.

Prep Brown Sugar Banana Filling
At home or in camp, in a medium skillet or sauce pan on medium heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter. Add brown sugar, maple syrup, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly for a few minutes until the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and carefully stir in the bananas. Set aside and cool to room temperature while you prepare the French toast. If prepping at home, load the sauce into a container and add the bananas in camp so they are fresh.

Prep FrenchToast
In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, half and half, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. This can be poured into a bottle that has a tight seal for the ride to camp in the cooler.

Prep Topping
In a small sealable container or resealable bag, combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Add butter and, using a spoon or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture resembles wet, clumpy sand. Seal and refrigerate (cooler) until you are ready to bake the French toast.

Assembly if Making at Home
Grease a 2 1/2 or 3 quart casserole dish. Place half the bread cubes in the bottom. Spoon half of the banana-brown sugar mixture over the bread. Top with the remaining bread cubes. Pour the custard (egg mixture) evenly over the bread cubes. Lightly press down on the top of the bread to allow the top layer of bread to absorb some of the custard mixture. Spoon the remaining banana-brown sugar mixture over the top of the French toast. Cover and refrigerate overnight or until bread has soaked up all liquid.

Assembly if Making in Camp
Line a 12-inch Dutch oven with foil and grease with butter or non-sticking cooking spray. Place half the bread cubes in the bottom. Spoon half of the banana-brown sugar mixture over the bread. Top with the remaining bread cubes. Pour the custard (egg mixture) evenly over the bread cubes. Lightly press down on the top of the bread to allow the top layer of bread to absorb some of the custard mixture. Spoon the remaining banana-brown sugar mixture over the top of the French toast. Cover and rest 20-30 minutes or until bread has soaked up all liquid.

Baking
When you’re ready to bake, crumble the topping over the French toast.

Bake in a 350°F oven, using 17 coals on the lid and 8 underneath, for 40-55 minutes until puffy and golden brown, and set (check that the center is not too wet). Baking time will depend on how deep your casserole dish is and whether you prefer your French toast more well done. Refresh coals as needed.

Serve immediately with syrup, caramel sauce, whipped cream and/or chopped nuts.

Serves 6-10

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Categories: Breakfasts, Dutch Oven, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugar is the Sweetness to Our Savory

It seems like sugar has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but when critics of “sugar” talk about its high or increased consumption or link it to obesity and other life-threatening diseases, they inaccurately and misleadingly lump natural sugar (from sugar cane and sugar beets) together with man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and all the other caloric sweeteners manufactured from starch.

Sugar isn’t high-fructose corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup certainly isn’t sugar. The scientific name for sugar is sucrose, and it is a natural substance found in plants (primarily sugar beets and sugar cane). Sucrose, whether still in a plant or in our sugar bowl, is the same: equal parts fructose and glucose bound together at the molecular level.

By contrast, high-fructose “corn” syrup isn’t found in corn at all. Instead, advanced processes are required to manufacture glucose and fructose from corn starch, and they are then mixed in varying proportions, usually with high percentages of fructose.

Sugar (Sucrose) is Not Evil

Sugar is a healthy part of a diet. Carbohydrates, including sugar, are the preferred sources of the body’s fuel for brain power, muscle energy, and every natural process that goes on in every functioning cell.

Naturally present in fruits and vegetables, sugar is most highly concentrated in sugar beets and sugar cane. Sugar is simply separated from the beet or cane plant, and the result is 99.95% pure sucrose (sugar). The sucrose from sugar beets and sugar cane is not only identical to one another, but each is the same as the sucrose present in fruits and vegetables.

Beyond its contributions as a sweetener and flavor-enhancer, sugar:

  • Interacts with molecules of protein or starch during the baking and cooking process.
  • Acts as a tenderizer by absorbing water and inhibiting flour gluten development, as well as delaying starch gelatinization.
  • Incorporates air into shortening in the creaming process.
  • Caramelizes under heat, to provide cooked and baked foods with pleasing color and aroma.
  • Speeds the growth of yeast by providing nourishment.
  • Serves as a whipping aid to stabilize beaten egg foams.
  • Delays coagulation of egg proteins in custards.
  • Regulates the gelling of fruit jellies and preserves.
  • Helps to prevent spoilage of jellies and preserves.
  • Improves the appearance and tenderness of canned fruits.
  • Delays discoloration of the surface of frozen fresh fruits.
  • Enables a wide variety of candies through varying degrees of re-crystallization.
  • Controls the reformation of crystals through inversion (breakdown to fructose and glucose).
  • Enhances the smoothness and flavor of ice cream.

Sugar is Natural

Relying less on processed foods and cooking more fresh and from scratch using natural ingredients allows us more control over what we eat and how we fuel our bodies. Sugar deserves a place in our diets and in our pantries.

Here are a few different kinds of sweetners you can use:

Confectioners (Powdered) Sugar: The finest white sugar that you can get. It is about 3% cornstarch to help keep it from clumping. It is used for making icing or glazing baked goods.

Granulated Sugar: The white table sugar that everyone is accustomed to. It is the one most commonly used in recipes.

Coarse Sugar: White sugar that has a much larger crystal size. It is often used for decorating.

Turbinado Sugar: This is raw cane sugar with the surface molasses removed. It has a coarse texture and a blonde color.

Brown Sugar: The brown sugar that we purchase in the store is often granulated white sugar with molasses mixed back in, this can be done at home in your food processor by adding one tablespoon of molasses per cup.

Muscovado Sugar: A very dark, natural brown sugar that has a higher concentration of molasses left in. It has a stickier texture than most sugars. It is used in strongly flavored sweets such as gingerbread.

Honey & Maple Syrup: You can replace granulated sugar with maple syrup or honey in most recipes. Use ¾ cup maple syrup or honey for every 1 cup of granulated sugar. When baking with maple syrup or honey reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every cup used and reduce the oven temperature by 25°F to avoid burning. Maple syrup and honey can be used interchangeably.

Everything in Moderation

So, there is a lot of good to be found in sugar, but just like with everything else, moderation is key. Do I need 3 tablespoons of sugar in my coffee or tea every morning? No. One or two teaspoons is just fine and is not going to hurt me, and might even make my brain and my body feel a little happier.

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

Pizza Pasta One Pot

Our family loves pasta and we love pizza so this was a lot of fun to make. And, just like pizzeria pizza, this pasta dish could be customized to your personal taste. Make it like your favorite pizza. You could use gluten-free pasta or a whole wheat pasta. You could change up the meats, add some vegetables like bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, or make vegetarian pizza pasta.

This pasta dish really did taste just like a pizza and everyone loved it. Another great thing about this dish is that it is a one pot recipe. One-pots are great for camp because you’re only using one pot and one burner, making for less mess and less cleanup. And, this meal goes together fast. We were able to get dinner onto the picnic table in less than 30 minutes, which makes this recipe great for a roll-into-camp night or an evening meal after a busy day of outdoor activities.

Serve this with a salad and some bread sticks and you’ll feel like you’re sitting down to eat at your favorite pizza place.

Equipment
Large skillet with lid or 12-inch Dutch oven, cutting board, knife, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces Italian sausage, casing removed, mild or spicy
1 cup mini pepperoni or regular pepperoni quartered
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
16 ounces rotini pasta
12 ounces water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Red pepper flakes for serving
Parmesan, grated, for serving

Prep
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add Italian sausage and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat. Stir in half of the pepperoni and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

Stir in tomato sauce, oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, pasta, and 12 ounces water. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until pasta is cooked through, about 12-14 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure pasta is absorbing the liquid.

Reduce heat; top with mozzarella and remaining pepperoni, and cover until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately, garnished with parsley. Serve with red pepper flakes and Parmesan just for fun.

Serves 10-12

This post has been shared at Homestead Bloggers Network. If you like this blog and don’t want to miss a single post, subscribe to Chuck Wagoneer by clicking on the Follow Us button in the upper right corner and follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest updates and more stuff!

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

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