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“Ooooh, I wanna go camping for my birthday!” “I’d like to go hiking!” My daughter and husband have birthdays a week apart and their requests sounded like one fantastic weekend! The Texas State Park campgrounds fill up pretty fast, so I polled my Facebook buddies right away to get a potential list of parks with the best trees. Got the site!
We’re all foodies. Adding birthdays on top of that, I really wanted to make lovely campfire fare, so I ordered a copy of The New Camp Cookbook. I gave it a flip through and flagged a lot of potential weekend deliciousness, and then I saw it, Dutch Oven Old-School Lasagna. Haha! Lasagna and Potstickers are her two favorite food groups. Perfect! (We already did his birthday dinner and cake at home!)
It’s very cool. You will not be bored with the same old campsite (or backyard!) meals. The author’s intent is that you do all the prep right at the campsite. Measuring and dicing out in the woods, where I have no desire to have a full pantry or fridge to work out of, sounded pretty bad. I prefer to keep things as simple as possible out in the woods, so that we can concentrate on hiking, canoeing, and chillaxing, so I did all the prep work at home, and even froze what parts would freeze well to double as ice packs in our cooler <I spell out those details below>. It worked out so well, and I couldn’t be happier with the book. <If you normally read my stuff, you’ll laugh at the pictures. When we got to the site, our lantern wasn’t working, so I had to shine a pocket flashlight on the salmon to get a shot. The pics look like something out of Blair Witch Project. LOL!>
Since you’re reading about campfire food, I’m going to guess that there’s a good chance that you like to see potential outdoor playgrounds. Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas. Half the lake is in Texas and half is in Louisiana. It has a few miles of pretty hiking trails through the woods. But what they’re known for is a paddling trail. You can rent canoes there. On the state park website I found alligator warnings. What?! We got there and saw tons of canoes in the water. We went to the ranger station and asked. She said the alligators aren’t really a problem and they don’t usually come that far up the bayou. I generally think Bill Bryson nailed it in A Walk in the Woods when he said, “Bears don’t sign treaties.” Hmmmm. But I trust park rangers. They’re in the business of keeping humans and wildlife happy and safe. So we went. And oh my gosh, am I ever glad that we did! The campground was out of canoes, so the ranger sent us over to Johnson’s Ranch Marina.
The bald cypress trees look mystical when the paddling trail gets narrow and they form a canopy, and the mounds of Spanish moss hanging off of them have a softening effect like draperies. It’s straight out of Tiana’s playground in Princess and the Frog. Water lilies are everywhere, and Alex (my birthday kiddo) was delighted by holding her paddle over them and watching the water droplets disperse in a frenzied dance over the surface. And there are lightning bugs everywhere lighting up the woods. We hadn’t seen them since selling our property in New York. We’d missed them so much. It was an amazing adventure. You should go!
We came home, built a fire, and got the Dutch Oven Old-School Lasagna going while the kids went off to find the shower house. The lasagna was the perfect birthday dinner out in the woods! I’ll show you the other dishes I made in the book afterwards, but first let me get you the recipe for that lasagna! Thanks to Quarto for letting me share it with you!
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Dutch Oven Old-School Lasagna
Makes 6 servings
Ooey gooey goodness was once only possible at home, in an oven, where layer upon layer of pasta, cheese, and sauce bubbled together in a tidy rectangular baking dish. But classic lasagna can now be had in camp! It might be round, but it’s got all the flavors and layers you know and love. I use oven-ready noodles in this recipe to save the extra step of boiling them (and dirtying another pot… because who wants to do more dishes?).
FOR THE MEAT SAUCE (Prepare, bag, and freeze ahead of time! Thaw when ready. ~Jen)
½ pound (226 g) lean ground beef
½ pound (226 g) Italian sausage, casing removed
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce/800 g) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8-ounce/226 g) can tomato sauce
¼ cup (60 ml) dry red wine
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
To make the meat sauce, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground beef and sausage. Flatten the meat, spread it across the skillet, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Stir to break up the meat and continue cooking until browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes more. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, fennel seeds, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a mound of wood coals, hardwood lump charcoal, or charcoal briquettes.
FOR THE CHEESE MIXTURE (Prepare, bag, & freeze ahead of time! Thaw when ready. ~Jen)
2 large eggs
4 ½ cups (500 g) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups (450 g) ricotta cheese
½ cup (50 g) grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup (25 g) chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnishing
To make the cheese mixture, in a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, 4 cups (450 g) of mozzarella, the ricotta, ¼ cup (25 g) of the Parmesan, and the parsley. Stir until well combined.
FOR THE LASAGNA
Olive oil spray
9 uncooked oven-ready lasagna noodles (I used more. I think my Dutch oven’s bigger. ~Jen)
3 cups packed baby spinach
To assemble the lasagna, lightly spray a dutch oven with oil. Spoon 1/3 of the meat sauce into the oven, followed by 1/3 of the noodles, ½ of the cheese mixture, and ½ of the spinach. (Break the noodles into pieces to fit the oven.) Repeat with the remaining ingredients, finishing with a layer of meat sauce. Top with the remaining ½ cup (56 g) mozzarella and remaining ¼ cup (25 g) Parmesan. (Here’s my quick sketch of the layer plans. ~Jen)
Move about a quart’s worth of coals to the cooking pit and arrange them in a ring. Cover the oven, set it on the ring of coals, and place 1 ½ rings of coals on the lid.
Bake over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until all the cheeses are melted and the noodles are tender. Replenish the coals as needed to maintain medium heat and rotate the oven and lid halfway through for even cooking. Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley.
My review of the book…
By: Linda Ly
My thoughts and pics on the dishes we tried:
1) Blueberry Skillet Scones with Lemon Glaze – p 42. These were divine. They are rich, fragrant, and not overly sweet. I prepped the dough and icing in advance and put them in separate sealed bags.
2-5) Savory Oatmeal with Bacon, Cheddar, and Fried Egg – p 49. Delicious. This was everyone’s favorite breakfast. I cooked and crumbled the bacon and toasted the oatmeal in advance. Then I measured and separately bagged the bacon, oatmeal, cheese, and chopped onion. I measured ice water into a mason jar (they have measurement lines on the side), so that it would double as an icepack and a drinking jar, too.
6) Foil Pack Salmon with Pineapple Salsa – p 101. Fabulous dinner. The sweet, savory, and spicy salsa complements the rich fish perfectly. I washed the fish, seasoned it, and topped it with lime slices and bagged that in advance. And I made another sealed bag of the salsa in advance. This was supposed to be done in foil, which I forgot at home, so I just used my Dutch oven with a lid, and it worked perfectly. Our lantern was dead, so this photo taken with a pocket flashlight will have to do.
7-11) Dutch Oven Old-School Lasagna – p 179. All the yes! Lasagna and potstickers are my kiddos favorite foods, so I was thrilled to see one of them in the book for her birthday dinner. This works perfectly in the Dutch oven with coals. Everyone loved it. I made the meat sauce and combined the cheese mixture ahead of time, and separately bagged and froze those. Then I made a little bag of the topping cheese. There was supposed to be spinach in this, but I forgot it at home.
12) Mimosa Sangria – p 190. This was a lovely fireside sipper. I put the measured fruit, orange liqueur, and fruit juice in one mason jar ahead of time. When we were ready to drink it, I divided it between this and the other mason jar that the measured water had been in for the oatmeal that was now empty, and my hubby topped them both up with champagne. How’s that for glamping?!
13-15) Camp Chai – p 202. I made the chai concentrate ahead of time. Next time, I’ll make two batches because the kids loved this in the morning while they sat around the fire waiting for their breakfasts. It’s a total mug of coziness.
16-17) Campfire S’Mores, 6 Ways – p 209. My daughter chose a mash-up of two as her birthday cake. Chocolate graham crackers, Nutella, salted caramel, and toasted marshmallows. They thought they were way better than the standard deal. Next time, I’ll chill the Nutella and caramel so that it’ll stand up better to the molten marshmallow. One of my kids is a marshmallow igniter.
Some others I have flagged to try: Peanut Butter-Stuffed French Toast with Honeyed Blackberries – p 56 * Bacon-Wrapped Potatoes with Blue Cheese – p 62 * Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese – p 68 * Pile of Grilled Vegetables with Herbed Toasts – p 79 * Grilled Grape and Gorgonzola Pita Pizzas – p 92 * Vietnamese Pork Tacos with Pickled Carrots and Daikon – p 95 * Bacon-Wrapped Dates – p 115 * Grilled Corn on the Cob, 4 Ways – p 120 * Charred Romaine Salad with Lemon-Anchovy Dressing – p 127 * Peak-of-Summer Peach Caprese Salad – p 130 * Five-Alarm Three-Bean Chili – p 142 * Summer Vegetable and Salmon Packets – p 153 * Tin Foil Seafood Boil – p 157 * Grilled Flank Steak and Fingerling Potatoes with Chimichurri – p 162 * Dutch Oven-Baked Buttermilk Chicken with Kale and Apple Slaw – p 182 * Grilled Pears with Honey-Cinnamon Crème Fraiche – p 214 * Dutch Oven Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler – p 215
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I bought my Food Saver for my sous vide. It’s nice to have, but completely unnecessary for that. Where it really shines in on road trips. We can play in the middle of nowhere and eat like kings. When I was in the market, the mamma jamma of Food Savers was on sale, so why not?! But there are much cheaper models in the Food Saver line.
My little grill. My kiddo won this at Home Depot one day. Not even kidding. My husband is a garden enthusiast, and she tagged along with him to buy all the flowers. She saw a ballot box by the customer service desk and entered her name, and we got a call. It’s fun to drag along to the lake for a lazy dinner after a day of kayaking. There was a burn ban at the campground (we didn’t know that they still allowed fire to cook), so we brought this little guy along. He uses a standard propane tank just like a full-size backyard deal, folds up, and works well. Niiiice.