RECIPES: Gather around the campfire
The last time my Boy Scout troop went camping we had steak.
I was surprised. I was shocked. I didn’t know you could do this while camping. Before that, most of our previous experiences around a campfire involved some sort of spamming. We also had a memorable evening where we ate burgers with stretched ground beef adding bread, which our troop leader informed us was to add flavor.
Our troop leader’s name, by the way, was Norman Bates. Despite sharing a name with the famous psychopath from “Psycho”, he was a nice guy. He was so nice, he bought a steak for our last camp.
So maybe my concept of eating around a campfire has been skewed. I’ve always thought of this to mean spam, with occasional sightings of burgers and, in the rarest cases, steak.
But apparently things have changed in 50 years. Now, some people go to a campsite in a motorhome equipped with all the comforts of a four-star hotel. The tastes of others have expanded beyond the limits of hot dogs, burgers and spam to encompass more creative dishes in their cooking.
I recently camped in the wilderness of St. Louis’ Tower Grove East, where I encountered exotic animals (squirrels) and experienced the mysterious sounds of nature (the friendly barking of neighboring dogs, Florence and Moby ).
I also concocted a mess of food around the old campfire, which I guess would technically be called a “grill”. But still, the recipes will also work for campfires.
I started, as we do, with breakfast. I made Campfire French Toast which is possibly the best French toast ever. And it’s not just because you get the slightest hint of smoke in your toast (okay, you can’t really taste it, because it’s wrapped in foil), but it’s also because the recipe is so amazing – and rich.
Usually, you use whole milk to make French toast, but it can be difficult to bring milk with you on a camping trip. It’s so much easier to just use a can of evaporated milk, which I see now has more calories – even evaporated milk with no fat.
But you can use regular milk while still being impressed with this exceptional dish, as it also requires a fair amount of cinnamon and vanilla, plus a little maple syrup right in the dip mix. These are the magic ingredients that make French toast better, especially when paired with multigrain bread.
I used the same loaf of bread to make bacon, egg and avocado toast. Or that’s what I would have done if I had remembered the egg. I actually made bacon and avocado toast. And it was excellent too, due to one sure and irrefutable fact: bacon tastes best when cooked over a fire.
Although initially smoked, bacon only improves with a little extra smoke from the glowing embers of a campfire. Toast also tastes best when cooked directly on the grill over a fire. Do not cook the avocado.
And if you remember the egg, just cook it in the pan you used for the bacon. But frankly the sandwich I made was so good it didn’t need an egg.
The next dish I made is so obvious I’m embarrassed I never thought of it before – fire-baked quesadillas.
Like French toast, the secret is to cover it with foil. Once protected from the fiercest heat of the fire, the quesadilla has a chance to slowly heat up until the cheese reaches the ideal state that scientists call “gooey.”
You can put anything in a quesadilla, but I stuck to the basics: cooked chicken, black beans, salsa, and grated cheese. When cooking over a campfire, you don’t want to get too fancy.
Unless you’re making prawn scampi. If you have the ingredients for the prawn scampi at your next camp, you might as well prepare it. It’s actually a simple, unpretentious dish, but it’s as delicious to eat at the campfire as it is unexpected.
Again, the key is to use aluminum foil. Simply divide the ingredients – shrimp, garlic, white wine or chicken broth, butter, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and a little salt – into foil pouches, seal the pouches and place them on the grill.
Foil, of course, is notoriously not transparent. And since the shrimp are so quick to cook, you’ll have to open the pouches a few times to see if they’re done.
But that slight effort doesn’t matter, because the results are worth it: scampi shrimp, camping. Imagine that.
Of course, any time spent around a campfire should 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 them with bacon.
Maybe you’ve had dates stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon. These tasty s’mores are a twist on that life-changing idea, and you get the added benefit of the smoke-enriched bacon.
Bacon, mushrooms and blue cheese. It is the ultimate aperitif. Almost worth the camping trip.
Campfire French Toast (TNS / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Hillary Levin)
Campfire French toast
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk OR 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and more for serving
- 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 slices of multigrain bread
- 1 cup of mixed berries, optional
Coat 8 pieces (14 inches) of heavy-duty foil with nonstick spray, or use nonstick foil, and brush the center of each piece with melted butter.
Whisk together 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.
Dip both sides of each piece of bread in the milk mixture until they are completely submerged. Arrange 2 pieces of bread next to each other, without overlapping, on a piece of buttered foil. Repeat with the remaining bread and 3 pieces of foil.
Prepare the foil pouches: Place the remaining 4 pieces of foil, buttered side down, directly on top of the bread so that the foil touches the bread and the edges are aligned. Fold and crimp the edges to form 4 rectangular bundles.
Place the packages on a rack over medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes per side. The cooking time will depend on the heat of the fire and the distance of the packs above the embers, so check doneness by carefully opening one of the packs (hot steam will escape). French toast is done when it is browned on both sides and the center is creamy. Store in packages or transfer to plates. Top each serving with ¼ cup berries, if using, plus more maple syrup.
Makes 4 servings.
Adapted from the Food Network
Grilled Bacon and Avocado Toast (TNS / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Hillary Levin)
Bacon and Avocado Toast
- 2 slices of multigrain bread
- 2 slices of bacon
- 1 small ripe avocado
- 1 lemon wedge
- Salt and pepper
On a grill over a campfire or grill, toast the bread on both sides.
Place a cast iron skillet on the heat and cook the bacon; watch carefully to avoid burning. Cut the avocado in half, remove the core and scoop out the middle; mash it with a fork in a small bowl. Spread the avocado on a piece of toast, sprinkle with lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Top with bacon and the other piece of toast.
Makes 1 serving.
Campfire Quesadillas (TNS / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Hillary Levin)
- 4 flour tortillas, 7 or 8 inches
- 8 ounces of cooked chicken (about 12 ounces raw)
- 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup of salsa
- 1 cup grated Mexican mixed cheese
Place each tortilla on a large piece of heavy foil and place the chicken on half of each tortilla. Top with equal amounts of beans, salsa and cheese. Fold the tortilla over and fold the foil over the tortilla, but do not seal the edges.
Place the foil pouches on the wire rack over a fire and cook, turning occasionally, until the cheese has melted and the tortilla is medium brown and crisp.
Makes 4 quesadillas.
Recipe adapted from cupcakediariesblog.com.
Scampi Shrimps (TNS / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Hillary Levin)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons of dry white wine or chicken broth
- 2 big pinches of salt, or to taste
- A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
In a small bowl, combine the garlic, wine or broth, salt, crushed red pepper, black pepper and lemon juice.
Divide the shrimp among 4 large pieces of heavy foil and sprinkle evenly with the garlic-wine mixture. Garnish each serving with a piece of butter and sprinkle with parsley. Fold the foil over each shrimp mixture and fold the edges to seal.
Place the foil pouches on a wire rack over a fire and cook, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the shrimp and the heat of the fire, but remember that shrimp cooks quickly. Periodically open a package to check doneness; the shrimp are cooked when they are pink and curly.
Makes 4 servings.
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- 8 ounces of mushrooms, preferably with large caps
- 1 ½ ounce of blue cheese
- 8 ounces of bacon
Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Fill the caps with blue cheese and wrap them in bacon so that the bacon coats the cheese. Secure with a wooden toothpick.
Place the bacon-coated mushrooms on a rack over a fire. Cook, turning occasionally carefully with long tongs, until bacon is cooked through. When you flip, try to keep the melted cheese from dripping (but don’t worry, it will still taste great).
Makes 4 servings.
Recipe by Norma Klingsick