Camping Recipes for Your Inner Foodie

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Growing older means seeing friends who live far away gets harder and harder. My college friends and I started a tradition to do an annual car camping trip, and we just got back from spending a weekend at the beautiful Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.

Because I love to plan, love to cook, and love to see friends, I’ve been in charge of organizing our menu for the weekend. The first time I went car camping, we just had the typical fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, stews, etc. Nothing exciting. I started looking into what people made when they go camping and was amazed at the level of gourmet cooking people execute over a campfire. So today, I just wanted to share the dinner recipes from this past weekend for anyone interested in upping their campfire cooking game.

Beef Chili & Hoecakes


It was so good, I made it again when we came back from camping.

This is probably one of the easiest meals to make over a fire. I’m big on prepping food before hand so a day or two before the trip, I’ll cook the chili in a slow cooker. Once it has cooled, I transfer the chili to a plastic zippered bag and freeze it so that it will stay cold in your cooler (and act as a cooling block of ice for your other foods…). It’s fine if it’s a little liquidy, it will boil down when reheated over the campfire.

I love having cornbread with chili but I was super nervous about trying to bake cornbread in my cast iron skillet over a fire. Keeping a consistent temperature that is not too hot and not too cool can be challenging on an open fire, so instead of a classic cornbread, I use a hoecake recipe, which is pretty much like a cornmeal based pancake. I premix all the dry ingredients in a bag beforehand and combine it with the wet ingredients onsite. It takes minutes to cook up and are just as satisfying as cornbread.

Chicken Kabobs & Foil Packet Paella

The method for chicken kabobs over a fire is no different from other methods of cooking, so a simple google search for “chicken kabob” will yield more results than you care to read. Personally, I dumb it down so it’s super easy. I cube chicken thighs into 1″-1.5″ pieces and make chicken only skewers. Finished skewers go in a bag and I dump in a pre-made marinade (usually of the lemon-pepper or garlic-herb variety) 30 minutes before cooking. I prefer to separate proteins and veggies onto different skewers because they cook at different rates.

The paella packets were a new addition this year and it worked beautifully. The only thing I did different was to cook the rice separately in a pot beforehand, then put in cooked rice and veggies into the packets to crisp up in the fire. I’m definitely going to experiment more with foil packet cooking because it worked so well.

Skirt Steak Fajitas & Mexican Rice

This was probably the favorite meal of the trip. I prepped the marinade beforehand and stored it in a mason jar until ready to be combined with the meats, which were in their own plastic bags (yes, I used a lot of plastic bags this trip. It’s too darn convenient). This marinade was spot on. I cooked the steaks about 4 minutes on each side and they were beautifully medium rare in the middle and medium on the ends.

For Mexican Rice, I don’t usually add any vegetables and instead of tomato sauce, I used diced tomatoes (sometimes pureed, sometimes not). I pre-toasted the rice beforehand (in retrospect, probably not necessary) so at the campsite, I combined the liquid, spices, and rice into a pot and let it cook over a medium fire. I recommend stirring the rice occasionally as the outsides will burn if left undisturbed.

Hope these sparked some ideas for your next camping trip!


Summer Harvest

When I was a little kid, I remember having a cherry tomato plant in the back patio of our family’s apartment. I LOVED that thing and have always wanted to grow my own tomatoes when I had the space and the time to do it. We don’t have a backyard in our current house but we do have a very sunny deck. When it was time for planting season, I asked my handy hubby to help me put together a (sub)urban vegetable garden so I could grow my own summer fruits and veggies.

I knew this year was going to have mixed results, as this is my first time growing anything, and it was going to take a little trial and error to figure out which plants grow well in containers. Here’s a few pictures of my setup:
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I’ve got individual planters and a two long planter boxes. I learned really early on that the bigger the container, the better the plant will grow. I made the mistake of putting some of my plants in containers that were way too small, which I think stunted plant growth.

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The plants I’m growing are:

    • Zucchini
    • Three types of tomatoes: Sweet Hybrid 100, Patio Tomato, and Yellow Pear Tomatoes
    • Renault Strawberries
    • A thornless raspberry bush (purchased from Costco)
    • A Garden Salsa pepper plant
    • Maxibel french green beans
    • Two types of cucumbers: the classic cucumber and Boston pickling
    • Genovese basil

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I have an irrigation system set up with an automatic timer, which I would HIGHLY recommend. I had the lofty goal of hand watering my plants but as the summer gets hot, I found my plants getting a little wilt-y from the heat, and suffering when I was gone for more than a day or two. An automatic drip system has worked out superbly.

Of all my plants, my zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers seem to be doing the best. The green beans did well…until the zucchini leaves took over the sun real estate space, under which my green bean plants are now living.  My poor cucumber plants have gone through a lot, so it produced a few cukes and then petered out.
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My fruiting plants are doing so in full force, and I was able to make a lovely garden salsa using my tomatoes and peppers. Salsa is an amazingly simple thing to make and it makes a great snack with some tortilla chips, or as a condiment for a morning omelet.
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My zucchini plants are starting to pick up steam…I’m definitely going to have to find more zucchini recipes soon!

The “Thin Mint” Cupcake

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My niece and nephew turn 6 next month, but since their school year ends next week, their teacher wants to celebrate their birthday tomorrow. Which means we have the “honor” of bringing in cupcakes for the class, honor meaning more work. Being the designated baker of the family, the task fell to me to either bake cupcakes or to buy them.

Making things is my life. Heck no, I’m not buying pre-made cupcakes!

The kids requested chocolate and mint cupcakes (a rather refined choice, I thought, for soon to be 6 year olds) and so I descended upon the web for an answer. I settled on the recipe from My Baking Addiction, and defaulted to my trusty buttercream recipe from Savory Sweet Life with the addition of mint extract, instead of the suggested frosting/ganache on the thin mint cupcake recipe.

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I admit I have always just picked up a box of cake mix and topped it with a homemade frosting. I thought boxed mixes were plenty tasty and wonderfully convenient. I’ve done this for years, and now this recipe has changed me. I’m not sure I can go back to boxed mixes ever again. The texture is much nicer (fluffy and firm) and I like that I can make substitutions for ingredients. My palate must have become more refined over the years as I blindly trusted my naive opinion of pre-made cake mixes. That or I’ve become a food snob. Okay, it’s the latter.

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Anyway, this was an awesome recipe to use and the cupcakes came out wonderfully. I would probably invest in a better peppermint extract in the future (mine is a peppermint and spearmint blend) but I doubt any James Beard award winners will be sampling my goods.