Escaping the city for a few days of camping doesn’t have to mean getting away from delicious food, says a chef who takes pleasure in elevating his menu from those old standbys, burgers and hotdogs.
Marcus Monteiro, who grew up camping with his family near Bobcaygeon in the Kawartha Lakes area of Ontario, still enjoys roughing it under canvas.
But when it comes to his food, the executive chef at Brassaii Restaurant and Lounge in Toronto prefers to create easy, healthful and tasty alternatives to the packaged and processed fare that many tote along for their outdoor experience.
First, do plenty of planning, taking into account food, drinks, cooking implements and ways to keep food fresh.
“Checklists are extremely important, for sure. You want to make sure you bring everything up there because once you’re up and camping it can be very difficult to pick up little odds and ends you forgot,” he said shortly after returning from a weekend of camping in the Muskoka area, a few hours north of Toronto.
“There’s definitely no corner store, maybe asking the neighbour campers around you for stuff, but then that’s 50-50 as well. So lists are very important to make sure you have all your stuff on hand, like a mise en place, all your things prepped, all your items and all the devices you need to actually cook the food. It’s very important.”
Mise en place is a French term that roughly translates as “put in place.” It is a chef’s practice in which food is prepared up to the point that it can be used in a dish during cooking.
You’ll need a camp stove or grill, pots, skillets, a cast-iron 30-centimetre (12-inch) Dutch oven and cooking utensils such as spatulas, tongs and wooden spoons. “If it’s more steps involved to the dish, you’re going to want to have a bowl. Different sizes are always important,” adds Monteiro, who is also a spokesman for Canadian Tire.
A standard knife, cheese grater, camping dinnerware set and tin foil should also be on the list.
Give your gas stove a trial run before you leave home.
“One big thing that I’ve seen a lot of people forget are gas cylinders. ... If you’re cooking with gas, make sure you have enough fuel to get you through whatever your culinary needs are during the outing,” he says.
When planning meals, keep in mind that campers need fuel, too, to maintain energy for such outdoor activities as hiking, canoeing, swimming or cycling.
“Hotdogs and burgers are great, but they’re definitely to the point of being a little too overly done in campsites. And when you get into those realms it’s not really creative anymore,” Monteiro says.
But paramount is to keep meals simple without too much prep or too many pans.
If you’re camping near a lake or waterway, you might get lucky and catch dinner.
“One thing that I’m a big advocate of when it comes to food and camping (is) a really nice piece of skinned fish, which can be anywhere from a mackerel or a bass or even perch.”
He swears by salt and pepper for seasoning and citrus, whether a lemon or lime, to “brighten” a dish.
Cheese and eggs are popular ingredients for campers and they keep well.
“I’ve worked in England and they actually keep their eggs out of the fridge,” says Monteiro.
“Even in the grocery stores the eggs are unrefrigerated. Cheese keeps well. All the vegetables keep well. You don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff. An (omelette) can be adaptable to more than breakfast. I’ve had that for lunch. ... For dinner, you can call it a cheese pie.”
For lunch, “grilled cheese is a very simple thing ... but it’s one of my favourite things to eat. To me, simplicity is beautiful. As long as you have a couple of key components it’s one of those things you can constantly eat and eat and not really get sick of. When it comes to camping, again the bread, the cheese, the butter, the bacon have a very long shelf life.”
But none of those foods will be appreciated if someone ends up ill because the ingredients weren’t stored properly.
Ice packs keep food cool for a day or so but won’t last through a longer outing.
Ice is a better choice. Devote one cooler to the ice and try not to open it very often.
Have a second cooler for food and replenish the ice in it as needed from the first cooler. A third cooler can be used for drinks. Depending on where you are, the water in streams and lakes can get very cold at night and you can store your drinks there, Monteiro says.
He cites a culinary trick that might sound counterintuitive, but he says it works. Sprinkle the ice in the cooler liberally with salt. “That actually makes the outside melt instantly and then refreeze so actually prolongs the life of ice. I know it sounds like almost the reverse because they use salt to melt ice outside.”
Scientifically, as the melting ice mixes with the salt, the salt-water combination has a lower freezing point than plain water, so the melted ice is actually colder than the original ice.
This colder ice-water bath will probably keep food through about three days. Eat the most perishable foods first.
Despite all your plans, Mother Nature might have other ideas.
“One big thing I make sure to tell people is Plan B in regards to rain, because that happens whether we like it or not.”
Here are some recipes for camping created for Canadian Tire by Marcus Monteiro, executive chef of Brasaii Restaurant and Lounge in Toronto.
It’s easy to keep the base of the omelette the same, then tailor it to different tastes with vegetables and cheese. If you have any spinach and mushrooms left over, use them in a lunch sandwich.
Serve the omelette with toast.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
60 ml (12 tsp) canola or olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
750 ml (3 cups) chopped spinach
250 ml (1 cup) chopped mushrooms
250 ml (1 cup) chopped onion
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped garlic
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cubed orange cheddar cheese
In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. In a bowl, whisk eggs, salt and pepper, then pour into pan. Constantly move eggs around, scrambling them, until half-cooked. Let sit so omelette cooks on bottom. Top with cheese and flip over into a half moon. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, bring pan up to temperature, then sautee vegetables. Place on top of omelette.
Makes six servings.
Spinach and Goat’s Cheese Spanish Tortilla
This is an interesting way to make breakfast healthy, fun and different.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
750 ml (3 cups) olive oil
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and peeled
8 large eggs
500 ml (2 cups) spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium Spanish onion, cut in 2.5-cm (1-inch) cubes
50 g (2 oz) goat’s cheese, crumbled
In a small pot, place oil and potatoes and cook at low temperature until soft (when a fork can go through potato smoothly, it is done).
Strain potatoes from oil and set aside to cool. (Oil can be kept for another use.) Chop potatoes into cubes. In a bowl, mix eggs, chopped cooked potatoes, spinach, salt and pepper.
Place non-stick pan on grill and heat to medium to high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Pour in egg and potato mixture and stir until about half of mixture is cooked. Then reduce heat to medium-low and stop stirring. (This will create a fully cooked bottom while the top is still half cooked.)
Let sit on low-medium for three to five minutes. Place a plate on top of the pan and flip it over so the egg and potato mixture is transferred to the plate. Slide it off and back into the non-stick pan to continue cooking the other side on low-medium heat. (This will allow both sides to be fully cooked while the centre is soft.)
Remove to a serving plate and top with cheese. Slice into six as you would a cake.
Grilled Cheese With Bacon
Cut crusts off sandwiches if kids prefer.
Prep time: eight minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes.
18 slices bacon
45 ml (3 tbsp) butter, softened
175 g (6 oz) orange cheddar cheese
12 slices whole-wheat bread
Ketchup, for serving
Heat pan for about three minutes. Cook bacon over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until desired crispiness.
Heat a skillet. Meanwhile, butter both sides of each slice of bread. Place cheese on six slices of bread. Top with bacon, then top with remaining bread. Grill sandwiches until lightly browned, then flip over and grill remaining side. Serve with ketchup in which to dip sandwiches. Makes six servings.
Crispy Skin Sea Bass With Sauteed Vegetables and Lemon Butter Sauce
This dish is very fresh, light, and flavourful — three important things to consider when eating during the day in the sun. It incorporates plenty of vegetables — they can be varied to your taste — and takes advantage of local or purchased fish.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes.
2 fillets European sea bass or your choice (about 200 g/7 oz)
Oil, for cooking
3 asparagus spears, peeled
250 ml (1 cup) julienned radicchio
250 ml (1 cup) endive (picked leaves)
250 ml (1 cup) julienned napa cabbage
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
Score skin of fish with three lines to reduce curling during cooking. In a non-stick pan, place fish, skin side down, over medium heat and let it slowly cook. This will crisp skin. Once skin is crispy, flip over just to heat other side, about two minutes. Heat another pan to medium-high and add a little oil. Add asparagus, radicchio, endive and cabbage and sautée until wilted.
Squeeze lemon juice over top and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, then add butter and stir mixture until butter is incorporated. To serve, place vegetables on a plate and stack fish on top. There should be a little bit of the butter and lemon sauce remaining in the pan from the vegetables; drizzle over fish and serve. Makes one serving.
Smoked Three-Bean and Beef Chili
The smoky, charry and chocolaty characteristics of this dish are sure to make it a crowd pleaser.
Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook time: 60 minutes.
30 ml (1 oz) olive oil
1 Spanish onion, cut in medium dice
1 bell pepper (red, green or orange), cut in medium dice
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
2 carrots, cut in medium dice
15 ml (1 tbsp) chili powder
10 ml (2 tsp) paprika
500 g (1 lb) lean ground beef, or turkey
2 cans (each 540 ml/19 oz) crushed tomatoes
500 ml (2 cups) water
2 ml (1/2 tsp) dried oregano
2 ml (1/2 tsp) dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can (540 ml/19 oz) black beans, drained
1 can (540 ml/19 oz) kidney beans, drained
1 can (540 ml/19 oz) pinto beans, drained
1 smoking log or wood chips (optional)
8 green onions
Olive oil, for sauteing
125 g (4 oz) chocolate
Place Dutch oven on grill and set temperature to high. Add onion, bell pepper and carrots. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add chili powder and paprika, stirring for one minute.
Add beef and cook, breaking up meat as you stir with a wooden spoon. Stir in tomatoes, water, oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to low, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Stir in beans and cook for 30 more minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Smoking: If desired, create a bowl out of foil and place in centre of the pot of chili. Place smoking log or wood chips in bowl and light, then place lid on pot. Let smoke for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle green onions with a bit of olive oil and salt; place on grill to char, then slice.
To serve, ladle chili into bowls. Use a cheese grater or vegetable peeler to shave chocolate over top, then sprinkle with charred green onions.
Makes 2.5 l (10 cups), enough for about eight servings.
Source: Created for Canadian Tire by Marcus Monteiro, executive chef of Brasaii Restaurant and Lounge.