Apparently “campfire” cooking have changed in the 50 years since I was a boy scout.
Now, some people drive to a campsite in campers equipped with all the comforts of a four-star hotel. Others’ tastes have expanded beyond the bounds of hot dogs, hamburgers and Spam to encompass dishes with more creativity in their cooking.
I recently camped out in the wilds of my St. Louis neighborhood, where I encountered exotic wildlife (squirrels) and experienced the mysterious sounds of nature (the friendly barking of the dogs next door, Florence and Moby).
I also cooked up a mess of chow around the old campfire, which I guess would technically be called a “grill.” But still, the recipes will work for campfires, too. Plus, it could be a fun Father’s Day activity, even if it’s in your own backyard.
I began with breakfast and made Campfire French Toast, which just may be the best, richest tasting French toast ever.
Usually, you use whole milk to make French toast, but it can be a hassle to bring milk with you on a camping trip. It’s so much easier just to use a can of evaporated milk, which has more calories — even nonfat evaporated milk.
But you could use regular milk and still be impressed by this superlative dish, because it also calls for a fair amount of cinnamon and vanilla, plus a bit of maple syrup right in the dipping mixture. These are the magic ingredients that make any French toast better, especially when paired with multigrain bread.
I used the same loaf of bread to make Bacon and Avocado Toast. And that was excellent, too, because of certain irrefutable fact: Bacon tastes better when it’s cooked over a fire.
Though it is smoked to begin with, bacon only improves from a little extra fresh smoke from the glowing embers of a campfire. Toast, too, tastes better when cooked directly on the grate over a fire. Don’t cook the avocado.
And if you want to add an egg, simply cook it in the pan you used for the bacon. But frankly, the sandwich I made was so good it did not need an egg.
The next dish was quesadillas cooked over a fire.
Like the French toast, the secret is to cover it in foil. Once protected from the fiercest heat of the fire, the quesadilla has a chance to warm up slowly until the cheese reaches the ideal state that scientists refer to as “gooey.”
You can put anything in a quesadilla, but I stuck to the basics: precooked chicken, black beans, salsa and shredded cheese. When you’re cooking over a campfire, you don’t want to get too fancy.
Unless you’re making shrimp scampi. It’s actually a simple, unassuming dish, but it is as delicious to eat at a campfire as it is unexpected.
Once again, the key is to use foil. Just divide the ingredients — shrimp, garlic, white wine or chicken stock, butter, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and a bit of salt — into foil pouches, seal the pouches tight and put them on the grate.
Foil, of course, is notoriously nontransparent. And because shrimp are so quick to cook, you’ll have to open the pouches a few times to see if they are done.
Naturally, any time spent around a campfire must include s’mores, but I decided to mix things up and make savory s’mores. That is, I stuffed mushroom caps with blue cheese and wrapped then with bacon.
Perhaps you have had dates stuffed with Parmesan and wrapped with bacon. These savory s’mores are a variation on that life-changing idea, and you get the extra benefit of the smoke-enhanced bacon.
4 flour tortillas, medium size (7 inches)
8 ounces cooked chicken (from about 12 ounces raw)
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1. Place each tortilla on a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and place chicken on half of each tortilla. Top with equal amounts of beans, salsa and cheese. Fold tortilla over and fold foil over tortilla, but do not seal the edges.
2. Place foil packets on the grate over a fire and cook, flipping occasionally, until cheese has melted and tortilla is moderately browned and crisp.
Per serving: 392 calories; 13 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 68 mg cholesterol; 28 g protein; 40 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 821 mg sodium; 311 mg calcium
8 ounces mushrooms, preferably with large caps
1. Clean mushrooms and remove the stems. Fill caps with blue cheese and wrap with bacon so the bacon covers the cheese. Secure with a wooden toothpick.
2. Place wrapped mushrooms on a grate over a fire. Cook, occasionally turning carefully with long tongs, until bacon is done. When turning, try to keep melted cheese from dripping out (but don’t worry; it will still taste good).
Per serving: 284 calories; 26 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 45 mg cholesterol; 11 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 466 mg sodium; 61 mg calcium
Recipe by Norma Klingsick
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 (12-ounce) can nonfat evaporated milk or 1 ½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 slices multigrain bread
1 cup mixed berries, optional
1. Spray 8 (14-inch) pieces of heavy-duty foil with nonstick spray, or use nonstick foil, and brush the center of each piece with melted butter.
2. Whisk together the evaporated milk, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon in a small baking dish or large resealable bag. If you don’t have a whisk, use a fork.
3. Dip both sides of each piece of bread in the milk mixture until fully submerged. Arrange 2 pieces of bread next to each other, without overlapping, on 1 piece of buttered foil. Repeat with the remaining bread and 3 pieces of foil.
4. Make the foil packs: Put the remaining 4 pieces of foil, buttered-side down, directly on top of the bread so the foil touches the bread and the edges line up. Fold and crimp the edges tightly to make 4 rectangular packets.
5. Place the packs on a grate over a medium-hot fire and cook about 5 minutes on each side. Cooking time will depend on the heat of the fire and the distance of the packs above the embers, so check for doneness by carefully opening one of the packs (hot steam will escape). The French toast is done when it is browned on both sides and the center is custardy. Keep in the packets or transfer to plates. Top each serving with ¼ cup of the berries, if using, and more maple syrup.
Per serving: 321 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 117 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 16 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 262 mg sodium; 166 mg calcium
Adapted from a recipe by the Food Network
2 tablespoons dry white wine or chicken broth
⅛ teaspoon (2 large pinches) salt, or to taste
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ pounds shrimp, shelled
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1. In a small bowl, mix together garlic, wine or broth, salt, crushed red pepper, black pepper and lemon juice.
2. Divide shrimp onto 4 large pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and sprinkle evenly with garlic-wine mixture. Top each portion with 1 piece of butter, and sprinkle with parsley. Fold foil over each shrimp mixture and fold edges to seal tightly.
3. Place foil packets on a grate over a fire and cook, flipping occasionally, until done. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the shrimp and heat of the fire, but remember that shrimp cook quickly. Periodically open a packet to check doneness; shrimp are cooked when they are pink and curled.
Per serving: 268 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 304 mg cholesterol; 34 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 278 mg sodium; 123 mg calcium
2 slices multigrain bread
1. On a grate over a campfire or grill, toast bread on both sides.
2. Place a cast-iron skillet over the fire and cook bacon; watch carefully to keep from burning. Cut avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop out the middle; mash it with a fork in a small bowl. Spread the avocado on one piece of toast, sprinkle with the juice of the lemon and season well with salt and pepper. Top with the bacon and the other piece of toast.
Per serving: 606 calories; 46 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 37 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 14 g fiber; 735 mg sodium; 85 mg calcium
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