Monday, July 26, 2010
Patty's famous low dirt camping cakes
We made it back from our epic outdoor adventure into the wilds of the nearby woods. We spent a lot of time on the road and I spent a lot of time preparing meals with a minimal amount of dirt in them. We slept in a tent (on an air mattress), and shared our blanket with the dog! I cooked meals, warded off chipmunks, and bathed in the cold lakes and rivers. It was a wonderful time.
We go camping quite a bit with my husband's family, and they have a camper. While this might feel like cheating to some, it is nice to have fresh baked cookies, and make muffins in the morning. Alas on this trip, we did not have a camper, and I had to come up with my own solution of how to create food in the out of doors. A large area of where we went camping is the desert. That means no camp fires, and that means that I have to be prepared, and that there will be windstorms blowing dust into your food.
I get frustrated with my husband's family and camping food. They eat the same meals every year. I know what we will be having: steak and potatoes, sausages (or hotdogs), spaghetti, and these meals are always the same. They never change, and when we have steaks, my father in law cooks them on a charcoal briquette grill. I often wonder why he has it, I mean other than emergencies, because he usually has a nice fire with a grill over it for us all to sit around. In recent years I have barged my way in and taken over breakfast, and we have new things! I experiment, apparently there have been grumblings, but if the kids got over that we're really there to hang out together and not eat food we could all have great food and hangout together at the same time.
It also detracts from the possibility of dutch oven food. How will I get my dutch oven and cook wonderful foods in it if everyone is a bitchy little whiny pants about how dinner has to be THESE THINGS and nothing else? Like it would kill us to have two different meals while we camp. For crying out loud, it's not like my mother in law is making spaghetti sauce, we're camping! She has better things to do, so it comes out of a jar! We could totally change that meal to something fun. I also think that the hot dog meal could be forfeited for something great and we could make a great experiment meal. We can have hot dogs any old time. On a side note I didn't get to make awesome dutch oven meals on this trip as it was a 'road trip' and we spent a lot of time on the roads. When will my dutch oven love be realized? I want to camp and slow cook things, and make dutch babies and cobblers and have stacks of dutch ovens all over the place!
I made a simple plan for my husband and me. We had diner food or sandwiches for lunch, my husband doesn't really eat breakfast, so that was mostly for me, and for dinner I had a simple menu of things that don't take up a lot of space: Chili, spaghetti (I know, but it comes in a jar), hamburgers, sausage sandwiches, baked potatoes and corn, and lamb steaks one night. I'm sure we ate other things, but I don't know what they are. I did make a simple to cook menu, as I didn't have a lot of space to work with, and I don't have a camper. We shopped at local farm stores and we bought a lot of in season fresh corn.
If you want fresh corn you really need to go pick it yourself. If you can't make sure your corn is picked that day, and there are things you can do to check your corn without peeling it. The silk on the corn should be light in color and not dried out. The bottom of the ear should be freshly cut and white in color. When you grip the husk, it should feel firm, and the kernels should feel firmly packed. You should not have to peel down the husk of the corn and check the kernels. Corn is ideal for camping as you can keep it in the cooler for a day (maybe two, but I wouldn't) and have some that night. You don't need to shuck it or anything to cook it. Just set it on the edge of the fire and turn it until it's pretty black outside all over. It takes about 40 minutes to cook corn over a fire. One night we had fresh potatoes and corn for dinner, I baked the potatoes and corn in the fire. It was great. I didn't have to do anything hardly!
The meal I'm most proud of is one that my husband declared "extra fancy for camping". It starts at a largish town where I found a reliable source for lamb steaks. I also bought polenta in a tube, which is really ideal for camping being shelf stable until you open it, and great for all meals. We then struck out (on Friday) to find a great camping spot along the river. Being that we didn't really have a firm plan for where we were going, we didn't have reservations. Six full campsites and three hours later we were exhausted, grumpy, and the dog had to pee. We declared that we were going to stay at the next available place, and if we had to, find a motel and sneak the dog in (she might be a little spoiled). Finally we came to a very small town, and passed by one very scary looking RV park, and one nice RV park. We went to the latter, as it didn't scream murder park at us. It was a nice park, but we were the only ones without an RV. I made a great dinner and that is what I will tell you about now.
I do have a nice propane stove, it has one burner and a grill on it. Being that you just never know, it is nice to have the grill built in. You can't always have fires, and the grill is so handy for any meat you want to cook. Bacon, burgers, steaks, sausages, whatever. The menu I had planned was salad (freshly bought) with dressing and cucumber I had bought from a farm stand. I picked up rosemary and mint, plain polenta and lamb steaks. I had a multi-spice - never camp without one - and some butter. I had also acquired a head of garlic from the farm stand as well.
I know many people don't like lamb, and that the flavor bothers them. The real thing is that you have to treat it right. The fat of lamb has a strong flavor, and it's best if you trim some of it off. Also you shouldn't over cook lamb, as it becomes tough quickly. It's also best to season lightly, unless you're making curry, and really you should be using mutton for curry and not lamb.
3 cloves of garlic minced - divided
2 Tbs. butter - divided
2 lamb leg steaks
1 rosemary sprig, minced
2 mint sprigs, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 tube plain polenta
Mix together 1 Tbs butter, salt, 1/2 of the garlic, and all of the rosemary and mint. Set aside. In a pan heat the remaining butter and garlic. Slice the polenta into slices about 3/4 of an inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the pan over medium high heat. Cook them for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown. Divide onto plates.
Heat your grill to a high heat. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper and place over the heat. Depending on the thickness of the steaks about 2-3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the second side should be sufficient for a propane grill. Never cook past medium rare. I prefer my lamb rare, and I usually take a look early on (by that I mean I cut into a bit of the lamb and take it off the heat early. Remember you can always cook the meat more, you cannot cook it less. So check early, and go for less done than you think it should be). When you are nearing the last minute of cooking divide the herb butter into two pats and place one pat on each steak. Remove the steak from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Serve with salad and the polenta.