Monthly Archives: January 2016

Best Ever Meatloaf

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I have cooked in some pretty miserable conditions, including 2 feet of snow, gale-force winds, and torrential rain, but I have to say one of the worst was last fall during our Boy Scout troop’s pioneering weekend. It’s an annual skill-building event held every October where we campout on a local farm and build large structures using our knot and lashing skills. The boys have built some pretty amazing structures from monkey bridges to catapults. In addition to honing their knot and lashing skills, they learn about teamwork, engineering, physics, and gravity! It’s always a great weekend with lots of learning and skill building.

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In October, the weather is always a little iffy and, in years past, we’ve usually had pretty good luck. Last October? Not so much. It was cold, which is not unusual, and rainy, again, not unusual (this is the Northwest), but it just didn’t rain, it dumped buckets, all day long. It didn’t just rain cats and dogs, but cows, horses and chickens, too! By dinnertime, I had a 2-foot wide river running through the middle of my cook shelter! But we’re scouts and we all toughed it out and had a lot of fun despite the downpours.

Menu Planners Stepped up

One of the things that helped us all get through the cold and wet weekend was our menu planning. In the weeks leading up to the pioneering weekend, I worked with my scout grubmasters and coached them to plan hot and hearty meals and to make sure they had lots of hot beverages like apple cider and hot cocoa. A good hot meal in your belly, warms you up, staves off hypothermia, and improves morale. All of them stepped up and planned some great menus, much to the appreciation of their patrol mates.

Because I had volunteered to cook for the adult volunteer leaders, I did my best to set a good example, which is what I always try to do when I’m cooking on a scout outing. When planning my menu, I decided to convert one of my family’s all-time favorite comfort meals, which is meatloaf and scalloped potatoes. I had never made either one outdoors, but I was looking for great comfort foods and those two are on my short list.

For the scalloped potatoes recipe, please see my blog post: “Scalloped Potatoes are the Mother of All Comfort Foods.”

Best Ever Meatloaf

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Ugh! Meatloaf! Really?! I have to admit, I’ve had some really lousy meatloaves over the years. I have an aunt, who shall remain nameless, who frequently made meatloaf when we came to visit and, I swear, it was like eating sawdust! But have no fear, meatloaf phobes, this meatloaf recipe is a winner! It even won over my meatloaf-hating hubby many years ago and, like I said above, this is one of our favorite comfort foods.

I prepped the meatloaf entirely at home. Before we left on Friday, I mixed together all the ingredients and loaded the meat mixture into a container, which then went into the cooler. In camp, Saturday night, I dumped the meat mixture into an oiled Dutch oven, patted it into what looked like a monster-sized hamburger patty and started it baking. When it was done, it wasn’t pretty (one of the Scoutmasters even asked if it was just a giant hamburger patty), but it tasted amazing and my fellow Scoutmasters came back for seconds.

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I should note that I use dried, minced onion, dried parsley, and dried sage. You can use fresh onion and herbs, but they will add moisture rather than soak up moisture so if you go fresh and the meatloaf is a little sloppy, that might be the reason.

I should also note that I don’t use any kind of glaze on top of my meatloaf. I know it’s traditional, but I’ve never liked them and when I started making my own meatloaf, I opted not to do that. I prefer a side of ketchup and that’s it. If you’ve got a glaze that you like, by all means, use it.

So, here is what my family calls the Best Ever Meatloaf. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

 

Equipment
10-inch Dutch oven, large mixing bowl, a fork for mixing, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup whole milk
½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons dried, minced onion
2 tablespoons dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ pounds ground beef

Prep
In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs and milk; stir in bread crumbs, onion, parsley, sage, salt and pepper. Add ground beef. Thoroughly mix meat and seasonings. I use a fork to do all this. Take your time and mix it really well.

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When it’s all mixed, I usually pick it up with my hands and shape it into a ball or a loaf. Plop it into an oiled Dutch oven and pat into desired shape. Bake at 350°F, using 14 coals on the lid and 7 underneath, for 60 minutes.

Makes about 6 servings.

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Categories: Main Dishes, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Critter Proofing Your Camp Kitchen

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It was about one or two in the morning when I was awakened by a noise. I laid there, in my tent, listening to what sounded like bones crunching. I laid there for what seemed like an eternity trying to decide what to do. Should I get up and check? Or should I just hide here in my sleeping bag inside my tent and hope that whatever it is goes away and doesn’t decide to come see if my bones are any tastier? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if my decision to get out of my sleeping bag was driven by curiosity (I know, it killed the cat) or the need to use the restroom.

So, armed with my flashlight and pocket knife, and questioning my intelligence, I quietly crawled out of my sleeping bag and crept silently to my tent door. I unzipped just enough of the tent door to shine my flashlight out and locked eyes with a raccoon.

She was up on the picnic table rummaging through a resealable bag of coffee creamer cups that had been left out. She was puncturing each creamer cup with her teeth and sucking out the sweet contents. The picnic table was covered in creamer carnage. On the picnic table with her were three babies who were eagerly licking up all the spilled creamer.

Caught in the beam of my flashlight and with all the creamer cups sucked dry, she decided she didn’t want a confrontation with me and she and her babies hustled off the picnic table and into the bushes. That was about five years ago while at summer camp with my son’s Boy Scout troop. I’ll always remember that.

Last October, at our troop’s annual pioneering weekend, I had to defend my camp kitchen once again. This time from a persistent horse who smelled the unmistakable smell of an apple pie in one of my food totes.

After I had to gone bed the night before, the adults who stayed up later did not secure the tote where the apple pie was. Early the next morning, a couple of horses from a neighboring farm wandered through camp and one headed straight for my camp kitchen and that apple pie! He was in the process of nosing off the unsecured top when I caught him. Luckily, I had gotten up early to get coffee and breakfast started or that apple pie would have been a goner.

It was a bit of a standoff with him trying to nose off the lid and me trying to hold it on. I knew I needed to carefully shoo him out of camp without spooking him. I was concerned that, if I was too aggressive, he’d bolt and possibly injure a scout sleeping inside a tent.

We had a long conversation he and I, and I finally persuaded him to move along without the apple pie, but the experience reminded me once again of the importance of critter proofing your camp kitchen.

In all the years I’ve been camping, whenever an animal has invaded my camp kitchen in the middle of the night to ransack, rob or otherwise make a mess, it’s usually been because I had gone to bed and a late evening snacker did not put something away properly or left something sitting out.

Here are some simple rules I try to follow so as not to encourage critters to come into my camp at night.

Keep a scrupulously clean camp. Pick up, seal and pack out every scrap of uneaten food. Pack leftovers inside odor-proof plastic bags. Another option is a bear canister, which is made of strong plastic with a heavy-duty lid that animals cannot pry open. Don’t forget: Always handle odor-proof bags or a canister with clean hands!

Avoid using any scented products such as lotions or soaps. Artificial smells also attract wild animals. A bear that’s a mile from your camp won’t smell your freeze-dried spaghetti, but it will smell your fresh and fruity deodorant.

If you choose to use a scented product, do so in the morning so the smell deteriorates before bedtime. Always change into clean clothes that have not been exposed to these scented products before bed. Any scented products must be sealed in an odor-proof bag and stored away from camp with your food.

Keep your food out of site. Once an animal finds food in a pack, box or can, it will seek out similar containers with hopes of securing a meal. Bears have been known to destroy boxes and packs that didn’t contain — and had never contained — any food. This means you should keep ice chests, boxes and packs out of sight. And don’t store food in tents or other places where people gather.

Separate your food from you. Campers often hang their food in a tree but that doesn’t really protect it. A bear cub can climb a 70-foot-tall tree in about 10 seconds. Mama bear can climb, too — slower than her cub, but faster than you. So “treeing” your food won’t necessarily keep it safe from critters that climb. Why, then, do many park authorities ask campers to hang their food? For your own safety!

Separating food and humans is the safest solution. Most campsites have only a few trees with horizontal branches that meet the guidelines for hanging food (about 20 feet high and approximately 8 feet from the trunk of the tree), and animals that climb know them all. If you do tree your food, do not use the same tree as everyone else.

Another option: Take your food out of camp and hide it in the woods. Do this only if it’s packed in a waterproof and odor-proof container, like a bear canister or bear box supplied at some park campsites.

Practice Leave No Trace principles. Scouting practices lean heavily on Leave No Trace ethics. Among these principles is the act of setting up your sleeping area at least 200 feet from where your unit will cook or store food. Always clean up spilled food or leftover food particles, and you must strain all wash water and distribute it at least 200 feet from camp.

In terms of trash, Scouts pack out everything they pack in. This should, of course, be done with caution. Carrying garbage in your pack while hiking through bear country could be a recipe for an attack. Make sure the garbage is sealed in an odor-proof bag or container. In some instances (if park-permitted), you might wish to burn food scraps instead of carrying them in your pack in areas highly populated by bears. And you should never throw leftover food down park toilets or box latrines.

When staying in a campground, take the garbage to the trash bin every night no matter how full the bag. If you allow it to stay in camp overnight, it will just attract critters and, in the morning, you will wake up to a huge mess.

Many national parks require hikers to store their food in bear-proof containers. Some examples include the BearVault, a tough plastic cylinder that’s government-approved; the Ursack, a bag made from virtually bulletproof Spectra fabric, which makes it more lightweight and compact; and the Outsak, a stainless-steel mesh bag that resists raccoons and smaller animals. Using odor-proof bags inside critter-proof containers provide extra protection.

Fortunately, the rules that work to help deter bears work for chipmunks, squirrels and other rodents, too. Even if I’m not in bear country, all my food is stored in ice chests and hard-sided totes that I can secure from nimble little raccoon hands. Just because a raccoon doesn’t pose a threat to your life doesn’t mean you should forget about animal-proofing techniques when you’re not camping in bear country. Otherwise, you may be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of bones crunching outside your tent door!

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Categories: Cooking Outdoors, Tales from the Cookfire | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baking in the New Year

cheese_scone_IMG_1302_690pxWhat are your plans for upping your cooking game in 2016? Is there a specific dish you’d like to perfect? A technique you’d like to master? A culinary style you’d like to try?

This year, my cooking resolution is to master the art of scones or biscuits. For me, the terms are interchangeable. Because of our genealogy, our family is heavily influenced by England, Scotland, and Ireland. For my husband, that’s nearly all of his genetic makeup. For me, that’s nearly half with my other half being Scandinavian. So, we tend to call them scones.

There are two possible pronunciations of the word scone: the first rhymes with gone and the second rhymes with tone. In US English, the pronunciation rhyming with tone is more common. In British English, the two pronunciations traditionally have different regional and class associations, with the first pronunciation associated with the north of England and the northern working class, while the second is associated with the south and the middle class.

However you pronounce it, I feel a strong genetic tug to make scones, which I have ignored for far too long.

You have to admit that there’s just nothing like a fresh baked biscuit with breakfast or dinner, and what would biscuits and gravy be without biscuits? So, in the coming months, you can expect some scone recipes to appear in the blog. I hope that excites you as much as it excites me.

Scones or biscuits are a great way to get fresh bread into your camp menu. They are relatively easy to make without all the fuss of yeast bread. They can easily be made by hand, requiring no fancy equipment.

And, everyone loves a good biscuit. While a plain biscuit is hugely popular, you can also pack them with all kinds of goodies from cheeses to meats to fruits. Depending on what else you are serving, your scone can be savory or sweet.

I decided to start with a savory, cheese scone. This is a great recipe and you can subtly alter the flavor of the scone by the type of cheese you choose to use. From sharp Cheddar to Parmesan to Swiss to Gorgonzola, choose your favorite cheese and try making a scone with it. This would be a great scone to serve with breakfast or dinner. Can you imagine serving a hot and hearty stew with a warm, cheesy scone? Yum!

Equipment
Mixing bowl, clean work surface (cutting board, tabletop), pastry cutter, a fork for mixing, measuring cups and spoons, a Dutch oven or a box oven.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
⅓ cup unsalted butter, chilled
⅓ cup milk
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze (optional)

Prep
Preheat your oven or start your coals. Lightly butter the center of a baking sheet or the Dutch oven.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the cheese. Cut the butter into little cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

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In a small bowl, stir together the milk and 2 eggs. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined (a fork works well for this). At some point, the fork will become useless, so you might as well just pick it up with your hands and mush it together into a ball, sponging up all the little dry bits with the dough ball.

Shape into a disc with your hands, then spread the dough into an 8-inch diameter circle in the center of the prepared baking sheet or Dutch oven. (The first time I made them, I actually got a ruler and measured; now I just eyeball it using my hand.) If desired, brush the egg mixture over the top of the dough. Cut into 8 wedges.

Using a home oven, Dutch oven, or box oven, bake at 400°F for 15-17 minutes or until the top is lightly brown (emphasis on lightly), and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to overcook it. If you overcook a scone, it dries out and starts to become a brick.

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: Dutch Oven, Recipes, Sides | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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