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Campfire flair

Franks? No thanks. This novice was going to rustle up a more ambitious meal.

Appetizers were a mixed success. The bruschetta was a treat, with subtly smoky flavor, crunchy bread and sweet tomatoes. But the cheese for the nachos burned instead of melting.
Appetizers were a mixed success. The bruschetta was a treat, with subtly smoky flavor, crunchy bread and sweet tomatoes. But the cheese for the nachos burned instead of melting.Read moreWYN FURMAN / For The Inquirer

When I was growing up, my family would take weekend camping trips in West Virginia a couple of times a year. My mom, who was a great cook at home, somehow managed to maintain her gourmet standards on the road.

But I never paid attention to what she was doing. Her wonderful meals seemed to appear magically out of thin air, even without resources such as refrigeration and running water.

Now, when I go camping with friends, I can pitch a tent, recognize constellations, and build a decent fire.

I just can't cook over one.

So, with a sink-or-swim attitude, I recently invited three friends along on a camping trip to French Creek State Park. I was determined to serve something other than the standard franks-and-beans.

I scoured Internet databases and barbecue cookbooks for dishes that could be prepped in advanced and tailored on-site to individual diets. Overlapping ingredients, easy cleanup, and minimal kitchen utensils were musts.

Also, I wanted to use more unusual cooking techniques such as foil packets and plastic bags on this trip.

Dinner would be bruschetta, nachos, grilled vegetables with bison or halibut, and simple fruit kabobs for dessert.

Breakfast would be muffins baked in orange-peel cups and omelets cooked in a plastic bag. (See accompanying recipes.)

We were either going to waddle home, or starve.

For fresh, local ingredients I headed to Reading Terminal Market. The remaining items were available at Whole Foods.

Preparation would be the key to our survival.

Before leaving home, we covered the bison in our homemade marinade and put it on ice; we packed the cooler with perishables and loaded up my Subaru wagon.

After pitching the tent and collecting firewood, I assembled my three sous chefs and went to work.

First up: bruschetta. The recipe called for small cherry tomatoes, but medium-sized tomatoes were more practical for camping because they can be roasted slowly atop a grate or directly along the edges of the fire. The finished product had a subtle, smoky flavor punctuated by the crunchy bread and sweet tomatoes.

The most challenging part of the bruschetta recipe was extracting the tomatoes without burning myself. Although we made do with short kitchen tongs wrapped in newspaper, I would recommend investing in long-handled tongs or fire-resistant gloves.

Our second appetizer, the nachos, did not come out as well as the bruschetta. Preparation and cleanup were a snap, but the cheese burned instead of melting. The result was something akin to a hockey puck wrapped in foil.

In contrast, our foil entrees were delicious - the vegetables were moist, the bison tender, and the fish flaky.

Here are some tips to make campfire cooking work for you.

When cooked directly on the grill over an open flame, bison, which has a lower fat content than beef, becomes tough and chewy. But a foil packet traps the moisture, producing a succulent meal.

The marinade we used was a flavorful complement, although one friend thought the flavor was a bit overwhelming (you may want to reduce the amount of cayenne pepper in the marinade for a milder version).

The halibut, purchased at Reading Terminal Market, was the most popular dish. The saffron and curry powder boldly flavored the mild, white fish. As with the bison, the steam trapped in the foil packet brought out the complex flavors.

We complemented the dishes with red peppers, yellow peppers, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and parsnips.

To save time, foil packets can be prepared at home.

Be careful of the brand of foil you purchase. We went eco-friendly and purchased 100 percent recycled foil. But we had to double-wrap everything because it did not stand up to the heat. I recommend using regular Reynolds Wrap or, if available, extra-thick foil.

The best part of dinner was the cleanup - there was almost none. At the spigot we rinsed off the knife, cutlery, cutting board and plates.

There was a crisp chill in the air when we woke up the following morning. After rekindling the fire, we got started on breakfast.

The recipe for muffins baked in orange-peel cups was ingeniously simple, and I was genuinely surprised at how well they turned out.

With this recipe, use store-bought muffin mix or make your own from scratch. The only important thing is to pick a muffin variety that complements a smoky orange flavoring.

Prepping the oranges was a challenge; your results may vary depending on how much pulp you remove. Leaving residual fruit attached to the orange's inner skin made for flavorful and moist muffins. Scraping the interior down to the white inner layer produces muffins with crisper edges and milder orange flavoring.

We tried the recipe using both oranges and grapefruit. The fruit was more easily removed from the latter, but we preferred oranges for taste.

The unusual omelet recipe, which called for mixing the ingredients in a zip-top bag and boiling them in a pot of water, produced the fluffiest eggs I have ever enjoyed. And it is a great way to use leftover vegetables from the night before. Simply fill the bag with as many eggs and leftover veggies as you want, and toss the bag in a pot of boiling water. Because the bags float, rotate the eggs periodically to speed cooking.

The eggs become firm when done. Remove the bag from the pot and slide the omelet from bag to plate.

Overall, we found that selecting recipes with similar ingredients made it easier to shop and pack, and makes sure nothing goes to waste.

Additionally, these easy recipes don't require hours standing over a hot grill. Leaving all the more time to enjoy what you really came for - the great outdoors.

Bruschetta With Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 4 servings


1 loaf ciabatta bread

10 Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

2 plump cloves garlic, peeled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling


1. Slice ciabatta in half lengthwise and then slice again through the middle of each half to yield four long quarters.

2. Chop basil and set aside.

3. Place the whole tomatoes directly on red-hot coals. The skin of the tomatoes will blister in the heat. Rotate them in the coals and cook evenly on all sides. Cooking time varies with temperature of coals. The tomatoes are done when skin is slightly charred.

4. Transfer tomatoes to a plate and allow them to cool. Remove skins, taking care not to rub any ash onto the tomato flesh. Depending on size of tomato, slice into bite-sized pieces.

5. Toast bread on the grill rack until deeply golden and immediately rub each piece on the cut side with a cut clove of garlic. Arrange roasted tomatoes on each piece, sprinkle with basil, season with a little salt and pepper, and drizzle generously with oil. Serve immediately.

Per serving:

290 calories, 8 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, no cholesterol, 527 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.


Bison in Foil Packets

Makes 4 servings


For the marinade:

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 shallots, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, pressed

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

For the packets:

4 bison steaks, one inch thick

Vegetables (such as

parsnips, red or yellow peppers, onion, carrots and yellow or geeen squash) cut in bite-size chunks.


1.   Make marinade at home, combining ingredients until mixed thoroughly. Put in lidded container with bison steak and let marinate for 4 to 10 hours - in the fridge at home or over ice while driving to your campsite.

2.   At the campsite, shape pieces of tinfoil into round "bowls." Place one bison steak and a variety of chopped vegetables into each foil bowl and pour remaining marinade on top.

3.   Seal foil into a packet. Cut slits on top for ventilation.

4.   Place the packets on the grates of the grill, approximately one foot over coals. Wait 10 minutes before opening packet, and check progress by cutting meat. If not done, reseal packet and cook until desired doneness is achieved.

- Marinade adapted from The New American Steakhouse Cookbook (Broadway books) by David Walzog and Andrew Friedman

Per serving: 488 calories, 52 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 141 milligrams cholesterol, 1,111 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Halibut in Foil

Makes 4 servings


4 (6-ounce) halibut filets with skin (any firm fish may be used)

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 pinch saffron threads

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 red bell peppers, sliced in thin strips

4 carrots, sliced in thin strips

2 zucchini, sliced in thin strips

2 teaspoons fresh basil

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fresh oregano

2 lemons, sliced


1.   In bowl, create a thin sauce by mixing curry powder, saffron threads, olive oil, water and kosher salt.

2.   Create rounded foil bowls. In each, place halibut filet skin-side down and vegetables. Pour sauce on top. Sprinkle with diced herbs.

3.   Place lemon slices on top. Seal foil into packet. Make slits on top for ventilation.

4.   Place on grate approximately one foot over coals. Wait 10 minutes before opening packet, and then check progress with fork. If not done, reseal packet and cook until halibut is flaky and moist.

Per serving:

427 calories, 27 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 29 grams fat, 78 milligrams cholesterol, 914 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.


Campfire Muffins

Makes six servings.


6 large whole oranges

1 package of store-bought oatmeal muffin mix, or muffin recipe from scratch

1 egg

2 tablespoons vegetable oil


1.   Turn the whole oranges into cooking shells by cutting off the top inch of each orange. Scoop out the pulp, discarding the seeds and setting aside the fruit and liquid for future use in a salad.

2.   Prepare the muffin batter with egg and vegetable oil according to package directions or recipe.

3.   Fill each orange-peel cup halfway with batter. Wrap each loosely with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place in hot coals, making certain to keep them upright.

4. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, until muffins are cooked, checking doneness with a clean knife.

Per serving:

404 calories, 7 grams protein, 64 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 392 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Omelet in a Bag

Makes one serving


1, 2 or 3 eggs, depending on your appetite

1 one-gallon plastic zip-top bag per omelet

Handful leftover vegetables

2 tablespoons grated cheese

Precooked sausage or

bacon, if desired


1. Crack egg(s) into the plastic bag, seal and use your fingers to mix.

2. Add vegetables, cheese, and sausage or cooked bacon, if using.

3. Place each bag in a large pot of boiling water. Because the bags float, rotate them until the eggs are cooked (about 10 minutes).

4. Remove finished omelet from bag. Serve immediately.

Per serving (with two eggs and one slice of bacon):

256 calories, 20 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, 441 milligrams cholesterol, 487 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.