Friday, June 15, 2012

Great camp food, part I: Gourmet hobo packs

When we went camping the other week, I wanted to bring along some good homey food so that we could eat well without much fuss. Don't get me wrong, I'm not above grilling up some sausages and opening a can of chili to go with it (in fact, I like that a lot, especially if it's a good sausage). But I wanted to mix things up and experiment a bit.

Turns out, with a little bit of prep work at home you can have really tasty, exciting meals at your campsite — without spending hardly any time on them! Another plus of this approach: no fussing around with leftover ingredients, and minimal trash and clutter.

My husband introduced me to the so-called "hobo pack" years ago — raw ingredients wrapped in tin foil and cooked on the fire or grill, typically containing a piece of meat (he was used to ground beef) and some vegetables (aka... potatoes). I picked up the basic concept, dug around a bit on the internet for some ideas on how to improve it, and then came up with my own creations for mains and side dishes, all of which turned out fantastic.

The basic idea is the same, no matter what you put inside: combine ingredients on a piece of lightly oiled tin foil (I recommend the heavy duty kind, or two layers of the regular stuff); wrap into a package and crimp your folds tightly to seal; refrigerate until use; cook on fire or grill; enjoy. When choosing ingredients, pick at least some with a good amount of moisture in them: bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc., or add a bit of water to the package so that steam can develop inside. The cooking times depend on the heat of your fire, the size of your packets and what's inside — we found that 10 mins for the veggie packets and 20 minutes for the meat packets over a hot fire worked well (rotate packets half way through the cooking time).

These are the packs I made for our trip:

Gourmet hobo packs — Main dishes:

  • BBQ Beef: seasoned ground beef, sliced onion, sliced red and yellow bell pepper, halved and sliced tomato, 1 tbsp barbecue sauce. Season with salt and pepper and flat parsley.
  • Pork loin: thinly sliced pork loin rubbed with a honey-and-mustard mix, sliced fennel, quartered and sliced apple, halved and sliced apricot. Season with salt and pepper and fennel fronds.

Gourmet hobo packs — Veggie side dishes:

  • Zucchini and corn: small sliced zucchini, fresh corn kernels cut off the cob, sliced red onion, 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Asparagus: green asparagus cut in 3" pieces, chopped parsley, 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Fold package and before making final fold, pour in 1 tbsp water, then fold to close.
  • Green beans: trimmed green beens, thinly sliced garlic clove, a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper. Fold package and before making final fold, pour in 1 tbsp water, then fold to close.

Our campsite had a fireplace with an iron grate across it, so we placed our meat packets right over the hot part of the fire and the veggie packets off to the sides with the lower heat. The meat went first, cooked for 10 minutes, then we rotated it and added the veggies. After another 10 minutes we called it done, took the packs off and let them rest for a few minutes. Be careful when you open them, the steam is hot!

Of course we had to had some sausage and chili one night, too. But look how much that camp classic can be dressed up with a side of bright green beans! Trust me, even the Mister thought it was an improvement.

I also brought some salad fixings, washed and trimmed and ready to go. I stored them in the tiffins we brought home from our trip to India last year, and the stainless steel containers kept everything crisp and ultra-moist. All I did was to slice and combine. It was such a treat to have a crunchy salad with our meal.

Watch out for part II of our camp food adventures — we're talking breakfasts! Until then: happy Friday!

Update: Here is part II, check out how to make quick and easy camper's breakfast burritos and a campside pancake breakfast!

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