A Gourmet Interview With Camp Chef Robin Donovan

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Cooking around the campfire doesn’t have to mean eating cans of baked beans and charbroiled hot dogs. Imagine dining on dishes like Thai cabbage salad, maple mustard pork chops, or goat cheese quesadillas around the fire.

I spoke to food writer and avid camper Robin Donovan, author of over 20 cookbooks including "Campfire Cuisine," which recently came out with in its second edition, about why cooking good quality food in the outdoors is easier than it sounds.

“Campfire Cuisine” was your first cookbook when it originally came out in 2006. How did you get into this kind of cooking?

Robin Donovan: I’d been doing a lot of camping for the 10 years prior to that. I had noticed that my friends and I would cook delicious food while we were camping and that was always a highlight of the trip for me. But I noticed people around us in campgrounds were eating things like hot dogs... It sort of started as a joke, like "I should write a cookbook about camp recipes.’"But then it evolved into a real project. Food just tastes better when you’re outside and if you go to the effort of making a nice meal with good ingredients while camping, you’ll appreciate it that much more.

What are the biggest challenges of cooking alfresco?

I like the challenge of cooking when I don’t have all my fancy equipment and my big refrigerator with all the ingredients. Obviously, the weather and the outdoors can be a challenge—rain, wind, bugs. If you want to cook using fresh ingredients, it can be tricky to keep things from spoiling—you’ve got to be smart with meal planning and how you pack your cooler. And you wouldn’t want to cook anything camping that requires a super precise heat source.

That all sounds kind of tough.

It doesn’t have to be hard. In the book, I tried to keep each recipe down to about five or six ingredients or less and most can be prepared start to finish in 15 or 20 minutes. The biggest thing you can do to make it easier is to plan ahead: Before you go, make a meal plan, get what you need at the store, and organize it in such a way that when it’s time to cook, you’re ready to go. I measure a lot of stuff ahead of time and put it in marked plastic, sealed bags. For example, with pancakes, you can pre-mix the ingredients and then all you have to do is add an egg and milk.

What are some of your favorite recipes from the book to cook while camping?

It’s tough to choose but I love the bourbon-glazed chicken, which is marinated with bourbon, brown sugar, and soy sauce. You can marinate it ahead of time and then just throw it on the grill. Or for dessert, there’s the s’moredilla, which is like a quesadilla made with marshmallows and chocolate. And for breakfast, nothing beats the pan-fried bread with crumbled blue cheese, sliced pears, and maple syrup. It’s so delicious and so easy to make.

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