Inspired Camp Cooking: Autumn Comfort Food
Autumn is the ultimate season for comfort food. Not only do the days get shorter and temps a bit cooler at night, instigating a rather instinctual need to eat more food... but also, here in Central Oregon, the campfire bans of late summer are finally lifted with the first bout of cold, rainy weather. That long awaited day when fire bans are lifted is indeed an exciting time for a "truck lifer" with a penchant for gourmet camping meals, as I spend a few months merely fantasizing about all the things I'd like to grill or roast over coals if I could.
Keep scrolling down to see a few things I've been cooking this fall!
Boston Style Baked Beans:
navy beans slowly simmered with tomato sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, BBQ sauce, and bacon. No bottled smoke flavoring needed, since this was cooked right by a smoky campfire! Delicious with grilled meats (I ate it alongside BBQ pork ribs)!
Whole Smoked/Grilled Chicken:
rubbed with olive oil, sea salt and spices on the inside and out; stuffed with whole garlic cloves (side note: lemon slices or fresh herb sprigs can also be used if you like); trussed with cooking twine and hung over the fire/coals for about three hours (rotating every ~20 minutes). It was a cold night, and the middle of the chicken still wasn't quite up to 165 degrees in the middle after several hours, so I finished it off by wrapping in foil and placing it much closer to the coals til it was up to temp. So juicy with a perfect rotisserie skin, and it made great leftovers for a couple of days.
Turkey Burger Topped with Crispy Yukon Gold Potatoes, Turkey Gravy, a Fried Egg:
a creation that was clearly inspired by some traditional Thanksgiving eats and also my love of breakfast foods (video)
Easy Shepherd's Pie:
ground wild boar meat, browned and seasoned (obviously you can use whatever ground meat you prefer); diced, roasted carrots and corn from the cob; topped with mashed potatoes (I used instant potatoes for camping convenience) and cheddar cheese; roasted in a lidded cast iron pan over campfire coals until heated through and cheese is melted
French Onion Soup -- Full Recipe!
This is one of my favorite campfire meals yet. It was remarkably flavorful, and really easy to make... without dirtying more than one cast iron pan and lid. The hardest part was being patient, because slow cooking is key; cooking time may be over an hour. Recipe serves 2 hungry people.
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp ghee
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
32oz carton of low sodium beef broth
2 bay leaves
Splash of white wine
Salt, pepper to taste
French bread slices, toasted
Shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
1. The base of this soup begins with slowly caramelized onions. Add the oil, ghee and chopped up onions to your pan. Place the pan over a bed of woodfire coals; I've used several rocks, or a steel cooking grate to suspend the pan above the coals, which gives you the most control over how hot the pan gets (compared to placing the pan directly on the coals or over an actual flame). Caramelizing onions requires low heat and constant stirring for at least twenty minutes. The goal is to not let the onions burn. You know they're caramelized when they're soft, translucent, golden, and the "oniony" pungency is replaced with a rich, sticky-sweet flavor.
2. Once the onions are caramelized, add the minced garlic into the pan and allow it to cook for a minute or two.
3. Add more coals to your coal bed to increase the heat a bit. Pour in about 2 cups of broth, and add the whole bay leaves and the splash of white wine. Allow this to simmer lightly, stirring often, for 20 minutes.
As it boils down and thickens a bit, add another 1/2 cup of broth to thin it out again. You may repeat this "thinning" step a few more times, if you have the patience--the longer everything simmers together, the better it gets. Keep in mind that it's better if the soup broth isn't very thick, because you'll top it with bread which soaks up a lot of juices.
4. Once your broth is ready, add a gracious pinch of sea salt and a dash of ground black pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
5. Slice French bread into 2-inch thick rounds, then briefly toast them on a grate over the open flames (bread can go from toasted to overly charred really fast, so don't take your eye off the bread). Place the toasted bread slices evenly around the top of your soup; top with cheese.
6. Place your cast iron lid over the pan/pot, and use long tongs to place hot coals on top of the lid. It's more important to have coals on the lid than underneath the pan during this final step, because the only remaining goal is to melt the cheese on top of your soup. It shouldn't take more than 7-10 minutes (or even less) to have a perfectly broiled top.
7. Serve, and be amazed at the rich, gourmet flavor of this delicious soup!
Tip: if you make extra soup to serve as leftovers later, remove the bread topping and store it separately, otherwise you'll eventually end up with giant, broth-soaked, gelatinous bread slices and no soup broth left.
If you try this recipe, let me know what you think!!
Thank you for reading, and Happy Adventures!