Campfire cuisine

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

here's nothing like being in the great outdoors," the late Milton Berle used to say, "with the sun beating on your face, the wind rushing through your hair, the trees creaking, and the birds singing without a stop. There's nothing like it. That's why I stay indoors a lot!"

As one who defines roughing it as staying at a Holiday Inn that doesn't have a Holidome, I can appreciate his point of view. But at the same time I know that when it comes to food, there really is nothing like being in the great outdoors.

As food writer Claudia Roden observes, "There is something about fresh air and the liberating effect of nature which sharpens the appetite and heightens the quality and intensity of sensations."

Most anyone who's ever been on a camping trip would probably agree. But just because ordinary food seems extraordinary after a long hike is no reason to settle for hot dogs and pop tarts when enjoying the great outdoors.

As cookbook authors Rick Greenspan and Hal Kahn insist, if oatmeal and GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) aren't your favorite foods at home, why should you feel obliged to eat them in the wild?

Local Boy Scout leader Jim Hendrickson agrees -- and he should know. For 25 years he has been taking area youths on monthly cookouts, even in the dead of winter.

And despite the inevitable occasional mishap -- like the time the foil-lined cardboard box the troop was using as an oven caught fire -- legions of boys under his guidance have learned, sometimes to their surprise, that not only can they survive in the wild, they can eat pretty well too.

A few years ago one of them was sufficiently inspired to enroll in culinary school and is now in charge of the kitchen at the local branch of a major restaurant chain.

Though Hendrickson would never eschew toasting marshmallows over an open fire, he is particularly enamored with cooking in a Dutch oven (preferably cast iron) just like Lewis and Clark did.

Just about anything you can cook at home, he notes, you can cook in a Dutch oven, particularly pot roast, his specialty. The Dutch oven used for outdoor cooking, unlike its indoor counterpart, has three legs so it can sit above hot coals and a flat lid so coals can be placed on top of it.

According to Denise Stewart of the Girl Scouts of Otahki Council (yes, girls can cook too!) there's even a formula for determining precisely how many charcoal briquettes are needed on the top and the bottom to keep the oven at exactly 325 degrees.

Armed with such knowledge you can cook almost anything outdoors, from cassoulet to coq au vin, and even bake a cake or a loaf of bread.

But more importantly, as both Hendrickson and Stewart maintain, by connecting young boys and young girls with their pioneer heritage, camping out not only nourishes their stomachs but their souls as well.

Seafood Jambalaya

This recipe, adapted from Scouting Magazine, took the grand prize in the magazine's camp food favorites recipe contest this year. Recipe creators were Kevin Young and Jim Brown of Heyburn, Idaho. Of course you can make this dish at home in the comfort of your kitchen, but it's sure to taste even better when cooked in the out of doors.

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless chicken breast, cubed

1 pound Italian sausage, chunked

1 pound mixed seafood (shrimp, crab, crawfish)

1/3 cup oil

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup celery, chopped

2 green peppers, sliced

2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 14-ounce can chicken broth

3 cups okra, sliced

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon gumbo file

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup orange juice

2 to 3 cups long-grained white rice

Directions:

Heat chicken and sausage in Dutch oven until cooked through, but not browned. In a separate pot, steam seafood mixture until done (shrimp will turn pink). In the Dutch oven lid (or another pan) sauté onions, celery and green peppers until tender. Add the sautéed mixture along with the tomatoes, broth, okra and mushrooms to the chicken and the sausage, mixing thoroughly. Mix in black, white and cayenne pepper, gumbo file, and rice. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add Worcestershire sauce and orange juice. Add water as necessary to cook rice. Add steamed seafood mixture. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

Listen to A Harte Appetite at 8:49 a.m. Fridays on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Write A Harte Appetite, c/o the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699 or by e-mail to tharte@semissourian.com.

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