Urbanfoodie & Friends Go Camping!
A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I went camping for the weekend at Father Hennepin State Park on Mille Lacs Lake (Yep, that’s “One Thousand Lakes Lake”), about 1.5 hours outside of the Twin Cities. None of us had been to that park before (and a few of us had never been camping ever!). We were pleasantly surprised with how much fun we were able to have, given how small the park is relative to other Minnesota State parks. The site’s main advantage is the beach/park, which includes a sand volleyball court, large grassy area perfect for whiffle ball, and a playground for the kiddos (and adults who want to act like kiddos). The hiking is pretty limited, so if that’s one of your main reasons for camping then I’d steer you somewhere else. But if your main goal is to hang out with some friends and/or do some fishing (there were many boats out there), then Father Hennepin is a great place to check out.
For me, camping is all about being outdoors and spending quality time with cherished people in your life….and camping cooking! Sure, you could go the whole weekend just eating grilled hot dogs and canned baked beans, with some s’mores thrown in for good measure. That’s just not how my homies and I roll (though, yes, we did eat some delicious hot dogs and canned baked beans as well). You can get as simple or elaborate as you want. One of my favorite camp-eating experiences is going with my research lab group, where my advisor brought marinated Korean pork bulgogi that we cooked over the camp fire and used to make ssam lettuce wraps and chigae. If you wanna get fancy with your camping experience, consider: how much prep do I want to do before hand? and what can I make that won’t go bad and get us all sick if kept in a cooler all weekend?
My friends and I split up who would be in charge of each meal for the weekend, which worked out great. With T being the Super Camp Master of the group, T and I supplied most of the cooking gear (cast iron skillets, gas stove, long handled spatula, cooking oil, percolator for making fresh brewed coffee-so necessary) and the rest of folks brought more supplies, utensils, and foodstuffs.
We’re all fans of eating, and the camping weekend was no disappointment. Some of the highlights are pictured above. I prepared some fried garlic in oil (see recipe at the end of this post) to make garlic-fried rice and eggs for a Filipino silog breakfast. The same garlic oil was used to dress some salad with fresh pico de gallo. Our friends contributed other delicious things like an orzo pasta salad, encased meats (including awesome sausage from local grocery store Sentyrz Market in Northeast), fruit salad, root vegetables steamed in foil wraps, orange-beet-goat cheese salad (with the beets roasted in foil in the campfire), and fruit/granola/yogurt parfaits for breakfast. One of my friends even extemporaneously came up with a campfire dessert inspired by our leftover s’mores ingredients: the Mocha-Bacon pancake, which was made up of crushed graham crackers, an egg, some Korean instant coffee which contains sugar and creamer, chocolate chunks, and topped with crispy fried bacon bits. Holy, moly! I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but it was damn good!
I’d say that we each probably put in a few hours of cooking prep work before the weekend, and it was totally worth it. We had a blast cooking and eating together, in between playing and relaxing in the great outdoors.
Recipe: Fried Garlic in Oil
This garlic oil takes a little bit of time to make ahead of time, and it’s worth every minute of tending to the slow cooked garlic, which ends up with a chewy, candy-like texture and a savory punch. You can make garlic-fried rice with the garlic chunks, two or more tablespoons of the garlic oil, day-old white rice, and salt. You can also use the garlic oil to cook up eggs over the camp stove or fire. Just add some of your choosing meat and you’ve got a Filipino silog (see my previous post on this breakfast of champions). Get creative - I added some of the garlic oil and garlic flakes to some pico de gallo to top a salad.
1. Chop up a head of garlic so that pieces are roughly equal in size, medium-to-finely chopped.
2. In a heavy skillet (cast iron works well because of the evenly retained heat), heat up approximately 1 cup of canola oil over low-medium heat. You’ll need enough oil to have the garlic fully submerged.
3. Once oil is shimmering, add garlic in an even layer around the pan. (You may want to test out the heat of the oil with a tiny bit of garlic first before dumping it all into the pan. If it’s too hot, that’s bad because the garlic will burn rather than slowly cook to infuse the oil with flavor).
4. Allow garlic to slowly cook until a medium golden brown, stirring periodically to prevent burning. This can 15 minutes or more. Keep a watchful eye over the cooking because two minutes too long and you’ll end up with bitter, burned garlic.
5. Once garlic is cooked, either strain the oil to separate the garlic or simply pour both garlic and oil into a glass or ceramic container. Let cool and then use to your heart’s desire! The garlic oil should keep for about a week.