Camping in Colorado is second to none as a summer pastime, granting the opportunity to reconnect with outdoor grandeur and our appetites for fresh air. No one knows exactly why food seems to taste better outdoors; perhaps it’s the spectacular setting in which we enjoy our meals when camping, or the lengths to which we go to create those outdoor repasts that flavor our food with a little something special. No matter the raison d'être, the area’s most seasoned campers know better than to squander a potentially delectable gastronomic venture with anything less than the best outdoors-tested recipes. Having graduated from traditional, one-dish campground vittles (think tuna mac), these regional camp kitchen experts share some of the most sophisticated flavors to be served on an enamel plate.
French Toast with a Flair
After five summers sleeping under the stars with the Telluride Academy, camp counselor Michele Morenz has had her fair share of quesadillas, lunchmeat, and pb&j sandwiches.
“As a cook, camping doesn’t hinder my ability to make great meals, but it does provide a challenge – what’s easy, quick, delicious, and doesn’t create a ton of dirty dishes?” she says. Morenz is compiling a camp cookbook for her fellow Telluride Academy instructors, to provide campers with “streamlined meals that aren’t complicated but still taste amazing.”
The following recipe has been field-tested by some of the most fastidious of connoisseurs: hungry young campers and their sleep-deprived counselors.
Telluride Academy Stuffed French Toast
Fills the bellies of 12 campers and 2 instructors
2 loaves sliced bread
2, 8 oz.-containers cream cheese
2, 10 oz.-jars of jam, any flavor
maple syrup or agave nectar
powdered sugar (for garnish)
fresh fruit (optional)
Beat eggs and place in wide, shallow bowl. Using two slices of bread, spread one with cream cheese and the other with jam. Put bread slices together and, using tongs, dip entire sandwich into the egg wash. In a hot skillet, grill each side until golden brown. Serve with syrup, powdered sugar or fruit (or all three).
Telluride Academy celebrates its 30th season of exploring Telluride’s big backyard and beyond this summer. The Academy offers camping, biking, hiking, foreign travel, drama, arts, dance, and other adventure programs for local and visiting kids ages 5 and up. www.tellurideacademy.com, 970/728-5311.
Everyone Loves Lasagna
By most camp gastronome’s estimations, river trip cooking is superior to any other outdoor cooking. It is backcountry luxury at its finest, absent of the minimalism required of backpacking and yet still deliciously removed from the superfluous nature of car camping.
The following dinner menu from Telluride Kayak School owner and head instructor Matt Wilson is a testament to the unfussy sumptuousness of cooking – and eating – on the river. While the recipe doesn’t call for a sandy beach or a cadre of river-drunk comrades, both add extra flavor to this classic meal.
Telluride Kayak School Lasagna, Garlic Bread, and Salad Supper
Will satisfy 16 hungry boaters after a long day on the river
2 yellow onions, diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 lbs. zucchini, chopped
3 heads of lettuce
6 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cucumber, sliced
1 qt. ricotta
4 lbs. turkey sausage
2 lbs. mozzarella, grated
2 sticks butter, softened
2, 15 oz.-cans spinach
16 oz. can sliced mushrooms
dried oregano and basil
3 jars spaghetti sauce
4 boxes lasagna noodles
8 oz. container parmesan cheese
3 loaves French bread
1 box of croutons
1 bottle salad dressing
Charcoal Tip: Start with coals in a pile (not spread out) and light. (Matchlite needs to be lit right away.) A barrel air pump can help provide air to aid lighting. Wait until coals are 75% gray before spreading them out or grilling with them. Immediately close up the bag of unused coals.
For the lasagna: Sauté onions, garlic, and zucchini and then mix with the ricotta, eggs, drained spinach, mushrooms and spices (oregano and basil.) Cook sausage and mix with spaghetti sauce.
In a Dutch oven, assemble the lasagna by layering sauce, noodles, veggie/ricotta mix, and mozzarella cheese until all the ingredients are used. Top with parmesan cheese (or save for serving). Attach the Dutch oven lid and top with a heavy layer of coals on the outer edge and 2-3 coals in the middle. Bake for one hour.
Easiest garlic bread: Slice the loaves of bread in half lengthwise, spread with butter, toss with dried garlic, and then toast on the griddle.
Toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and croutons for the salad and serve with dressing.
Telluride Kayak School has provided Southwest Colorado with a decade of world-class whitewater kayak instruction, trips and expeditions. TKS provides experienced guides/instructors, superior equipment, and the smallest groups for whitewater trips in the Telluride region. www.telluridekayak.com, 970/ 728-6250.
An elaborate outdoor spread isn’t always justified, especially when the most delectable dinner can be found on-site. Here, part-time fishing guide (and Watch foodie) Gus Jarvis makes an incredible meal out of the simplest of ingredients… of course, you’ll first have to land the oft-elusive star of this fisherman’s favorite dish.
“If you want fresh fish in land-locked Colorado, this is as good as it gets,” he says. “This stream-side meal is simple and filling on cool evenings. The fish will have a light, gratifying flavor with a hint of smokiness.”
Coal-Roasted Fresh Trout
Two 16” Brown Trout serve 3-4 people
2 freshly caught Brown Trout (check for size,
quantity regulations in area)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
salt and pepper
Prepare a campfire in pit or fire pan (in accordance to local regulations, of course). Find a large, dinner-plate sized flat rock (or another fire pan) and even layer of hot coals to the flat rock. Clean the trout, stuff half the lemon wedges inside and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the fish directly on the coals and cook for six to seven minutes. Carefully pick each fish up by the tail and gently turn over. Brush off any coals that may stick to the charred side. Cook for another five-to-six minutes or until the flesh begins to sizzle with luscious fish fat (exact time depends on thickness of fish). To serve, simply place each fish on a plate and peel back the charred, crispy skin. With a fork, pull clean meat from the bones with a fork, adding fresh lemon juice as desired.
Dutch Oven Delicacy
Veteran campground cooks have one particularly valuable culinary secret up their sleeves: The Dutch oven, a once-essential instrument of the camp kitchen. Due to its heavy, bulky profile, it is not always practical. But river runners by and large have maintained the Dutch oven tradition and its endless menu possibilities. In this recipe adapted from the guides at the Moab-based Sheri Griffith Expeditions, the Dutch oven makes it possible to end an outdoor meal with a sweet, fire-baked flourish.
Sheri Griffith Expeditions Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Yummy dessert for 8 to 10
4 Tbs. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 can pineapple rings
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
whipping cream (optional)
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
For the topping: On a camp stove, melt the butter in the bottom of a 12" Dutch Oven. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter. As soon as the brown sugar is dissolved place the pineapple rings in a single layer on top of the brown sugar. (For added flare you can place a cherry in the center of each ring or some chopped nuts on top of the pineapple.)
For the cake: In a mixing bowl combine cake mix, pineapple juice, water, eggs and oil. Mix well. Spoon cake batter over the top of the pineapple rings, carefully spreading the batter evenly to the edges of the Dutch Oven. Affix the cover and bake using 7-10 briquettes underneath and 14-16 briquettes on top of the Dutch Oven for about 45 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a knife or toothpick; if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes with the lid cracked. Then, run a rubber scraper or a knife around the outer edge to loosen it from the Dutch oven. With oven mitts on, put a flat serving tray on top of the Dutch oven and carefully it turn over so the cake drops onto the tray. Place and a table and tap the bottom of the Dutch oven to encourage the cake to let loose. Carefully lift the oven off the cake and viola, behold your beautiful creation.
Moab-based Sheri Griffith River Expeditions has provided whitewater rafting adventures on the Green and Colorado Rivers since 1971. www.griffithexp.com, 800/ 332-2439.