Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


With a Cooler & a Coleman Stove

Cooking and eating outdoors.

I just returned from a hiking-biking-camping trip to southeastern Utah – yes, the SUN still shines somewhere – so camp cooking came up during our meeting. I like to eat as well as possible no matter where I am so I’m motivated to arrange for a decent meal even via a cooler and an ancient Coleman stove. In a recent conversation, Poppy and I wondered about experimenting with similar meals when we camp out this summer on her Orcas Island property, I in my tent, she in her tiny cabin. Not there to mess around, but to work and plan. Seriously. No, seriously. No messing around.

Camping, picnicking, road tripping . . . what’s the food that’s good and makes sense? And let me be clear, this was a car camping trip. Back packing meals are another story.

(This is a repost from several years ago. On the cusp of another summer, seems like a good time to revisit the culinary side of this Utah camping trip. In whichever ways you celebrate summer, eat outdoors whenever you can. The porch steps will do.)

Here are a few ideas that worked for us in Utah. We hiked and biked all day long, poked into every nook and cranny, I swear, sunscreen and tank tops, a lot of sweat and wiped out in a good way at the end of the day. A tasty meal was important, but putting a lot of time and effort into making it wasn’t. Most meals were made in one pan, cast iron with a lid that could be used when we needed it. The thing is that we stocked up and planned in advance for five dinners for two – increase quantities for more people but the ease of preparation still fits – so we didn’t have to wonder what we were eating each night. There was a plan. Leftovers expanded those five meals to seven and we ate out two nights.

Dessert. Every single night we had a few bites of the rhubarb sauce made and frozen before leaving home, sometimes with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a cookie. Also, the need for s’mores never dies, there might be a campfire, so pack accordingly.

In addition to the basics, here are a few things that were indispensable: our Coleman stove, a beloved hand-me-down; a cast iron skillet with a lid (in our case the lid was a metal plate that fit); a thermos for making coffee; a good quality large cooler with room for 2 quarts of yogurt, 2 small Greek yogurts, a cube of butter, mayo, mustard, milk, half & half, Parmesan cheese, 2 quarts of frozen rhubarb from home, washed lettuce, carrots, cucumber, cilantro (rinsed, wrapped in a paper towel and a wax paper bag), salad dressing, sour cream, Gorgonzola cheese, one frozen chicken breast, one package frozen Italian sausage, a dozen eggs plus a half dozen hard boiled. We normally don’t eat so many eggs, but this was the perfect week for it. Mid-week we resupplied salad greens, avocado, a red pepper, milk and juice. Before heading out I washed and packaged all produce.

A large plastic storage bin was a great camping pantry for staples like granola, onions, potatoes, ground coffee, a package of pre-cooked brown rice (which I’d never heard of before, from PCC market), a packet of Tika Marsala sauce also from PCC, 1 cup green lentils and 1 cup of rice packaged together at home (they both take 25 – 30 minutes to cook so they can be cooked together); cookies, chocolate, a loaf of Dave’s bread which, astonishingly, was good for the entire week; tortillas, tuna fish, salsa and chips, a tiny container of Italian herbs from home. A couple of bottles of wine and some beer, sent to the cooler a bottle or two at a time as there was room.

Some meals required a little chopping. Other than that it was cook and assemble in thirty minutes, often less. Each of the meals mentioned below were cooked in one pan, almost always the cast iron skillet. And with camp food, people are more easily satisfied – it doesn’t have to be an exquisite culinary home run every night, though you might come close.

Several camp meals worth considering (also great in the backyard):

Chicken Tika Marsala with pre-cooked brown rice. Never had tried pre-cooked rice before or a packaged tika marsala sauce, never thought I would, but for camping it was perfect. Leftovers the next night wrapped in tortillas with sour cream, avocado and cilantro.

Directions were on the Marsala packet. I sauteed onion, red pepper and bite-sized pieces of chicken for a few minutes, then added the packet of marsala sauce and some water. Put a lid on, let it simmer for 20 minutes stirred it occasionally. Then a bit of cream, reheat slightly and spoon over the brown rice. It was fabulous. The leftovers in the tortilla wraps were equally delicious.

This one was a long shot, we virtually never buy packets of ‘flavor’, but this was the deal for a fast meal. And . . . a person could easily discover the key flavors in tika marsala, package it in a jar or a zip lock, probably dried herbs, and save yourself from the processed packet. Even better.

Italian sausage ragu with cheese ravioli. Leftovers for lunch. This was done in one pan, an experiment that worked.

Ingredients and directions: Saute’ whole sausage in olive oil, add chopped onion and red pepper on the side, cook it all together for 7 – 10 minutes. Remove sausage, slice into bite-sized pieces and put it back in the pan. Add a jar of tomatoes or a marinara sauce. I used Cucina Fresca’s smoked tomato sauce. Bring it all to a simmer, adding a bit of water as needed. Add fresh raviolis, again Cucina Fresca’s (a fine local business) to the pan, stir to cover with the sauce. Put a lid on this or not. Fresh ravioli, not dried, will cook in the simmering sauce in about 5 minutes. Dish it onto the plate and enjoy. Breadsticks are a fine accompaniment.

A big green salad with hard-boiled eggs, tuna, asparagus, avocado a delicious dressing . . . and bread sticks.

Angel hair pasta with plenty of cheese. One night it got late and meal plans went south.

Directions: Unintentionally, we concocted a whirlwind, but delicious Mac & Cheese. Cook a big handful of angel hair pasta (enough for two in our case) 4 minutes give or take, drain all but about 1/3 cup of pasta water; add half & half (1/4 – 1/3 C or so), salt & pepper and reheat very gently and briefly. If you have herbs and spices on hand, add a pinch of chipotle pepper. Off heat add grated Parmesan, any cheesy leftovers, like a piece of Gorgonzola or some grated cheddar, whatever’s on hand. Stir it thoroughly, add more cheese, more liquid? Maybe reheat. Whadyaknow, Mac ‘n cheese. Don’t all culinary roads lead in that direction? Carrots on the side, late in the day, sun setting, we’re dead tired. Perfection. One pan, two plates, two forks, two wine glasses.

One note. This would have been even better with another pasta, but cooking time would increase dramatically.

Clam Pasta. Almost the same as above, but with some onion, herbs and clams.

clam pasta

Directions: Two pans needed, one the boiling water for angel hair pasta (which will cook in under 5 minutes), and a pan for everything else. Chop and saute’ half of a medium sized onion, 2 cloves of garlic until they’re soft, (and a small can of drained pimentos are a colorful addition if you have them). Add a tablespoon of Italian seasonings or just some oregano. Stir. Add the juice of two cans of canned clams (a splash of white wine if you have it) and simmer/reduce for 3 or 4 minutes. While the angel hair pasta cooks, add clams to the simmering sauce, cook for just a couple of minutes. Serve with a little grated parmesan and a glass of that white wine.

Basic frittata with 5 eggs, potatoes, onions, cheese and a few bits of Italian sausage from a previous meal.

Ingredients & Directions: Finely chop 1/2 onion and 2 potatoes/ Add 2 T butter and 1 T olive oil to skillet/ Add onion and potato to piping hot skillet/ Turn the heat down a bit, saute’ and stir until potatoes are tender, 10 – 15 minutes/ This would be the time to add other ingredients as you wish, like broccoli, fresh herbs, mushrooms/ When potatoes are tender, stir in the mixture of 5 beaten eggs and 1/4 C milk or cream/ Salt & pepper/ Stir constantly until eggs are done enough and not overcooked – the key to a frittata, any egg for that matter, is to not overcook it/ Each serving can be embellished with sour cream, avocado, a grating of cheese. Whatever. It’s a good meal.

Spanish Omelet from a previous post would be good camp fare.

Steamed eggs with spinach and breadcrumbs. A few gratings of parm, a small packet of bread crumbs brought from home and sprinkled over the eggs and spinach before serving provided a salty and buttery crunch, the kicker for these ordinary ingredients. For breakfast or dinner, so good. Again, one pan, one lid.

Ingredients & directions for two servings: Saute’ 5 – 6 C uncooked spinach and 1 finely minced clove of garlic in plenty of olive oil/ Stirring often, lid on or off, this will take 4 – 5 minutes/ Remove spinach to plates, wipe pan and add 1 T butter/ When butter is sizzling crack and gently add 4 eggs to the pan/ Salt & pepper/ Add a smidge of water to the skillet, put a lid on, turn heat down a bit and allow to steam for 3 or 4 minutes or until they are done to your liking/ Place eggs on servings of spinach, sprinkle with herbed bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese and have at it. If you have leftover cooked potatoes use them too.

The meal that didn’t happen. One of our favorites, but it turned out we didn’t need it. Lentils & rice with caramelized onions and yogurt/sour cream. This one requires two pans. Cook the rice and lentils together, 1 C rice, 1/2 C lentils in 3 – 3 1/2 cups of seasoned water or broth for 25 – 30 minutes. Add more water if it becomes too dry. While that’s happening slice one or two onions and saute’ with olive oil and butter until tender and golden. When all is done cover the rice and beans with a big scoop of onions and yogurt or sour cream. A universal combination, great for camping.

So, we didn’t starve. We returned home with a nearly empty cooler and pantry, bought a little fresh produce in Moab, enjoyed good food and didn’t spend much time at all preparing it. Dinner out a couple of nights helped.

And no kids along, which is a different story, but these meals would serve. Increase quantities, same meals but use two burners and two skillets. The kids’ help could be a significant contribution if they’re not too distracted by creating hideouts, stone building or squirrel sighting. With two of us making the meal there were moments of down time when either of us could have been on kid duty. It helps to give kids of any age the same task at each meal to be in charge of, they become the master of something like setting up chairs, creating a seating arrangement, setting the table, organizing and serving a simple dessert, keeping the pantry neatly packed after each meal, chopping and cleaning up when appropriate. In an ideal world.

We ate well. The tent thing, sleeping well? Somebody help me with that.

And Poppy, you ready to hit the road again this summer, cook outdoors, mix a cocktail, make plans?

Desert in bloom, sunshine, distant storms, mountain biking, hikes and meals outdoors were all part of our May trip to southeastern Utah. The landscape is otherworldly beautiful and the warm sunshine a respite for webbed feet and brain.

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4 Responses »

  1. Oh yeah, am I ever ready for a road trip! Thanks for all the car camping meal ideas. It’s exactly how we eat these days in our cabin using a hot plate instead of a Coleman stove (although your stove probably works better). It’s great to have everything with you so there’s no need to drive to the store. If you don’t have it, you don’t really need it.

  2. Sally…we seem to be on the same track…Mark and I just returned from a two week jaunt down to South Eastern Oregon to attend the Spring Birding class at the Malheur Field Station, part of the National Wildlife Reserve. Your menu provided some ideas a bit late for our trip, but I’ll keep them in mind for our next go-round. I love practicing the concept of doing as much pre chopping/packaging/measuring/rinsing of goods ahead of time…always saves time and energy in camp, especially after a hard day out having energetic fun. We had some similar meals that were delicious and fast=perfect!!
    No tank tops for us…we had some gorgeous weather, but ranged from balmy and sunny to downright chilly with rain, sleet and snow! My thoughts of warmth and sun in the high desert were overly hopeful, but the full spectrum weather added some interesting photo opportunities. Vistas grand, birds magnificent, abundant space and not many people. Loved it…wanna trade stories/pics?

  3. Sally, Hi! This has inspired me for a car camping trip with style and good food. Let’s see now, when does garden season end….