Monthly Archives: June 2016

DIY: How to Build a Box Oven

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A box oven is a cheap and easy way to add an oven to your outdoor cooking gear. They are simple to make and you can build as many as you want. If a Dutch oven is out of your budget, a box oven is definitely in your budget and they are so simple to make a Brownie or Cub Scout could build one. Even if you have one or more Dutch ovens, one or two box ovens can add that much more oven power to your camp kitchen. Here’s all you need to build a box oven: a cardboard box, heavy duty aluminum foil, 4 empty cans, and duct tape.

For the cardboard box, all you need is a box that is large enough to fit a cookie sheet, muffin pan, casserole or baking dish, and is about a foot high. Go to your local grocery store and ask for an empty produce box. I prefer apple boxes, banana boxes, and pineapple boxes. You can also use the bottom portion of a box that held reams of paper or you can use any other regular box and just cut the top flaps off. Whatever you use, it will probably be free! The 2 best things about apple boxes are: they are virtually the perfect size for any kind of baking, and you can use the lid and bottom to make 2 box ovens or you can nest the bottom inside the lid for a double layer, making for a better insulated oven!

Use Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil. I prefer Reynolds Wrap 18-inch.

Your cans can be empty soda pop cans, soup cans or juice cans. You just need something that will elevate your baking dish above the coals. I have a little wire rack for cooking over a small campfire that just happens to be the perfect size. But if you don’t have one of those, cans will work perfectly. Keep in mind that the smaller juice cans will place your dish closer to the coals. Conversely, the taller soda pop will place your dish farther away from the coals. To keep your cans more stable, before you bake, fill them with sand.

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How to Build the Box Oven

Using the aluminum foil in large pieces, cover the inside of the box completely with foil, placing the shiny side out. I find that using the backs of my hands to press the aluminum foil to the inside of the box results in fewer tears as I’m working. It may take a couple of layers to get all the cardboard covered but it’s important that no cardboard is exposed. Otherwise, you risk it catching fire and going up in a blaze along with your blueberry muffins! Wrap the aluminum foil over the edge and secure it to the outside using the duct tape.

That’s it! You’re done! You now have a box oven. Let’s bake something!

How to Use a Box Oven

Find a non burnable patch of ground or concrete and lay down a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side up, that is larger than your box. In the middle, arrange your rack or your four cans so they can support your baking dish and elevate it on top of the coals.

Prepare your baked dish and prep your coals. Control the baking temperature of the oven by the number of charcoal briquettes used. The average briquette will supply about 35 degrees of heat (a 350°F temperature will take 10 briquettes). If you have to round, I would round up rather than down. If it’s cold outside, you may want to add a couple extra briquettes.

Arrange the briquettes on the aluminum foil under your rack or between your cans. Set your baking dish on the rack or on the cans and carefully lower the box so that it covers everything. Important Note: Use a small rock (about an inch in diameter) to prop up one end of the box to allow in the air that the charcoal needs to burn.

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Try not to peak at what you are baking, but if you absolutely must peak, lift the box straight up, peak, and go straight back down. You’ll lose the smallest amount of heat doing it this way.

Optional Extras

Add a window by cutting a hole in your box that is smaller than a Reynolds Oven Bag or take advantage of the hole in the top that is on most banana or pineapple boxes. Cover the box with foil as directed above, making sure to wrap foil over the edges of the hole. On the outside of the box, stretch the Reynolds oven bag across the hole and secure it with duct tape. Now you have a window for peaking.

Add an oven thermometer by punching a candy thermometer into the box so the probe is inside and the dial is on the outside.

As noted above, for added durability and insulation, use both parts of the apple box and tuck the bottom inside the lid for an extra layer of cardboard.

So, if you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can still bake in camp and, even if you do have a Dutch oven, this will add yet another baking option to your camp kitchen. Imagine the looks on your camper’s faces when you serve them amazing fresh baked muffins or biscuits for breakfast out of a discarded cardboard box!

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Categories: Box Oven, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cheesy Spicy Hash Brown Casserole

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We love hash browns for breakfast either in a main dish like a big breakfast skillet or as a side dish. This hash brown casserole makes a great side dish and brings great flavor and a little heat. When I made this last weekend for the first time for a mixed group of scoutmasters and scouts, I seeded my chiles because I was concerned that I might overwhelm some of the younger taste buds. The heat was very mild. If you really want to bring the heat, then leave the seeds in. You could also swap out some of the chilies for hotter varieties. My son tried to talk me into using a ghost pepper. I said no. I opted for Monterey Jack cheese but, again, if you want to bring the heat, you could step it up to Pepper Jack cheese. I used frozen southern style hash browns, but you could just as easily peel and dice fresh potatoes.

First thing in the morning, after I get my coffee, I’d start this one. It has about 30 minutes of prep (less if you chop your veggies and grate your cheese at home before you go) and then about 30 minutes of baking time. After 30 minutes, the potatoes were cooked through but you’ll notice in the picture below that they look a little pale. Next time I might let them brown a little in the Dutch oven before I put the lid on and add coals. After I put the lid on and add coals, I also might let them go longer than 30 minutes just to see if I can get a little more color on the potatoes.

I’d recommend a 12-inch or larger Dutch oven or 9×13 deep baking dish for a full batch. If you want to do a half batch, I’d step down to a 10-inch or 12-inch Dutch oven or an 8×8 baking dish. Remember to adjust your coals for the size of your Dutch oven. Here’s a link to my Dutch Oven Size Chart and Temperature Guide.

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Equipment
12-inch Dutch oven, cutting board, chef knife, cheese grater, stirring/serving spoon.

Ingredients
8 slices bacon, fried and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 large green chiles, diced
2 jalapenos, finely diced
1 poblano chile, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 pounds (2 bags) frozen southern style hash browns (diced potatoes)
Salt and ground pepper
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
2 cups grated Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack

Prep
Dice the vegetables and grate the cheese. On a campfire, a bed of coals, or on a propane stove, fry the bacon in the Dutch oven until its nice and crispy. While the bacon is frying, load 27 coals into a chimney with 1-2 fire starters and, when the bacon is done, light your coals. Remove the bacon from the Dutch oven and set aside on a paper towel. You may want to critter and camper proof it or it just might disappear! I’ve had a number of scouts learn that lesson the hard way!

To the Dutch oven, add the butter and then add the chiles and onion, and sauté until well browned. Pour in the frozen hash browns and add some salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt; that’s a lot of potatoes. Toss everything together. Let it heat up for just a few minutes to steam off any excess liquid from the hash browns; you can crumble or chop the bacon while you wait.

Sprinkle on the cheese and top with crumbled bacon. Put the lid on and move it to coals.

Bake at 375°F, using 18 coals on the lid and 9 underneath, for about 30 minutes until hot and bubbly or until the potatoes are done to your liking.

Makes about 20 4-ounce (½-cup) servings or 10 8-ounce (1 cup) servings. And, c’mon, let’s be real. We’re all going to take a 1 cup serving and go back for seconds…. Just sayin’….

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Categories: Breakfasts, Dutch Oven, Recipes, Sides | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Spice of Life

Spice_Cupboard_IMG_1638_300pxTomorrow is National Herbs & Spices Day! What in the world would we do without this menagerie of flavors with which to season our food?! At home, it’s easy to season a dish. I open the spice cupboard (we all have one) and I spin one of my 2-tiered lazy susans and select what I want. I can add a little of this or a little of that. Sometimes, I open various spice jars and smell the contents until I find the flavor I’m looking for. I can be completely whimsical if I want. At camp, it’s not so easy…or, is it? It kinda depends on your camp prepping style.

Some campers like to do their prep work at home, packing a minimal pantry with only what they need for the trip. Other campers like to prep their meals in camp, or on the fly, and pack a fuller, more versatile, pantry. The rest of us are probably somewhere in the middle.

I prefer to pre-mix a lot of my dry ingredients and bring them to camp in a container or resealable bag. I also like to pack a few spices for jazzing up a dish on the fly or to taste. If it’s a hunting or fishing trip, I’ll bring a few specific spices for seasoning the “catch of the day.”

Spices pose a unique challenge in the camp kitchen. No one wants to pack a bazillion little bottles with them. Depending on your favorite brand, your spice jars may be glass and may not be able to stand up to the rough and tumble world of camping. Or, if you’re like us, you buy some of your spices in bulk because you use them a LOT.

Following are a few ways to solve this conundrum.

Make a visit to your local craft store and wander through the bead section to see what they have for organizing beads. Many of these storage devices would be perfect for spices provided the containers can be sealed well.

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Likewise, make a visit to your local pharmacy and see what they have for pill boxes and medication organizers.

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These kinds of containers can be found with pill boxes, fishing tackle, and beads.

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Do you have a Tic-Tac addiction or know someone who does? Here’s a great way to re-purpose those little containers.

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Sterilite makes a Large Clip Box (11×14). The shallow version (pictured below) is 3¼” high and the deep version is 6¼” high. The deep version could accommodate a full-sized spice jar.

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Remember Tupperware? These little gems would be perfect for spices with their small size and airtight seal.

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However you prefer to transport your spices to camp, make sure you label them well. On our last camping trip, I opened a container of salt thinking it was sugar and loaded a couple of teaspoons worth into my morning coffee. Blech! That was a rude awakening.

Now that you’ve figured out how to store and transport your spices, what spices do you take camping?

Salt & Pepper, of course. Although I’m surprised how often this gets forgotten.

Your favorite poultry seasoning?

Your favorite beef seasoning?

Red Pepper Flakes, which is a great add-on at the table?

Italian Seasoning?

Rubs. Perhaps your own secret blend?

Let us know.

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

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