When in need of a weekend escape, or seeking weather conditions about 10 degrees cooler during a summer heat wave, camping can be the perfect getaway. The Walla Walla area is scattered with many noteworthy camping spots: Gem Lake, Tiger Canyon and Wallowa Lake to name a few.
Part of what makes the camping experience so enjoyable is a trip free of distractions and difficulties so you can focus on recreational time to relax or bond with loved-ones. Yet, one factor that could potentially get in the way of a stress-free trip is coming unprepared for meals.
While camping food stereotypes may lead one to believe their only meal options consist of freeze-dried packages and hot dogs, this does not have to be the case, with the correct preparation and supplies.
Walla Walla chefs Richard Hattaway, Andrae Bopp and Robin Leventhal shared their tips with Lifestyles magazine, and told me what they always keep in mind when they are cooking while camping.
Executive chef of Hattaway’s on Alder, Richard Hattaway, loves spending as much time outdoors as possible. Since his time living on a farm in Georgia, Hattaway has always loved fishing, hunting and camping. Being able to combine these passions with his ardor for cooking is his ideal situation.
“I always like to cook, even if I’m not (in the restaurant),” Hattaway said.
Crostini with Grilled Sweet Onions
Chef Andrae Bopp of AK’s Mercado on Main Street found a way to make his love of both food and the outdoors into a career. With Minam Store, Bopp offers Wine & Food on the River trips that he began about eight years ago. These trips are filled with full days of whitewater rafting, multi-course dinners on the riverside and wine tastings provided by local winemakers.
“That’s why we pulled that together. I love the outdoors, and I love to cook, so we might as well make this into a little business,” Bopp said.
Chef Robin Leventhal, of Crave Catering and a self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast, had plenty of tips on how to bring the kitchen outdoors. Chef Leventhal emphasized safety always while cooking outdoors and being prepared with the right equipment for your needs.
With all their years of expertise, these three chefs came up with seven tips on how you can bring the kitchen outdoors on your next camping trip.
• Take the time to prepare before the trip begins.
“I think the biggest tip is do your work prior to leaving,” Bopp said.
Chef Bopp always prepares full menus before he leaves for his camping or rafting trips. Preparing ingredients before a camping trip helps minimize cooking time when actually outside.
“This is what we do in the restaurant industry,” agreed Leventhal. “It’s always how much stuff can we do ahead of time so that when a customer comes in and orders a meal we can turn around and deliver a really high-quality experience in five minutes or less for lunches, for example.”
Precooking bacon and reheating braised meats are a way to save time when on a camping trip, she said.
Especially for breakfast, recipes can be prepared in advance to make putting them together as seamless as possible in the mornings. Leventhal makes cinnamon rolls while camping by preparing her butter and cinnamon mixture, rolling out Pillsbury dough, and later nestling them in her cast iron Dutch oven.
Both Chef Bopp and Chef Leventhal recommended using Ziploc bags to safely transport prepared foods on your trip.
“Ziploc baggies are your friend,” Leventhal said. “They may not be as environmentally kind, but in this case I am a believer of using my Ziplocs to help make sure things travel well.”
• Properly keep food cool, and eat certain foods first.
Especially on hot summer days, keeping your food cool is vital to prevent getting sick while camping. Chef Leventhal walked through the mental checklist she goes over before hitting the outdoors for any camping trip.
“How long am I going to be gone for? How long do I need to keep my product cold for? Dry ice is such a help,” Leventhal said.
Dry ice is a great way to extend ice pack and cooler capabilities, as long as you keep a slat of wood in between it and the food to prevent freezing and you do not touch it with your bare hands.
Chef Leventhal also throws her water bottles in the freezer the night before a camping trip to keep her cooler cold and to maximize her storage space.
While having a cooler does allow perishable foods to be packed, not all food will be able to last depending on the duration of the trip. For example, eggs, Chef Hattaway pointed out, will last one day at room temperature, but in the summertime raw eggs would have to be prepared and consumed on the first day of a trip to be safe to eat.
• Bring the right gear (and the right amount of gear).
Chef Hattaway likes to think in ratios when preparing his meals for camping.
“The lighter your cooking equipment is, the heavier your food you can take out can be. I go, usually, lighter on the cookware and heavier on the food, so you’re able to take more out there,” Hattaway said.
Perfecting your ideal food-to-gear ratio is key to feeling prepared when it comes to meal time on your trip.
Gear also depends on car accessibility or backpack space available for the particular trip.
For traditional car camping with campsite amenities, Chef Leventhal is a fan of using a cast iron pan rather than the metal grates provided by a campsite. The cleanliness of metal grates may be unpredictable, so one could always bring a wire brush and towel to wipe off the grill. The towel can also be used to season the grill by adding a little bit of oil to the towel, which cleans and cures the grill.
When cooking around the campfire, campers should target the nest of coals rather than flames for the best cooking results and cooking temperatures. In these situations, Chef Leventhal explained that foil can be your friend to wrap vegetables to roast if they have not been pre-grilled.
Regardless of the type of camping, whether it be backcountry or car camping, there are a few gear necessities for all trips. Chef Hattaway believes that the must-have cookware to bring out when camping are a good knife and a small cutting board.
He also recommends packing in tandem when taking on more difficult backcountry or backpacking camping excursions. This will help campers divide and conquer backpack weight and also make it easier to figure out the ratios of food each person can take.
• Bring hearty snacks and meals.
Chef Leventhal recommends bringing trail mix as a great energy source while outside and on the trails.
“We all love chips, but sometimes you need more than that,” Leventhal said.
Having filling snacks can also be a great way to tide fellow campers over while you are preparing larger meals.
For meal times, main entrees should be substantial and filling. While Chef Hattaway likes to remain flexible and does not obey a strict menu, he tends to cook either pork or beef and potatoes while camping.
“If it’s pork, it’s going to be a cut that takes a long time to cook. If it’s beef, usually it’s going to be something that’s hot and fast like a steak,” Hattaway said.
• Have a backup plan.
Camping requires flexibility. And if your meal is dependent on the laws of nature, like Chef Hattaway hoping to catch trout in ice lakes, you should always have a backup plan.
When relying on fishing for a meal, Chef Hattaway likes to bring an alternative in case he does not catch any fish that day.
“On a catch-and-cook, we’re always kind of ready for if we don’t catch anything,” Hattaway said. “Usually we’ll take up some bacon or something cured, and it becomes something that goes from meat and sides to casserole.”
• Don’t sacrifice your quality morning coffee or your post-dinner dessert.
“Nobody likes grounds in their coffee, and in the old days we all drank ‘cowboy coffee’ because we didn’t have fancy equipment, but there are so many awesome little tools,” Leventhal said.
Kettles and instant coffee packets are not the only option to kick coffee cravings, even when camping. Both Chef Leventhal and Chef Hattaway recommend using a French press as an easy-to-use contraption that will maintain the quality of your coffee while camping. There are both stainless steel and plastic French presses designed for camping.
Evening treats, also, do not have to be sacrificed while camping. Chef Bopp likes to elevate traditional camping desserts, such as the s’more, with his homemade graham cracker salted caramel s’more recipe. While Chef Bopp uses a kitchen torch to char the marshmallows, campers could use a campfire as well.
• Practice safety while camp cooking.
The key to a good overall camping trip and the most enjoyable camp cooking experience is safety. While it may seem like common sense, packing an extra first aid kit and safety equipment becomes even more important when the kitchen is taken outdoors.
A common enemy with cooking is burns, which can be avoided with the right precautions. Chef Leventhal is sure to always have some dry towels or oven mitts on hand, as touching a hot surface with a wet towel causes steam burns.
Elote, or Mexican street corn