Eats: Foil packets make cooking easier

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Whether you want more relaxing and less cooking during your summer stay-cation, you’re camping at one of Maine’s gorgeous state parks or you want to make a perfect, no-fuss, Dad-style meal on Father’s Day, flavor-packed foil packets are the answer to the age-old question “What’s for dinner?”

You former Scouts out there most likely learned how to do the basic burger and potatoes in a packet of folded foil (remember hobo meals?). With that idea in mind, consider the myriad ingredients you can combine in hundreds of different ways to create your own signature foil-packet recipes. Put them on repeat throughout the year using your backyard grill, wilderness campfire, indoor fireplace or even the oven.

Before you get started filling those packets, however, here are a few tips:

* It’s important to use heavy-duty aluminum foil. And if you want to make certain the packet is absolutely leak-proof, go ahead and double up on that foil. Use a piece measuring about 18 inches by 12 inches for each serving.

* Apply cooking spray before placing the food in the middle of the foil square, then bring up two sides of the foil so the edges meet and seal tightly by making a 1/2-inch fold, then fold again, allowing space inside the packet for heat circulation and expansion. Fold the opposite sides likewise and crimp and seal.

* Another trick I’ve learned over the years is to place an ice cube in the packet if the recipe calls for water. This adds just enough liquid to create steam so the food tucked inside gets soft and tender.

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* Take extra care when turning the packets. I use a long-handled spatula.

* I use a gas grill with the temperature set to about 400 degrees, but these foil packets can be set right into white-hot coals. Just turn them more often and adjust your cooking times accordingly.

* Be very mindful of escaping steam when opening your cooked packets.

Once you have your ingredients together, you’ll soon be on the road to the easiest meals you’ve ever made in your life. Not only can you put them together in advance, but there is minimal cleanup. 

Start with one (or all!) of the recipes on this page for Father’s Day. And feel free to experiment with your favorite ingredients. You’ll be hooked! It will lead to more time for fishing with Dad, playing catch, attempting to one-up him on the golf course or mowing the lawn while he supervises from his hammock in the shade!

Fiesta pork ingredients are ready to be sealed and placed on the grill. (Karen Schneider photo)

These plated packets include steak with potatoes and carrots, foreground, fiesta pork, middle, and kielbasa with potatoes and cabbage. All were cooked on the grill in 30 minutes or less. (Karen Schneider photo)

All of these recipes make 4 servings, but you may want to double-up for yummy, easy-to-reheat leftovers. Time and temp for indoor cooking is listed at the end of each of the recipes.

Steak with potatoes and carrots

2-2½ pounds boneless rib-eye steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 3-inch cubes

1 pound red potatoes, diced into 1-inch cubes

1 pound baby carrots, cut in half

4 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 teaspoon onion, minced

1 teaspoon parsley

1 teaspoon thyme

In a large bowl, combine steak and potatoes with olive oil or butter, salt and pepper, garlic and seasonings. Divide steak, potatoes and carrots between four foil squares and seal. Grill over medium heat for about 7-8 minutes on each side or until steak and potatoes are cooked through.

To bake in the oven, place packets on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until steak is cooked through to desired doneness. Open the packets and set under the broiler toward the end of the cooking time if you want to brown up the ingredients a bit more.

Fiesta pork

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 red pepper, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

4 tablespoons red onion, minced

1/2 cup salsa verde

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

4 boneless pork chops (6 ounces each, 3/4- 1 inch thick)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup shredded pepper jack or cheddar cheese

Lime wedges

Sliced avocado

Sour cream

Cilantro

Tortillas, optional

In a large bowl, mix vegetables, salsa verde and spices. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and place one on center of each foil square. Dividing evenly, top each pork chop with about 3/4 cup vegetable mixture. Top with 1/4 cup shredded cheese each. Seal.

Grill over medium heat for 10 minutes. Rotate packs 1/2 turn (do not flip); cook 8 minutes longer or until pork is no longer pink and meat thermometer inserted in center reads at least 145 degrees. To serve, squeeze on lime juice and top with sour cream and cilantro. Add sliced avocado. The pork can also be sliced and served in a tortilla.

To bake in the oven, place packets on baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until pork is no longer pink and meat thermometer inserted in center reads at least 145 degrees.

Kielbasa with potatoes and cabbage

1 pound smoked kielbasa, cut into 2-inch pieces

1/2 head cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges

20 red potatoes, diced into 1-inch cubes

1 onion, sliced

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ice cubes

Divide the vegetables and sausage onto four foil squares. Combine butter with garlic and herbs. Add 2 tablespoons of the seasoned butter and one ice cube to each packet. Season with salt and pepper and seal. Grill for 30 minutes, flipping half-way through cooking time. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.

To bake in the oven place packets on baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.

Karen Schneider, a writer and editor, has been a regular contributor to the Lewiston Sun Journal for over 20 years. Contact her at [email protected] with your ideas and comments.

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