Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday. I love cooking a huge meal and enjoying it with my friends and family, lounging in a house stuffed with good smells, and sharing all of the things I’m thankful for. But this year is going to be a little different – we’re going on a camping and climbing trip for Thanksgiving!
I’m used to having a traditional Turkey day, with a big bird all the trimmings, where I cook in my kitchen and can control most of the variables. But the things I love most about camping – carrying only what is necessary, cooking over a fire and being outdoors for long periods – are antipodal to my ideal Thanksgiving meal. I’ve spent the last couple of days brainstorming ideas for cooking Thanksgiving dinner in camp, considering what can be prepared beforehand and what we can cook over the fire, then narrowing down the options into something delicious, unique and feasible.
And did I mention the four of us are driving 10 hours to the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas before we stop to eat? This year will be nothing short of an adventure, and I’m definitely up for it! Here are my plans for a 2012 Thanksgiving Camping Trip…
Every Thanksgiving I start with a general theme for the meal. This year I’m aiming to keep it simple and flavorful with as little in-the-field prep as possible, by using lots of fresh herbs and citrus to enhance the natural flavors of the food. I love how parsley, sage, rosemary and lemon combine in a heady, earthly blend which mingles naturally with the al fresco nature of eating in camp.
I’m such a sucker for turkey at Thanksgiving that I’ve resolved to roast a big turkey breast before the trip and pack in sliced breast meat in addition to something we cook in camp. I can’t decide between smoked turkey legs and marinated whole Cornish game hens for the main dish. Both options are exciting and delicious and risky and delicious. I must decide, but this I know – we’ll have some good breast meat as a back up if neither of these options can be pulled off.
One of my buddies is gluten-free, so I’ve spent a lot of time considering how to make a tasty meal sans the usual bread-heavy items. This year I’ll try out a new recipe for wild rice stuffing with hazelnuts and cranberries, and maybe I’ll throw in some mushrooms and celery for a bit more texture. I’m curious to see how this will turn out, so I’ll make it beforehand, test it, then prepare to reheat it in the dutch oven at camp.
Marinated in olive oil and herbs beforehand, we’ll grill kebabs of pearl onions, brussels sprouts and butternut squash over the fire. A variation on the traditional roasted vegetable medley, this will be easy to prepare and fun for the friends to grill while sitting around the campfire.
Obviously Thanksgiving isn’t complete without dessert, so I’m planning a new home-made recipe for pumpkin-pecan empanadas. I’ll say no more about it for now, except that I’m very excited for this challenge.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to cook this feast in camp. We’ve had burn-bans for so long in Texas I rarely consider cooking over a fire to be an option, but Arkansas should be another story. Grilling is the primary method I think we’ll use, whether its to grill the meat and kebabs or even just as a stable surface for the dutch oven. I’d like to use fire forks (as I call them) to cook rolls and marshmallow right over the fire. And the dutch oven will be perfect for reheating the stuffing and turkey breast. I’m also packing my trusty Coleman camp stove for backup prep and other meals.
This year I’m especially thankful for the wonderful people in my life – my friends that are up for anything and always pushing each other to learn more and do better, and my family who are continually supportive of my passions, even when it means I won’t be home for the holidays.
I can’t wait to write about this next adventure. The food is only the beginning!