Campfire Trout (or Pan-Fried Trout if it is raining), Salmon with Chunky Tomato Ginger Sauce

Brocke Family 2009 in front of Yosemite Falls

Brocke Family 2005 in front of Yosemite Falls

Brocke Family 2004 in front of Yosemite Falls

Brocke Family 2002 in front of Yosemite Falls

Jason, Billy and Barrett by Merced River next to our Housekeeping Cabin 2008

Campfire Trout 2004

Recipe Testers,
More than Christmas, more than their birthdays, my girls ask this question all year long: “How many more days until Yosemite?” On the Thursday after Memorial Day weekend, we begin our annual tradition of driving to Yosemite National Park. We’ve been making this trip for 34 years. We first went to join my cousins who have been going for 41 years. It’s part family reunion and part soul-filling annual retreat that we all look forward to every year.

We usually leave in the early morning when it is crisp and chilly in California. The natural inclination would be to wear sweats. But I always tell the girls (just as my parents told me) that by the time we hit the Central Valley and Fresno it will be in the 90’s and we’ll wish we were wearing some kind of shorts or a sundress, so dress in layers. It is a five hour trip of driving time. It always takes us a bit longer than that with stops to eat. (The stops at Pete’s Place in Oakhurst have become as much of a tradition at the actual destination itself!)

When we left from Solvang we would drive up 101 to Paso and then take HWY 46 over to 41. Whenever we neared that historic turn my father would tell the story of a Cal Poly student heading home to Fresno. James Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder on his way to a car rally in Monterey/Salinas. The student crossed into Dean’s lane and never saw the car. What remains in the almost non-existent town of Cholame is a memorial to James Dean that we stopped to see many times. And his legend lives on forever.

The last hour of the trip into Yosemite is the worst, especially for anyone with tendencies toward car sickness. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes from Oakhurst (which is about an hour north of Fresno). The hills and mountains are gorgeous. You enter the park gate and excitedly think you are there. Little do you realize that you are still 40 minutes from the valley floor and that the rest of the trip will be a winding road. The best bet is to look straight ahead and roll the window down. Just when you think you can’t endure one more twist and turn no matter how beautiful it is, you go through a very long tunnel and you come out the other side to the most magnificent view in the United States (if not the world!) Melissa even said as we came through “I just love how everything is placed.” It seems too beautiful to be real with the giant El Capitan on the left, Half Dome centered perfectly in the middle and Bridlevail Falls on your right. It is divinely composed. If there was only 1 of the many wonders or waterfalls that exist, it would be worth the trip. Just the Merced River alone is beautiful. But instead of one awe-inspiring wonder there are many: Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome…and sheer granite walls all around you filled in with giant redwoods, giant dogwoods and extraordinary natural beauty. The smell, the air... it is like no where else on earth. When I die, I want my ashes there and if you haven’t been there, you should try to go at least once in your life.

I thought perhaps I loved Yosemite so much because of all my childhood memories. I thought that those memories might make it more meaningful to me than someone else. Would Jason love it as much as I had? Would my girls have this same feeling and connection in their soul? I remember when Melissa was four and Katherine was 3: Melissa was in her bunk bed and said “Mommy, I want to stay here forever.” And I knew at four years old this was as special a place to her as it was to me. It became Jason’s tradition as much as mine and he is eager to catch up on all the hikes we’ve done over the many years of camping here. 

(There is of course the side story of my boyfriend from high school who I brought to Yosemite during his senior year. He had a basketball scholarship to college. Because of the scholarship his father wouldn’t let him ski, hike or do anything that could possibly injure him. He barely agreed to let him take the trip to Yosemite and it was only on condition that he not go on any hikes. So we walked around the valley floor. Then we volunteered to drive a group to Glacier point since driving seemed like a safe thing to do. He however slipped in the parking lot on the way to the car and cut up his hip and leg. Then later when we were walking and standing on the bridge and looking up the river towards Half Dome he said “I just don’t get what you are looking at” and I said “If you can’t see it, then I can’t show it to you.” I broke up with him two weeks later.)

One thing that is lacking in Yosemite is the food. The restaurants are mediocre to bad. There are many levels of accommodations from the most basic camping to the 5 Star elegance of the Awahanee. The Ahwahnee has the most beautiful dining room in all of North America. It takes your breath away just to walk in. The food, however, is a big letdown. So if you eat there, enjoy the view and atmosphere but have low expectations about the food. There are lots of other levels of places to stay, from Curry Village to Housekeeping to the Lodge. We stay in housekeeping because we can cook in the cabins (I’ll send pictures later of what the cabins look like.)

You may think it is insane to try to cook while camping, but one of my most favorite ways to cook is outside. Almost anything you make will taste better if you eat it outside. I don’t know why, but I just know it’s true. I used to use our Yosemite trip as a time to experiment with new recipes. I’d read my Gourmet magazines in the car on the way up. We’d stop in Fresno to get the ingredients for something I’d just read and I’d play around with it when I got there. But then my girls started saying “I hope you’re going to make the trout again” and my sister would say “aren’t you going to make that salmon that I love” and so the meals have become their traditions of their own. I make the garlic, parsley lime trout on Thursday night along with Ginger Salmon. On Friday we have Pork Chops with cherry port sauce (from the Gerawan's cherries and apricots), and then on the final night we have spaghetti sauce because I make that ahead of time at home and freeze it. The frozen spaghetti sauce keeps all the other food in the cooler cold until the last night. It is also the lowest maintenance thing to cook on the last night. We usually head to the Ahwahnee on Saturday night for cocktails. They may not be able to cook at the Ahwahnee but they do a fine job with the vodka, gin and martinis!

I make the trout over the campfire (as in the picture below.) But this year it rained, which was a welcome change since we hadn’t experienced rain in Yosemite before. The rain came just in time for a great afternoon nap. Then it cleared up in time to enjoy a campfire to sit and sing around, but not in time to make a campfire to cook dinner on. So I improvised and made the trout in a pan. It didn’t have the same smoky flavor, but it was still delicious. So here is the recipe. (I’ll make it later and try to measure it, but this is one of those recipes that you make without measuring. If you put more parsley in than last time, or more lime juice it won’t matter. The combo of ingredients will be good no matter the quantity. Just don’t forgot to use plenty of kosher salt since salt is the key ingredient in grilling. I'm guesstimating on the amounts in the recipe below, since I've never actually measured it. But I can visualize it and that seems very close. I tend to use sea salt on the stove and kosher salt when grilling. I also use kosher salt when I’m making a rub or seasoning smear as in this recipe.

The salmon recipe may be a little more complicated than something you want to do for camping, but it is a great recipe to make for entertaining or at home. The salmon recipe is from my grandmother, Jean Darling. I've just typed the trout recipe for the first time and just majorly altered the salmon recipe to what my grandmother and I actually do. (The former recipe was quite a bit different) So this is a first draft of the revised and updated version. I’ll let you know if I make an edits or changes. They are pretty forgiving recipes, so I think you’ll have great success with them!


Campfire Trout (or Pan-Fried Trout if it is raining)
We make this every year on our annual family camping trip to Yosemite.   This is also a great recipe if you happen to have a smoker at home. Season the trout with the following ingredients and smoke as normal. Or make this in a pan in your kitchen.  When it comes off of the campfire it isn’t exactly beautiful presentation-wise, but it tastes great.   Clean grill rack with a wire brush and then oil rack before you put trout down. Ideally, you’d have a rack that you could raise and lower to control the heat. Not so much luck with this on the campfire grate, so you need to control the heat by moving the coals underneath. In the pan, it is a little prettier for presentation, especially if the pan is non-stick. You can also use a non-stick electric griddle (like one you would use to make pancakes.)

4 or 5 whole trout
3 or 4 limes (one for juice and others for slices to insert in trout, optional. Use rice wine vinegar if you don’t have limes or use lemons)
1 bunch Italian Parsley, minced
3 tablespoons kosher salt (some to sprinkle on inside and outside of fish and some to include with other ingredients)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil (or more if needed)
Freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Slice 2 or 3 limes into rounds. Quarter third lime in wedges that you will squeeze in a moment.
2. Mix Parsley, salt and garlic together. Squeeze lime wedges over parsley mixture. Add olive oil and mix well.
3. Sprinkle trout on inside and outside with kosher salt and pepper.
4. Rub trout inside and out with garlic, parsley mixture. Place lime slices inside trout cavity.
5. Grill on each side until it is cooked through (cover with a sheet tray, another pan, lid or aluminum foil to cook faster.) The heat of the fire or pan will determine the time for cooking, but about 4 to 5 minutes on each side should be enough.
Note: Costco usually has great fresh trout.

Grilled Salmon with Chunky Tomato Ginger Sauce

I got this recipe from my grandmother, Jean Darling.  The only change I made was to change the tomatoes to grape tomatoes/cherry tomatoes that I slice in half, as opposed to chopping up a large tomato.  I think the small tomato halves look lovely. I’ve made so many variations of this recipe and often used what was on hand. It needs some kind of acid at the end.  Sometimes I toss in white wine and other times vinegar.  In Hawaii I used soy sauce a lot. You can’t go wrong. Add sugar at the end to adjust seasoning. 

Another option for those of you who like a little spice is to add red chile flakes to the mixture. You can make this a day before and reheat it, but I like it made just before serving. Also, you don’t really need to measure this. Just get the gist of the ingredients and it will be great. I usually make the sauce in a pan.  When I'm in a hurry, I've wrapped the fish in foil and placed the uncooked sauce on top of the fish and then put it on the grill.  It tastes good either way you prepare it.

Salmon cooked however you like it. On grill or in a pan under broiler. (I don’t recommend in the oven unless it’s in parchment. The oven usually dries fish out) You will make the same amount of sauce whether you are cooking for 2 people or 10. Just buy the amount of fish based on the number of people you are cooking for. The leftovers will keep and can be used on a sandwich with steak, fish or chicken)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 to 3 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half (you can also dice large tomatoes if you wish)
Salt to sprinkle on tomatoes.
Sugar to sprinkle on tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper to taste, optional
1/4 cup white wine, vinegar (balsamic or rice wine) or soy sauce (I’ve done variations with all three of these ingredients. Just don’t add them all together. Pick one)
More sugar to taste

1. Put olive oil in a hot sauté pan that has been heated on medium high heat. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. (Don’t burn garlic and turn heat to medium if garlic is starting to brown.)
2. Add tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and sugar and toss in pan. Add wine (vinegar or soy sauce—don’t add all three. Just pick one of them.) Cook until liquid is reduced and almost evaporated.
3. Taste. Add more sugar if mixture tastes acidic (all tomatoes have different degrees of sugar in them, so some will need the extra sugar). Also, taste to see if you need more salt.


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