The couple behind ‘Fresh Off The Grid’ is giving us serious camp-food envy

Car camp cuisine, without the gimmicky "hacks." Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off The Grid

Car camp cuisine, without the gimmicky “hacks.” Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off The Grid

Campfires and culinary arts have always kind of gone hand in hand — in theory.

The idea of cooking an artfully prepared meal over a smoky campfire sounds magical, but when it comes time to put it in practice, things don't always go as planned.

Enter Fresh Off the Grid, the brainchild of Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet.

Half travel journal, half cooking blog, the website is the answer to our camp-cuisine prayers.

The duo has been concocting easy-to-prepare recipes from the back of their Ford Focus hatchback since leaving for a yearlong road trip this past summer, figuring out all the details — what dishes to use, how to cut down on the cost of spices, the best way to cook to minimize the mess — so you don't have to.

fresh off the grid

Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet are traveling the country in their Ford Focus hatchback. Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off the Grid

"We love camping, but have always been frustrated by the lack of practical information about cooking in the outdoors," explains McDuffie. "There's a lot gimmicky camp cooking 'hacks' floating around the Internet, but we've never seen anyone actually back a cinnamon roll inside an orange peel outside of Pinterest."

And because ordering a pizza when their dinner goes up in flames isn't an option while camping in the backcountry, the duo has gotten pretty good at what they do.

Here, Fresh Off The Grid shares their tips for cooking on the road and dishes on one of their favorite recipes:

What cooking tools should we invest in before our next road trip?
Insulated mugs with lids. We agree, the enamelware mugs look way cooler, but we got tired of having to gulp down our coffee before it got cold.

Another indispensible item is our cast iron Dutch oven. Whether we're cooking a stew, steaming rice, or baking a German pancake, this is by far our most versatile piece of cookware.

Any tips for making food last longer on the road?
For any extended trip, the first step is to develop a pantry of nonperishable essentials, things like rice, beans, pasta, peanut butter and sardines.

When it comes to fresh produce, we always factor in an item’s durability. For example, we eat a lot less spinach and a lot more kale. We also eat a lot less meat than we used to, which, all things considered, hasn’t been the worst thing in the world.

Fresh Off The Grid

Fresh Off The Grid develops recipes for car campers. Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off The Grid

What are foods that you keep going back to during your trip?
We go through phases, but recently we’ve been craving Chinese comfort food.

One of our go-to meals is a spicy peanut butter dish called Dan Dan noodles.

It’s super simple to make, packs a ton of flavor, and has a surprising amount of protein.

What recipe are you most proud of inventing?
Halloumi Breakfast Sandwich is by far our favorite to date. The combination of sweet, savory and spicy all in one bite is a wonderful way to start the morning.

Tracking down halloumi cheese and Hawaiian sweet rolls can be a bit of challenge, but when we’re fortunate enough to roll by a town with a Trader Joe’s, this is the breakfast we make the next day.

Fresh Off the Grid

Halloumi Breakfast Sandwich in all its glory. Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off the Grid

What’s been your worst recipe fail?
Spanish tortilla. Total disaster.

Shooting breakfast recipes can be a challenge because both of us need to eat before we can even begin to function properly. We spent nearly the entire morning cooking the potatoes, yet in defiance of all reason they remained uncooked.

The eggs on the other hand, were completely overcooked. In the end, we were left with a crumbly, uneatable mess that went straight from the pan into the trash. It was a long time until lunch.

What’s a quintessential camp recipe everyone should learn and know?
We hate doing dishes, so we’re big proponents of one-pot meals.

One of our favorites is a spicy tomato egg dish from Israel called Shakshuka.

It’s fun to say, easy to make, and can pass for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If you’re ever in a pinch, this one never fails to impress.

Fresh Off The Grid

Five Can Chili being prepared. Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off the Grid

Try this recipe: Five Can Chili

Total time: 35 minutes | Serves: 4 

Ingredients 
1 medium brown onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (540mL) can black beans, drained
1 (540mL) can red kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (7oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeds removed (see below)
1 can beer (preferably lager)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin

Five Can Chili by Fresh Off The Grid; Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off The Grid

Five Can Chili by Fresh Off The Grid; Photo: Courtesy Fresh Off The Grid

Directions
Begin by prepping the chipotles. Most of the heat in the peppers are housed in the seeds, so we strongly recommend removing all of the seeds before adding the peppers to the chili, especially if you use the entire can. Using a fork, remove the peppers from the can. Reserve the adobo sauce. Slice them open, and then using the back of your knife, scrape out and discard all the seeds. Roughly chop the peppers and set them aside. This will still produce a spicy, but manageable, chili – if you have a lower tolerance for heat, scale down the number of chipotles you use (you can always add more if you want to add heat!).

In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and saute until they begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the drained kidney and black beans, tomatoes and their juices, chopped chipotles and the adobo sauce, beer, salt and spices. Stir to combine.

Cook the chili until thickened to your liking, about 20 minutes was perfect for us. Serve immediately with your choice of toppings (cheese, avocado, green onions, etc) and cornbread on the side!

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