Camp Oatmeal and Toppings Bar for a Crowd

For our last camping trip of the summer, we went to Yosemite with a large group — roughly 40 people. Breakfasts and dinners were group affairs, divvied up so that each family basically only had to cook part of one meal. We teamed up with a couple other families to put on the first breakfast: oatmeal with an elaborate toppings bar, plus sausages (pork and veggie) and scrambled eggs on the side.

I spent a long time thinking (OK, obsessing) about the best way to prepare oatmeal for a crowd in a camping environment. Steel cut oats? Overnight oats? Old fashioned rolled oats? Quick cooking oats? Precook or make on site? There are a few challenges to consider:

  • Cooler space is limited, so it might be hard to fit a large quantity of precooked oatmeal.
  • Cooked oatmeal tends to thicken over time, so reheated texture might be unpredictable.
  • There’s no telling how much oatmeal people will actually eat, so if you precook a large batch, you might end up with too much left over.
  • Temperature control on a camp stove is notoriously difficult. Our burners seem to have three settings: full blast, almost full blast, and oops it went out. That makes it hard to simmer a large pot of oatmeal for very long without starting to burn on the bottom.

For all of those reasons, I decided to bring uncooked quick oats and make them in medium-size batches on site. Quick oats only take a minute or so to cook, so by the time you bring them to a boil, they’re pretty much done already. Doing them in batches helped minimize leftovers because I could cook more as needed. And while the texture of quick oats is certainly not as nice as traditional oats, a well appointed toppings bar more than makes up for it.

Speaking of toppings: In general, 1-2 cups of each was plenty for our group. Some double as good camping snacks (e.g., blueberries, dried cranberries, granola), and many need no refrigeration, so having leftovers is not so bad. The most popular topping was probably the whipped cream, so I’d call that one a must-have.

And here’s a surprising fact: While oatmeal is made from oats, which contain no gluten, it is not necessarily gluten free! Many oats are processed in the same facility as other grains such as wheat, barley and rye, which means they can be contaminated by gluten-containing particles. That’s particularly important when cooking for a large group with various food restrictions. Bob’s Red Mill makes all sorts of gluten free oats (quick cooking, old fashioned rolled, steel cut, etc.) that have been processed in a dedicated gluten free facility and tested to ensure they are safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. (Not a promotion, just a trusted brand that seems relatively easy to find in stores.)

Serves 30-40

Ingredients

28-ounce package quick cooking oats (If you are serving oatmeal with other breakfast items, like sausage, bacon or eggs, 28 ounces is sufficient. If oatmeal is the only element of the meal, you may want to double it.)
18 cups water
1 tsp salt

Topping ideas

toasted pecan pieces
slivered almonds
dried cranberries
raisins
granola
freeze-dried strawberries
mini chocolate chips
rainbow sprinkles
shredded coconut
fresh berries
bananas
brown sugar
ground cinnamon
honey
maple syrup
apple sauce
whipped cream
milk
soy milk
almond milk

Cook oatmeal in batches (4-5 cups of oats at a time) according to package directions (1 part oats to 2 parts water, pinch of salt per serving). Set out toppings in bowls with serving spoons (as needed). Serve immediately.

Pictured: Corelle Butterfly Gold Bowls

Oatmeal-fueled kids enjoying the Merced River in beautiful Yosemite Valley

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Lemon

Cucumber salad is super easy to throw together and makes a refreshing side dish on a hot summer day. A lot of recipes use a mayo-vinegar dressing, but I think subbing in lemon for the vinegar adds a nice flavor. For a prettier salad, partially peel your cucumbers lengthwise (creating stripes), so that each slice alternates dark green skin and light green flesh around the edge.

Ingredients

1 lb cucumbers, partially peeled and sliced thin
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
zest and juice (about 2 tbsp) of one lemon
1 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp sugar
pinch cayenne
pepper

In a medium bowl, toss cucumbers in salt. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, in a serving bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, dill, sugar and cayenne. Stir in the cucumbers. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

Pictured: Federal Batter Bowl

Curry Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower

When you think of curry, potatoes and cauliflower, the first thing that comes to mind might be aloo gobi, the classic Indian dish (and a favorite in our house). But simply roasting them gets you similar flavors with a lot less prep required. This makes a great weeknight side — doable in well under an hour, even if you are a slow chopper.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb yukon gold potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 head cauliflower, cut in florets
2 small red onions, cut in 1/2-inch wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and adjust rack to upper third position.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, cauliflower, red onions and olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle in curry powder and a couple generous pinches of salt, and toss until well distributed.

Spread out the vegetable mixture on a well oiled baking sheet. Bake until potatoes are tender, about 35 minutes. Turn on the broiler and brown the veggies for 1-2 minutes more, then serve.

Pictured: Corning Ware April DC-1 1/2-B Designer Casserole

Easy Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri has been my favorite thing to make all summer. It’s super easy, brings a ton of flavor to the table and always gets rave reviews. It’s also very forgiving: Measurements need not be exact; just taste and adjust accordingly.

It has a billion uses: Pour over steak, chicken, fish or grilled veggies. Toss with pasta or roasted potatoes. Make chimichurri bruschetta. Dress a panzanella salad. Use as a dip. Spread on a sandwich. Eat by the spoonful. It doesn’t last long in our house!

Adapted from Bon Appetit‘s Chimichurri Sauce.

Ingredients

1 small shallot, chopped fine
1 Fresno chile, seeded and chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine (leaves and tender stems; about 1 heaping cup)
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine (leaves and tender stems; about 1 heaping cup)
1 cup olive oil

In a medium bowl, stir together the shallot, chile, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Let it sit while you chop the cilantro and parsley.

Add the cilantro, parsley and olive oil, then whisk with a fork to combine. Add salt to taste. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Pictured: Pyrex Ivy 441 Cinderella Mixing Bowl

Smoky Vegetable Spice Blend

When grilling vegetables we typically keep it simple: olive oil, salt and pepper. But lately I’ve been in the mood for something different, so I tried adding some smoky spices to the mix.

Try this blend on pretty much any vegetable: asparagus, broccolini, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, cabbage wedges … the possibilities are endless. We usually cook on a gas grill, but roasting in an oven is another tasty option.

Ingredients

1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
salt
pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder.

Drizzle vegetables with olive oil, then season with spice mixture, salt and pepper to taste. (Save excess spices for a later use.) Grill on a barbecue or roast in a hot oven.

Pictured: Corning Ware Garden Harvest A-10-B Skillet

Any Bean Hummus with Miso

One of my favorite things to do is cook with pantry staples — I love it when all the ingredients I need are already in my kitchen. So recently when I was in the mood for hummus, I decided to make my own. Since I didn’t have any chickpeas, I used black beans instead. Also I’ve been experimenting with making my own miso (and using it to add umami to lots of different dishes), so I threw that in too. The hummus turned out great, and I’m convinced the recipe would work well with just about any type of bean.

Admittedly, miso and tahini may not be staples for most people, but they are great to have on hand, if only to make more hummus!

Ingredients

1 can beans, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp tahini
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp lemon juice (about one lemon)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white miso
1/2 tsp cumin
salt

In a medium bowl, combine beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, miso and cumin. Use an immersion blender (or food processor) to puree until smooth. Add more oil or a little water if needed for desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

Pictured: Pyrex Butterfly Gold 443 Cinderella Mixing Bowl, Corning Ware Wheat W-43-B Petite Pan, Corning Ware Wheat W-1-B Casserole

Hominy Stew with Bacon and Poblano Peppers

The weather is warming up in Northern California, and I’m having a hard time letting go of stew season. Plus, I’m on a mission to test out recipes that might freeze well for ready-made summer camping meals. This one fits the bill, though I might try adding white beans next time for extra protein.

Side note: Ever since I made this Slow Cooker Pork Stew with Hominy, I’ve been wanting more hominy in my life! I don’t know how I overlooked the chewy goodness of nixtamalized corn kernels for so long. This hominy stew really lets them shine.

Adapted from Food & Wine‘s Hominy Stew with Bacon.

Serves 6

Ingredients

8 oz bacon
2 medium onions, chopped
3 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped fine
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 15-oz cans white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed
1 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes (undrained)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
zest (about 1 tsp) and juice (about 2 tbsp) of 1 lime
1 tbsp masa harina (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
salt
pepper

Use kitchen shears to snip bacon into 1/2-inch pieces, then place in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.

Remove all but 1-2 tbsp of the bacon grease from the pot, then add the onions, poblanos and jalapeños. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, then saute over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

Add the hominy, tomatoes, chicken broth and lime juice and stir. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Uncover and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in masa and simmer 5 minutes more. Add lime zest and cilantro, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with bacon.

Pictured: Descoware Flame Dutch Oven, Pyrex 024 Lime Round Casserole