Camping and Cooking in the Shoulder and Colder Seasons

a row of Rivians ready to drive

Erin in her Bivy Suit

We had the opportunity to go to the First Annual Gary's Jamboree last month. Hosted by the Bay Area Rivian Club and the Sierra Nevada Rivian Club, you couldn't ask for a nicer bunch of people. And though camping in September in much of California can be delightful, an early season rain storm at 6,000 feet made for a chilly few days. 

Everyone had their own tricks for dealing with the cold weather. So I thought I'd share some here!

One camper kept cozy in a Bivy Suit. She had the turquoise version which had strong Gumby vibes for those of us old enough to know who that is. More practical but just as cozy as a snuggie.  

Dog with lake behindMatthew and I brought a wool army blanket to toss over our sleeping bags. And CJ and Stephanie leveraged the power of their Rivian R1S and brought an electric blanket. 

Zelda the super pup reportedly did a fantastic job of keeping the kids in her family warm, though she reportedly slept on top of the youngest member of the family. 

But the most time honored way to keep warm while camping is to cook and eat warm food. We knew that we would be getting to camp pretty late on Friday night, so I prepped as much as I could back at home. Sure enough, it was quite dark by the time we were making dinner, but our Thunderbolt R1T Camp Kitchen is so well organized that getting our dinner ready was a snap.

chicken and dumplings on the Rivian R1T camp kitchen stoveI adapted a recipe for chicken and dumplings from the New York Times, that I make quite a bit at home to be camping friendly. The result was more than enough food to share with folks who appreciated the warmth of eating a cozy meal. Here's my version:

At home:

Ingredients for the Chicken Stew:

2 pounds bone in, skin on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 stalks celery, choped
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into large chunky pieces
4 sprigs thyme
4 cups of chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more as needed
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 large leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced

Ingredients for the dumplings and finishing touches:

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¾ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup parsley, flat leaf if you can find it, finely chopped (optional)


Preparation:

1) Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches if needed, sear chicken, skin-side down, until deeply golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook until it is browned on the other side, another 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large plate, and pour off all fat into a measuring cup. (You should have about 5 tablespoons, depending on the fattiness of the chicken.)

2) Leaving all the browned bits in the pot, return 2 tablespoons of fat to the pot. Add onions, celery and half the carrots. Season with salt and pepper and cook on medium heat, stirring to scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook until vegetables start to soften, about 4 minutes or so. Remove the crisp chicken skin from the thighs and return chicken to the pot along with thyme and 8 cups of liquid. The liquid could be all chicken stock, or half stock half water. Simmer, uncovered, until chicken is completely tender and liquid has reduced by about ¼, about 30 to 40 minutes.

3) Transfer chicken to a shallow bowl or cutting board to cool. Strain the stock (you should have about 5 cups; if you have less, you can add water to make up the difference) and wipe out the pot.

4) Heat remaining 3 tablespoons chicken fat along with 1 tablespoon butter (if you don’t have enough chicken fat, use enough butter to equal 4 tablespoons of fat) over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and stir constantly until it’s all a pale golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.

5) Slowly whisk in reserved chicken stock until no lumps remain (it will thicken considerably at first) and bring to a boil. Add leeks and remaining carrots, season with salt and pepper and lower the heat to simmer.

6) Remove bones from the chicken. (I stash the discarded bones and cartilage in the freezer for the next time I make stock. I put the tough dark green parts of the leeks in the same freezer bag.) Shred the meat and add to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is nicely thickened and carrots and leeks are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

7) This is enough stew for six healthy sized portions, so determine how much you want to take with you camping and package that into a container. I took a 1 quart plastic soup container (like you might get with takeout) for the two of us and ended up feeding several more folks.

8) In a small portable container (like a half quart deli with tight lid) combine the flour,  baking powder, salt and pepper for the dumplings.

9) Measure out the ¾ cup buttermilk into a container that can travel in your cooler (I used a jam jar with a snug lid).

At camp:

1) Warm up the chicken stew over medium heat. Use a pot with a tight fitting lid and which has enough room on top to allow the dumplings to puff up.

2) In a medium bowl, mix together the buttermilk, egg and melted butter. Add the dry ingredients that you measured out at home and mix just to combine.

3) Drop spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture on top of your chicken stew. Fit the lid on top and allow them to steam for 18-22 minutes. When you think they're done, cut one open to ensure it looks cooked all the way through. If it needs more time just replace the lid and keep cooking a bit longer. 

4) If you're feeling fancy, sprinkle with chopped parsley and fresh cracked pepper.

NOTE - The chicken skin, re-crisped and sliced makes a great topping for salad. Kind of like bacon bits. I use the whole dumpling recipe even if I only take some of the stew because with just one egg, it's difficult to reduce the quantities. That said, nobody has ever complained about too many dumplings.  


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