July 27, 2019 (28 Days Old)
Waffles in the Wilderness
Thinking about camping food evokes a sense of rustic simplicity, ingredients crudely combined and grilled over hot flames, charred or under-cooked, rarely delicate, and never sophisticated.
Of the four families with whom we frequently camp, all cook breakfast
outside
not inside
W.R.T. camping, this means NOT in a trailer, camper, or shelter.
.
We boil some water for a strong, pressed coffee.
Oatmeal is simple, and can be upgraded with a dash of brown sugar and some berries, or my favourite, maple syrup and almonds.
Invariably someone has a pan full of bacon sizzling away somewhere and a collection of greasy pan-fried eggs and some sort of
hash
dish
Definitely not the drugs. A pan of diced meats, potatoes, and veggies cooked together.
containing potatoes, onions and some spices is sure to make an appearance.
An yet among this early morning cook-off, no one expects a plate of perfectly cooked waffles peppered with fresh cut strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream.
More Season than Iron
I learned the meaning of good seasoning trying to make the perfect camping waffle.
Incidental cookware purchases happen infrequently in my life, but the Rome-brand cast iron waffle iron caught my eye while were were shopping for other more lightweight backpacking gear at the local Campers Village store.
Raw
waxed iron
for protection
Unseasoned cast iron is often sold with a layer of wax to prevent rusting. This can be washed (or better) melted off... but it makes a mess if you melt it.
when I took it to the till, I paid about twenty-five bucks for my simple
hook-hinged
mechanism
One rod plus one u-shaped hook form a hook that hinges and allows mechanical opening and closing of the two pieces.
waffle press.
No fancy stands, rests or swivels: just two waffled griddle pans that close together to seal in the cooking greatness to come.
When I bought any of my Lodge-brand pans in the past they come with a base-seasoning, ready to cook, though benefiting from a few weeks and months of seasoning TLC.
Instead, the waffle pan required a little more work: I cleaned-off and melted the wax layer, oiled and baked, repeated twice, and even looked to my gas grill for some flame-on-iron action to get the seasoning layer ready for my first waffle attempt.
Un-Stick-Able
Two years later and hundreds of waffles summoned into existence (and then immediately eaten) my waffle iron remains one of the pieces in my collection where I continue to immediately
humble-brag
attitude
Oh... really... it was nothing. I just cooked a five star breakfast over a burning log. Anyone could do that! How's your oatmeal?
without shame upon use: really, if you only knew how tough it was to create that perfectly light and fluffy, delicately-browned, crispy-but-not-dry breakfast pastry (in the wilderness no less) you would look in my direction in awe and wonder and you would tip your rain-soaked hats to my cast iron prowess.
Or, jealousy.
Because, most everyone loves a good waffle.
My Fav Waffle Blend
Of course, a pre-mix is the easy way to go while camping, but making great waffles is super simple with a simple recipe.
One and a quarter cups of FLOUR.
Two teaspoons of BAKING POWDER.
A dash of SALT.
One tablespoon of SUGAR.
One and a quarter cups of MILK.
Four (or up to six) tablespoons of vegetable OIL pus some for intermediate seasonings.
Two EGGS.
The Camp Method
Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another bowl.
If you are feeling ambitious and the coffee has fully kicked in, you can separate the eggs first, and reserve the whites to beat into stiff peaks to add in after you combine the wet and the dry.
Combine the wet and the dry, stirring until just blended (over-stirring gets that gluten way too wound up for fluffy waffles).
Obviously you’ve heated your cast iron waffle grill already, but if not, now would be a great time to rest it over a medium-high camp-stove flame or on a grate above some red-hot campfire coals.
Oil your hot grill (and again after every second or third waffle) gently rotating it to get the precious lubricant on all those waffly surfaces.
Batter meet pan (but not too full, maybe a centimetre from the edge of the pan) and cook on both sides, rotating every minute or so to keep the pan hot.
When the steam slows and the waffle releases easily, you are done.
Serve hot with almost anything.
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July 18, 2019 (34 Days Old)
Communal Campfire Nachos
Gathered around a pile of smouldering logs is one of those human experience activities that transcends rational explanation and instead digs deep down into the bedrock of our very genetics.
Campfires are the primeval television set, a flickering light from which comfort and stories and companionship swirl outwards and make us feel part of a group.
I had noticed that along with the distribution of beverages, and a few moments reprieve from salty snacks while the kids constructed sickeningly sweet
s'mores
s'mores
A popular campfire treat where a sandwich of chocolate, roasted marshmallow and graham cracker are constructed over a fire and consumed in a hot, sticky mess.
, much of the food that came to the fireside, while shared, was individual.
Cookies appearing from tupperware bins.
Campfire pies (perhaps in a future post).
Marshmallows burned to a crisp on steel rods.
We rarely created a group dish -- a dish to share as a platter of communal munchies.
The Share Plate
I recently had the pleasure of spending a guys-night-out with some friends, and one of our regulars brought along a visitor who was in Canada but called Hong Kong home.
Our evening adventure landed us in a small, local bar, the kind that sells draft beer (and only draft beer) and the comfortable selection of crunchy, fried, cheesy foods that go so well with a
Molson
Canadian Beer
A popular brand of popular large-batch lager in Canada.
brew.
Our new pal had, or so he told us, never tried nachos, but from his Asian-perspective the concept of a plate of food that was shared with the group was a way of eating that was so deeply ingrained in him he thought we were the oddities for ordering individual meals.
It occured to me that the sharing of food, and more so, the sharing of food around the campfire is far from a curiosity: it's an instinct we cannot deny.
That's probably why my communal campfire nachos were such a hit on a recent camping trip.
Simple Ingredients, Epic Results
A BIG CAST IRON skillet (I used my 12 inch).
One bag of plain TORTILLA CHIPS.
One handful of shredded CHEDDAR CHEESE.
A selection of toppings to taste: ONIONS, JALAPENOS, OLIVES.
A selection of dips: SALSA, SOUR CREAM, GUACAMOLE.
The Build
Hot skillet, meet chips.
Chips meet cheese and whatever toppings you choose to add.
Top shelf your skillet over the campfire in the dying light of a warm summer evening while friends and family are gathered around.
As the cheese starts to melt, invite all to tuck in and enjoy.
Repeat until everyone is full and content.
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July 11, 2019 (43 Days Old)
Lodge Twelve Inch "Canadiana" Skillet
You just cannot understate the feeling of gut-level satisfaction that spills out of a hot pan in the form of a family meal.
Raw joy is probably a misnomer, if only because nothing that purposefully leaves a simmering cast iron skillet is ever raw.
Crisp, juicy joy, marinated in its own juices would describe it better.
It also didn't hurt that it was joy spilling from a brand new piece of cast iron.
Just Browsing
Thing is, I rarely shop.
I pass through stores and shops more like a pith-hatted anthropologist, prodding merchandise with my eyes and imagination but rarely interfering directly.
When something catches my eye, I step closer and if it actually holds my attention long enough, I'll reach out and examine the thing for a bit of cautious tactile research.
I skated closer to the cast iron display at the department store nearby my office as I shortcutted through on my way to the local pizza dive about a month back.
As my family would have it, I've got more than enough cast iron in my collection (so I wasn't hunting) but the stamp of a collector's edition maple leaf on the bottom of a twelve inch pan was too overwhelming to my otherwise scientific indifference.
Hook.
Line.
Sinker.
Out of Sequence
A twelve inch pan seems like the most obvious pan to start a collection with.
START with.
It's big.
Practical.
And robust enough for virtually any application.
If I was starting afresh on my cast iron collection, a twelve inch pan would be near the top of my list of acquisitions.
Yet for some reason, and though I'd collected and groomed my cast iron for over three years, I found myself with nary a single one of this size to show for my
curation
curation
When I buy new pans or pots with the intention of building a custom set to suit my cooking needs.
effort.
The ten-and-a-quarter inch had been adequate for most purposes in home cooking for a family of three, and often the better choice: more convenient for a trio of eggs, say.
And definitely lighter to store.
I always did have an eye on that twelve tho.
Just Give Me a Reason
When a few weeks of mulling finally passed, and the excuse of an upcoming camping trip triggered the buy-now impulses of my brain, I explained the cashier (because she asked) that this beauty would be starting life atop the heat of some real flames, under a sunny sky in the lakeside campground of a July long-weekend adventure.
I'd be cooking for my family in the wilderness, or as much as the wilderness that could be reached with a pickup truck and some wet gravel roads.
She double-bagged it for me.
It's a beast.
A heavy, beautiful beast.
Brand Loyalty
Almost my entire collection is a piece-by-piece jumble of Lodge-brand iron.
The Canadiana Series Twelve Inch Skillet is a standard round pan, with an eye-hole handle and pour spouts at the three and nine o'clock positions.
What sets it apart is an elegant embossing on the base of not just the Lodge brand, but a stylized maple leaf and the word "CANADA" filling the usually blank space.
I'm a sucker for cast iron pans generally because, in my mind, they are tools purchased with a sense of hopeful
legacy
legacy
I like to think of this as stuff I plan to pass down to future generations.
, pans I'll pass down to my kid and grandkids.
The limited uniqueness of the oh-Canada pattern enhanced that emotion for me.
It only helped that it was a Lodge-brand to boot.
'Tis the Re-season
The span of my post-purchase
seasoning
seasoning
Getting a new or newly cleaned pan ready to cook by carbonizing an oil on the iron surface, creating a non-stick layer.
efforts span a breadth as numerous as I have pieces: the oil and bake, the bbq method, the ole’ campfire trial, a burn-in on the stove top, sacrificing a dozen eggs, or just cooking something.
With the twelve inch skillet I wasn’t going for anything special, nor did I really have a plan other than to make sure I wasn't hauling it out to the woods without at least one trial at home.
It happened that I had a half-package of bacon in the fridge leftover from a dish we’d made on the weekend-past, so bacon it was.
At home we have a gas range-top, and I don’t think I’d be the cast iron guy I am had we not made that investment half a dozen years ago.
Now, six years later, I was firing up the main burner with a fresh piece smoking-hot before me, and a handful of greasy pork waiting to meet its destiny.
Campfire Pizzaria
Finally in the wilds, we mixed up a batch of yeast crust, let it rise for a few hours and eventually started prepping the ingredients.
Cooking over a campfire is tricky for anyone who is used to the consistent heat of a home stove (or in this case, oven).
It takes an honest fifteen minutes to get a pan properly, evenly heated.
Hot spots and cold spots.
Keeping a good base of embers glowing red while stoking a low fire to replenish.
You don't want raging flames, but a weak fire will lose interest in your pan before you can wave the smoke out of your eyes.
My crust was (if I'm being honest) a little thick, but it cooked and browned up nicely as I baked it solo in the hot pan.
Toppings were simple: cheese, some capicola ham, and a good slather of sauce.
The pizza was delicious and the pan was initiated.
And then it rained
I swapped that pan between our coleman campstove and the firetop the rest of the weekend because the intermittent rain meant the weather was fine for a fire, but tough for cooking over it.
It fit four standard burger patties like a champ.
Egg sandwiches were a long morning event, sizzling an egg to perfection over the fire, toasting an English muffin directly on the flames, and melting the ham, egg and cheese into a rich gooey disc in the pan.
Grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch were a cake walk compared to the eggy versions, and we wrapped the whole pan in foil (filled with some chopped squash, onions, potatoes, carrots and celery) and let it roast above the fire-pit as our camping crew enjoyed beers and grilled some marinated steaks over the open flame.
The Cast Iron Guy Verdict
Do you need a twelve inch skillet? It is a workhorse for outdoor camping adventures, I can attest to that.
If I was going out to the great outdoors for longer than a long weekend, I wouldn't hesitate to rely on this kind of pan for most any and every meal.
Where the ten and a quarter is great for small meals or a duo of morning eggs, the twelve proved its utility with a bit of extra space for full meal cooking and a wide scope of applications.
If I'd thought of it, I'd have paired it with my lid (the one from my dutch oven fits ok) and I think this piece of oh-canada cookware (with or without a groovy maple leaf logo) could have lived atop that fire and fed anyone who dared try to tame her.
No regrets.
Maybe I'd better start wandering through the cast iron section of the department store more often.
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