Monday, September 7, 2015

OMG a Recipe: Adventures in Backyard Camping

There's camping. There's Glamping. And now there's Backyard Camping, or what some may consider Misanthropic Glamping. We offered up our backyard over a month ago to a friend who wanted her little brother's first camping trip to be as worry-free as possible. With easy access to bathrooms and an XBox. Because... really, Nature's not all it's cracked up to be when fancy yogurt parfaits are in play. AMIRITE?

The Great Outdoors ain't got nuthin' on yogurt parfaits, dawg - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I'm not trying to disparage the Greatness of the Great Outdoors. We are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful states, full of gorgeous forested campsites and serene lakeside spots to sleep under the stars. It's nifty. But if you've never camped in the woods, maybe you have serious allergies, maybe you don't have time to spend half your trip waiting for a crowded ferry ride just to get you to/from your destination, maybe you've only lived in a big city -- the Great Outdoors is Greatly Overwhelming. Even I felt that sensory overload on my first big camping trip when I first moved to Washington many years ago. So of course we offered up our backyard as an easy, overnight "Camping Lite" experience, complete with a tent under the trees, grilled burgers and sweet potato fries, a cooler full of frosty beverages, desserts aplenty, and of course, the all-important s'mores made over a roaring campfire (pit).

All the important parts of camping, the comfort of the backyard - Photos by  Wasabi Prime
Having guests for an overnight stay also means it's a great excuse to totally carb-out and make all the stuff that's usually too much for just a household of two people. And one very food-enthusiastic dog. I put together a menu of familiar foods, but ones with little ingredient swaps to introduce new things -- instead of standard French fries, they were grilled yams with homemade ketchup; burgers were grilled but they were infused with fresh garden herbs and other seasonings so even the basic, no-topping hamburger was packed with extra flavor. And there were some ingredient swaps to make everything safe for food sensitivities -- one of our friends has a tree nut allergy, so the homemade granola and chocolate chip cookies used soy nuts instead of almonds or pecans. You still get a satisfying nutty crunch, minus the, "...why is my throat suddenly itchy and swelling up?"
The Ultimate (tree nut allergy-friendly) Chewy Cookie
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe, as printed in InStyle Magazine)

2 cups AP flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips or 2 cups chopped dark chocolate chunks
1 cup rough-chopped soy nuts  

Flake salt to top cookies (sea salt, Kosher, or shaved pink Himalayan salt all work)

NOTE: Prepare the dough a day before baking -- allowing the dough to rest for at least 24 hours in the fridge allows the flavors to meld and the sugars to melt into the dough, making for a concentrated, molasses-like sweetness.

Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda on one bowl. In a separate bowl, using a mixer or a spoon, beat the softened bugger and sugars until well blended and a fluffy, light blond color. Add the eggs and vanilla into the butter/sugar mixture until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in small increments until fully mixed. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and soy nuts.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Take the rested dough and form ping pong ball-sized rounds and place onto the trays with ample space between each (about 12 per baking sheet). Gently flatten each round, just enough to where it has an even top surface, and sprinkle the salt over each cookie before placing into the oven to bake. Allow cookies to bake for 8-10 minutes, checking every few minutes and rotating the sheets on your oven racks, if needed. Bake until the bottoms are just browned for a crunchy exterior, but chewy interior. Allow each batch to cool on a rack, and give each baking sheet time to cool down a little before baking the next batch.

Salt-topped chocolate chip and soy nut cookies! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was also a great opportunity to show off the treasures of the Northwest summer season, like bing cherries. I can eat a terrifying amount in one sitting, and I totally binge on bings because I know it's a short, precious harvest, they're probably my favorite fruit, and I never miss the opportunity to make myself sick from eating way too many of them. Because I clearly cannot Adult. I resisted the urge to eat every cherry in sight, and made bing cherry and granola yogurt parfaits for breakfast, along with two loaves of a modified carrot cake recipe. Yet more ways to incorporate fruits and veggies in with carby sugar treats. Which... probably defeats the purpose of their health benefits, but whatever.

The right way to eat fruit and veggies - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There's not really much of a recipe for making yogurt parfaits -- you're basically layering fresh or dried fruit between layers of yogurt, with the option to add something crunchy like granola. That's it. Nothing complicated. This parfait used Greek yogurt, not just because it's trendy, but its low moisture content made it easier to make the parfaits ahead of time without totally waterlogging the layers before enjoying the following morning. I prefer getting plain Greek yogurt and sweetening it up, versus buying the pre-flavored ones. I like adding both honey and vanilla -- a good drizzle of honey and the contents of a vanilla bean, and you've got dessert right there. Pitted fresh cherries, macerated in some sugar and vanilla extract, makes a luscious layer of fruit and its own natural juices. Granola gives everything a nice crunch, plus it also soaks up excess moisture, keeping the parfait's texture rich and thick.

Amped-Up Granola Recipe (Adapted from

3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/3 cup dried coconut (unsweetened, if possible)
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup diced or small dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, chopped dates, apricots, etc.)
1/2 cup soy nuts or almonds/walnuts (omit completely for allergies)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Take a large bowl and combine all the dry ingredients and mix before incorporating the honey, vanilla extract, and oil. Stir until everything is coated.

Use a rimmed sheet pan covered with parchment paper to evenly spread granola mixture in a single layer. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned, 15-20 minutes, checking halfway through and lightly stirring mixture to encourage even browning.

Place the baking sheet with the finished granola on a cooling rack. As it cools, it will harden, and then you can use your hands to break it up. Eat as a snack or as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.

Carrot cake-turned-breakfast-loaf - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I have a deep love of carrot cake, and it's something you can easily add extra ingredients to, making it a meal unto itself. This one used soy nuts instead of walnuts, an oatmeal brown sugar streusel topping, and hefty sprinkling of chia seeds mixed into the batter for a little extra protein. I used my standby carrot cake recipe from The Grand Central Baking Book, but added more baking soda to the batter, to get it to puff up a bit more while it baked, since I was serving this as a breakfast bread.

Carrot Cake-Bread (adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book) 
makes 2 loaves

1.5 cups AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/5 cups sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2.5 cups grated carrots (about 4-5 carrots)
1 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup soy nuts (or walnuts)
1/2 cup small dried fruits of your choice - cranberries are my favorite
1/4 cup chia seeds (optional)

Streusel topping:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil 
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease/flour two loaf pans or use a nonstick spray to coat.

Combine all dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg) in a bowl and whisk together. In a separate bowl use a mixer or spoon to mix the sugar and oil until blended; it will have a sandy texture.Add the eggs and vanilla into the sugar/oil and mix to combine. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture until fully incorporated.

Use a spatula to fold in the carrots, coconut, fruits, seeds, and nuts. Pour the batter into equal portions in the prepared loaf pans, smooth top and hit against the counter to release any air bubbles trapped within.

Prepare the streusel topping by mixing all the ingredients together until it's a clumpy mass. Sprinkle evenly over the tops of each filled loaf pan and place into the oven to bake.

Baking time can range from 20-30 minutes, since the loaves are thicker than a standard cake. Rotate the loaves halfway through the baking time, use a skewer to check for interior done-ness -- if an inserted skewer comes out wet, let it keep baking, if it comes out dry, the loaves are done. Allow the loaves to cool slightly and remove from the pans to thoroughly cool on a rack.

The great blue backyard yonder - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So are you ready to have your own backyard camping adventure, complete with carb-overload? I think you have all the instructions you need. Floral arrangements optional, but highly recommended.

Happy Summer, y'alls - Photo by Wasabi Prime

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