Summer — the season for campfires and toasty marshmallows — is nearly here. But man cannot live by s’mores alone.
So it’s hardly surprising that camp food has inspired its very own publishing niche, complete with practical, macho and whimsical approaches to the fine art of the weenie roast. The newest batch of camp cookbooks includes a British charmer, a macho Tim Allen-esque tome and what can only be described as “camping with Jeeves.”
The “Camping Cookbook”
The best of the bunch is Annie Bell’s new “Camping Cookbook: 95 Inspirational Recipes, From Hearty Brunches to Campfire Suppers” (Kyle Books, 176 pages, $16.95) — and not just because it’s encased in a plastic sleeve that evokes old Girl Scout Brownie handbooks.
Bell is the British food writer behind two particularly tasty volumes — “Gorgeous Vegetables” and “Gorgeous Christmas.” This camping foray was inspired by Bell’s husband’s wish to spend his birthday on a sailboat-camping vacation. So when Bell says these recipes are tried and true, she means they were tested under conditions that will make your Mount Diablo or New Brighton setup look like something out of “Top Chef.” Your work surface may be a picnic table, but at least it doesn’t bob up and down.
Bell’s prep tips alone are worth the price of the book. The paramount consideration for everything — from her basic camping marinade to the cucumber feta couscous, grilled pork chops with aioli and cowboy coffee beef — is to limit the water required, in both preparation and cleanup. The book is obviously written by someone with ample experience in scrubbing camp pots. With cold water. In the dark.
It’s a very British book, so American audiences will be alternately charmed (Enid Blyton references!) and put off (egad, kippers?). But there’s plenty of humor and practical wisdom. Some recipes are intended to be made ahead. Others are designed for campfire cooking, with measurements given in casual “handfuls” and “mugs.” And like any good camping book, there’s a heavy emphasis on bacon and coffee.
“Ultimate Camp Cooking”
Stand-up comics Mike Faverman and Pat Mac sprinkle plenty of humor into their “Ultimate Camp Cooking” (Andrews McMeel, 216 pages, $14.99) book, which riffs on the DVD cooking series of the same name.
It’s a book for guys who like to camp, carouse and cook hearty food that’s rich enough to horrify cardiologists and aromatic enough to make the entire campground jealous. (Campground jealousy is a theme of the book. Also, bears and off-color stories. Tim Allen’s character on the old “Home Improvement” sitcom would have loved this book.)
Unfortunately, all that flavorful aroma relies heavily on canned and processed ingredients. A recipe for Mexican Lasagna, for example, calls for cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup, enchilada sauce, nacho cheese sauce and refried beans, layered between ready-made corn tortilla shells.
It’s not an entirely can opener-centric volume, of course. The book also includes recipes for Asian-inspired grilled asparagus, salmon with fresh herbs and a Dutch oven blueberry cobbler.
By contrast, “Campfire Cookery: Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities for the Great Outdoors” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 304 pages, $29.95) is a curiosity in itself.
Co-authors Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young, recipe developers and testers for New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark, have lavished considerable attention on their prose.
Some might call the results charmingly whimsical. Others will respond with — well, here’s a look at the introduction to a recipe for Charred Fennel and Finocchiona Tartine: “After a long day amongst the Boticellis at the Uffizi, nothing pleases like a stroll to the nearest piazza for a goblet of Chianti and a platter of this revelatory sausage laced with wild fennel seed harvested from the wooded hills and uninhabited fields of Tuscany.”
In her foreword, Clark confesses she’s not entirely sure when her assistants are joking, but she knows a good recipe when she sees one. We do too, and there are many here. But we don’t nibble tea sandwiches or lemon curd when we camp. And unless Jeeves is into backpacking, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be dining on this duo’s squab, stuffed with pate and served on china.
That said, a campfire breakfast that includes a Flying Dutchman’s Asparagus and Aged Gouda Omelette sounds pretty darn fabulous. As long as there’s coffee. And bacon.
Note: This recipe makes enough to marinate a couple of meals’ worth of meat or fish for 3-4 people. You also can use it as salad dressing.
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed into paste
1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine ingredients in airtight container. Shake before use. Store in a cool place.
— Annie Bell, “The Camping Cookbook”
CUCUMBER AND FETA COUSCOUS
Note: This is perfect campfire fare, because it requires no real cooking and only the most casual of measurements.
1 mug couscous
1½ mugs boiling water
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cucumber, quartered and thinly sliced
A few small fresh mint leaves, torn
6 tablespoons Camping Marinade (see recipe)
A couple of handfuls of green, pitted olives
7-ounce block feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
Combine couscous, a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil and a pinch of salt in large bowl. Pour in boiling water and set aside. It will be ready in 10 minutes, but for the purposes of this salad, leave it to cool, then fluff it up with a fork. Toss in remaining ingredients, adding feta last. Drizzle with a little more oil before serving.
— Annie Bell, “The Camping Cookbook”
DUTCH OVEN BLUEBERRY COBBLER
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar, garnish
1. In large bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cream and butter, and mix until it makes a sticky dough.
2. Grease 6 individual ramekins. Drop about 1/4 cup dough into each ramekin and use fingers to spread it evenly across bottoms and up sides to form a cup for filling. Put a few spoonfuls of blueberries in each cup.
3. Put ramekins in Dutch oven and pour a little hot water in bottom, so ramekins are half-submerged. Cover Dutch oven and put 8 hot coals on top and 4 around outside of bottom, but not underneath. Cook 35-40 minutes, until dough has cooked through. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
— Mike Faverman and Pat Mac, “Ultimate Camp Cooking”
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN’S ASPARAGUS AND AGED GOUDA OMELETTE
6 ounces pencil-thin asparagus, ends trimmed
1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly milled black pepper
8 large farm-fresh eggs, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2½ ounces aged Gouda, grated (about 2/3 cup), divided
1. Prepare medium-high heat fire, with flames occasionally licking grill grate. Let it burn steadily for 30 minutes.
2. Toss asparagus with the oil, salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Carefully lay asparagus across grill grate. Grill, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to plate.
3. In bowl, whisk together eggs and pepper to taste. Place skillet over grill. Drop in 1 tablespoon butter and let melt. Pour in half the eggs and sprinkle with half the cheese. Cook until sides and bottom are lightly set, about 2 minutes.
4. Arrange half the asparagus on top of omelet. Fold omelet over asparagus and cook 1 minute more. Divide omelet in half, and serve. Repeat for remaining servings.
— Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young “Campfire Cookery”