A few summers ago, my children introduced me to a camp tradition – Tin Dins. They prepare them at Camp Batawagama in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a layer of cabbage leaves topped with diced potatoes and onions with a hamburger patty on top. A bit of salt and pepper, then wrap the whole package in foil and place them over the embers of a campfire. And when you have been away from home for a few days and you’re camping out under the stars, these apparently are like heaven when the come off the fire, all slathered in ranch dressing.
Now, we can’t re-create the feeling of camping with friends, under the star-lit skies of Upper Michigan, but we decided to make a stepped-up version of the classic camp dinner. There are a couple of issues with the classic tin din – the cabbage typically burns, the potatoes are often underdone, and ranch dressing is not my personal preference for a sauce for hamburger. We decided to shred the potatoes and then par-cook them with onions and cremini mushrooms with a bit of thick-cut bacon from Angeli Foods in Iron River.
Bacon is never a bad idea…unless you’re worried about bears. If you were looking to stay true to the backpacking nature of this dinner, you could par-cook this and then freeze it in proper portion sizes. We were cooking over the campfire, but not hiking into a campsite, so we had a bit of flexibility. Our packet was a two to three cabbage leaves, a pile of our shredded potatoes with bacon and mushrooms, and then we combined beef with ground pork. Salt, pepper, and dried thyme sprinkled over the top, and then folded in a double layer of foil.
The campfire had burned for about an hour before we decided to add the tin dins. Knocking down the fire and then layering a grate across a couple of logs allowed us to keep the packets up off the direct embers to cook the packets a bit slower and keep our cabbage from burning.
As they cooked, we prepared a simple bechamel sauce with blue cheese to stand in for the ranch dressing. Cook times are very uncertain over a campfire. These cooked as long as it took to leisurely sip on two old Ore Dock Scotch Ales from Keweenaw Brewing Company, based in Houghton, Michigan, while looking out on the lake.
The cabbage leaves were browned but not burnt and lent a beautiful flavor to the potatoes. The bacon and pork added extra flavor and a bit of fat to the cooking ground beef. It may not be pretty, but it was certainly tasty. And we timed it perfectly to allow us to get back out on the water for some evening fishing. It was a perfect finish to a wonderful day on the lake.