Backpacking Meals: A Gourmet Holiday Outside

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A real chef cooks one, and you can too!

 

I’m looking for a different kind of holiday this year. An escape from cityscapes. A way to reconnect with my wild roots. A chance to avoid any more holiday jingles. Although while off backpacking I might be missing out on some of the traditional festivities, there is absolutely no way I’m going to skip out on the food.

With stuffing myself with stuffing in mind, I enlisted the help of a real live chef. We planned on cooking and dehydrating an entire holiday meal. Seattle-based Avry DiMaccio has been cooking for the better part of a decade in professional kitchens (RPM, Muse, Lola). They’re also a backpacker who knows “the sads of having to eat the same textures and the same bleak tastes in hiking food.” But there is hope! Chef Avry promises: “With a little planning you can eat like a king, or queen, or gender nonconforming royalty.”

We made a full meal. Join us:

 

Cornbread Vegetarian Sausage Stuffing with Apples

To me, stuffing is the most important part of the holiday meal. I have been known to make excessive (read: quadrupled) amounts of stuffing only to freeze it and enjoy for months after the big meal. I have one recipe I insist upon making: Silver Palate’s Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Apples and Pecans (we didn’t use pecans, but you might consider them …). Chef Avry was kind enough to oblige, and added their own flair.

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups bread cubes (sourdough, whole grain and cornbread—pro points for making your own)
  • ¾ cup white onion, chopped
  • 2 large apples, cored and cubed (feel free to leave peels on)
  • 4 vegetarian sausage links, crumbled (we used smoked apple sage veggie sausage)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped and de-stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped and de-stemmed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Melt half your butter in skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until tender and lightly colored. Transfer onion and butter to large mixing bowl.
  3. Melt remaining butter in same skillet. Add apple cubes and cook over high heat until lightly colored, not mushy. Transfer apple and butter to same mixing bowl.
  4. Crumble veggie sausage into skillet with rosemary and thyme and cook over medium heat until browned. With slotted spoon, transfer to mixing bowl.
  5. Add remaining ingredients to mixing bowl and combine gently.
  6. Spoon mixture into casserole dish. Cover dish with tin foil and set dish into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole dish to come halfway up the sides.
  7. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.
  8. Dehydrate (see tips below).

“Lightest, best backpacking meal ever,” said me.

“Surprisingly, dehydrated food retains its flavor really, really well,” said my photographer, Joe Santiago, who got to eat the rehydrated food with me as we made that really cool GIF.


Tips for Dehydrating

  1. Pick the right temperature. Check the suggested times printed directly on your machine.
  2. Let it dry. If your food feels soft, spongy or sticky, leave it in longer.
  3. Dehydrate different foods at the same time that require the same temperature. Makes sense, right?
  4. Slice all sliceable food to equal thickness and sizes. For stuffing, make sure your cubes are relatively the same size.
  5. Pat off any excess oil—that stuff can go rancid!
  6. Store your food in plastic zip-top bags, and you can just grab them and go!

Spicy Brussels Sprouts

It’s a good idea to be healthy, every now and then. Chef Avry took the classic Brussels sprouts side dish and elevated it. “Season your food,” they said. The crunch of this veggie was welcome in the traditionally mushy world of dehydrated backpacking food. And the heat cut through the rest of the meal, delighting my taste buds in a way I have not experienced in the woods.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup white onion, chopped
  • A healthy dollop of olive oil
  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts
  • ½ teaspoon curry
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon powdered cumin
  • ¼ tablespoon fresh thyme
  • ¼ tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cut Brussels sprouts in half and take burr off bottom. “Some of the leaves are going to come off. Let them go,” said Avry, which I took as life advice, as well.
  2. Cook onion in olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat until translucent.
  3. Add Brussels sprouts and seasoning—curry, garlic powder, cumin, fresh thyme and fresh rosemary.
  4. Remove skillet from heat as soon as Brussels sprouts turn a verdant green. They should be still firm to bite, but not raw.
  5. Dehydrate.

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Veggies that taste good and have a bite? Yes. And again, yes.” –me

“Brussels sprouts get a bad rap for being every kid's worst nightmare. But a plastic bag full of rehydrated-then-dehydrated food tastes about as interesting as it looks. Would recommend to a friend. Surprisingly delicious.” –Joe


Tips for Rehydrating

  1. Fruits and vegetables can last for up to one year, especially if stored in your freezer. If you’re going to eat them sooner, a cupboard should do just fine.
  2. Eat your dried meats within three months. (And store them in your freezer if not eaten within a month.)
  3. To rehydrate your food, simply add boiling water to just cover your food and let sit for 12-20 minutes.
  4. You can rehydrate in a zip-top bag, your camping bowl with a lid, or any other vessel that closes.
  5. Not into hot food? Add water to your zip-top bag, wrap in another plastic bag (for safety) and let it sit for a couple of hours as you hike. You’ll have a tasty meal ready to go when you’re done for the day.
  6. Pro tip: Add salt after your food is completely rehydrated.

Brussels sprouts

Delicata Squash

Chef Avry says the sweetness of the squash balances with the spicy, aromatic aspects of the seasoning. Delicata squash holds up well for dehydration. This whole meal is an exercise in balance. Basically, we are trying to not overcook anything and to pick foods that won’t fall apart in this harsh process of cooking, dehydrating and then rehydrating all over again.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small delicata squash
  • ½ tablespoon curry
  • 1 tablespoon powdered cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Halve your squash. Run spoon down channel to get the seeds and pulp out. Cut into quarter-inch half-moons.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine curry, cumin, cayenne pepper, onion powder and garlic powder with a splash of olive oil to make a sort of paste. Add squash and coat with mixture.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add spiced squash. Toss around in the hot oil until squash is soft, not mushy.
  5. Dehydrate.

“We’re continuing the delightful hot flavoring with squash that actually looks and tastes like squash in the backcountry. Amazing.” –me

“Squash is posh.” –Joe

Delicata squash

Turkey Jerky

Of course, a holiday meal wouldn’t be complete without a meat product to ooh and aah over. We picked turkey because, why not? “My job is done if you've eaten a good meal in the backcountry,” Chef Avry said.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small turkey breast (We used a frozen variety)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Slice your turkey into ¼-inch slices.
  2. Bruise rosemary with the back of your knife. Cook in olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Leave it in the skillet.
  3. In a bowl, mix together onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a splash of olive oil. Rub spices over turkey slices. “A little more seasoning than you think you should,” Chef Avry said.
  4. Add a little more oil to the skillet. Once oil is hot, seer the outside of the turkey, allow to cook through.
  5. Pat excess oil off and dehydrate.

“The rehydrating process for the turkey left a little to be desired. Make sure to use boiling water and let sit until fully hydrated.” –me

“Turkey & rosemary: the savory equivalent of PB&J.” –Joe

Turkey jerky

Apple Crumble

Every gourmet meal needs a dessert. Apple crumbles are easy peasy and delicious and rehydrate well. Here’s Chef Avry’s backpacking twist on the classic. Prepare to nom away.

Ingredients:

  • 4 apples, cored and cubed
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place apples in an 8 in. by 8 in. baking dish.
  3. Combine brown sugar, flour, rolled oats, cinnamon and butter in mixing bowl to create crumble topping.
  4. Spread topping over apples and bake for 35 minutes, or until top is browned.
  5. Dehydrate.

“This is the best backpacking dessert I’ve ever had. That includes my melted-ice-cream milkshake while I was starving during my thru-hike of the PCT, which is a pretty darn high bar.” –me

“Is this a meal I would prepare for a camping trip? Definitely. It packs light and keeps a lot of flavor. The apple crumble took me back to my favorite flavor of instant oatmeal—both tasty, but the full-on crumble was so much more satisfying. SO GOOD.” –Joe

Apple crumble

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