Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Camp Cooking: Two Dirt-Mex One Pot Meals

Nearly every time I have gone to Joshua Tree, I've traveled solo. A few weeks before I head out, I hit up the climbing forums with partner requests, and see what shows up. In one of these instances, a prospective partner was a guy who's since been dubbed "The Big Enchilada."

He was a big guy, by any climber's standard. And he was a proud Mexican-American; a lawyer who had become rather successful. He rolled into Hidden Valley in a Porshe, and proceeded to regale me with stories of his prowess as an old-school climber(his rack was vintage, to be sure), lawyer and lover.

But those stories, at least the climbing parts, are for another post. Along with the pride the man took in the above aspects of his existence, he mentioned being great in the kitchen with traditional family recipes. Early in our first meeting(he was staying in Jtree for the weekend), he mentioned he'd like to share a breakfast, showcasing a wonderful recipe i was sure to enjoy, since I had said I loved mexican food.

The recipe was a mixture of stewed tomatoes and fried tortillas. Of course there were other ingredients.... And it was - delicious. Alas, I cannot give that recipe, for when I attempted to recreate the masterpiece, I botched it big time. while I can certainly make a passable facsimile, if one isn't too discriminating, I just don't feel right trying to pass it along. You'll need to search and find on your own, and if you locate the dish, I feel confident you'll agree that it is wonderful.

I tried the dish once in camp and was left disappointed, but the attempt reminded me that the humble bean burrito might be an excellent in-camp dinner. So, as I shopped for my camp foods the next time, I picked up a stack of tortillas and the other ingredients, looking forward to the meal. Of course, a burrito usually is made with a large-sized tortilla, but I wanted to be able to heat the thing, and so I chose the smaller size, believing I'd simply make a few small ones instead of one large.

That was a bad idea.... Especially in cold weather, it's difficult to keep the beans warm enough to last for the second serving. But it's just a pain in the butt to have to stop and put together the thing. After a good day of climbing, I want to eat, sit by the fire or read a bit and then - crash. Not be spending time delicately handling mini burritos, so as not to loose have the filling before it got to my mouth!

My burrito idea wasn't a complete failure, but it was far from a success. The simple fact was, in order to not overfill the small tortilla, I couldn't use much of each ingredient - beans, tomatoes, onions, avacado and cheese. the meal was too much tortilla. Besides that, having the chopped ingredients setting aside in wait would be like sending a picnic invitation to my fellow campmates - bugs.

I went home that week wondering what to do. What to do....

I can't remember how it occurred to me that I could make the "One Pot" burrito, but when it did, I knew I was home free. I could hardly wait for the next weekend, to test it out. Here is what I did:

- First step is the beans. use a big pot, because you'll be heaping the rest of the goods on top, and eating directly from it. Of course, if you are cooking for more than one and not prone to share so intimately, you won't need so much headspace. Then, you'll simple dish the beans into serving dishes. In that case - make sure the serving dish has the room for added ingredients.

Now, way back when I was dining with the Big Enchilada, he took one look at the beans I had packed and dismissed them wholesale. They were, simply put, unsuitable, to a real Mexican. of which I am not one. So the beans I suggest are Fantasic World Foods refried beans. They also have black beans, and maybe some others. Actually, it was the black beans I had the first time with The Big E, which we didn't use. But I did cook them up later, and as I have since used the refried type, I have my preference. Your opinion may vary.

These beans are lightweight in the pack and easy to cook on the stove. Just add water, heat and stir till boiling, cover and set aside off the heat source. No worry of a burned bottom in the pan, so long as you pay attention at the start and stir occasionally. With a canned bean, I think that's not the case. Besides, while they are cooking, you get the rest of the ingredients taken care of, and it's nice to not have to think about them as you do so.

You'll need to guess the amount you want to use from the packet. I think it is six servings per package, so take what you need and store the rest. A good item to have in your food bin, they'll keep indefinitely, so long as you seal the packet and don't let critters get at it.

So - you've started the beans, and now they are set aside to cook while you prepare the rest of the items. The next think to do is start the tortillas.

Now THIS is the part that I think makes my version so special. You could, I suppose, simply use corn chips from the supermarket. I don't suggest that, partly because I believe a person should work for their food, but also because I have a breakfast recipe(following) where most of the same ingredients are used. Store bought chips - while they would work - don't seem right in that case. Butm back to the tortillas.

You need a second pan for this. You COULD cook the tortillas ahead of time in the big pot, and set them aside somewhere. They'll be cool or cold when it's time to eat and that's fine. But I like them to be warm.

So - the second pot. Put a slab of butter in there, or whatever oil type substance you use, and then tear the tortillas into bite-sized bits, tossing them into the melting butter. Stir to coat, and let them cook. You will need to stir occasionally, as you don't want to burn them, and you want to rotate the top to bottom pieces so they all get cooked. So - pay attention to your tortillas as you make the rest of the meal.

The rest of the meal is chopping the vegetables and getting the cheese ready. I admit - I buy shredded cheese for camping trips. It is so much easier than chopping from a chunk. So, first I chop some onions, then the avacado, and then tomato. I do this on a plate, and set them aside.

By the time the ingredients are chopped, the chips are cooked. You can make them as crispy as you like, by varying the amount of fat used in cooking. You can do anything form a simple warming to nearly crisp like corn chips. I like to have it come out as - some parts crisped, some parts not.


Pull up to the bean pot, and toss the chips on top. Sprinkle on the cheese and the chopped vegetables. If you like hot sauce, sprinkle it in there too(I add it to the beans as they are cooking).

Grab a fork and your beverage, get over to a comfy place, and dig in. Yummmmmm.

I suppose this meal should have a name....and I know it's technically more like "Nachos" than a burrito, but I'm calling it "Burrito in a Pot."


The thing is....if you are like me, and often camp solo, there will be left over ingredients. Not left over Burrito in a Pot; I mean the raw stuff - tortillas, tomatos, avacado, onions, cheese.....

Good news! Here's a really good breakfast dish that utilizes them all. The only additional ingredient is eggs and water/milk and seasoning if you like.

Start by sauteing the onions in butter(or whatever oil you use) in a frypan. If you do happen to have some green pepper in your cooler, that makes a nice addition. While the onions are starting, tear up some of those tortillas and mix the stuff up.

While they are cooking, chop up the tomato, as it will be added next and you want to be ready for it.

I like to have my tortillas chips a little crunchy, but it's totally up to you, so go with what you like. They will soften a bit in cooking due to the nature of the recipe.

Add the tomato and stir.

I usually sprinkle on whatever seasonings I use at this point. This bit of cooking doesn't take long at all, so get your eggs ready. Break them open into a separate dish and mix in a little water or milk if you want. Otherwise, simply scramble the eggs before adding to the cooking ingredients.

When the tortilla, tomato, onion mixture is where you want it, pour the egg mixture over th top. Swirl it around so you have an evenly dispersed pot of food.

Sprinkle the top with cheese, put a lid on it, and let it cook.

Be careful not to burn your breakfast! Turn down the heat if needed and watch the pot.

While this last bit is cooking, get your avacado chopped up if it hasn't been done. personally, I get all my ingredients chopped and ready before I begin cooking. The only "work" I do in real time is tearing up the tortillas as I add them to the pan.

When the eggs tortilla is set, take a spatula and flip it over to cook the other side if desired. You don't really need to do it, and so far I have only once flipped the thing without breaking it. But it's all good. Tastes the same!

So - that's all there is to it. When you are ready to eat, toss on the avacado and eat right out of the pan. If you have more than one person, serve onto dishes and place the avacado on the side.

What should we call this....? How about "Breakfast Tortilla?"



This one I have never made, but it shouldn't be difficult to turn out right.... The idea came to me as I was writing the above.

When i was a little girl, we had foster children living with us. I remember them well - Bev, Mike, Gary and Tom. They each stayed about a year, and were about 16-17 years old.

Bev was the first, and as an adult she remained a family friend. One time she had just got back from dirtbagging it in Mexico. This was the late sixties - she was a flower child. She came back with tales of culinary tripe. And calves brains. ICK!!!!

But there was one mexican specialty that we were happy to have, and we loved to watch her make Christmas Tortillas. Of course, she made them from scratch, starting with a flour mixture. I am going to use our store package tortillas as mentioned above, but if you know how to make tortillas by hand - go for it. You will surely be a hit in your campsite!

So.....put the butter in the pan. Tear up those tortillas and add them in. Sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon atop, and stir to evenly coat. Saute till crisp, and then pour them onto a paper towel or something(paper bag from grocery store is a good blotter, or pick up extra napkins when you go into an establishment that has them available along with the condiments at a coffee stop).

Let the oil go away as best you can, and eat them as a dessert or coffee snack. They could also be good for breakast if you have a sweet tooth, but I don't think that's a very good energizing food....

You could probably do a similar thing for a snack with bear at night, if you wanted, by adding salt and pepper instead of the sweet seasonings. It's really just corn chips after all.

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