Cooking School

Camping cuisine: How to pack light and eat well

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Cooking School

Camping cuisine: How to pack light and eat well

Gear
If you intend on hiking to your campsite (as opposed to, say, canoeing or driving), it's imperative that your bags be as light as possible. If you disagree, come with me and you can carry my bag, too! Organizing your gear is very important.

My recommended basic cooking set is one stove and two pots, each with a lid that can be used as a frying pan if so desired, and a clamp handle that allows you to pour liquids easily, which also fits inside the pots when stored. Of course, you can improvise with what you have, but just keep in mind the set I describe allows for minimal weight and fuss.

Also remember to bring dish rags, a scouring pad and biodegradable soap for doing dishes. Place them in a plastic bag and store inside the pots.

Most camping stoves have only one burner and are fueled by white gas. The smaller the stove you bring, the lighter the load, but you may want to get a more powerful burning stove that will allow you to cook your meals faster. I highly recommend getting a stove equipped with a wind blocker, a piece of aluminum that wraps around the stove to block the wind and thus make your stove more efficient.

For a lighter load or short trips, you could pare down your eating utensils to a spoon and a cup, depending on what recipes you plan to prepare. But if you have the space, you should take along a cup, bowl, plate, spoon, knife and fork; it will make your eating that much easier and more enjoyable. I also make great use of my Swiss Army knife, which is good for opening canned goods or slicing and cutting almost anything, including sticks for your marshmallow roasts!

You may wish to consider bringing extra utensils depending on what you've planned for your meals. For instance, a spatula is great if you are making pancakes or French toast. (You could break off the spatula handle so you don't have to carry as much.) And while a Swiss Army knife is great for any occasion, a separate can opener is easier for opening canned goods.

Packing
When packing your gear, remember to store the heaviest items at the bottom centre of your backpack; this will help with your balance as you hike. Here's an exaggerated analogy: if you were to store pillows at the bottom of your pack and bricks at the top, and then bend over to tie your shoelaces with your backpack on, you'd fall forward (and probably get knocked on the back of your head with your gear, too).

At the same time, food is one of the heaviest items you will be carrying. If you are not carrying a separate food bag, you don't want to store your food at the bottom of your pack, where it is difficult to reach and might get squashed. Pack your food in the centre of your bag, near or at the surface, where it is easily accessible; special snacks, treats, lunch and your water bottle should be packed where they are very accessible.

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Excerpted from Chef in your Backpack: Gourmet Cooking in the Great Outdoors by Nicole Bassett. Copyright 2003 by Nicole Bassett. Excerpted with permission from Arsenal Pulp Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.

 

The spice rack
Having spices and condiments at your disposal can make the difference between an okay and a great meal. Empty film canisters are great for storing your spices and condiments; they are easy to transport, and keep your supplies dry. Make up your own spice rack of favourite ingredients and keep it in your food bag so you will always have it near; remember to label the canisters so you'll know what they contain. Your "take along spice rack" can be very basic, consisting only of those spices and condiments you may want to enhance your meals.

Here are a few to consider including:
• Salt
• Pepper
• Sugar
• Garlic powder
• Dill
• Oregano
• Basil
• Curry powder
• Cumin

The food bag
The food bag is multipurpose. It's where you should store all items necessary for preparing your meals on your trip: your pots and pans, utensils, dishes, spice rack and the food itself. Keep these items separate from your other gear, so you will always know where to find your meal-making necessities.

The bag itself should be strong and waterproof (or be prepared to cover it with your pack cover when you are storing your food for the night). Once you have done your meal preparations "in the kitchen," go over the recipe ingredients again to ensure you don't forget anything. Try to split up the food with other members of your group whenever possible, because the load can get heavy pretty fast.

Once you are out in the wilderness, you will need to find a proper place to store your food bag to keep it safe from predators, who may be attracted to it by its smell. The easiest and yet at the same time the most difficult place to store your bag is in a tree. Find a sturdy tree that is away from your tent and cooking area. In addition to food, store any smelly products like toothpaste and deodorant in the bag as well. Then comes the hard part: tie a carabiner (an oblong metal ring with one spring-hinged side, available at outdoors shops) to a rope and swing it up around a branch. Don't worry if you don't make it the first time; it will probably take you a few tries before you get it. Once in place, clip the food bag on, then lift it up and tie it off.

Once you've prepared your food bag once with your basic necessities the first time, it will be easy the next time you take a trip because you'll already have the basics packed away.

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Excerpted from Chef in your Backpack: Gourmet Cooking in the Great Outdoors by Nicole Bassett. Copyright 2003 by Nicole Bassett. Excerpted with permission from Arsenal Pulp Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Helpful tips
Don't throw away the plastic bags that you use to transport your food in. Rinse them out or just seal and bring them home with you to wash. It's environmentally responsible! (Whenever I refer to plastic bags throughout the book, I mean the resealable zip-lock ones, especially those designed for use in a freezer; they tend to be stronger and more useful for transporting food items.)

• In recipes where water is required, first pour the water into the plastic bag the other ingredients were stored in in order to get any residual spices or oils that might be left behind. It will make your meal that much tastier.

Canned goods will keep longer if you take the cans with you and don't open them until you need them. But please clean them out and take them home to recycle.

Write down the contents of plastic bags or the name of the recipe on the bags themselves. Use a magic marker or felt pen that won't rub out. Nothing's worse than not knowing what's in your bags!

• Thanks to developments in plastic technology, portable egg-carrying cases are available at outdoors stores or department stores. These allow you to bring fresh eggs with you on your trip (but be aware that eggs are considered a "high risk" food and that spoiled eggs are a prime candidate for salmonella poisoning). If you're hiking during summer or other times when the weather is predicted to be hot, opt for alternative breakfast ideas.

Use your camping cup as a measuring cup. Before you leave on your trip, measure a cup of water and place it into your camping cup to see how much it holds. You can then use your cup to measure out liquids on your various trips. Your cup is also useful when preparing rice for cooking. Use 2 cups of water for every cup of rice.

• One big mistake I've made is bringing more food on my treks than I need, thinking that I will be hungrier than my stomach will allow. Before you leave on your trip, get to know yourself and your eating habits, which will allow you to estimate how much food you will need on your trip. If you still aren't sure, try bringing enough food for regular-sized meals and then light extras that you can have just in case you're still hungry, like cheese and crackers, trail mix, muffins or extra veggies and fruit. If you still end up with too much food, the best thing to do is to return home with it (don't dispose of it on the trails).

Animals
When I was travelling around Australia, where nine of the world's 10 most poisonous snakes reside, backpackers often asked me how I could trek around Canadian backcountry "with all those bears." I had just finished thinking the same thing with the snakes and spiders and other creatures lurking around the land of Oz, but I laughed and replied that it is rare if you ever see a bear in the North American wild.

In truth, however, they are out there, they are hungry more often than not, and if they smell your food they will want to eat it, without question. If you don't believe me, visit the campground in Banff, Alta., and take a look at the ravaged cooler the rangers have on display as a warning to tourists. Be careful! There are many important guidelines that one must follow when forging into the woods -- remember, you are entering the animals' home turf, not vice versa, and learning to cohabitate is best for everyone (and everything) in the long run. Do your research before embarking on any journey, even day trips, as to what dangerous wildlife might be present, and what you should do in the event you encounter something. Think of it this way: would you tease a snake?

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Excerpted from Chef in your Backpack: Gourmet Cooking in the Great Outdoors by Nicole Bassett. Copyright 2003 by Nicole Bassett. Excerpted with permission from Arsenal Pulp Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.

 

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Camping cuisine: How to pack light and eat well

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