Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Can't Cook Breakfast: Gourmet Camping Part 5

I guess I shouldn't try to make breakfast when camping.

It will never be breakfast. It will always come out around lunchtime so I might as well just plan that I am always making brunches.

So my breakfast was a little fruit and some juice.  Then a 45 minute hike. Then, yes, brunch. That meant lighting a fire--partly to keep the bugs at bay. And starting to work in my kitchen.

I had intentionally brought along enough shrimp for a couple of meals, so I planned for some barbecued shrimp for this brunch. To accompany this a delight--cheese grits.

The shrimp I marinated for a while, as the fire was settling.

The grits I starts on the stove, cooking the grits and milk and a little salt.  When it was done I added the cheese, and since I made it rather runny, it was a good dish to set over the coals to cook down some more. And, while the shrimp was grilling, I sauteed a little spinach with garlic to go along with the grits and shrimp.

On the side, I sliced fruit I had brought along.

Ah. A lovely brunch.  Made me just want to sit down by the fire and close my eyes. For just a minute.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Use That Fire: Gourmet Camping Part 4

After 20 miles of biking, I was ready for food. Especially since I hadn’t eaten since brunch.  So hungry, I had to have an appetizer first.  And I happened to have a few avocados and some chips.Oh, and some onions, tomatoes, Serrano pepper, cilantro, and yes, a few limes.  So it was guacamole and chips. The drink was a watermelon daiquiri.  Served in mini martini glasses.

Oh, camping can be so good. 

After the appetizer, I was refreshed and ready to tackle dinner. And the menu was grilled corn, baked potatoes, grilled salmon and grilled shrimp.

Now ordinarily I wouldn't have cooked salmon and shrimp at the same time, but I hadn't made it to the shrimp the night before, so I needed to cook it.

 The marinade for the wild caught salmon and shrimp was the same and pretty simple. It was olive oil, fresh dill, lemon juice, shallots, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

For the corn, I soaked the ears, removed the silk inside and then wrapped them in tin foil. I put them on the grate over the hot coals to cook for at least 30 minutes (depending on your fire and the heat of the coals). For the potatoes, I poked them, rubbed them in rosemary oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt. I then wrapped them up and placed them with the corn to cook over the coals. The time depends on the size of the potatoes and the heat of the fire. Cook till it's nice and soft on the inside. With potatoes it's always best to cook them longer. The taste only improves.

We also had a nice herbed butter which we used for both the grilled corn and potatoes. This was was tasty and oh so filling. I believe we both slept quite soundly that night. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Going for Smoky: Gourmet Camping: Part 3

Brunch. One must have at least one brunch while camping. That is one of my rules.

That means hopefully that you let yourself sleep in. Then get up slowly. Make coffee. Then leisurely go about making a meal.

Eggs. Definitely. Veggies. Of course. And some cheese in there of some sort.

This trip, I decided a frittata would be just the thing. If you’ve never made a frittata, it’s the easiest thing. It’s rather like an omelet but easier.

You start with eggs, whipped up with a little water, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then you need to decide what to put in the frittata.  I scrounged through my cooler and came up with red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, a little spinach and some feta cheese.

First I sautéed all the veggies, then I poured in the eggs and topped it off with the feta. The first stage of cooking a frittata is the lightly cooking the eggs (and additional ingredients)) gently on the stove top. For about 5 minutes. At home, that would be the signal for me to slide it into a heated oven for another x minutes.  But it was camping, so I slid it on top of a grate over glowing coals.  And topped it with some foil so this would “bake.”

That brings up mention of the most important item I always bring on a camping trip—a cast iron skillet. No problem to go from stove top to the campfire.

But my frittata wasn’t going to be happy alone, so I cubed potatoes and sautéed them with some rosemary oil and onions on the stove. Then I transferred them to an old square metal baking pan to finish their cooking covered with foil (over the wood fire) while I started on the frittata.

How long you leave things over a burned down wood fire, depends on how hot your fire is, and how far away your grate is from the fire.  You want them, of course, roasting, not burning.

To top off my frittata, while it was roasting over the coals, I reduced some balsamic vinaigrette—that means gently cook it down until it thickens and sweetens.  This I drizzled over the finished frittata.

This I had to accompany with  a mimosa.  Cranberry juice and champagne.  I brought along champagne splits—small bottles of champagne such as Korbel sells.

 And then to taste.  The verdict?  The frittata was very good. A little smoky flavored added to the whole palate. And the roasted rosemary potatoes?  Fantastic.  Or foodgasmic, as I would say.

Now time for a bike ride, need to work off that delicious brunch!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Kitchen Sink: Gourmet Camping Part 2

I confess.

I don't travel light.

My mother tells me I remind her of her mother, who, mom claims,  would take everything but the kitchen sink when she went camping.

Well, I have one-upped grandma. I do bring the kitchen sink.

I am a chef, after all. And even in the wild, or the not so wild as this state park was, I have to have enough of my tools there to be able to throw down some great meals.

So here's my set up.

This is a Cabela's camp kitchen.  And this all folds up to 34" x 7.5" x 20" and fits into a nice carrying case.

Here to the basic structure, I've added not one, but two camp stoves.  It just doesn't seem possible to cook on only two burners, so I go for four.

The kitchen sink I mentioned?  It's under the center black surface, which can be removed. But, to tell you the truth, it's not the easiest to use, so I just use it for additional storage.

Of course when I'm camping, I bring a small knife kit with cooking utensils, and a small spice kit as well. And a cutting board or two. I also bring a few nesting bowls and prep bowls. And some old cooking pans.  A cast iron skillet--I wouldn't go camping without one.

I haven't yet devised the perfect dish washing scenario.  But the double dishpan method seems to work until I find a better solution.

Enough about the kitchen. What you want to know is what comes out of the kitchen. I'll tell you more of that in the next post.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not Like When I Was a Kid: Gourmet Camping Part 1

Camping! For some people the very thought of it send chills up their body. Bugs. Things that make sounds in the night. Only a thin layer of fabric separating you from the elements – and from the world.

But for me camping has pretty much always had positive memories.  I remember going camping with my mother when I was a preteen.  Something about that camp stove and the special camp cooking set that mom always lugged around was magic. Oh, that and the fact that she would bring the individual box cereals for breakfast. That was the only time I got sugared cereals!  A special treat.

I always loved camping and being outdoors. You seemed to always sleep so soundly with the sounds of nature. I also love the smell and feel a roaring campfire. It's so nice to sit around a hot fire and feel so cozy. Also s'mores, I love toasting marshmallows. I remember my Grandfather teaching me the proper way to perfectly brown the marshmallow so that the inside was gooey and the outside lightly crisp.

So I still love camping.  But I have to say, my approach to camping has changed. It’s now what I might label as gourmet camping. Yes, that all the down and dirty get your tent put up, sleep on the ground (OK, it’s a luxurious air mattress now).

BUT with fantastic food.

One of the things I have learned on a camping trip is that you must not expect too much from the first meal.  If you’re like me, you always leave later than expected. And it always takes longer than anticipated to construct the camp site.

So on my latest camping trip, I quickly jettisoned the planned meal and went with something simpler . . . yet ever so tasty.

Part of the food was prepared.  My mother had made the day before some fresh gazpacho and brought it along.

So after we had erected tent, cooking canopy, located wood and washrooms, and locked up our bikes, we were tired and hungry. So gazpacho was a great start to a simple meal.

The gazpacho, one of my favorite dishes that mom makes, comes with an avocado and red onion garnish!  And, we just happened to have a few tortilla chips along, so these went along well.

And, we had some leftover spicy sangria with grilled fruit, from my appearance on WCIU’s "You and Me This Morning".  Ahhh. Perfect combo.

Still hungry but not wanting to cook too much, we warmed a couple of baguettes—a gluten-free one for mom, over the fire. And then “baked” brie.

Eating baked brie with bread and fruit was always a favorite simple meal for my mom and me. I just put the brie wheel in a baking pan (best to use an old one that you don't mind putting on the fire), wrapped tin foil of the top and put it on the grate over the fire to cook/melt. It's best to keep turning the pan to make sure the heat gets all around. Cook till the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Hot bread. Baked brie. And freshly sliced fruit.  Simple. Satisfying.  What I hadn’t expected was what a wonderful smoky flavor the Brie would take on in this process.

By this time it was dark.  There weren't that many dishes to do since we hadn’t cooked much. So soon we could crawl into sleeping bags for the night.  Tomorrow the real cooking would begin.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Summer Drink

There's lots of things I think of  when summer comes along for drinking. Iced tea. Lemonade. Mojitos. Margaritas.

Doesn't mean you can't drink them in other seasons. But summer is a perfect time for drinking.
And that's how I feel about sangria.  So here's a rerun of my Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria.

And here's the recipe.

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

750ml bottle of a spicy red wine (Syrah, Shiraz, Tempranillo)
4oz orange liqueur
4oz brandy (plus additional for fruit to soak in)
4oz-5oz. spiced simple syrup (recipe below)
2 cups grilled chopped fruit (see below) macerated in additional brandy and/or liqueur
2-4 dashes of hot sauce ( I prefer Cholula hot sauce)
In large pitcher, pour in the wine, orange liquor, brandy, and spiced simple syrup. Add in the grilled fruit, a few dashes of the hot sauce and refrigerate till cold. To serve, pour sangria over ice in wine glasses and enjoy!

Fruit for Grilling

(These are just suggestions, feel free to enjoy any local and/or seasonal fruits that you like)
Lemons, oranges
Cut your choice of fruit into slices. Put into oiled grill or greased grill pan. Grill the fruit till it has nice grill marks. Take off of grill and chop into bite sized pieces. Put fruit into bowl with some additional brandy. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight in the refrigerator. This will let the fruit soak up the brandy.
Spiced Simple Syrup
1 stick cinnamon
2 full pieces star anise
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
½ tsp. chopped crystallized ginger
½ c honey
½ c water
Put all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain, then use as desired.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sometimes it’s just fun

I decided to try this just for fun.

I spied a photo on the internet of what claimed to be a watermelon cake.  Covered with whipped cream and fruit and slivered almonds.

Great, I thought. I can do that.

So I cut up a watermelon on a rectangular log shape (Cutting off the rind).

Then I whipped up some whipping cream.  I’ve shared my version for a special whipped cream on an earlier blog post.  I did some substitutions, however. Instead of sugar, I used agave syrup  (1/8 to ¼ cup, depending on how sweet you want it).  And instead of the ginger cream I used before, I substituted a few drops of orange blossom water.

NOTE: It may be a little challenge to locate the water.  If you are in the Chicago area, you can purchase it at Caputo’s Fresh Markets.

Here's a couple of hints about making this. When you've cut your watermelon log, put it in the fridge for a half hour or more.  The surface needs to dry off a little so the whipped cream will stick well. Also, once you have the whipped cream on, put it back in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a rush) and let it set up nicely.  Then store in fridge until time to serve.

The result?  It was pretty. It tasted good. And it was a light end to a meal. Maybe something to try on Fourth of July. Or any of those other picnics coming up this summer.

This is a great light dessert. Perfect to satisfy the gluten intolerant, the dieter, the person avoiding sugar.  Now,  I admit. This wasn’t vegan.  The version I made.

But it easily could be, by following the recipe to make whipped coconut cream topping. That I posted earlier.

Happy picnicking.