Friday, July 18, 2008

Not-Just-Camp-Cooking Pouch Dinners

If you’ve ever done any camping, you almost certainly wrapped some meat and a few vegetables in foil and cooked them in the coals of your fire. It’s a common and simple campfire cookout. But it’s much more than that, really. It is an enormously adaptable dinner that can be easily assembled for a variety of dietary considerations. With a bit of creativity, you can really elevate this meal from its humble campout status to something pretty special.

We’ll start with the way I made it for dinner last night and talk about the many variations from there. To do it the way I did, you’ll need:

· ½ lb lean beef, cubed - I like to use stir fry or chop suey beef since it is already trimmed and cut quite small for quick cooking.
· Red-skinned potatoes – approximately one per person
· Carrots, bell peppers, green beans, celery, onion, broccoli flowerets
· Greek salad dressing

First, I sliced the potatoes (though I did not peel them) fairly thin. You want to keep vegetable pieces reasonably small and thin to reduce cooking time. I also cut the other vegetables into roughly 1” pieces.

Once my vegetables were ready, I laid out pieces of foil. The pieces should be about 18” long so you’ll have room to fold it tightly over the food. Once the foil was ready, I began assembling. I like to lay out the potato slices first. This gives the packet a firm base and puts the potatoes in closer contact with the heat for faster cooking. Once I had a good layer of potato slices in the center of the foil (laid out in a rectangle allowing plenty of room on all sides for folding up later), I added my carrot slices, beef pieces, onion pieces, green beans, bell pepper pieces and broccoli flowerets. You’ll notice I put the vegetables I don’t want to overcook on top.

Over all this, I poured 2 – 3 T Greek salad dressing (this was a bottled dressing from the grocery but you can make your own) and carefully folded the foil. I like to ‘lock’ the foil together by folding two sides together and rolling it down to the food and then closing either end.

Since I was making three pouches and each needed different ingredients, I marked the pouches with toothpicks poked through the foil. My son’s pouch had no meat but more green beans, as is his preference. My husband’s had some of everything but only a few potato slices since starchy foods are not so good for diabetics. Mine had meat and only those vegetables to which I was not allergic.

Once the pouches were ready, I placed them on the grill which I had at about medium to medium high heat. Every grill adjusts differently so get yours going accordingly. Do close the grill’s lid to keep your heat in. These pouches cooked for about an hour. You can carefully undo the foil to check for doneness and rewrap them to continue cooking. Just work carefully and use your tongs. We like our vegetables to be a bit ‘al dente’ so an hour was fine. If you like yours softer, you’ll want to leave them on the grill longer. The cooking time can be reduced if you steam your vegetables in the microwave for two or three minutes before adding them to the pouches. However, this will change the flavor slightly. Not a bad thing but it will be different.

Now for the variations. You can add any vegetables you like to these pouches. You can even add some of your favorite fruits. Instead of beef, you can substitute chicken, pork or turkey. Ground meat can be used to make a patty instead of cubed meat. Just make sure you check the temperature of your meat to insure doneness. The salad dressing is not required and you can just salt and pepper the food and allow it to cook in its own juices. You can also use a different dressing (though creamy dressings aren’t really the thing for this meal) or add some other liquid. Wine, vinegar or fruit juice would work well.

At this time of year, I like to cook these on the grill to avoid all the extra heat in the house. However, these can certainly be cooked indoors in your regular oven (at about 375 degrees F) or in a toaster oven.

The really lovely part is that everyone can have just what they like and it doesn’t require a lot of additional preparation. Kids love to put their own pouches together with the vegetables they like best. If you are concerned about the amount of foil you’re using and would like to conserve a bit, you can make this meal in a covered pan. However, this really works best when everyone eating can share the same ingredients. Otherwise, plan to use separate small pans.

With as many variations as you can dream up, this simple form of campout cooking can become a staple meal in your household. It can be dinner for one or for a crowd with minor adjustments and leftovers reheat well the next day.

So, let’s go eat that!


Denise said...

I love it! Foil is one of my favorite ways to cook Florida style. Just give me a roll and a I will tell my husband, this is is 20 minutes, this one is ten and the steaks, well they aren't in foil and they are up to him ... LOL!!!


Sandra Gordon said...

:) I love that everything can go in together. The flavors mix and it all comes out wonderfully.