In The Kitchen

Big Bend Cookery

I’d like to start out with a bit of personal food philosophy. This is something that I’ll surely delve deeper into as this project progresses, but is important to establish early on.  My concept is simple and not extraordinary.

As often as possible I think food should be: Simply prepared, delicious, mostly plants, fresh and unprocessed, seasonal and local when possible, without a fear for the exotic and a joy to plan, prepare and serve.

I followed a strict vegetarian diet for ohhh… 10 years — including bouts of on-again-off-again veganism.  During that time I learned a lot about selecting and preparing vegetables and basically lost whatever taste I’d had for meat. These days I do eat animal proteins on occasion, perhaps one or two meals a week, and it’s usually an accompanying flavor (i.e. panchetta in soup) and not the main act (a steak).  I have however learned my way around the creatures of the sea and that confidence comes out much more frequently during meal planning these days. For the most part though, veggies are the clear winners.  Delicious, versatile, cheap and healthful consuming more plants may not only cure what ails us, but our planet as well.


This post however is about camping food.  Aaron and I make it a point to adventure off into the wilderness as frequently as possible, and I take up the challenge of planning a handful of meals that can be prepared:

  • With no heat,
  • On a camp cook stove,
  • In my cast iron skillet, or
  • Directly over a fire

Hopefully meals will also follow the mantra above about being fresh and healthy, but situation dictates what’s possible.  Prep should be easy and clean-up minimal. Lastly, ingredients should be chosen which require no or little refrigeration.

Without further ado…

What We Sustained Ourselves With During Freedom Weekend

For the 8-9 hour drive from Houston to West Texas enchantment I considered making sandwiches. Most likely avocado edamame, but the time just wasn’t there. Instead we stopped at an HEB on the way out of town to fuel up the car with gas, and our bodies with grocery store sushi, free samples, and on a small whim, a watermelon.

This is not the first time we've cut into and eaten nearly an entire watermelon in the car - it's honestly great road trip food as it feeds and hydrates in one step.  Yum!
This is not the first time we’ve cut into and eaten nearly an entire watermelon in the car – it’s honestly great road trip food as it feeds and hydrates in one step. Yum!

Just past San Antonio we made a stop for some roadside peaches.  Firm, juicy, and so sweet they were a tasty addition throughout the trip.

Fredricksburg Peaches.  As with most fruit, if it's not ripe enough for your liking, keep in a closed up paperbag for a day or two.
Fredricksburg Peaches. As with most fruit, if it’s not ripe enough for your liking, keep in a closed up paperbag for a day or two.

That evening, having made it into Alpine just in time for the bar’s kitchen to still be open we rewarded ourselves with some local fare (“it’s vacation!”).


Friday morning we left Alpine for the Big Bend, about an hour and a half due South.  Just outside of the entrance we stopped for breakfast at the Chili Pepper Cafe.  The lovely restaurateur Jan whipped up a Texas-Sized (and themed) breakfast to fuel us for a day of hiking.  It was quick, delicious, and Jan was full of great tips and advice for Big Bend and the surrounding area and neighboring state park.  I can’t say enough good things about this stop.  We also downed about 3 liters of water between the two of us at this meal.  There is no water to be found and boiled or purified in the back country, so it must all be carried in.  To ease up our packs, we tried to hydrate as much as possible in the morning. For desert hiking a minimum of 1 gallon per person per day is recommended.

Migas and Biscuits and Gravy.
Migas and Biscuits and Gravy.

I’d planned meals for the trip for breakfast and dinner, but just snacks for lunches.  Snacks included:

  • peaches,
  • bananas,
  • berries,
  • waxed cheese,
  • flax crackers,
  • tins of smoked oysters,
  • avocados,
  • trail mix,
  • jerky, and
  • peanut or almond butter single serve packets.

For the hike in I bagged up some items from a few of these categories and kept them at the top of my pack. We were planning on hiking the 12-13 mile South Rim Trail, camping on the rim and hiking out the next day.  The evening meal and the following morning’s breakfast needed to be light, compact, decently nutritious and filling, cooked with just a billy pot and cook stove (no fires in the desert, folks), and easy clean up (don’t want to waste drinking water on dishes).

And now, the recipes…

For Dinner: Mushroom Couscous with Sundried Tomatos and Kale

[adjust amounts as desired – you really can’t mess this up] 

Ingredients:

one package mushroom flavored couscous

dried shiitake mushrooms

sun-dried tomatoes 

one bunch fresh kale

Optional: Waxed cheese (like laughing cow)

Serves 2.

Prep:

Before we left Houston I opened the couscous package, poured the contents into a quart-sized freezer bag [the people at the freezer bag company will tell you not to continue on with what I’m going to tell you.  Conventional backpacker wisdom: don’t listen to them].  I cut up several sun-dried tomatoes and shiitakes (okay I told Aaron to cut them up – he’s such a great sous chef) and tossed them in the bag too.  The package called for 1.25 c of water, but since I’d be re-hydrating more with the added veg, I wrote “add 1.5 c of water” on the baggie with a sharpie.  Prep done.

Dinner in a bag!
Dinner in a bag!
At camp:

Hardy greens will travel well, even smooshed and in the heat.  For a day at least.  It’s advisable to pack greens in damp paper towels in a plastic baggie.  I just tossed the fresh kale bunch into the top of my pack.

An educated guess as to what looked like 1.5 c of water was brought to a boil using the cook stove while I ripped up the kale and added it to the pre-prepped baggie. Once boiling turn off the heat to conserve fuel, and allow it to cool slightly.  You don’t need 212 degree water to re-hydrate foods like this (and potentially melt a plastic freezer bag). 180 to 190 is fine. Bringing a thermometer is a ridiculous thought.  Just give it a moment to cool.

Ripping kale.
Ripping kale.

Add hot water to the bag, stir (don’t shake – it’s hot!), seal up tightly, and keep warm (wrapped in a sweater like I did, a hat, blanket, or specially made coozie.  Enjoy the sunset for 5 minutes then its time to tuck in!  Aaron added cheese to his.  Enjoy!

Tuck in!
We share communal dishes at home all the time and just sporked straight from the bag so we wouldn’t need to wash bowls.

For Breakfast: Blueberry Oatmeal and Coffee

Ingredients:

1.5 c whole rolled oats

1/4 c dry powdered milk (low fat – I had this on hand as I sometimes add it to granola.  It’s not necessary but will make the oats creamier and objectively tastier)

1/4 c coconut sugar (or any other sweetener – maple sugar, dates chopped, honey, molasses to taste, or none at all) 

dash of cinnamon to taste

dash of salt

a big pour of dried blueberries

a decent handful of nuts – I prefer raw sliced almonds

water (1 cup for a thicker, 1.5 to 2 c for soupier consistency – that’s up to you)

Serves 2.

Prep/At Camp:

Before you leave home toss everything into a quart-sized freezer baggie and at camp follow the procedure as with the couscous.  Heat up water to boiling, allow to cool slightly then pour directly into the baggie, stir, seal, cover …5 minutes… devour!

While I’m typically a fan of the french press, and have a soft spot for a wilderness campfire turkish coffee, this meal was accompanied by Trader Joe’s instant coffee. No brewing necessary.

Blueberry oatmeal - all bagged up and ready to go.
Blueberry oatmeal – all bagged up and ready to go.
Done!
Done!

Lunch happened after hiking out 7 miles and driving another 30 to Santa Elena Canyon.  It consisted of:

  • a pint of raspberries,
  • bananas with peanut butter,
  • smoked oysters and flax crackers (store bought)
  • Real Ale (Blanco, TX ) Hans Pils and Gose

For Dinner: Southwestern Succotash and White Nectarine Salad

IMGP2904

Southwestern Succotash

Ingredients:

[add as much or as little as you’d like, other veggies that would be good additions or replacements: Onions, asparagus, bell pepper, black beans, summer squash, edamame…the combinations and options are endless]

lima beans, removed from shell

poblano pepper, chopped [ours was brought from our home garden]

fresh corn, cut off the cob

green beans, cut into 1″ lengths

small zucchini, chopped

2 strips of bacon

S + P

Consider adding: garlic, fresh or dried oregano

IMGP2912

At Camp:

Heat a cast iron skillet over a med-high flame (I prefer a camp fire, but camp stove had to do as fires are not allowed) — Because the camp stove is much more concentrated heat, watch for hot spots and move food or heat source around as needed. The little stove is not heavy-duty enough to hold up a heavy skillet, so it was rested on a trio of rocks and the stove was placed, un-burdened underneath.

IMGP2913

Fry bacon until crispy-ish [or however you like it, really] remove from pan onto paper towels or a paper plate to drain fat, allow to cool enough to handle and chop up.  With pan still hot and with as little or as much of the remaining bacon fat as you’d like, add the veggies.  Saute for 5-10 minutes until tender, but still with some of it’s residual raw texture if you’re into that sort of thing.  Season with S + P, top with bacon.

IMGP2920

White Nectarine Salad

Ingredients:

rainbow chard, cut into strips
grapes, cut in half
nectarines, sliced
feta, crumbled

Dressing:

1 tbl basil mustard
2 tbl orange muscat vinegar
.5 tsp dried mint or about 1 tbl of fresh
2 tsp honey
1 tbl olive oil
S + P to taste
Serves 2. 

IMGP2935

At Camp:

For the salad combine the chard, fruit and cheese in a large bowl.  Top with dressing.

For dressing:  I made this at home ahead of time and stored it in a small jar.  Honestly I never measure ingredients for salad dressing, just whisk it up and adjust as you like it.  The measurements above are my best guess of what I did that day.

General outline of pretty much every salad dressing I make:

Mustard + Acid + Sweetener + Herbs

Whisk thoroughly, then drizzle in olive oil as you continue to whisk.  Taste. Adjust as needed and season with S + P.

IMGP2945
Yoga mats make a great table top.

For Breakfast: Polenta Pancakes with Local Honey, Blueberries and Bacon

Ingredients:

bacon
pre-packaged polenta, removed from casing and sliced into rounds
honey [we bought ours locally]
blueberries

IMGP3048
Fry the bacon until desired doneness. Remove most of the fat from the skillet, but leave enough to prevent sticking and give flavor – about a tablespoon. Discard the rest.* Add polenta rounds to the pan, with enough space in between to flip easily and not crowd. Fry the polenta rounds for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden, plate up, top with honey and blueberries. Bacon on the side was a special Sunday-Morning-Camp-Treat.

*At home I save my bacon grease to use in other applications later on – most frequently seasoning my cast iron. While camping though it’s important to not discard food items (especially tasty ones like bacon grease) in an unfamiliar environment where it may attract unwanted wild life. I discarded the grease by pouring it out onto a paper plate, allowing it to cool until solid, then adding it to our bin bag.

IMGP3049


The recipes here are simpler and really less of a recipe and more of a suggestion as to what could be made up on a back-country/car-camping trip.  Make of it what you will, but I hope it can be inspiration for less-than-usual outdoor nutrition options.  Loads of recipes from our home kitchen are to come.  Comments, suggestions, questions are fully encouraged!

Enjoy and Bon Appétit! 

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