Monthly Archives: October 2013

Channeling Your Inner Evil Mad Scientist

It occurs to me that my two favorite Halloween costumes are a witch and a mad scientist, and its because they both cook. One uses a cauldron over an open fire and the other uses a beaker on a Bunsen burner. They both love to experiment.

Opportunities to experiment can make cooking fun and creative. Whether you’re creating something from scratch, jazzing up a recipe, or modifying a recipe to accommodate a disease or an allergy, there is always a level of risk involved. You’ll either love it or you’ll end up feeding it to your garbage disposal.

In the outdoors, we do not have to be slaves to the burgers and dogs menu. We also do not have to spend all day sweating over a hot campfire. With a little bit of planning and prepping, you can sit around the campfire and enjoy some fantastic meals that didn’t take all day to cook. For the most part, anything you can make in your home kitchen, you can convert to your camp kitchen. So, let’s start with what you’re making in your home kitchen.

One of the simplest and easiest ways to experiment is simply with your menu. Do you feel like your family is in a food rut? Your menus consist of mostly the same stuff day in and day out? Do a lot of them come out of a box? Or your freezer? Are you feeling a little like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory where every week he eats exactly the same thing? Ya, we’ve all had our moments of menu monotony (had to use a $5 word there in honor of Sheldon).

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Start by calling a family meeting. Encourage your family to experiment. Lead a brainstorming session. Was there something you ate at a campout or a potluck that you’d like to try making? Did you see something on TV? Did someone post something yummy looking on Facebook or Pinterest? Is there a different cuisine you’ve always wanted to try? Italian? Mexican? Indian? Chinese? Is there a recipe that you already make that you could change up and make differently? Change is good! Really! Dare to step outside your comfort zone because that is where the magic happens!

Find a recipe that you’d like to try and make a small batch, that way, if you don’t end up liking it, it’s not a huge loss. When your family sits down to eat a new dish, pretend you are all celebrity chefs on a Food Network show like Chopped. As you are eating it, just don’t say you like it or don’t like it, but try to articulate (another $5 word) why you do or don’t like it. What could you change to make it better or more to your liking?

For example, last weekend we experimented and tried the Camp Coppersnake Beef Stew recipe from Tim and Christine Conners’ The Scout’s Dutch Oven Cookbook. It came out great! A nice, hearty beef stew worthy of a cold campout meal. It had good flavor. Everyone liked it, (can you hear the “but” coming?), but I had a texture issue with it. The recipe called for covering the stew meat in seasoned bread crumbs before browning it and I think that gave it a bit of a sawdust feel in my mouth. Mind you, no one else felt that way. It was just me.

So, next time I make this dish, I want to swap out the bread crumbs for flour. Same seasonings; same everything else. I just want to see if that makes for a smoother texture. It also could have been not quite enough moisture in the Dutch oven and the breadcrumbs may not have had a chance to soak up as much liquid as they should have, so I may make it again with the breadcrumbs but with a smidge more liquid in the pot. I may have to make this recipe at least two more times before I get it to my liking. Is it worth it? Not always, but this recipe was easy to make and had good flavor so I’m willing to try making it a couple more times.

Keep in mind that recipes are not written in stone. As Pharaoh used to say, “So shall it be written, so shall it be done.” Uh, no. Just because it’s written in the recipe does not mean you have to make it that way. Feel free to swap out items that you may be allergic to or you don’t like and swap in others that you can eat or do like, but be thoughtful about it. Cooking is all about chemistry so you can’t just swap willy-nilly! You wouldn’t want to swap out a cup of flour for a cup of milk! That would be disastrous! But you could swap out a cup of cow milk for buttermilk, rice milk or almond milk. The breadcrumbs-flour swap I’m planning is okay because they are both thickeners. If you’re gluten-free then you could swap out the wheat flour for a different kind of flour. In some ways, you do need to follow the recipe, but in others you don’t. Go a little rogue once in a while!

So, channel your inner evil mad scientist and start experimenting! Muwahahahaha!

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Categories: Cooking Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spicy Taco Cobbler

taco_cobblerLast night, we made a taco cobbler in the Dutch oven. The preparation was simple: Heat the Dutch oven, brown the burger, add the enchilada sauce and rice, lay down a layer of cheese, lay down a layer of Bisquick cheese topping and bake for 30 minutes. Bazinga!

The topping turned a beautiful golden brown and was just thick enough. It was cooked all the way through and not gooey at all.

If you’re going to pre-cook your burger at home and then foil line your Dutch oven, I recommend spraying the foil with some cooking spray as the burger rice mixture might stick.

The flavors were great; not too spicy. The Spanish rice and enchilada sauce brought just a little heat. I think kids would like it; mine did. It was hot and hearty. The Bisquick cheese topping provided just a little crunch.

Depending on your taste buds, it would be very easy to add more heat to this recipe with some diced peppers and/or diced green chilies. A little fresh chopped onion might also be nice. You could also bulk up this dish by adding some pinto or kidney beans. A can of corn would also be a nice addition.

We loved the simple prep (dinner was on the table in just under an hour), great flavors, and heartiness of the dish. Our tummies stayed warm long after the meal was over. We also loved all the different ways we could dress up this dish and how we could make it a little different each time.

 

Equipment

12-inch Dutch oven, medium-size mixing bowl, measuring cups, rubber spatula.

taco_cobbler_in_oven

Ingredients

2 (8.8 oz.) packages Uncle Ben’s Spanish Style Ready Rice

2 pounds ground beef

2 (10 oz.) cans green enchilada sauce

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1 cup Bisquick baking mix

8 ounces (2 cups) cheese, shredded

 

Prep

Brown the ground beef in the Dutch oven on a propane stove or on a bed of hot coals. Add rice and enchilada sauce. In a medium-size bowl, mix milk, eggs, Bisquick, and ½ cup cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese over meat and rice mixture. Slowly pour or spoon out the Bisquick mixture evenly on top of the cheese. Do not pour too fast and do not mix the ingredients once they are in the oven. Bake in 400°F oven, using 19 coals on the lid and 10 coals under the oven, for 30 minutes or until top is golden. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Serves 10-12.

Categories: Dutch Oven, Main Dishes, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recipe for Success

Cooking skills are fast disappearing in an age when preprocessed and precooked food products increasingly dominate the options found at the grocery store. Every time I turn on the television, I am bombarded with advertising touting the ease and tastiness of this meal in a box or that meal in a bag. Cooking has become a 2-step process: Take it out of the freezer and put it in the oven. Sadly, most adults today don’t have any idea how to prepare a meal using individual ingredients, let alone outdoors away from the microwave. These same adults lack the knowledge and the skills to teach their children anything about cooking indoors or out.

No matter what your skill level is in the kitchen, the purpose of this blog is to get you out of your conventional kitchen and into the outdoors, which is where I believe some of the best cooking takes place. Cooking in the camp kitchen is undoubtedly one of the most challenging situations to cook in but it is also one of the most rewarding. I’ve been a youth leader and an outdoor skills trainer and facilitator for nearly 20 years and after a hard day of hiking, canoeing, swimming, and working in the outdoors, nothing beats sitting down at the picnic table to a nice, hot meal followed by a relaxing campfire of songs, stories, and s’mores!

For youth in particular, outdoor cooking builds a vast array of skills, including leadership, service, cooperation, thoughtfulness, gratitude, planning, cleanliness, patience, creativity, resourcefulness, and so much more. Cooking for others, whether its your family, your buddies, your patrol or troop, or your community is a huge responsibility. People are trusting you to take care of them, to feed them something that not only tastes good, but that will meet their nutritional needs and not make them sick.

Ingredients for this blog will include techniques, safe food-handling, nutrition, equipment, recipes, experimenting, planning, cooking, cleaning, and whatever else we find along the way. And, I plan to talk a lot about Dutch oven cooking, which is one of my favorite ways to cook outdoors.

Welcome and let’s get outside and get cooking!

Categories: Cooking Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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