Ease into Winter with Backcountry-Approved Comfort Food
Delicious meals can make extreme circumstances feel a little friendlier. These recipes from a backcountry chef are a good place to start.
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The Blanket Glacier Chalet is only accessible by helicopter. Nestled deep in British Columbia’s Monashee Mountains, the A-frame has a satellite phone for emergencies but no cell service or Wi-Fi. Guests bring their own sleeping bags. The bathrooms are outhouses, and the makeshift shower consists of a plastic bucket attached to a pulley system. If you’re staying over, you’re not seeking amenities; you’re chasing the 60 feet of snow that falls in the area each winter. When I spent a week there with friends in early March, I wasn’t expecting much more than a wood-fired stove, but I was pleasantly surprised by all of the gourmet food.
The Schaffer family has owned and operated the “eh frame” since 1986. Al and Marion Schaffer recently passed the torch of daily operations on to their kids: 34-year-old Marty handles the skiing through his guide company CAPOW, and his 28-year-old sister, Heidi, handles the food. In my mind, her cooking elevates the chalet to five-star status. Topsheets, it turns out, are irrelevant when you’re eating maple-miso salmon in the middle of the wilderness. Heidi fed 16 hungry skiers five meals a day during our visit, using one oven and supplies brought in once a week via helicopter.
Her cooking created our daily rhythm at the chalet. We’d wake up early and trek to the outhouses—dubbed Contemplation Point—while she laid out a first breakfast of coffee, yogurt, granola, fruit, and warm muffins. As we listened to the day’s avalanche report, she plated our second breakfast of buttermilk pancakes or fluffy scrambled eggs. Then, while we suited up and formed a water brigade outside, passing buckets up from the mountain stream, she transformed the dining table into a smorgasbord of steak, homemade bread, deli meats, cheeses, and veggies for our picnic lunch. We’d check our beacons and head into the mountains. By 4 P.M., my mind only had room for après. Would we be welcomed home with freshly fried potato chips and artichoke dip? Or maybe warm cranberry-walnut bread and hand-whipped butter?
Heidi’s mastery of such nourishing comfort food in this isolated outpost is the type of inspiration we could all use right now. My friends and I missed an important week of COVID-19 news while we were in the backcountry: When we left, hand washing was the preventative measure. When we got back to our overflowing inboxes, markets had crashed, borders were closing, and quarantine was on the horizon. All I wanted to do was return to the chalet and find Heidi, apron on, blond hair tied into her signature fun bun, telling us to dig in.
The weather is cooling off again, and we’re all staring down a fall (and winter, and likely spring) of more social distancing, limited travel, and difficult news. While we wait for the winds to change, I keep turning to Heidi’s gourmet yet simple recipes for comfort. When I eat a warm, buttery piece of her walnut bread next to an open window, I can almost hear the swish of skins. I’ll be trying her ricotta and chive gnocchi next. Below, Heidi, the queen of isolated cooking, shares five of her greatest hits.
Roasted Garlic and Artichoke Dip
This savory dip is one of Heidi’s go-to, quick appetizers, usually whipped up after sneaking in a few runs in the afternoon.
- 1 whole head of garlic
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 14-ounce can artichokes, drained and chopped
- Cooking oil
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
- 3 tablespoons fresh tomatoes, chopped
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the top of the head of the garlic so the cloves are exposed, and place it on a parchment paper–lined sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roast for 30 minutes or until golden and soft. While the garlic is roasting, combine the mayonnaise, Parmesan, and artichokes in a mixing bowl. Once the garlic is done, remove it from the oven (but keep the oven on). Let the garlic cool, then mince the cloves and add them to the mayonnaise mixture. Spoon the combined ingredients into a shallow casserole dish sprayed with cooking oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is golden. Garnish with the fresh green onion and chopped tomatoes. Serve with crackers, raw vegetables, or fresh bread.
No-Knead Honey, Walnut, and Cranberry Bread
Homemade bread might be intimidating, but Heidi’s recipe is approachable. And if she can bake it in the backcountry and at high altitude, you can definitely do it in your kitchen. “Making the dough the night before is a huge time-saver,” she says. “This goes really well with a hefty slice of Brie cheese and some butternut-squash soup.” Her recipe calls for using a Dutch oven, but you can also bake the bread on a parchment paper–lined pan. The crust just won’t be as crunchy.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1½ cups room-temperature water
- ¼ cup honey
Add the flour to a large mixing bowl. Then add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other. Using a wooden spoon, stir the yeast into the flour on its side and the salt into the flour on its side, which helps ensure an even distribution of ingredients. Then stir the whole thing together. Add the chopped walnuts and cranberries to the flour and mix again. Pour the water and honey into a separate bowl, stirring with a fork to combine. (Water that is too warm or too cold can kill the yeast and prevent the bread from rising, so make sure you get the temperature right.) Then pour the honey water into your flour mixture and stir with the wooden spoon until all ingredients are combined. This is not typical bread dough—it will be a bit sticky, and the recipe does not require any kneading—so don’t be too concerned about the appearance. Just make sure the ingredients are combined well and that there’s enough room for the dough to double in size, then cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free spot. Let it rise for 12 to 18 hours.
Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter, and dust it with flour. Rub flour on your hands, and scrape the dough away from the sides of the bowl, gathering it in your hands as best you can. Transfer it to your parchment paper, and form it into a circular loaf. Once it’s shaped, the dough needs to undergo a second rise. Sprinkle flour over the top of the loaf, and loosely cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let rise for about 45 minutes. (Note that after the second rise, you should handle the dough as little as possible; touching it too much may cause it to deflate.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place your Dutch oven inside, and let it heat up for about 20 minutes. Once the dough has risen, remove the plastic wrap and score the loaf with a sharp knife (a shallow slit right down the middle will do the trick). Trim the parchment paper into a circle closely around the dough. If it doesn’t look like the dough has risen that much, don’t worry. The loaf will puff up when it hits the heat of the oven.
Remove the preheated pot from the oven and carefully transfer your dough into it, handling it as little as possible and using the parchment paper to carefully lift and lower it in. Place the lid on the pot, and return it to the oven for 35 minutes. Don’t open the oven during this time, and don’t take the lid off the pot (steam building up in the pot will help give it a crispy crust). After 35 minutes, remove the lid from the pot and continue baking for another 15 minutes. (If you’re using a baking sheet, simply bake the bread for 45 to 55 minutes.) Remove the loaf from the oven, and place it on a wire rack to cool. Brush a little extra honey on the top of the bread if you want.
Resist the urge to cut into the bread until it has cooled. The bread continues to bake on the inside even after it’s been removed from the oven, and cutting it too early may result something gummy or rubbery.
“This is one of my go-to salmon marinades, and I get asked for this recipe every time I make it,” Heidi says. “The richness of the miso and soy, with the zip from the ginger, makes the fish heavenly.”
- 4 single-serving salmon fillets (around four ounces each)
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 heaping tablespoon white-miso paste
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Place the salmon in a dish, cover with the marinade, and let sit for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and set the pieces of salmon on a foil-lined baking tray. Brush the top of the salmon with a little of the marinade using a pastry brush. Place the remainder of the marinade to the side. Bake for ten minutes for medium-rare salmon, and 12 to 15 minutes for well-done. (Note that cook time for salmon can vary, depending on the cut and type of fish, so pay attention. Press gently on the thickest part of the fish with a fork; if it flakes easily, it’s done.) While the salmon is baking, reduce the leftover marinade in a saucepan over medium heat until it has thickened. Glaze the salmon with the reduced marinade before serving.
Ricotta and Chive Gnocchi
Making pasta doesn’t have to be complicated, and this gnocchi is an easy place to start. “I always thought homemade gnocchi was intimidating and time-consuming, but this recipe is neither,” Heidi says. “It’s a game changer.”
- 1 pound ricotta
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup chives, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for frying
Place the ricotta in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, leaving enough space for liquid to drip from the cheese. Put a small plate over the cheese in the strainer and then a can or another object atop the plate to weigh it down. Let your setup press the ricotta in the strainer overnight in the fridge.
Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. In a large bowl, mix the pressed ricotta, egg, olive oil, Parmesan, chives, lemon zest, salt, and pepper thoroughly. Add the flour and gently stir it in, being careful not to overmix. Let the dough rest for ten minutes. Lightly sprinkle flour on your work surface. Grab a baseball-size piece of dough, and roll it out with your hands into a one-inch-thick log. Cut the roll into bite-size pieces, around three-fourths of an inch wide, and set them aside on a lightly floured baking pan.
Place your gnocchi in the boiling water in several batches. They will swirl around and sink. Once they float back to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon, and place them in a bowl of ice water for two minutes. Strain all the gnocchi, and place them on a baking tray lined with a paper towel. Then fry the gnocchi in vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan until golden brown on each side. Lightly season with salt and pepper, and pair with your favorite sauce. Butter browned over medium-low heat with sage leaves is a great, simple option.
Puff Pastry Apple Cinnamon Rolls
“These buns have become a staple at the lodge,” Heidi says. “I created them as a total experiment one day when I was out of yeast and flour. They are a great alternative to your traditional yeasted cinnamon buns and take half the time. What I often do is make them the night before, cover them, and keep them in the fridge overnight. Then when I’m up at the crack of dawn to start the day’s prep, I just turn on the oven and toss them in.”
- 1 box puff pastry
- ½ cup salted butter
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground clove
- ½ cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1 Granny Smith apple, grated
Take your puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw. This will usually take a few hours at room temperature. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dust your work surface with flour to prevent sticking, and roll your puff pastry into a rectangle about eight inches long.
To prepare the filling, slowly melt the butter in a pan on low heat. Then add the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, nuts, and grated apple to the melted butter. Stir until combined, then spread evenly over the rolled pastry, leaving just a little room on the sides.
Starting at the long end closest to you, roll the rectangle tightly into a cylinder. Pinch the seam so it’s well sealed, and roll the dough over once onto itself to make sure it’s tight. Using a serrated knife, cut it evenly into about 12 to 15 buns. Place the buns onto parchment paper on a baking tray, leaving about a fourth inch between each one. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top.