Snow camping dilemma
- tsfirefly Feb 14, 2008 07:10 PM
I'll be going on a snow camping trip soon, and I am in need of some menu ideas -- I am a former chef so the sky's the limit, but this time I have some real limitations:
First, everything must be carried in on either my or my fiance's back...over a mile of snow at 8000 feet, wearing snow shoes...and no, I'm not kidding.
Once at our destination, we'll have access to a stone fireplace, and we'll be packing in one single burner and one double burner backpacking stove. The fireplace has a bracket so we can hang things like stockpots, but there's no way I'm packing in any of my cast iron dutch ovens so that sort of fire cooking is out of the question!
Since we're going to be digging into a cabin buried in 20 feet of snow, keeping food cold until we're ready to heat it won't be a problem. :) I plan to do most real cooking at home and then just reheat and assemble on site.
We'll have no electricity or running water whatsoever.
I need two dinners, two lunches, and two breakfasts, each to serve two people. One breakfast will be an Eggs Benedict type creation, with prosciutto and Bearnaise. Otherwise, I'm open to anything. Difficulty is not an issue; however, I'm limited to simple reheating in very lightweight and small pots over very low BTU burners. Oh, and we're only packing in a limited amount of bottled water...additional water will be hard to come by since all water involves chopping through several feet of ice to get into the lake. Packing in good wine is a given, so wine suggestions would be appreciated as well.
I've checked all the camping food postings already here, but I'm hoping for some ideas that fit these criteria.
Well, I'm still thinking about food as I begin this, but I do have a few questions about the cabin and backpacking. Your tone says you're very familiar with the cabin, so I assume you've been there before? And that would mean you know what the trail hiking in is like. So I'm wondering if you can pull a sled (or even a huge plastic bin of some sort) behind your instead of putting everything on your backs? If the trail isn't so steep and/or rocky as to make that unthinkable, you could probably take a lot more stuff than you can backpacking. If the cabin is yours, or if you use it all the time and can arrange storage, you could leave a dutch oven up there. Anyway...
Anyway,snow... My brother called me this evening from Alpine, CA ('burb of San Diego), and it was SNOWING! The first things that pop to mind for me when I even hear snow are comfort foods: hot oatmeal with brown sugar and hot chocolate! So even if it's instant, take some along.
Eggs Benedict sound fantastic, but trying to get whole fresh eggs up the mountain intact sounds daunting. What about taking hard boiled eggs with you? My sister in law makes a really good creamed hard boiled egg over English muffins dish for her Mother's Day brunch every year. If it sounds interesting, I'll ask her for the recipe. I also like creamed chipped beef on toast for breakfast in really cold weather, but maybe I'm just strange.
When I was a kid, my mother used to make fantastic apple dumplings for weekend breakfasts. She made a super rich and flaky pie dough using actual beef kidney suet, then she'd roll the dough into fairly large rounds and pile the middle high with wafer thin apple slices mixed with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, a touch of salt, and butter. pull up the sides like a beggar's purse and seal firmly, then bake them in a moderate oven until they were browned nicely and the apples inside had almost turned to applesauce. The dumplings were quite large and served in a soup plate with warm slightly sweeted cinnamon milk poured over them. Okay, now I've got go to the butcher shop for suet and bake! Anyway, you could bake the dumplings at home, then just heat them by the fire.
You don't sound like the types to sit inside all day playing Scrabble, so I imagine you'll be out and about come lunchtime? Well, inside or out, mufaletta sandwiches come to mind. If you're inside, you can pan grill them. Make the olive salad before the trip and it will age nicely during the hike up!
For an indoor lunch, you can throw together a really fast and easy clam chowder from canned clams, canned corn, a bottle of clam juice, an onion, and I use instant potatoes as the thickener. Chop the parsley at home, and oyster crackers may be bulky but they're light. But I guess there's the real possibility they may be crushed on the way up. And don't forget the butter to float on top of the chowder!
Dinners... You just gotta do a couple of filets! Do 'em the old fashioned way with a to-size crouton under them to catch the juices and a nice cognac pan sauce to go over them. Take a small bottle of cognac and polish it off after dinner in front of the fire! Maybe an easy pilaf? Or bake foil wrapped potatoes in the embers...You're a chef. I don't need to tell you what goes with a filet!
In cold weather, I just find nothing more comforting or delicious than a great lamb stew. You can make that at home because it's so much better the next day or two. I like Irish stew, but I also like lamb stew with red wine. They're easy one dish meals, but oh so good and really special out in the frozen wilderness.
Brandy Alexanders in front of the fire for dessert! Do you guys have a bear skin rug?
I keep coming up with what sound like great ideas for the moment, then realize you won't have an oven, so... Never mind! Just enjoy, make it easy on yourself, and any chance you know someone with a helicoptor who can drop in your supplies? '-)
Thanks! There are some terrific ideas here, particularly a lamb stew. I was thinking about a cassoulet, but the stew would be much easier and just as tasty.
As for hiking in, I've hiked this trail every year for the past 31 years, since I was a little kid...it's extremely rocky and will involve a bit of climbing, but we'll be taking in two small sleds -- but they're going to be mainly for carrying water and firewood.
The cabin is a VERY rustic one-room building with only a gigantic fireplace and a huge wooden table with benches. When we closed it up last summer, I didn't think we'd be hiking in this winter...otherwise I would have stocked it with a dutch oven, a nice propane stove, and tons of firewood. Ah well, next year :)
The first things that came to mind were items I had on a week long snow camping trip in the Sierras while in college. Things like hot jello, pop tarts, instant oatmeal, freeze dried Mountainhouse meals, peanut butter in a squeeze tube, salami, pilot bread.
If you have to carry it on your back, you keep it light, mostly dehydrated, and compact. You keep preparation and cleanup simple by cooking things that just need rehydration, preferably in your eating cup, or their own packaging. And if it is cold, you want more calories, such as from butter, chocolate, etc.
Obviously you could make things from scratch. Take along plain gelatin packets, a good powdered dry milk (e.g. Nido), good teas, lots of chocolate, flat bread of various sorts, chicken or beef soup base, the best salami and dry cured hams, hard cheese, nuts, dried fruit.
We're actually very experienced packers -- we run a backpacking camp in the Sierra -- so the thought of taking pilot biscuits and anything in a squeeze tube on this particular trip is out of the question! :) The goal here is a complete foodie menu, and weight isn't a high priority...I just didn't want to pack in my cast iron pots, that's all...
If you get those heat and chill bags, you can make almost everything at home, like the stews, and just boil the bag and not worry about cleaning up.
If you're up for packing dough, I saw a food tv show where they put dough w/ butter and cinnamon sugar in an orange peel, wrapped with foil, put it in hot coal and made cinnamon rolls. Nothing to wash with that either, plus you can scoop out the fresh orange and have that.
Sounds like a lot of work! I know people who do that but none have expected gourmet meals with it, just a bag of jerky or whatever.
These are both fantastic ideas! Thanks...
Yeah, most of my friends think we're nuts to do this for fun...but hey, if we're going to go to this much work, then we're going to enjoy every minute of it -- including the menu! :) Plus, as a former chef, we don't tend to stick to normal backpacking food, either -- we're willing to pack on extra weight in exchange for the payoff.
I think I'd be getting out the dehydrator, after setting the menu, and drying whatever can be dried!
If you haven't already, it sounds like you should invest in William Rubel's "Hearth Cooking". He's the expert on cooking in a fireplace. Many of his recipes call for cast iron cooking implements, which you've said are not available. There is a wonderful sounding mulled wine called "the Bishop", which involves roasting an orange studded with cloves and adding it to the wine or port, and then flambeeing the whole thing. Very atmospheric. If you're interested, I will post the recipe.
I can't help asking - where is your cabin? It all sounds so wonderfully adventurous and romantic.
By the way, if you haven't heard of it, one method described in the book is string-roasting. The French call it "a la ficelle". If you can put a hook in the ceiling or the wall above the fireplace, then all you do is suspend the duck, turkey, leg of lamb, etc. from a string in front of the fireplace, twist it around a dozen times, and let it go. It rotates one way, and when it's finished, the momentum rotates it in the opposite direction. There are quite a few "zero gravity" recipes like this, which also involve burying the food in the ashes. You should definitely get the book.
We run a backpacking camp in California in the Sierra...at about 8000ft elevation, in a location that must be hiked into...no cars at all, and all equipment and supplies must be rowed across the lake into the camp. I close up the site at the end of the summer, and occasionally we are able to snowshoe into it in the winter. The "cabin" is nothing more than a one-room building, built in 1936, with a huge fireplace and a long wooden table/benches. In the summer it is more fully outfitted as a staff hangout zone, but in the winter it's pretty bare.
Usually we build snow caves to sleep in, but the goal of this trip is completely different...not a ton of exertion, lots of relaxation by the fire, some terrific food, some amazing stargazing from the middle of the frozen lake, and most of all -- SILENCE! :)
When car camping away from campgrounds with running water, I try to budget 2 qts of water per person per day. This covers drinking, cooking, and water-frugal dish washing. 2 gallons of water is not a trivial amount to carry a mile through snow. Most snow campers try to bring enough fuel so they can melt snow in camp. If using the fireplace I'd try setting pots of snow, damped with some water, near the fire to see if that heat can melt it.
We'll have plenty of fuel, and we will be melting snow and possibly breaking through the ice to retrieve it from the lake -- but we'll still be sledding in as much water as we can, just to make life a little easier this time. I've installed a hanging hook inside the fireplace to hang buckets of snow to melt, too -- just in case.
Thanks for the guidance on how much water to budget, too -- we budget differently for backpacking and we generally plan on reaching water sources daily anyway, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect this time.
Hi there--I know you mentioned having seen all of the camping posts, but I wanted to draw your attention to this article on the chow/editorial side of the house in case you missed it. Unfortunately, it leans more towards summer camping, but, still there are some terrific ideas esp in the replies. http://www.chow.com/stories/10562
Have fun! Please report back on what you end up doing.
tsfirefly, have you gone yet? My proudest snow backpack culinary feat was making a birthday cake for my son at Ostrander hut--- so if you're from the Sierra you'll know that means I carried everything 13 miles on skis. I made it out of ladyfingers and chocolate pudding-- not instant but a from-scratch old-fashioned cornstarch pudding using good chocolate (and that Milkman 2% milk powder.)
If you're bringing in water, you obviously don't want to make pasta or something and dump the cooking water. If it's cold soups and stews keep hot longer and keep you hydrated even if you're drinking wine. They're also easier to clean up with limited water than are pots after frying (I've made chilaquiles backpacking, which was satisfyingly cheesy, but horrible to clean up). Don't you melt snow, by the way? A favorite soup that I make while camping, rather than entirely pre-make at home, is chicken coconut milk soup with galangal. I bring frozen cut-up chicken breast along with a couple of chiles in a ziplock, and prepare a cheesecloth pouch with galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves, and then the soup goes together pretty quickly. I put bok choy or some green in too if I can bring it, and ramen noodles that cook instantly.
I personally wouldn't want to tie my plans to a cooked lunch--- you can always upgrade jerky and gorp to pate and a cheese plate.
I hope you post a report!
I just realized I forgot to post the report...
As luck would have it, we chose the one weekend with the highest snowfall and lowest temperatures on record for the past 35 years... The 2-hour walk in ended up being a 7-hour trek, with powder up to our waists despite our $300 snowshoes. We arrived in pitch blackness, but honestly what made the trip so worthwhile was the food!
Here is our final menu --
Cheese platter (don't remember, but probably a caramelized onion CA cheddar, a Shaft's Blue from the foothills, a mimolette, and an aged goat)
Arugula salad of roasted pear, walnuts, stilton and bacon
Lamb stew with figs and preserved lemons
Roasted and mashed chipotle yams, cooked in the fire
Guaranda and brandy chocolate fondue
Vino Noceto "Nutz" wine
Eggs Benedict with prosciutto and Bearnaise
Grilled NY cheddar cheese, caramelized onion, cilantro and chipotle cream sandwiches
Roasted tomato soup with serrano cream
Citrus marinated Sevillano olives (from our orchard) and roasted garlic
Salad of roasted baby beets and herbed goat cheeses
Pan seared sea scallops with tropical fruit salsa
Gnocchi with lemon cream and prosciutto
Triple ginger spice cake with meyer lemon and homespun local honey (baked in an orange shell in the fire)
Water's Crest gewurztraminer
Green tea muffins
Leftovers -- I don't exacty remember, but I think it was some sort of omelet with whatever leftovers we had!
So that's it! It was a fabulous trip, and thanks to everyone for posting suggestions -- which I obviously did use!
By the way, we did pack in water, but we ended up melting most of what we needed. Melting snow is a hugely time consuming and labor intensive project, but all in all, everything worked quite nicely.