"I grew up camping," Wheeler said. "That and cooking are probably my two favorite things to do, so any chance to combine them is OK with me."
As soon as the weather thawed this spring, Wheeler had the fire pit going in his backyard and he was ready to blow the winter cobwebs off the recipes he can make with the posse of kids in his extended family.
On this particular night, they were Tim and Kat's 3-year-old son Joe and 2-year-old daughter Anna Marie, plus their Johnson cousins, 8-year-old Matthew, 6-year-old Maggie and 3-year-old twins Meghan and Molly. And they were aided and abetted by their uncle Jonathan Barth who just happens to own
Clintonville Outfitters, which is campfire-cooking-supply central in these parts.
The dishes that Wheeler makes at home and in the field require forethought and careful preparation, he advised, but they cook up quickly over a hot, seasoned-hardwood fire. And the rewards are just as quick and tasty for the clan of cousins, who gave all the dishes a collective 12 thumbs up, although Maggie admitted to doing a little customizing.
"Sometimes I eat just the marshmallows in my s'mores," she confided.
Here are two of Tim's favorite campfire recipes.
FOILED AGAIN DINNER
This is a great one for getting veggies onto the dinner table, Wheeler said: "Our kids are used to eating vegetables with just about every dinner, but they really like them this way."
- sweet peppers (green, orange and/or red), cut into one-inch-square pieces
- baby carrots
- corn on the cob, husks removed and cut into three-inch pieces
- red potatoes, cut into inch-square chunks
- shredded cheese (like a Mexican four-cheese blend, or mild cheddar)
- pats of butter
- 1/4-pound beef franks
- heavy-duty aluminum foil (thinner foil will split during cooking)
Kid: Wash the vegetables to be used and remove husks from the corn.
Grownup: Cut up the vegetables. If transporting for camping use, store each ingredient (including the pats of butter) in either a zippered plastic bag that can be cleaned and reused or a plastic or glass container with an airtight lid. Place them in a camping-quality cooler (like the Coleman brand) with ice.
Grownup: Build a cooking fire using dry and preferably seasoned hardwood (most campgrounds sell it). It will take about 30 minutes for the burning wood to crumble into hot coals or embers that are suitable for cooking with. Rake them occasionally to make sure the heat is evenly distributed.
Kid: On a sheet of foil about 18 inches long, set all the vegetables for each serving, the beef frank, sprinkle with a handful of cheese and add two pats of butter. Fold into a packet, making sure the edges are firmly closed over.
Grownup: Clear a spot in the coals, set a foil packet in it, then rake coals over it. Let the packets cook for 15-20 minutes, then remove from the fire. Open the packet slightly to let the steam out and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Kid: Open the packet the rest of the way and then chow down!
THE ORIGINAL BREAKFAST SANDWICH
This one is great for morning or night. You just need a cast-iron pie iron (also known as a hobo pie or a pudgy pie, said Barth). This hinged cooking tool (available for $19 at most camping-supply stores) lets you create a layered, hand-sized square of food.
- a batter of four cracked eggs, a half-cup of milk, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract: mixed together and stored in an airtight container (like a Nalgene drinking bottle)
- slices of thick Texas Toast bread
- pre-cooked pork sausage patties
- maple syrup
- a pie iron
- a square or rectangular baking dish (like the ones made by Pyrex)
Grownup: Prepare and pack the batter. Store in a cooler with ice for overnight transportation. If ever in doubt about the safety of stored and transported food, use a thermometer to test the food. Discard egg products if they have risen above 40 degrees. You can also freeze and thaw many food products, but do not freeze eggs in their shells.
Grownup: Prepare cooking fire as described on previous page.
Kid: Shake up the batter and pour into the baking dish.
Soak two pieces of bread in the batter on both sides.
Kid: Set a slice of bread on either side of the pie iron (if the pie iron is not already "cured," coat its surface lightly with some butter or oil. Cured cast iron has been tempered with heat and oil to keep food from sticking to its surface). Then set a sausage patty on top of each slice.
Grownup: Close the pie iron up, fasten it, and then set it over the fire, keeping it about four inches above the heat source.
Kid: Holding the pie iron handle, slowly turn it, cooking the sandwich about 7-8 minutes total.
Grownup: Remove from the fire, open the pie iron carefully, let cool a little, then serve on a plate, cutting into four pieces. Serve with maple syrup.
Kid: When cool, eat by dipping each sandwich quarter into the syrup.
Tim Wheeler's brother-in-law Jonathan Barth owns Clintonville Outfitters, located at 2869 N. High St. in Clintonville. The store, which carries camping supplies and outdoor sports equipment, also conducts classes to help newbies and tenderfoots with their outdoor adventures. They've got a "Junior Naturalists" class (good for ages 5 and up) on Tuesday, May 17, at 6 p.m. that will teach outdoor-artifact identification skills. For more information, call 614-447-8902 or visit their website at clintonvilleoutfitters.com.