“A shot of red-eye and a piece of meat.”
That was my answer to the server at a diner on Aspen’s main street, some 30 years ago, when asked “What can I getcha?”
My university friend, Bart, and I had just descended into town from a five-day, 30-mile backpacking hike counterclockwise from Snowmass to Aspen along the “Four Pass Loop.”
I was sore and stinky, but above all starved.
We had eaten as well as we could — both of us love to cook for ourselves and our families — but, after all, we’d been five days without the amenities of our kitchens. No stove, no refrigerator, no pots and pans.
If Bart and I would try the same route today, we’d be set to better feed ourselves. In 30 years, camping and cooking have trudged a long way, too. (Looking at you, Ziploc.)
In February, campspot.com, the largest online marketplace for many things camping (RV pads, campground spaces, cabins, and the like), commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 American adults. Over 80 percent of those responding stated that they are going on the road this summer and 36 percent say that they will be camping.
As I see it, cooking while camping occurs in two main ways. You take your kitchen with you — in an RV, say, or with piles of pans in the back of the van — or you just really rough it, everything in a backpack, food included. (Or you glamp and in effect both crash and dine in someone’s restaurant.)
Any of my “Get Cooking” columns can cook in the first way (and there’s a recipe today in that manner). But I’ve also got suggestions on cooking bare bones. Just you, your eats and your wits. No drive-ins, no tagalong attendants.
As Bart and I found those many years ago, it’s pretty astonishing how many good meals a mere two people can portage on a long hike.
Begin with a pantry of sorts, especially of dried grains and the like: grits or polenta, rice or ramen noodles, small-form dried pasta, powdered potatoes, powdered eggs, dried stuffing mix and flatbreads such as tortillas, pita or lavosh. The weight’s gone in these because the water is. You’ll pick that up along the trail.
Fresh proteins can be dangerous without refrigeration, but these days the proteins available in precooked, soy-based “fake meats” abound. Their best feature is that they actually satisfy, in all departments (taste, texture, satiety). They merely require heat. That, too, is available along the trail. (One cool thing to do with small-gauge firewood: whittle chopsticks from two sturdy twigs unless you simply cannot surrender your spork.)
Above all, planning ahead while you still are home will make for great campground eating. The most important task is to nail down as many of your campground recipes that you can figure out, and then measure out and package all of their ingredients.
For instance, combine any one recipe’s cooking liquids, pre-measured, into one small container. In the recipe here for Asian noodles, for example, the soy sauce, sesame oil and sriracha sauce can go into one small bottle. Be sure that any bottle containing liquids has threaded mouths or openings; that prevents pop-outs and leaks, especially with shifting elevations.
In a similar manner, the scallions, bell pepper and snap peas in this recipe can be cut up at home and put into a sturdy zippered bag. They’ll stay good, and be safe, for two to three days easy, so merely plan on them for a meal early on. Same idea for dry spices for other recipes (salt and pepper, Indian spice powders, etc.): small, threaded-mouth jars or wee zippered bags.
Wet foods such as a French cassoulet or a Mexican posole that you’ve made at home also can be packaged in sturdy zippered plastic bags (perhaps two, one inside the other) and frozen hard, to be toted along. They’ll remain very cold for a day or two (depending on the outside temperatures) while helpfully cooling other foodstuffs and be ready for another delicious meal, again early on.
Another hack, and one that my friend Bart and I did not have much of 30 years ago, is to empty the kitchen drawers of those accumulated condiment packets. Way beyond salt and pepper, today’s campers have at their readies mayonnaise, ketchup, Dijon and yellow mustards, sriracha sauce, malt vinegar, sweet and sour sauce, jams and jellies, even various brands of hot sauces (Cholula, say, or Tapatío). All you need.
Finally, the best thing that you have in your home kitchen to add spark and zest to any meal is acidity. So, away from home and out in the open, tote along a lemon, for its juice, or a vial of rice vinegar. A whisper of either enlivens anything, even overnight oats.
Sweet and Salty Asian Noodles
From “Chef Corso,” montyboca.com; serves 2-4; edited for style and clarity. More recipes at montyboca.com/recipes/.
- 32 ounces water
- 6-7 ounces ramen noodles
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons sriracha sauce
- 1 bunch scallions (green onions)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 5 ounces snap peas.
- 2 packages sesame snap crackers, crumbled
- Turn on burner to high heat. Boil the water. Add the ramen noodles and cook until done. Drain but retain noodles in pot.
- Meanwhile, chop up the scallions, the bell pepper and the snap peas. Turn burner heat to medium. To the noodles in the pot, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and sriracha sauce. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Add the chopped vegetables and cook 2 more minutes, stirring. Garnish with the crumbled sesame snaps.
Campfire Mexican Street Corn
From campspot.com; serves 4; edited for style and clarity. Additional recipes at campspot.com/camp-guide.
- 4 ears of corn, husks removed
- Olive oil
- 1 cup cotija (a fresh Mexican or Mexican-style cheese), crumbled
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of Tajín brand seasoning, or other chile-lime seasoning
- 1/2 lime
- Brush oil onto the ears of corn before putting them onto the campfire grate. Keep corn ears from direct contact with the flames as they can burn quickly. Use the indirect method, maintaining the ears off to the side of direct heat. Rotate the ears so that they brown on all sides. They are done when the kernels get a bit wrinkly.
- Place corn onto a baking sheet and brush on sour cream. Sprinkle with crumbled cotija, cilantro and Tajín. Spinning and rubbing the corn into the fallen toppings on the sheet may help to spread everything evenly. Squeeze the juice from half of the lime onto the ears of corn before serving.