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!