With planning, you can eat well while camping

The freeze-dried era is over — if you're willing to put in a little work. After years of just adding water to bring your camping feast to life, refinement has come to eating in the wild. Fresh fish, meat, veggies and savory sauces no longer are restricted to four walls and a ceiling.

Though when she first camped, Robin Donovan wasn't so sure.

"I thought it would be cold and unpleasant and that we would eat gross food," Donovan said. "But I went with friends who were good cooks, and we ate really well — chicken kabobs and veggie kabobs."

Donovan was inspired enough to become a regular camper and to write "Campfire Cuisine" in 2006. These days Donovan still is as devoted to eating well in the outdoors. Her secrets aren't complicated: thought, preparation and fresh meat, fish, vegetables and herbs. She aims high while remaining practical.

"One rule when writing the book was that I wouldn't put a recipe in that I wouldn't serve to guests at my home," said Donovan, who will release a follow-up, "The Lazy Gourmet," next year. "I wouldn't compromise because I was camping."

But there are rules:

The food must be relatively easy to prepare, not require kitchen appliances and be able to be cooked on a grill, camping stove or open fire.

Dishes must be kept to a minimum.

Ingredients should ideally be no more than five or six.

Even such rules can produce dynamic fireside meals, whether car camping or attempting a short backpacking trip.

"I've always been astonished by people who consider themselves foodies at home and eat boxed macaroni and cheese every night while camping," Donovan said.

These tips will make outdoor cooking easier:

* Make sauces at home in advance.

* Begin marinating meats at home, 24 hours before preparation.

* Chop garlic, onions, veggies at home.

* Combine spices at home, and bring ready to toss into dish.

* Prepare dishes that have shorter shelf life first — maybe fish on the first night of your trip, then meat, then veggies.

These recipes are from her book. They will help turn the outdoors into your gourmet kitchen.

Orange-Herb Salmon

4 fillets salmon, about 6 oz. each

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

Juice and zest of 1 orange

1/2teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1/2stick ( 1/4cup) butter, cut into pieces

Prepare a grill for high heat. Spray four squares of aluminum foil with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray. Place 1 salmon fillet on each square. Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, orange juice and zest, red pepper and fennel seeds. Dot each fillet with butter.

Bring the sides of the foil up around the fish; fold over to seal the packet tightly, but leave room for heat and steam to circulate inside. Grill until the fish is just cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Place packets on plates; carefully unwrap. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 392 calories, 56 percent of calories from fat, 24 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 138 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 39 g protein, 668 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

The Wichita Eagle—07/13/10

Grilled Steak or Chicken With Coconut Curry Sauce

1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened light coconut milk

1/4cup smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon each: ground coriander, salt

1/4to 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

Juice of 1 lime

2 lbs. steak (flank or skirt) or chicken (boneless breasts)

Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray

Freshly ground black pepper

4 green onions, thinly sliced

Mix coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, curry, coriander, 1/2teaspoon of the salt, red pepper and lime juice in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to simmer; simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

Slice steak or chicken into 3/4-inch thick slices; lightly coat each slice with olive oil spray. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Grill to desired doneness. Place on plates; top with curry sauce and green onion. Makes 8 servings.

The Wichita Eagle—07/13/10