For two weeks, we’ve got top chefs sharing their little-known tricks for backyard cooking.
Photo credit: Courtest Sunset/Oxmoor House
Rare is the cookbook that answers any and all questions we might have on a certain topic. Sunset magazine’s new The Great Outdoors Cookbook: Adventures in Cooking Under the Open Sky is one of those books, with 260 pages of what to do, how to do it, where to get the stuff to do it with, and what to do when you’re finished doing it. Forgive us for this advertisement-like paragraph, but it really is that informative.
First and foremost: building that campfire. Getting your fire to the point where you can actually cook from it will take about an hour and a half, all told. “It’s not an instant thing, but it’s really nice to tend the fire,” says Sunset food editor Margo True. “There’s nothing that brings out that spirit of communion more than a campfire. It’s such a pleasure.”
“It’s really thrilling to be able to tame the forces of nature. When you know you can do that, it’s so satisfying.”
How to Build a Campfire for Cooking
1. Set out fuel. Check with your campground to find out whether you’re allowed to gather fuel. Ideally, you want a mix of tinder (dry grasses, pine needles, and small pinecones), kindling (small sticks up to wrist-size logs), and medium-size logs. It’s also helpful to bring some newspaper. If you can’t collect materials, bring them from home or buy logs from the camp store and make some kindling: Set a log upright on a sturdy, larger piece of wood. Rest the sharp edge of a hatchet or ax on top of the log, parallel to the grain. Strike the wood, repeating as needed to break it into pieces.
2. Make a tipi and ignite. In a fire ring over a small pile of crumpled newspaper and tinder, arrange kindling into a tipi about 1 foot in diameter. Light tinder. When the pile starts smoking, resist the urge to pile on wood; instead, blow on it gently a few times until flames emerge.
3. Add twigs and logs. Once flames are lively, gradually add twigs. Graduate to wrist-size logs, then 5 or 6 medium-size logs.
4. Let it burn, then cook. Once you have ashy chunks with low flames (1 1/2 to 2 hours), you’re ready to cook on the grill in the fire ring or, for certain recipes, right in the embers. Keep another lot burning at the back of the fire ring in case you need more fuel.
5. Put it out right. Stop adding fuel at least an hour before you plan to leave camp. Spread out the coals, then douse them with plenty of water. Leave your campsite only when the coals are cool enough to touch with your hand.
Mascarpone French Toast with Warm Blackberry Syrup
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
1 1/2 cups cold mascarpone cheese
2 Tbsp. blackberry liqueur
8 thick (1/4 in.) slices of day-old wide French bread, such as batard
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 1/2 cups blackberries
2 Tbsp. butter
Heat a grill to medium-high (450 degrees; you can hold your hand 5 in. above cooking grate only 4 to 5 seconds) or use a camp stove at medium-high heat
Whisk together egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla in a large bowl.
In another bowl, stir together mascarpone, remaining 1 tsp. vanilla, and the liqueur. Spread mascarpone mixture over 4 bread slices; top with remaining slices.
Cook maple syrup and berries in a small covered saucepan until berries start to break down, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat a large heavy frying pan or 2 smaller ones over grill or camp stove; swirl butter in pan(s). Dip sandwiches in egg mixture, then cook, turning once, until crisp and browned, 4 to 8 minutes. Serve French toast with syrup and bacon.