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SEASONED WITH SUNSHINE

COOKING GREAT MEALS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS — AN UNBEATABLE COMBINATION.

WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
ILLUSTRATION BY GREG BRADY

Potential Lead Art-illustration

Did you ever notice how food just seems to taste better outside? Whether it's a watermelon at a picnic, a burger on the backyard grill, or a bowl of steaming chili around a campfire, flavors just seem to pop in the open air.

The following pages are filled with stories that sing the praises of outdoor cooking. But move over, humble hotdog. We're about to kick it up a notch!

Shelly Curt is a self-described foodie who also loves to camp. You won't get s'mores at her campfire unless those marshmallows are uniquely flavored and freshly made. Her delicious gourmet camp meals include the likes of stuffed French toast, bananas foster, and turtle brownies.

Curt's advice to people who love food and love cooking: "Don't limit yourself to perceptions of what you can do outdoors. You can pretty much adapt anything."

That sentiment is echoed by Dennis Golden, a Dutch oven master chef. Golden takes the mystique out of this age-old cooking technique and shows you how to cook those beloved comfort foods anywhere, even at your campsite.

But while many of these stories emphasize camping — including suggestions for great nearby campgrounds, tips for getting your kids jazzed about camping, and some fun glamping tools to consider — you don't really have to leave home at all. A great outdoor experience can be waiting just down the road at your local park or even in your own backyard.

The idea is to enjoy the special magic that comes from combining the cooking and sharing of great food with the splendor of the great outdoors.

"There's something about just the smells and the very atavistic appeal of the fire and the hearth," Shelly Curt says. "It's something that I think harks back to when we started forming society. The idea of the hearth and that gathering place ... it's like you kind of create an instant home and a portable sense of community."

Of course, Curt thinks it's best when you enrich that experience with spectacular food, and who are we to disagree?

"You can have that nomadic, primal sense of the hearth," Curt adds, "but elevate it."

Exactly!

Reno writer Barbara Twitchell loves everything about camping, especially the rituals that surround mealtime. She truly believes that all food tastes better when cooked outdoors, and she swears that even washing the dishes becomes a Zen-like experience for her.

Recipes

Easy Chilaquiles

(courtesy of Shelly Curt. Serves 4)

Shelly Curt, food and beverage creative development manager at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, prides herself on creating memorable gourmet dishes for her camping companions. She says the key to being able to do this in the middle of nowhere is pre-trip prep work. "You want to plan your cooking so that you do what you can at home," Curt advises. So wash your veggies, cut, dice, chop, premix dry goods, make sauces and freeze them ... all of which will make assembling the recipes at the campsite much easier. Curt also advocates keeping a well-stocked camping bar!

8 ounces organic white corn tortilla chips (lower sodium is best)

5 eggs, lightly beaten

1 small can of red enchilada sauce

5 ounces local Sand Hill Dairy queso fresco

1 cup scallions, chopped

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Place the tortilla chips in pan and pour the eggs over the chips. Stir constantly and cook until eggs are firm and coating the tortillas. Pour the red sauce over the chip and egg mixture and continue stirring until sauce is thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Top with crumbled queso fresco* and chopped scallions. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve immediately. *Find Sand Hill Dairy's products at Wedgecheeseshop.com.

(Note: Most Chilaquiles recipes call for tortilla strips that are fried freshly. This recipe cuts out that step and uses tortilla chips for easier camp prep. Choose your chips carefully because heavily salted chips will not produce ideal results.)


Challah French Toast with Lemon Curd and Blueberry-Elderflower Sauce

(courtesy of Shelly Curt. Serves 4)

1 loaf raisin challah bread, cut into 1½-inch slices (can be purchased from the bakery at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno; House of Bread in Reno bakes plain, poppy seed, and sesame seed challah every Friday, as well)

Filling

6 ounces lemon curd

6 ounces mascarpone cheese

Custard

3 large eggs

1 cup whole milk (use half & half if feeling decadent)

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Sauce

12 ounces fresh blueberries

½ cup water

⅓ cup St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Sugar, to taste

Pinch salt

Make the sauce first and keep it warm while preparing the French toast. Place blueberries and water in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When berries start to break down, lower the heat, add the liqueur, and simmer until the sauce reduces to desired consistency. If sauce is too thick, add a bit of water. The liqueur will provide the sweetness, but taste the sauce toward the end of the cooking process and adjust the sweetness to personal preference, if desired.

Combine lemon curd and mascarpone cheese and set aside. Cut a 1-inch slit in the bottom of each slice of challah. Use the knife or your finger to make a pocket in the middle of each slice that will hold a heaping tablespoon of the lemon curd/mascarpone filling. After filling the slices, set them aside. Combine the ingredients for the custard. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Dip the stuffed slices in the custard and place in the heated skillet. Cook until golden brown, turning once. Serve immediately with warm blueberry-elderflower sauce.


Flank Steak Tacos with Mango Salsa

(courtesy of Tory Friedman. Serves 6 to 8)

Our cover models, Tory and Debbie Friedman and their children, Brody (9) and Gracie (7), are more than just pretty faces. They also are avid campers who do so about 10 to 15 times a year. Dad, Tory, is the gourmet cook of the family, and he says that includes his outdoor meals. This recipe is a family camping favorite.

Mango Salsa

6 mangos, peeled and finely diced

Juice of 2 limes

½ cup orange juice

1 cup red onions, diced

4 to 5 serrano peppers, seeded, deveined, and diced

Handful cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and let stand in cooler a couple of hours to chill. This also can be made at home prior to the expedition, as it only gets better with time.

Steak

2 pounds flank steak

9-ounce jar salsa casera (HERDEZ makes a good one, Friedman says)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon ground chili powder (use less depending on how spicy you like it)

1 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)

12 to 18 corn tortillas

Pour salsa casera into large bowl or freezer bag. Add paprika, chili powder, and cayenne. Marinate steak in salsa mixture for at least 1 hour. Grill to desired temperature. Slice meat against the grain. Warm the tortillas on the grill. Plate a tortilla, add sliced meat, top with mango salsa, fold, and enjoy.


Trout Almondine

(courtesy of Lodge Cast Iron Nation: Great American Cooking from Coast to Coast by Lodge Manufacturing Co./Oxmoor House, 2014. Serves 4. Photo by Helene Dujardin)

This is from George B. Stevenson, chef de cuisine at Pearl's Foggy Mountain Café in Sewanee, Tenn. It's a classic French preparation, combining the freshness of locally caught rainbow trout, the decadence of butter-browned almonds, and the brightness of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

4 (4-ounce) skin-on, boneless rainbow (or substitute German brown, Lahontan cutthroat, or mackinaw) trout filets (from 2 fish)

2 tablespoons canola oil

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup natural almonds, sliced

2 teaspoons shallots, minced

1 teaspoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to sprinkle and to taste

Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, then lightly sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Place two 8-inch cast iron skillets over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter to each skillet. When the butter is melted, add 2 filets, flesh side down, to each skillet, and cook over high heat for about 4 minutes. (Note: After 2 minutes, carefully slide a metal spatula under the fish to ensure it is not sticking.) Turn the filets over (the fish should be nicely browned but not dark), and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully remove the trout to warm serving plates. Remove one skillet from the heat.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the other skillet, and melt over high heat. Add almonds, and swirl the pan to coat them with the butter. Cook for a minute or so. Add shallots, parsley, thyme, and salt and pepper (a nice pinch of each should do). Toss the almonds constantly over the heat until they become uniformly light brown. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, and toss. The mixture will sizzle and foam. Top each fillet with the almond mixture.


Toasted Chile-Cumin Marinated Skirt Steak Tacos

(courtesy of Lodge Cast Iron Nation: Great American Cooking from Coast to Coast by Lodge Manufacturing Co./Oxmoor House, 2014. Serves 4. Photo by Helene Dujardin)

Maya Dailey is the founder and owner of Maya's Farm, located in the urban setting of Phoenix, Ariz. Maya supplies certified-organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, and eggs to local markets, restaurants, and schools. Chile verde is one of Dailey's favorite comfort foods, which, not surprisingly, she makes with her own tomatillos and peppers, topping each bowl with a generous shower of torn fresh cilantro leaves.

3 dried Guajillo chiles*

1 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup sweet onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1½ pounds skirt steak, trimmed of fat

Radish-Tomatillo Salad (recipe follows)

8 to 10 (6-inch) fajita-size corn tortillas

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Crumbled queso fresco (you can buy local Sand Hill Dairy from Wedge Cheese Shop in Reno)

Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add the chiles and toast, turning often, until they puff and become fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. (Chiles burn quickly, so keep a watchful eye.) Cut the chiles open with kitchen shears; remove the seeds. Cut off the stems. Place the chiles in a heatproof medium bowl, and cover with the boiling water. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, cumin seeds, and oregano, and cook, stirring, until the onion is just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture, salt, and vinegar to the chiles and their soaking water, and process in a blender or food processor until smooth. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Wash and dry the skillet.

Pour chile mixture over the steak in a shallow dish, cover, and chill 2 to 4 hours.

Make the Radish-Tomatillo Salad

Lightly brush the tortillas with vegetable oil on both sides. Heat same cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once hot, cook tortillas one at a time until slightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Wrap in aluminum foil, and keep warm.

Heat same skillet over medium heat. Remove steak from marinade, discarding marinade; don't wipe off any of the clinging marinade. Cook the steak in the hot skillet to your desired degree of doneness, 7 to 8 minutes per side for medium.

Remove steak to a cutting board. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before slicing against the grain into thin strips. Serve in the charred tortillas with Radish-Tomatillo Salad and queso fresco.

* Dried chiles are easily found in the ethnic or Latin sections of local supermarkets. They are commonly sold in small cellophane bags and are nestled next to dried herbs and spices in similar packaging. If Guajillo chiles are not available, substitute the same amount of New Mexico chiles.

Radish-Tomatillo Salad

(Makes about 2 cups)

1 cup radishes, cut into thin strips

1 medium tomatillo, husked and diced, or green tomato, diced

1 small Kirby cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

¼ cup fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

In a medium bowl, toss together the radishes, tomatillo, cucumber, salt, and sugar. Transfer mixture to a colander, and let stand 30 minutes. Transfer mixture back to the bowl, and stir in the cilantro, mint, and lime juice just before serving.


Chile-Verde - Green Chili StewMaya Dailey's Chile Verde — Green Chile Stew

(courtesy of Lodge Cast Iron Nation: Great American Cooking from Coast to Coast by Lodge Manufacturing Co./Oxmoor House, 2014. Serves 4 to 6. Photo by Helene Dujardin)

¼ cup good-quality, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat (leave some on for good flavor) and cut into ½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground Chimayo green chile powder*

1 dried Pasilla chile, seeded and chopped

½ cup green onions, chopped

12 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and finely chopped

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

2 Serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped

2 Anaheim chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 cups chicken stock (store bought is fine)

1 15-ounce can or 2 cups green chiles (Dailey uses Bueno brand, which is sold frozen and comes in mild, hot, or extra hot)

1 bunch fresh cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season and to taste

Heat oil in a 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat until sizzling. While the oil heats, season the flour generously with salt and pepper. Toss pork cubes with seasoned flour until well coated; shake off any excess. Add the floured cubes to the hot oil in batches, and cook until nicely browned on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove pork to a plate as it browns.

Add the cumin, chile powder, and pasilla chile to the oil left in the pot, and stir to combine well. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until you can smell their fragrance, about 1 minute. Add green onions, tomatillos, yellow onions, fresh chiles, and bell pepper, and cook over medium heat, stirring a few times, until the onions are caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add meat back to pot, along with stock and green chiles, and let simmer until flavors come together and pork is tender, about 45 minutes, although Dailey says, "It can simmer forever — the longer you simmer, the better it gets!" Adjust heat as needed to prevent any scorching on the bottom.

To serve, ladle into bowls, and tear the cilantro leaves right over the stew.

*Shop for ground Chimayo chile and dried Pasilla chiles online.

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