Skillet Lasagna

Made this tonight and it was tasty. This is a simple one pot meal, just right for Cooking Merit Badge. Scouts will learn to dice an onion (not required for the merit badge, but an essential skill), sauté the onion (also not required and also essential), and brown meat (which is always tasty).

They should also learn a bit of “mise en place”, getting everything ready and in its place before starting. The recipe doesn’t make that clear, but a mentor (Merit Badge Counselor) should walk them through prepping the tomatoes and onion first, then getting the other ingredients ready while those are cooking.

Skillet Lasagna

Recipe for Skillet Lasagna.

The first time you stir this, you will probably wonder about using lasagna noodles. Next time, I might use a different pasta shape. Maybe rotini (corkscrew), penne (tubes), or farfalle (bowtie). Or I might go with lasagna again. That did work, despite the concern while stirring.

A bit more ricotta, basil, parmesan, or whatever is fine with me. I’m always good with more flavor or richness.

The recipe calls for a “meatloaf mix” of ground beef and pork. I bet that would be tasty, but we used 85/15 ground beef. 80/20 might be better, but you can always add a bit more olive oil.

Dicing an onion is one of the most basic skills in the kitchen. Doing it wrong is a good way to slice your finger. So watch this knife skill video from Kenji López-Alt and learn to do it quickly and safely.

Sautéing onions is not hard, but requires attention. A bit of oil, cook over medium high heat, stir occasionally (avoid burning), until the onions are translucent and tasty. Add more oil if the skillet is dry.

Cooking Merit Badge requires understanding frying, but sautéing isn’t quite the same thing. Frying is done at medium to medium high heat with plenty of oil and large pieces of food. The food is not moved around much so that it can cook through and brown. Like fried chicken. Sautéing is at higher heat, medium high to high, uses less oil, food is usually in smaller pieces, and stirred more often.

This article on Sautéing vs. Pan Frying is short and clear.

The recipe calls for minced fresh garlic, which is kind of a bother. We keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge. It doesn’t taste quite as good, but it sure is easier.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Peas

A few weeks ago, I noticed fresh peas in the pod at our grocery store. I was about to buy some, but I wasn’t sure how much to buy. I’d always used frozen peas. Well, the conversion factor is roughly a pound of peas in the pod to a cup of shelled peas. This batch was generous, with two or more cups from 1.25 pounds.

Peas

Fresh peas are great, so “double the peas” is like doubling the bacon or the chocolate. Not a problem.

I used fresh peas in the pasta last night, and I’ll keep using them as long as they are available.

$7 Stove Windscreen

A kitchen splatter guard is just the right size for a backpacking stove windscreen. It costs $7 and weighs eleven ounces. A little heavy but a good choice for Boy Scout patrols.

It is tall enough to shield the flame of a canister-topper stove and big enough to leave room around the fuel tank so it won’t overheat.

Windscreen 1

A view from the top, showing the room for ventilation or bigger pots. Back in the 1970’s, my dad made a windscreen like this by bending some tabs on thin sheets of aluminum.

Windscreen 2

The one I bought is the Norpro Nonstick 3 Sided Splatter Guard. Each panel is 10 inches wide and 9 inches tall. The Amazon price varies. It cost $5.55 when I bought it. Similar splatter guards should be available at department stores or hardware stores that sell kitchen tools.

Windscreen 3

Lentil-Bulgur Chili

I’ve made this on a few backpacking trips and it has always been delicious. It is several cuts above the normal dehydrated meal. It is simple to assemble at home and needs only a few dehydrated vegetables. On an overnight, it is worth carrying some fresh sourdough bread to accompany the chili.

This is from my favorite outdoor cookbook, The Back-Country Kitchen: Cooking for Canoeists, Anglers, and Hikers by Teresa Marrone, page 125. I’m reprinting it here with her kind permission.

Here we are, enjoying the chili with friends at Eagle Spring trail camp, near Mission Peak.

MG 5014

And here is her recipe.


Lentils, bulgur, and shredded cheese combine to make a complete protein in this delicious vegetarian chili. The sunflower seeds add great texture.

Serves 3-4.

Combine in quart plastic zipper bag:

1/2 cup lentils
1/3 cup bulgur
1/3 cup dried shredded carrot
2 tablespoons chopped celery (preferably de-stringed)
2 tablespoons husked, salted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon crumbled dried parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic chips
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
4 sun-dried tomato halves cut in half-inch pieces (I used oil-packed)
half of the leather from an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce (I used some sun-dried tomato paste)

Carry separately:

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (I use pre-shredded cheese)

In medium pot, boil 2 1/2 cups of water. Add mix; stir thoroughly. Cover and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Stir well and return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes; add additional water (1/2 cup) if the chili begins sticking during cooking. While the chili cooks, shred or coarsely chop the cheese. Sprinkle each serving with cheese.


I’ve also made this at home, using fresh ingredients for the dried vegetables. It was just as tasty at home, something that isn’t always true for trail meals.

The cookbook has a handy chapter of equivalents for dried and fresh ingredients. I replaced the dehydrated vegetables with fresh and sautéed them before cooking the lentils and bulgur.

1 cup diced carrot
1 cup chopped celery (I add chopped celery leaves because I like celery)
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (I use poblano because my wife doesn’t like bell pepper)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
olive oil

Sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper in one or two tablespoons of olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Add the garlic and sauté another minute (until fragrant).

Add water and all remaining ingredients except the parsley and cheese. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Different lentils cook for different times, so check the package.
Stir in the parsley.

Serve topped with cheese.

Back country kitchen The Back-Country Kitchen is available at Amazon.

The Magic of Fire: The Next Level for Campfire Cooking

There are many outdoor cookbooks, but The Magic of Fire by William Rubel is the one that makes you want to build a fire in the back yard right now and roast onions.

Let’s hear what he has to say about those roasted onions, the first recipe in the book.

The shock of high heat changes onions. Caramelized sugars combine with a hint of smoke to give them unexpected complexity. The roasting process is a sensual delight. When the charred onions are ready, spear one with a fork and hold it close to your ear. You will hear the juices churning and smell an intoxicating fragrance.

The recipe is simple. This is a trimmed version, leaving out some details (“using tongs”) and adjectives (“aromatic”).

Spread the embers. Place each onion on the embers 4-8 inches from the flames. As the outer shell begins to blister, turn the onions, several times during the roasting process. The onions are done when the outer skin is charred and the onion can be easily pierced with a knife. Aim for a cooking time of 20 to 40 minutes.

Remove the cooked onions from the fire. When cool enough to handle, cut off the bottom of each onion. The burnt outer layers will often slip off like a glove. Quarter, separating the leaves. Drizzle with olive oil, toss with herbs, and season with salt.

Ready to do that on a campout?

Roasted onions

But there is a lot more beyond that first recipe. Here are a few I’d like to try:

  • Roasted eggplant spread
  • Baked beans (needs 8-12 hours)
  • Ember-baked fish (not grilled, cooked directly on the embers)
  • Chicken in a pot (an exuberant version, with onions, heads of garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, and greens)
  • Brisket baked in ash
  • Pot-au-Feu (feeds 15-20!)
  • Ember-roasted vegetables
  • Ember-baked potatoes (on embers or in hot ashes)
  • Ash cakes
  • Flat bread
  • Irish soda bread
  • Grilled grapes (“As the finish to a meal, grilled grapes have no peer.”)

I checked out The Magic of Fire from our local library and I was enchanted. I think I need a copy.

It won a James Beard award. It’s available new and used on Amazon. The author has a website with even more recipes and techniques “William Rubel: Traditional Foodways”.

What’s Cooking on the PCT

If you’d like to eat better on the trail, you should get this book with the favorite recipes from more than forty PCT hikers. Most trail cookbooks follow a single style, but this one is a wide-ranging trip through different styles of prep (home dehydration, supermarket food, no cook) and eating (big breakfast, vegan, high protein).

What’s Cooking on the PCT 2015 is the first of a planned yearly collection from Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

Whats cooking 2015

Some samples: vegan bean chili stew, vegan hete bliksem (spiced apples and potatoes), big shakes or super oatmeal for big breakfast hikers, a couple of ramen pseudo-Thai meals, a Roman army lentil stew, Leebe bedouin bread baked in coals, loaded mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving in a bowl, and finally quick and dirty peach cobbler (using Louisiana Fish Fry brand cobbler mix.

There is also a recipe for Costco chocolate chip cookies with canned whipped cream and a cherry on top from the “Sonora Pass Café“. Now that sounds like Scout food.

My favorite preparation instruction is for the Leebe bread: “Take it out of the fire and beat the loaf up to break off the burnt crust and shake off the dust.” That is something I need to make on a trip.

All of this for under ten dollars, and half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Hard to lose with that deal.

You can get it from Amazon or the author’s website.