Great Chefs Outside
January 20, 2016 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on creating a 2 hour class that focuses on cooking and nutrition for wilderness guides. These folks are generally 23-33, and they mostly have some of the basics down. What are your greatest tips and hacks that make you a good cook? What are your best recipes that can be cooked over a one burner camp stove? What nutrition science is true and not just a fad?

We carry a pretty good kitchen with us, generally a pot, a frying pan, a lid, knife, spatula. We carry rice, pasta, flour, yeast, lots of dried veggies and beans, etc and an extensive spice kit. Generally no fresh stuff (too heavy) but sometimes we can forage for greens. As long as it is shelf stable, there's a good chance we could bring it with us.

There's so many possibilities that I know it will be hard to find a good flow in a two hour class, but I want to cast my net wide so that it's not just coming from my personal experience. Thanks.
posted by grinagog to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
A dish that I really love at home that I think could be pretty easily cooked in a wilderness setting (I've been thinking about planning some backpacking trips lately and I keep imagining how good this would be) is socca. It's a very simple recipe - chickpea flour and water plus whatever seasonings you like (garlic and rosemary and/or cumin are my usuals) cooked in olive oil. It seems like it would be great since beans/bean flour is great at being shelf-stable but the amount of fuel necessary to cook chickpeas makes them kind of prohibitive for backpacking. Also it's delicious.

I also like just-add-water pancake mix (either store-bought or homemade). I guess I just like pancakes.

In terms of nutrition, I think it's good to emphasize that there are a lot of ways to approach wilderness eating and cooking - do you want to stay full and happy on a weekend trip? Do you want to maintain your weight on a long-distance thru-hike kind of situation? For me personally, I don't really care about having balanced meals on the trail, so long as I don't feel too hungry, but I am basically never out for more than a weekend, and I work in an office and have fat to burn.

And if you can explain some kind of secret technique for packing liquid oils without getting them all over everything, that would also be awesome. That's the number one thing I want to know about wilderness cooking. Or maybe the real secret is just to use coconut oil and/or ghee.
posted by mskyle at 7:47 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Salt and pepper. The No. 1 and No. 2 things that separate good food from bland food. They make the food taste like the food.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

msyle: And if you can explain some kind of secret technique for packing liquid oils without getting them all over everything, that would also be awesome.

Try using a hard-sided outer container with smaller, soft-sided containers inside. Like, little squeeze-bottles (e.g., these GoToobs at REI) or even snack-size zip-loc baggies for the actual oils, with the larger container protecting them from the rest of your pack. I have a bunch of food-grade plastic bottles (thank you, Northern Brewer!) with screw tops that might do well for the "protective" outer layer.

Can you substitute globs of shortening for the actual oil? That stuff will ooze but not run, and might be packable wrapped up in cubes (pre-frozen, maybe?) and those collected in a square, hard-sided box.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

WRT to the original question, dried mushrooms don't take much water to rehydrate (and it can be used in the recipe), but give a lot of flavor to that pasta/rice/whatever.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:14 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

#3 would be butter then. It keeps at ambient for a week at least. Oil just isn't the same. Zippy bags have always worked for me.

The thing I'd recommend on would be including a dessert or two. Being able to pull off a strawberry cheesecake by chilling in a stream---a surprise for some friends on their first anniversary---lead to one of my fondest memories backpacking. Instant cheesecake, rehydrated strawberries. It was not hard, but it needed some special ingredients to be brought.

The other fun one to do, particularly with kids is chocolate cake in oranges. Bring premixed cake, wet and dry separate and a bunch of heavy-skinned oranges. Navels are perfect. Slice a small circle off the stem end, then get the kids to eat the insides with a spoon. Collect the skins and tops. Fill each with around 50-100 mL of cake mix (depending on the size of the oranges, this takes a bit of foreknowledge), secure the lids with toothpicks then nestle into a bed of coals.
posted by bonehead at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm getting into camping now and this is my big thing. Happily, I've discovered there a couple blogs devoted to this very topic.

Dirty Gourmet is ENTIRELY about al fresco cooking - and they even break things down into "backpacking recipes", "car camping recipes", and even just "day trips and picnics" (because this does make a difference). They also have product reviews and articles about things like eating clean while camping. The coconut curry soup from their page is the thing I found first and followed it over to the rest of the blog.

That said - a cheap source for already-dehydrated fruits and veggies that's worked for me is trader joe's - they sell freeze-dried fruit as snacks, but I've used it to "make" instant oatmeal mix and in granola, and the quality's been good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

You could try ghee, butter that has had the milk solids simmered out. It's pretty much shelf stable and delish and it won't be liquidy like oil. Frankly, making ghee, or just plain old clarified butter, isn't super hard if you can't find it at the store.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

These aren't amazing, taste-wise, but we:
1) supplement morning oatmeal with lots of nuts and dried fruit to pump up the flavor and the protein + immediately available sugars and
2) add a can of tuna or salmon or chicken IN OIL to the package of dried food for dinner to increase the amount of fat and protein in the meal.

I'd like to know how to get the most bang for my pound - if I'm backpacking, I'm going lightweight, so I'm carrying little fuel (e.g. no long cooks with dried beans) and little food weight. Salt and pepper and a few other key spices or one or two extra ingredients - yeah, I can get behind that. But gourmet meals are not a goal.
posted by Jaclyn at 11:56 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can carry it, a thermos flask with a stainless steel, not glass, inner can be used to cook a variety of things. Add rice and boiling water to the thermos and leave it for a couple of hours and then it's done. You'll use less fuel at the cost of weight but you'll also save time when it's ready as you can just pour and strain, then it's ready to eat.
posted by Solomon at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sad to say my kids are not at all interested in camping. But what they do love is foraging. Obviously this needs seasonal planning, but it is such great fun to find your own food and cook it.
During spring, your findings are often suitable for salads, so you will need to bring oil and lemons/vinegar and salt and pepper. Birch juice is most plentiful during spring as well. You can drink it for refreshment or reduce it to a syrup for topping your oatmeal or on toast. Dandelion and nettle leaves are good for both salads and soups during spring. Wild onions and garlic are also best during spring/early summer. Here at least.
During summer, apart from berries and some fruits, there are summer-mushrooms. You can still find salad-worthy greens and herbs and now mix them with the berries for a sweet and savory mix. Depending on where you are, there might be aromatic herbs, and you can bring cous-cous and make a locavore tabouleh salad. Again, remember oil and lemon. At a camp I was on as a child, we gathered wild grass-seeds for something similar to a tabouleh and for baking cookies. I don't remember which but I am certain it can be found on the nets.
Fall brings all the fruits and nuts and some berries. And more mushrooms. Obviously with mushrooms you need to know exactly what you are doing. Last year I seriously worked to expand my mushroom repetoire and I learnt a lot, but at the end of the day, I think I'll stick with the few I knew already. In my region, the best tasting wild mushrooms are button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles and porcini. We can easily find enough for a pasta dish or an omelette during an afternoon of foraging. Maybe with a desert of berry-crumble.
So preparing for that you would need pasta, eggs, sugar, butter and bread-crumbs. Could you bring cream? I think everything I've mentioned would be improved by cream - including that salad-dressings with cream instead of oil are very good for wild herbs and leaves. You can bring pasteurized eggs.
Winter is a tougher time for foragers but some berries and fruits improve with a little frost. And beach-foraging is excellent during the winter months - shellfish, seaweed and most beach herbs are almost better during winter.

A thing I learnt when canoeing as a kid was that very little little is needed to make a tasty meal based on rice or pasta. For a group of 12, you will need a kilo of dry pasta, but only a small cup of oil, two cloves of garlic, a tea-spoon of chili and a handful of herbs, either foraged or freeze-dried. Fried rice only needs ghee, an onion, a clove of garlic, herbs and spices and one of those little bottles of soy you get with your sushi. Obviously, you need to boil the rice first, so either you plan for that, or the fried rice is a leftover from another meal with boiled rice.

We also cooked a lot of tomato and bean based soups, which I think is even easier today when you can get cardboard boxes of both tomatoes and legumes instead of cans. I guess you are planning to make pan-baked flat-breads since you have packed yeast and flour. They go well with the soup.

A whole piece of bacon doesn't need refrigeration, and little bacon bits spice up almost everything.

Excuse me if I've listed things you have already planned - your question makes me dream of outdoor cooking, something I miss a lot these days with too much office time and too little hiking time.
posted by mumimor at 4:07 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a great foraging guide.
posted by vrakatar at 7:20 PM on January 20, 2016

sometimes we can forage for greens

Foragers need to know how to identify the most deadly toxic mushrooms, and never to eat the edible mushrooms that resemble them in case of misidentification.

It sounds like this is backpacking cooking, for groups. If the group helps with cooking, pointing out things that would be easy to assign to others would be helpful, along with ways to use the cooking to help bring the group together.

How to efficiently set up a cooking area for a large group.

Sanitation for group kitchens. Three-part dishwashing, handwash for everyone after bathroom (or latrine, shitter, honey bucket, whatever language they use) etc.
posted by yohko at 10:49 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

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