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Feast on 3 camping-friendly recipes in the great outdoors this summer

Foil-wrapped fire-grilled fish with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Foil-wrapped fire-grilled fish with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

First, a confession: I am not a big camper. I love being outdoors and I love the wilderness, but I also love my bed. I’m more the glamping type: raised platform, a bed with sheets. But when it comes to eating outdoors, count me in. I’m not interested in taking shortcuts or living on canned beans.

The following three recipes are all quite delicious and work as well deep in the woods by a campfire and tent as they do in your backyard. I have been on enough camping trips to know you want to keep things simple and do as much work at home before you leave. These recipes are not ideal for those who are hiking miles to a camping spot. They require a skillet that might be too heavy to schlep deep into the woods and some ingredients that won’t travel well in a backpack. But the recipes are ideal for driving to a campground or somewhere that doesn’t involve miles of hiking to arrive at your camping spot.

Summer is short. Get outdoors. Enjoy the time away from it all. Gaze at the night sky. Swim in a lake or pond. Howl at the stars. And, of course, eat well.

Tips:

  • Pack as lightly as you can. Get organized at home. Think through your meals and only bring what you absolutely need. That being said, think through the entire recipe and ask yourself: do I need a bowl to mix that? Bring the bowl. Do I need a small skillet? You get the idea. You can’t be too prepared.
  • Freeze bottles of water to act as ice for your cooler to keep your food ice cold. As they melt, you can drink or use the water.
  • Chill all your food before packing it in the cooler so no ingredient brings the cooler temperature down.
  • Bring a flexible cutting board and a sharp knife.
  • Don’t forget matches or a lighter, wood, charcoal and newspaper to help you start the campfire.
  • Metal skewers are good for cooking food and moving it around the fire. Also good for cooking potatoes, marshmallows and vegetables.
  • Make sauces, herb butters and salad dressing at home ahead of time so you don’t have to carry all those ingredients.
  • Don’t forget snacks: Make or bring cookies, energy bars, raw vegetables cut into sticks, apples, fruit, peanut butter, etc.
  • Always eat the more perishable meals first, avoiding the chance for the ingredients to go bad.
  • Plan meals that will work well as leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Always make sure not to keep garbage out which can attract animals and keep your campsite clean.


A note about the recipes: All of these recipes require that you not have a blazing hot roaring fire, but a fire that has cooked down somewhat and created a bed of hot coals. 

Foil-wrapped fire-grilled fish with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs

The beauty of this dish is that everything gets wrapped up in foil and you have a whole meal with very little effort. This recipe works well with virtually any type of fish, but the timing will have to be altered accordingly. You could also substitute boneless chicken thighs or breasts for the fish.

Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients

Foil-wrapped fire-grilled fish with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

1 pound baby new potatoes, left whole if truly baby (quarter-size potatoes), cut in half if larger, and cut into quarters in really large

  • 1 pound fish filet, cod, flounder, sole, haddock, halibut, trout, etc.
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped herbs, parsley, basil, chives, thyme or any combination
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes, or 1 tablespoon herb-lemon butter or chile-lime butter, see below
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 lemon cut into quarters
  • Instructions

    1. Make a wood or charcoal fire and let it burn until you have a good bed of coals and it’s quite hot. Place a rack on top. Wrap the potatoes in a large piece of foil and wrap them tightly. Bury in the coals. Let cook for about 20 minutes. They are ready when you cut one in half and it’s almost tender.
    2. Place the fish in the center of another large piece of foil. Place the potatoes along the sides of the fish and scatter the herbs and tomatoes over the fish and the potatoes. Sprinkle with the oil, salt, pepper and butter. Squeeze the lemon juice on top of everything. Seal the foil into a tight packet and place on the rack over the hot coals. Let cook for about 10 minutes, depending on the type and thickness of the fish, or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. (If using chicken, cook for another 8 to 10 minutes,  or until the chicken is cooked throughout.) The potatoes should be tender and the tomatoes just soft. Serve with lemon wedges.

    Fire-grilled corn with two seasoned butters

    Fire-grilled corn with two seasoned butters. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    These flavored butters take about 5 minutes to make but can transform your camp cooking. One combines butter with fresh summer herbs and lemon zest. The other combines butter with chopped green chile pepper and lime zest. They work with everything from morning eggs to lunchtime sandwich spread, to cooking chicken, fish, vegetables or spooning onto noodles or rice. Make the butters at home and roll them into logs and freeze them. You can cut off what you need and keep the rest chilled in your cooler.

    Serves 2 to 4.

    Ingredients 

    The herb-lemon butter:

    • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
    • ½ cup fresh herbs, finely chopped, a combination using any or all of these herbs:  basil, mint, lemon verbena, tarragon, parsley, chives, rosemary, and/or thyme
    • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper


    The green chile-lime butter

    • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons green chile, like a jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed (keep some seeds if you want a spicy butter)
    • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 4 ears corn in the husk


    Instructions

    • To make the herb butters: In a small bowl mix the butter with the herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a fat cigar shape. Roll tightly and freeze for up to a month.
    • To make chile butter: In a small bowl mix the butter, chopped chile, lime zest, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a fat cigar shape. Roll tightly and freeze for up to a month.
    • Make a wood or charcoal fire and let it burn until you have a hot bed of coals. Place the rack over fire. Place the corn in its husk directly on the rack over the hot fire and cook for 10 minutes, rolling the husk from side to side so all sides are somewhat blackened. Remove from the fire, let cool for a minute (it will be HOT!) and husk the corn. Serve with one or both flavored butters.

    Open-faced s’mores and berry “pie”

    Open-faced s’mores and berry “pie.” (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    I wanted to do a riff on the classic camp food, S’mores. Many people love the combination of graham crackers, burnt marshmallow and chocolate, but some don’t like the burn of the marshmallow. Here you line a fire-proof skillet (I used a 10-inch cast iron) with graham crackers and layer on chocolate chips, berries (I used raspberries) and marshmallows cut in half. The only trick with this simple dessert is to keep an eye on it and not let it burn. The marshmallows will begin to “melt” and puff up on the sides. But don’t let the graham crackers burn on the bottom.

    Serves 2 to 4.

    Ingredients

    • About 8 graham crackers
    • About ½ cup chocolate chips
    • 8 to 10 marshmallows, cut in half
    • 1 cup berries, raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries


    Instructions

    1. Make a wood or charcoal fire and let it really cook down to coals. Place a rack on top.
    2. Line the bottom of a 10-inch heavy skillet with the graham crackers. You may need to break them in half to fill in the edges. Ideally you want one solid layer but if you need to double up to create a solid surface it’s fine. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and then the raspberries. Top with the marshmallow halves. Cover with foil.
    3. Place the skillet in the middle of the rack and cook, slowly, for about 15 to 20 minutes, moving the skillet from side to side every few minutes. Keep a close eye on it to make sure nothing is burning. Remove the foil after 10 minutes. The “pie” is done when the chocolate is melted and the marshmallows just begin to get soft and turn a golden brown.


    Other ideas:

    • For breakfast, try maple-glazed bacon: Fry bacon in a skillet. When it’s almost done, drain the fat and drizzle on 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and place back over the fire. Cook until the bacon is done and the maple syrup has glazed the meat. Serve with fried eggs.
    • Granola Bars and soup (Make the granola bars a day or two before you leave, and make the soup a week ahead and freeze)
    • Sauces: Make ahead and bring in a tightly sealed bag or jar.
    • Cold peanut sauce can be made several days ahead of time.

    This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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