We have a theory that everything tastes better camping. This theory all started on New Year’s Day 2000. We were partying like it was 1999, escaping the Y2K hysteria with our tent and a canoe on the shores of Lake Jindabyne. Our first dinner for the year was a vegetable and salami one pot stew, with a splash of leftover champagne and some quick cook couscous. It was the best meal we had eaten all year, and we liked it so much we tried to recreate it at home when we got back. Sadly, it just wasn’t the same.
Something about cooking and eating while out in the great outdoors makes the food tastes better. Maybe it’s all that outdoor air and physical activity giving us a real appetite, the smokiness of the campfire making its way into the food, or the satisfaction and sense of achievement of preparing a meal without the usual equipment.
We do a bit of camping, and have picked up a few pointers that make things easier when it comes to dinner time at the campsite. Note that we are talking about car camping here, not hiking, unless you are the kind of hiker who is happy to carry a cast iron pot in your backpack, and I don’t know many of those.
Here are some of our ideas:
1. Take frozen pre-cooked meals
We usually cook up two or three dishes that can be reheated at the camp site. Preparing them at least a couple of days before you leave gives them time to freeze, and if you pack them in recyclable plastic containers (yes, we do eat ice cream) there will be less to carry back with you, plus the frozen meals act as ice bricks in the esky (the insulated cool box). You could do a similar thing with the meal in a vacuum sealed pouch instead of a container.
Our favourites are:
- A burrito mix such as the chicken and bean one in the photo. The extras that make the meal (such as wraps, tomato, lettuce, cheese and avocado) can also be used for lunches. There is usually room in the esky for sour cream as well.
- A pasta sauce. We take packaged pasta with us and try to choose pasta with a shorter than normal cooking time, to make things easier while camping. I do know people who take their pasta machine camping and make home made pasta while on holidays by the beach. I’m happy with the shop bought style for this situation.
2. Pack some premixed spices
You want your campfire-roasted chicken to taste delicious, but you don’t have room in your tent for 5 different spice jars? Plan ahead and make up the mix before you go, bagged up and labelled together with other things you know you will use.
We used this mix and the lemon and garlic for a whole chicken, cooked in the coals in a large cast iron cooking pot or camp oven. Very tasty.
3. Take the “one thing leads to another” approach
With space at a premium and wanting to use up what you have quickly, you want food that will be used in a couple of different ways, like an actor in a small troupe making an appearance in a number of roles. Ingredients that fit with dinner one night and breakfast, lunch or dinner the next day are ideal.
We cooked a lamb and vegetable dish in a pot in the coals of the fire, which left us with lots of lovely juices. After our dinner was ready and the fire was still warm, we poured some yellow lentils into the juices to let them cook. We then let them cool and put them in the esky for reheating the next night.
I realise this photo doesn’t look “plated up”, but remember everything tastes better camping. This is our lamb flavoured lentils with vegetables, potatoes cooked in foil in the coals, with a shop bought salad and Turkish bread.
By the way, that cast iron cook pot is one of best items of kitchen equipment we have, and it cost us about $30 over 10 years ago. You can buy them in a camping shop. Not as pretty as the fancy enamel coated versions, these pots are solid performers. We take ours camping, then at home we use it on the stove top, inside the oven and on the BBQ.
If you were thinking about making scones while camping, have a look at local blogger In Search of Golden Pudding’s recent post here.
Any other ideas?