Monday, June 25, 2018

Loaded Campfire Fries

Earlier this month we went camping for a week. Every time we go camping, we try to cook something new or unique. A couple years ago we had some success with campfire quesoritos (a burrito quesadilla hybrid cooked on the grill) and a few years ago we tried out campfire eclairs. This year's wildcard was loaded french fries cooked with onions, cheese, and bacon and cooked over a campfire.

You'll need:
a tin foil pan (I got a pack of 3 at the local grocery store for 99 cents--just make sure it doesn't have a nonstick coating or any plastic bits since it will be over flames)
vegetable oil (or canola or peanut oil--anything that can handle the high heat)
frozen fries
bacon bits 
chopped onions 
your favorite shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
long handled tongs and turner/spatula
a pointed knife or skewer
optional: fire gloves (these are really helpful when cooking over a fire)

I didn't include exact quantities because I didn't measure anything either time that I made them--it's camping darn it. :) I put about a third to half of the bag of frozen fries in my pan and about a third of a cup-ish of oil in the pan. I tossed the fries in the oil while they were frozen and there was still some oil in the bottom of the pan to keep things from cooking and to fry them a bit. Then I plopped it onto the grate over the fire while it was still flaming hot.

We stirred the fries to get them to cook evenly and when the flames died down a bit, we added our main course (that night it was a marinated pork loin cooked on our new cast iron grill plate--it works great!). The fries will take a while to get going (they started out frozen after all). So you'll want to give them a decent head start on the rest of your food. Make sure they at least look thawed out and warming before starting your main course. They'll look floppy and break apart a bit as you stir--this is ok--they'll still taste good. We used the tongs to hold the pan and a turner to stir the fries. Move them off the heat a bit or use fire gloves for safety. Once the fries start browning up a bit but are still a bit floppy, I added my onions. I was using frozen onions, so if you are using fresh, you'll probably want to wait and add the onions with the bacon bits.

When the fries are almost done to your liking--starting to get golden brown--now is the time to remove the excess oil from the pan. Use a pointed steak knife or bamboo skewer--whatever you've got on hand, to poke a hole or two in the foil pan to let any excess oil run out. You may need to tip the pan a bit toward the hole with your tongs. This will cause a flame up as the oil pours near or on your fire, so be careful! Once most of the oil is gone, put the bacon bits in (we used the real bacon kind that come in a bag). 

When the rest of your meal is almost done, then it's time to put on the cheese. The bacon bits don't need too much time and the fries were pretty much done in the previous step, so if the rest of your meal isn't ready, move the fries off  to the side or to the upper rack (whatever you've got) and when everything else is nearing done, put the cheese on. The cheese will need a few minutes over the fire and then the heat from the fries should carry it the rest of the way.

These turned out delicious and might even make it into regular camping food rotation. The topping possibilities are endless. I'm sure they'd taste great with sour cream or possibly a nacho theme with jalapenos. We look forward to experimenting with them in the future!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Homemade Campfire Starters Results

Earlier this month, we spent a week at Backbone State Park. We had a great time. It's probably one of the largest and most interesting Iowa State Parks that we've stayed at so far. It has rocky outcroppings, a river, a lake, a freshwater spring, a cave, lots of hiking, historical buildings, and even rock climbing and trout fishing. I look forward to staying there again.

Our camping excursion gave me the perfect excuse to test out our new campfire starters that I made a couple weeks ago. We had three types of fire starters (all made by filling cardboard egg cartons and then pouring wax over): colored pencil shavings (top left), pistachio shells (bottom left), and dryer lint (bottom right). We set them up on some flat-ish logs and set about time testing them. We had already used all three fire starters with success during our camping trip. They all work great! So we had to test know...for science!

All three lit easily and created large flames that are perfect for starting fires. They all burned for quite a while too.

About halfway through the time test, the lint fire starter tipped off of the log it was on and fell into the soot (so much for flat-ish). It continued to burn long after it's tumble.

In the photo above, the pistachio starter had burnt out (it lasted about 10 minutes), the colored pencil starter was about to go out (it lasted 12 and a half minutes), and the lint starter is still flaming (it lasted 16 minutes!). We had tested the lint starters once before at 12 minutes, so there's definitely variances (in the amount of wax, quality of wax, weather conditions, etc...), but they lasted the longest in that test too.

All of the fire starters performed so well that we'll continue to make all three varieties. Hubby is convinced he can make the pistachio shell starters better by crushing them before filling the egg cartons. So, next year's should work even better.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Scrabble Tile Box

This project all started with a Scrabble board. I went to the Goodwill Outlet earlier this year (if you've never been to one, it's rows and rows of bins with stuff that didn't sell at regular Goodwills dumped have to dig through them to pluck out the good stuff) and picked up a really nice Scrabble board. It was one of the ones with the raised edges to hold the tiles and a turntable underneath so it can face each player.

Of course the catch was that the rest of the game was no where to be found. There's a pretty decent resell market for Scrabble tiles for crafters and scrapbookers, so they usually go pretty quickly. Between that and the fact that it takes a miracle to find a board game intact at the Outlet (pieces usually get strewn about very quickly), I wasn't terribly surprised to find just the board. On the upside, I had already thrifted like 3 or 4 sets of Scrabble (for crafting) and knew I had at least one complete set of tiles and several tile trays, and the board was light weight (it's pay by the pound at the Outlet), so it was a definite purchase.

So I scrounged up a set of tiles and put them into my little tile bag (which was a craft project that predates this blog--I made a bunch of little lined bags (using a pattern similar to this one), a set of tile racks, and our Scrabble dictionary. The next step was to find a box that would easily fit all of that. As I was organizing some game boxes, I came across a bunch of expansion boxes where the expansions fit in the base game box, so the boxes were empty and destined for the recycling pile. I already spray painted a couple of them to create storage boxes, so why not spray paint another.

I used Rustoleum's hammered bronze which gives a nice dark brown, slightly metallic look to the box. The "hammered" part of the paint means that the paint has little speckles or drops in it. It goes on a bit thicker than most spray paints, so it stays tackier a bit longer and increases dry times a little. So I sprayed the top of the box and the bottom of the bottom box and let it dry for about an hour before going back and covering the sides of the top box. The box was a tight fit, so I did not spray the sides of the bottom box.

Next, I looked online for a Scrabble board design that I could print out. After a bit of hunting, I found a board that was about the right size with the right colors to compliment the box. As an added bonus, it included the tile breakdown (how many As and Zs, etc...) that isn't on my fancy new board.

I printed the board onto a sheet of tissue paper using a method I first tried ages ago when I made some decorative pieces with pine boards (and then again with a decorative ceramic tile). You just need to cut a piece of tissue paper that's a bit larger than a piece of card stock. Then carefully tape the edges over the back side of the card stock so there aren't any loose edges to get stuck in the printer. Then just pop it in your printer with the side facing up that gets printed on and run it through the printer like a regular piece of card stock. Let the printed paper dry overnight or for several hours before gluing it down, though, so that the ink doesn't smear.

So my spray painted box was done, and it was just the right size for my tiles (see bag on left) and racks (underneath the bag) and my scrabble dictionary (on the right). Now it was time to jazz up the box a bit.

I took my Scrabble board print out (still taped to the card stock) and my box lid and got to work.

First I traced the lid onto the tissue paper so I could see where I'd have to chop off the design (the scrabble board print out is square--my box is a rectangle). I opted for chopping off the bottom row of spaces and used a scissors to cut the rectangle out while the tissue paper was still taped to the card stock. It's really hard to cut tissue paper straight with a scissors, the thickness of the card stock helps a ton. Using a rotary cutter, is another great option if you've already removed your tissue paper from the card stock.

After I had my board cut out the right size, I grabbed a jar of mod podge and a foam brush. I painted a thin coat of mod podge onto the box lid. Less glue means less wrinkling, but it also means that the tissue paper will not move or adjust to straighten once you set it on the glue.

The tissue paper board set down straight, but there was a little bit of paper hanging over the bottom edge, I trimmed it with a scissors and let it dry for a few minutes to make it less likely that I tear the paper. The paper is very easy to tear when it is wet with glue.

Then I came back and painted on a thin coat of mod podge over the top to seal the paper onto the box. It went transparent in some places, and I knew that was a possibility. It ended up looking a bit distressed and less crisp. If this isn't the look you're going for, paint the box a lighter color, or add a layer of plain tissue paper under the printed tissue to minimize the look.

After the sealing coat of mod podge was dry, I grabbed some Scrabble tiles that spelled out scrabble and some E6000 (hot glue would probably also work really well for this step). I used my piece of leftover card stock to keep my letters straight on the box as I glued the tiles on.

I chose to put the Scrabble tiles along one of the narrower sides as I figured that's the way it would be stacked on our gaming shelf. That way, it's easy to see what it is. The box turned out pretty neat, a bit distressed looking, but there's no mistaking what's inside it now!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Crafting Revising: Campfire Starters

It's that time of the year again. The time where I begin to prepare for a season of camping and fires in the backyard fire pit. Each year I try to experiment and expand and perfect the process of making homemade fire starters. Last year I made my original dryer lint fire starters (which are a tried and true standby), but I also made some fire starters by putting pencil shavings (colored pencils to be exact) in paper cups (and then covering in wax). There were some flaws in the design. It was hard to get them lit--but once they were lit, they burned forever. So this year, I decided to use the good old egg carton method (it catches fire easily and you just break off a chunk to light).

I didn't have a ton of pencil shavings, so I used a half carton (I bought 6 eggs this way at the grocery store). Of course the end of the carton wasn't closed, so there was some drippage. I usually cover half of my stove top with parchment or wax paper and heat up my wax on the other half of the stove.

For a ceramic top stove, I put down some tinfoil to keep the stove clean (no matter how careful I am, the wax always drips) and a cheap tinfoil pan (2 or 3 for a dollar) to melt the wax. You could use any old pot or pan you have, but the tinfoil pans can be reused until they get crumpled and then tossed without extra cleanup--though they aren't terribly sturdy which can cause spills if you're not careful. This year's old candle stash included some gold Christmas candles, so my fire starters will look extra festive. I usually burn up old or very cheap candles--higher quality wax works even better (they burn longer), but I usually just try to use up what I have laying around so they don't cost anything.

I washed an old throw so my lint egg carton was full to the brim with little bits of red fluff from that blanket...and dog hair, because we have a dog. These egg cartons full of lint don't usually look very pretty (actually pretty gross) but they burn really well.

I had my egg carton pretty full this year, so I used a fair bit of wax. As long as the wax starts to bleed through the bottoms, you know you've put on enough to saturate the lint. This was a bit more than I probably needed, but as long as there's enough paper without wax left on the carton to light, they should work just fine.

This year's total wild card was pistachio shells. Hubby started snacking on the things and was throwing away a lot of shells--he looked up if they burned well, and low and behold, we've got ourselves a new I thought I'd give them the egg carton treatment too. I poured a ton of wax on them since there are so many gaps between shells. There were even little pools underneath the carton when I was finished. I'm not sure how these guys will work out, but it was worth a shot. My best guess is they'll work about as well as the ones I made from shredded paper a few years back (they burned ok, but pieces of paper kept falling off, and they didn't burn as long as the lint starters).

I also made a few cotton round starters (just cotton rounds dipped in wax) to clean up leftover wax. These are really nice and small and flat, but they don't burn anywhere near as long as the starters I make in egg cartons. The trick with the cotton rounds is to make sure the whole round doesn't get saturated in wax so you can get them lit easily. 

In a week or two (whenever I get time to have a fire), I'll post an update about how well these all worked. See you soon!

Update: Homemade Campfire Starters Test