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Campfire Cuisine

June 25, 1997

Nuts, dried fruits and jerky make great camp snacks, but after a day of hiking, you want a good, hot meal. Hobo packs--foil-wrapped meals cooked in the ashes of a campfire or on a grill--are a Scouting tradition.

A standard hobo pack is carrots, onions, hamburger and lots of catsup wrapped in foil. But in his recent book, "License to Grill" (Morrow, 1997), Chris Schlesinger--one-time member of the Longhorn Patrol of Boy Scout Troop 103--came up with a group of hobo packs that go beyond burgers. Eggplant and tomatoes, for example, are packed with lemon and garlic; chicken is wrapped with garlic, lemon and herbs.

To cook a hobo pack, the fire should have passed its peak of intensity and be dying down, so that it consists primarily of glowing coals covered with a thin film of gray ash but very few flickering flames. In other words, you want a medium to low dying fire.

When the coals are ready, clear a place for the foil packet, leaving a thin layer of coals. Place the packet on the cleared area and heap up coals all around, but not directly on top. The packet should be moved around a bit during cooking to avoid burning in the places where it is directly up against the coals. It takes a try or two to get this part down right, but once you have it, the hobo pack provides a ready blank canvas for creative camping food combinations.

EGGPLANT AND TOMATO HOBO PACK WITH LEMON AND GARLIC (VEGETARIAN)

Eggplant gets kind of mushed up as it cooks in a hobo pack, which actually turns out to be a good quality, particularly if it's getting mushed up with tomatoes and garlic. In this dish, the lemons soften, turn a little brown, and give off some aromatic flavor as well as acting as a heat shield of sorts for the other ingredients.

2 lemons, thinly sliced

2 small eggplants, cut lengthwise into quarters

4 plum tomatoes, halved

2 heads garlic, halved horizontally

7 large sprigs oregano or rosemary

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Lay out 2 sheets of heavy-duty foil, each about 2 feet long, 1 on top of other.

Place lemon slices in center, then put eggplant quarters on top. Follow with tomatoes, garlic and oregano. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Lay 3rd length of heavy-duty foil over top and fold edges together on all sides, closing pack. Then roll up edges to food, forming ridge around perimeter.

Place pack right side up in center of 4th length of foil and fold 4 sides over top of packet, one after another.

Cook in campfire or grill, shifting packet as needed, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on intensity of coals. Remove from coals, unwrap foil and serve at once.

4 to 6 side-dish servings. Each of 6 servings:

107 calories; 56 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.51 gram fiber.

CHICKEN HOBO PACK WITH GARLIC, LEMON AND HERBS

Oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage or basil, or any combination of the herbs including parsley, can be substituted for the parsley.

2 heads garlic, separated into cloves

1 lemon, thinly sliced

3/4 cup roughly chopped parsley

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

6 bone-in chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds total

Combine garlic, lemon, parsley, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper to taste in medium bowl. Add chicken and toss gently.

Lay out 2 sheets of heavy-duty foil, each about 2 feet long, 1 on top of other. Place ingredients in center, then lay 3rd length of heavy-duty foil over top. Fold edges of sheets together on all sides, closing pack, then roll up to food, forming ridge around perimeter. Place pack right side up in center of 4th length of foil and fold 4 sides over top of packet, one after another.

Cook in campfire or grill, shifting packet as needed, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on intensity of coals. Chicken is done when there is no redness next to bone of thighs.

Remove from coals, unwrap foil and serve at once.

2 to 3 main-dish servings. Each of 3 servings:

483 calories; 210 mg sodium; 113 mg cholesterol; 39 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 25 grams protein; 0.58 gram fiber.

ALL-PURPOSE ASH-ROASTED GARLIC

Serve roasted garlic with toast and let each guest squeeze his or her own; use it as a condiment with grilled steak or lamb chops; squeeze it into mashed potatoes; use it in dressings and mayonnaise or mix it with fresh herbs, lemon, and olive oil and use it as a sauce for vegetables.

4 large heads garlic, loose skin rubbed off, top 1/4-inch sliced off

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Place garlic heads in center of sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil about 1 foot long. Pour oil over garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with 2nd sheet of foil and roll edges of 2 sheets together on all sides, closing pack. Place pack in center of another 1-foot-length of foil and fold this length up around pack.

Lay pack in dying embers of medium to low fire and pile coals up on all sides. Cook for 35 minutes, moving occasionally to keep in contact with glowing coals. Remove pack from coals and unroll foil.

4 side-dish servings. Each serving:

108 calories; 86 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.60 gram fiber.

* Mosquito light in chicken photo from Freehand, Los Angeles.

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