Planning Your Menu

Planning Your Menu 3

“Loading up the Otter”

(This article was written when I was living in Northwestern Ontario)

If you are planning a fishing trip to Canada with a tourist operator, without getting into too much detail, you have mainly two choices.  One option is to go to an “American Plan” lodge or resort where they have a cook or chef and all of your meals will be taken care of.   Or, you could go to an “outpost camp” where you’ll be on your own when it comes to food and food preparation.  Outposts are quite popular in today’s outdoors tourism industry.  Less pricy and typically, more secluded and remote, many people not only “don’t mind” foraging for themselves, they prefer it.  I do.

After producing more than 150 episodes of my fishing and hunting show, “Officially Rugged with RD,” with many being taped at outpost camps all across Canada, I consider myself an expert when it comes to menu planning for myself, my guests and camera crew.   Being a self-proclaimed chef, I always end up doing the food planning, purchasing and the cooking for groups of anywhere from four to ten people.

I’ve learned some neat little tips and tricks (by first making plenty of mistakes, of course) over the years that make life a lot easier for the whole group and especially for me!  By taking advantage of some of the things that I’ve learned, you’ll have more time to concentrate on the real reason why we go on these trips in the first place – the fishing!  Here are some strategies that will surely help to make your vacation hassle-free and put your belly in a good mood.  And, most of the information in this article can be applied to a hunting as well.

One important thing to remember is that with most outpost camps all across Canada, refrigerator space is at a premium.  To be honest, there usually isn’t enough cold space for all of your food and beverages… unless you plan properly.

 

Planning Your Menu 2

“Pork chops at the camp? Rugged!”

If you really like to cook or perhaps you are a professional cook or chef, I suggest you bring in a decent cutting board and at least, your eight or ten inch chef knife.  Yes, there will be “knives and cutting boards” in camp, but you’ll appreciate your own knife (or knives) if you are the cook for five days, responsible for feeding six, seven or even eight hungry dudes and dudettes!  I normally bring my 10 inch chef knife, my bread knife and my paring knife, along with one medium sized wooden cutting board. Most of what else you’ll need will likely be in the cabin.

Concerning how much food to bring, the most obvious questions are: how many people will there be in your group and how many days will you be in camp?  One handy back up plan is that if you ever did run a little short on food, you can always eat fish again… that is not usually a problem for most people.  It saved me a couple times over the years.

Plan your menu by the day… for this example we’ll use the scenario of one group of six people who will be in camp for five days (four nights).  Starting with breakfast, you can estimate that on each of the four mornings your gang will have one of the classic “diner breakfasts,” such as bacon and eggs, pancakes with sausages or egg omelets and toast.  So, with six people, you’ll need two eggs per person, per breakfast.  That’s a dozen per morning… for one of the mornings that you’ll have pancakes, we can assume that you’ll have a few extra eggs at the end of the trip, but those will get used up somewhere… and, some guys will easily eat three eggs with breakfast.  Once, on a fifty dollar bet, I made a cheese omelet for this guy… a twelve egg cheese omelet… and he ate it… all of it.  It turned out that I didn’t have enough cash on hand, so I paid him in brand new fishing lures, which I had plenty of thanks to generous sponsors.

Pancake mix, especially the “just add water” type is a smart idea for a fly in fishing or hunting trip.  It’s convenient and they taste good too.  They not might be as good as gramma’s scratch-made hot cakes, but you’re going on a fishing trip, so be smart and scale it down.  The less milk you have to bring and keep cold, the better.  Scratch pancakes require eggs too… another reason to opt for one of the store-bought water-only mixes.    French toast is a popular breakfast item too, but you’ll need an extra dozen eggs to make it.  Remember those extra eggs you had earlier?  Well, there you go.  One regular sized bottle of syrup should be fine unless you’re bringing a pile of ten year olds into camp…

For breakfast meats, such as bacon, sausages and ham, I suggest you calculate approximately three or four pieces per person, per morning.  (Unless, one of the guys in your gang is nicknamed “Bacon Bob.”  Then, bring more.)  And, here’s a really good tip, especially if you are the one doing all the cooking.  A few days before you leave home, go to your local grocery store and buy what you’ll need for the trip.  Bacon and sausages can be cooked in advance (or at least cooked 2/3 of the way through), then repackaged into “morning batches” and frozen solid.  This will help you in two ways.  One, there will be less grease, smoke and mess in the small cabin, and two, since they were frozen to start your trip, they’ll keep better in camp.

Planning Your Menu 4

“Don’t be fussy. Be practical…”

When you’re ready to cook, simply, toss the frozen sausages or bacon in the warm pan.  They’ll thaw quickly and all you’ll have to do is “crisp ‘em up” for service.  No-one will even know…  Ham cooks quickly and doesn’t really make much of a mess, so I wouldn’t bother cooking it in advance but you can if you want to.   I wouldn’t freeze ham because it sometimes gets water-logged.

Everyone likes potatoes with breakfast, fried crispy with some oregano, parsley, salt and pepper.  If you have a group of six, bring a twenty-five pound bag. That’s about a pound per person, per day.   You could bring more… They’ll get eaten during not only for breakfast, but during dinner and shore lunch too.  Potatoes keep well and are easy to cook.  If your gang is starch-crazy, bring some pasta or long grain rice.  Both pasta and rice can be cooked, portioned and frozen in advance.

Some people don’t like to eat a big breakfast.  Having a bag of “quick oats” on hand will be a welcomed addition to your breakfast menu.  Taking only a minute of two to prepare, a bowl of oats, porridge or cream of wheat is a healthy way to start your day.  Add a few dried cranberries, raisins and some chopped walnuts or almonds and it becomes a tasty way to start your day too!

Concerning bread, for six people, I suggest one loaf per day.  Again, if you freeze the bread before your trip starts, it will keep better while you’re in camp.  Bagels freeze and keep well too.

Smoked lunch meats such as salami, bologna or bratwurst keep well and are handy for making a quick snack or for taking out on the lake with you.  Peanut butter and jelly also works well here.  Hot dogs are handy and keep well, especially if frozen in advance.  Don’t forget the buns.  Some outposts will have a propane BBQ on site and this is handy for grilling up some hotdogs or burgers.  Or, steaks!

Planning Your Menu 7

“Some camps have a propane BBQ”

Concerning hamburgers, I recommend against bringing in ground beef, especially, raw ground beef.  Anyone who knows anything at all about safe food handling and the causes as food poisoning will tell you that raw ground beef (hamburger meat) is one of the most dangerous foods there are.  (Canadian restaurants will not serve you a burger unless it is cooked to well done.)  Play it safe and skip it altogether.  Now, if you make a bunch of burger patties and cook them in advance and freeze them, you minimize the risks of food borne illness greatly.  Don’t give anyone ground beef unless it is thoroughly cooked.  You will be a very long way from a hospital.  It’s not worth the risk.

When considering the dinner menu, it helps to know, at least to a point, the eating habits of those who you will be cooking for.  One of my childhood buddies, who has been on a few fishing trips with me, was once known to be able to put an entire Big Mac in his mouth at one time… it took about ten minutes to actually swallow it, mind you.  And, the risk ofactually choking to death was always present…  So, if I knew that this guy was coming on a trip with me, I would “adjust” my menu.  But, for normal people, two standard issue pork chops, or one 8 ounce steak, along with a few spuds and a fresh vegetable, would be considered a huge meal.

In our scenario with six people in the gang, we need to plan for four evening dinners.  Let’s say, we have pork chops one evening… so twelve small chops or six large ones should do.

For dinner number two, let’s have chicken.  So, two legs (with thighs attached) per person should do.  Or, one good sized breast half for each… six pieces in total.  As in the strategy for bringing bacon and sausages into camp, I recommend that you pre-cook your pork chops and chicken to save you tons of time and mess while in camp.  I wouldn’t want to over-cook them…   just cook them through and then freeze them.

If you’d like to really impress your group, have enough steaks (prime rib rules!) for each person, thawed out and marinating in one of your coolers.  Since you don’t want to freeze them while in camp, have them on the first or second evening.  They will be so tender they’ll almost cut themselves… a good marinade for beef is some flavourless cooking oil, such as canola or sunflower oil, some garlic and a touch of BBQ sauce.  A little red wine works well too.  The acidity of the wine will tenderize the meat.

(Note – DON’T pre-cook your steaks if you bring them.  That’s “just not right.”  I’m a medium-rare guy and if you precooked my steak, and then froze it – I’d kick you right square in the onions.  Bring them frozen sure, but do NOT cook them in advance. )

On the third evening, let’s go with something easier and quicker.  Pasta!  Everyone loves pasta, at least most people that I know do!  (Strangely enough, I actually know a guy named Luigi Brancato – and he hates pasta!)  You could bring along a few cans of tomato sauce with meat, or if you’re like me, you can make the “good stuff” from scratch while back at home.  You’ll get a standing O from the group when they dig in!  This sauce should be frozen and packaged in a leak-proof, plastic container.  A jar or two of basil pesto is another option. .. Again, if you’re like me, you’d make your own!

Here’s another cool idea, one that would make an easy, tasty meal.  Make a big batch of homemade soup, freeze it and bring it along.  You could easily make a pot of soup in camp, by why bother fooling around?  Soup freezes well.  So does stew… or cabbage rolls, or meatballs, or, or, or…

Planning Your Menu 1

“The boys did well today. Get the knives out!”

It goes without saying that most groups eat fresh fish at least twice during each trip and some eat fish once a day.  It’s never a problem catching enough for dinner, so if you plan on feasting on the walleye, Canada’s favourite fish, calculate this into your menu.

Canned foods are a good choice for a fly in trip because they transport well and keep even better.  Baked beans are standard… look through your grocery isle and see what might be interesting for your trip.  The only drawback to canned goods is that they are heavy.  Keep this in mind for any float plane weight restrictions you may have on the way into camp.  Condensed canned milk (Carnation, for example) is handy for coffee and tea, since you won’t have to keep a bunch of it in the fridge at one time… only the can that is open.

Root vegetables such as carrots, onions and celery keep well and cook quickly.  Cauliflower keeps very well too, and so does broccoli.  Peppers and mushrooms will easily stay fresh for a few days and your gang will be impressed when you toss together a killer stir fry to go along with their chicken or steak.  Bring fresh garlic! A couple heads of either iceberg or romaine lettuce is the base for a good salad.  And, to avoid the need to bring in expensive bottled salad dressing, simply mix 2/3 oil with 1/3 lemon juice, add a touch of salt and pepper and there you go!  Fresh fruit is always nice while in the bush too.  Select a few types that don’t spoil quickly.  Bananas, for example, are a good choice, especially if they are slightly green when you buy them.  Green avocados transport well and ripen up in a couple days left at room temperature.

There are a bunch of other things you’ll need, condiments, mainly.  Your list may include, peanut butter, jelly or jam, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, horse radish, ketchup, mustard, green relish, seafood sauce (shrimp cocktail sauce), lemon juice, mayonnaise and sour cream (for tartar sauce – see below.)

You’ll also need enough cooking oil for five days, especially if you are planning on frying your fish.  (There are several simple ways of cooking fresh fish, but frying seems to be the most common method used.)  I recommend canola oil as it has a high smoke point (meaning it can handle the required heat well) so it’s ideal for frying fish.  It’s also one of the least expensive oils.   Do not use olive oil for frying fish as it cannot handle the heat and you’ll have a smoky mess that’ll stink up your cabin, big time!  Let’s go with a one gallon jug of oil.  More if you’ll be eating fish daily.

The next question is – butter or margarine?  Well, margarine is less expensive and comes in those handy little tubs.  But, if you prefer butter, freeze the one pound blocks and place them in a zip style bag.  If they go soft on the way into camp, you’ll have one heck of a slippery mess in your cooler.

Planning Your Menu 5

“If this doesn’t look good, there is something wrong with you”

You’ll need some flour, bread crumbs and corn meal.  That, by the way (equal parts of each), is my “no fail” fish mixture.  I often make my mixture while back at home, (again saving time and work while in camp) before my trips begins.  I bring a zip style bag full of the stuff, ready for action.  Sure, everyone has a “secret recipe” but, believe me, mine is no secret.  It just works, that’s all.  Bring along some dry herbs and spices to mix in with your dry batter, like lemon pepper, garlic powder, dill weed, oregano, basil or even some spicy flavours like Cajun, Creole or even some cayenne pepper if you like ‘er hot!  All the flour, bread crumbs and corn meal do when combined is work to create the crispy coating.  Corn meal on its own works well too.

Try to calculate how much milk you’ll need for your trip.  It again, could be frozen in advance.  Orange juice, apple juice, coffee, tea and sugar must be considered as well.  Single sized, bottled water is handy.  One tip concerning coffee that I’ve learned over the years is to stay in bed in the morning until you smell fresh coffee brewing.  Then, get your ass out of bed… if it’s not exactly to your liking, start yelling at the jerk who made it.

Snacks are almost a legal requirement on a fishing or hunting trip!  Pepperoni sticks, trail mix, peanuts, sunflower seeds and jerky are handy and make a good snack while out on the lake.  Do your host or camp attendant a favour though… please don’t spit the shells from the sun flower seeds all over the ground in front of your cabin and please don’t spit them all over the inside of the boat.  They’re “a real bugger to clean up” and your camp manager will want the next customers to have both a clean camp site and boat.  Potato chips and nachos are handy… and bring along a brick of Monterey Jack cheese and a jar or two of salsa.  That cheese will rock your egg omelets too!

Things like salt & pepper are often found in camp (left by the previous group) but bring some in, just in case.  They don’t take up any space.

While reading this, you may have already had the “revelation of the cooler” hit you… but, if not, one advantage of freezing as much of the meat and milk as you can, is that you can keep it in a simple cooler for a couple days, rather than monopolizing the ever-valuable space in the rather small propane refrigerator.  Many fishermen keep they’re canned drinks in the lake, where the cool water will keep them cold and ready … “just in case.” One final thought about beverages.  Bringing in canned soda pop, canned iced tea and the like is a good idea since they transport well and don’t require refrigeration.

Regarding water, the water of the Canadian lakes and rivers that you will be fishing in is almost always going to be 100% pollution-free and the First Nations people of the area have been drinking it for hundreds of years… thousands, in fact.  However, your stomach and plumbing system, (especially, your “back door plumbing system”) might not be accustomed to drinking untreated water, so I recommend that you don’t.  Personally, I drink water from Canada’s northern lakes and rivers all the time, but I’m used to it.  If you’re from Chicago, Minneapolis or Kansas City, you might end up with the runs.  Not fun.

Bring a two pack of paper towel, a few dish drying towels and a few pot scrubbers too.  Paper plates and plastic cups will save you a lot of time when cleaning up.  Personally, I hate eating on paper plates.  So, I opt to wash the regular ones from the camp.  Plates are easy to wash…

Cooking Tips for the “Chef de Cuisine”

“Mise en Place” is one of the very first terms I learned while in culinary school.  It’s a French expression that when translated, roughly means “everything in place”… it’s all about being well prepared in advance.  If you’re cooking for a big group, this tactic cannot be understated.

About twelve years ago, I did a prime rib dinner for 120 people, by myself.  My “Mise en Place” covered the entire two days prior to the dinner.  But, when it was time for service, my food servers had that dining room singing… the whole thing went off without a hitch, thanks to “Mise en Place,”

Simple Recipe for Tartar Sauce

Equal parts of sour cream and mayonnaise – add either some green relish, or chopped dill pickle and a touch of lemon juice.  Some people just simply add some green relish to some mayo.

Frying Fish & Spuds
Planning Your Menu 6

“A small piece of plywood makes life a lot easier”

When frying fish, the most important thing is to make sure the oil is hot enough… at least 375 degrees… almost smoking hot.  And, use plenty of oil too.  When you think it’s hot enough, gently start to drop in one piece of fish to test it.  If it doesn’t sizzle like a SOB, it’s not hot enough.  If you cook fish in oil that isn’t “quite there yet,” you’ll have a soggy mess.  Fish will be light and crispy if cooked quickly, at high heat.

Also understand that when you put a bunch of cold fish into the hot pan, the cold fish will reduce the temperature of the oil somewhat.  Use a big cast iron pan when possible as they are excellent to cook with, especially over an open fire.  They can handle the heat well and they hold the heat well too.  Plus, they look kinda cool (or, “rugged,” as I say) too, sitting on the campfire grill, above the flames.  Most Canadian outpost camps have plenty of well-seasoned, cast irons pots and pans, standing by, ready for action.  Double check with your operator well before your trip starts.

If you are cooking fish that are a little larger than usual, slice the fillets in half so they are thinner.  They’ll cook much more quickly.  Don’t overcook your fish.  A thin walleye fillet, fried in oil at the correct temperature should take only a minute or two to cook.  Walleyes around the 14 – 16 inch mark are perfect for your fish fry.

If you simply slice up some raw potatoes and drop them into the hot oil, you’ll end up with spuds that are burnt on the outside and raw in the inside.  Disgusting…  Pre-cook them, either in the oven, or by boiling.  Since they’ll already be cooked when you drop them into the hot oil, they just need to crisp up to a golden brown.  Leave the skins on!!  Then, add the dried herbs as soon as you remove them … oh ya!

Ojibwe Bannock

Planning Your Menu - Bannock

“Bannock? Rugged!”

Bannock is a simple quick bread, made easily on an open fire.  First Nations People are well-known for their amazing bannock.  I won’t pretend for even a second that my bannock is as good as “Koochum’s” (Gramma), but it’s easy to make, requires few ingredients and goes great with your eggs in the morning.  Or, with your fish for lunch!

Bannock is both fried and baked, but frying is quicker and more practical in camp.

For 6 people

Mix together 2 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. You could add some raisins, dried cranberries or chopped nuts too.

Then, add 1 tablespoon of oil and enough water to make a sticky paste.  Don’t overwork it… Just mix it, form it by hand like a huge pancake, then fry in a hot pan with a half inch of canola oil.  Only takes about five minutes, maybe longer depending how thick you make it. The baking powder, as the leavening agent, will give a nice rise to your bannock.

 “Spruce Up” Your Beans

Canned, baked beans are always good… and sometimes even entertaining afterward.  But, if you add a little diced onion, a squirt or two of mustard, a touch of hot sauce and maybe even some molasses, they’ll be reallygood!

Avoid Poisoning Your Group!

I am going to make this clear… if anyone gets food poisoning while you are in camp, that person will wish they’d never gone on the trip in the first place!  It’ll be a long way to the nearest hospital, maybe even a few days, depending on the weather.

There is much to learn about safe food handling and how to prevent food borne illnesses, but I can give the key points in a few sentences.  Rule one:  keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.  If the temperature of the food remains in the range of 2 – 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) or warmer, for more than a couple of hours, bacteria can set in.  The next thing you know, your buddy, Joe, is leaning over the side of the boat tossing his guts into the lake.  Or, he’s on shore, bent over the closest log that’s lying horizontally… and he’s biting down on a block of wood and calling out for his mother.

If you bring your lunch out on the lake with you, try to bring non-perishable food rather than ones that are temperature-sensitive.  If you do bring along a salami sandwich, chicken (even if it’s cooked), or some potato salad, keep in a cooler on ice.  And, one final tip, cooked rice and cooked potatoes can actually kill you if you eat them after they were “left on the counter” overnight.  Again, keep cold food cold and hot food hot.

Now, go book your fishing trip for next summer!

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