This week I am writing from my camper table in the lush setting of Assessippi Provincial Park. Every year my family packs up their trailers and enjoy a week of good ol’ fashioned camping in this nature playground. It is a major source of my culinary creativity — NOT the standard ‘hot dog and buns’ kind of camping. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a hot dog on a fire from time to time, but our week-long excursion pushes the limit of what our small camper fridges can hold.
Bursting with fresh ingredients and natural inspiration, we define our style of camping as feasting. We concoct theme nights and prep our selected dishes and put out the best food and beverage we can; then, we feast. Slowly working our way through the menu, enjoying every bite; we laugh, joke, and make plans the menu. Our style of camping is on raised sensory level. During one of our events, I decided that if this type of camping was a sport, then our team would be called the Flavour Cravers. It goes without saying that my suiting tag line of ‘Eat, Drink, and Eat,’ would be our team motto.
We could go on three European holidays with the amount of money we spend on groceries; but it isn’t about the money, it’s about family, food, and the strong inter-generational bond it nurtures. We have been coming to Assessippi since I was a child; my grandparents loved to come here and of course Baba was the ultimate feast creator. Each time I descend down into the valley and the broad expanse of Assiniboine water opens up to the horizon, my heart swells with warm memories and anticipation.
We never have a boring egg and bacon breakfast. We sample great locally made products; farm fresh eggs fried in the renderings of maple-cured pork; shared with the few people in the world who can’t judge you for loving bacon cracklings THAT much!!!
We keep our portions small, as to enjoy every flavour on the table, and minimize the need for stretchy pants and ponchos. We also have little waste, all the left overs get reinvented in the next meal, pushing our creative imagination to develop new and exciting dishes.
On steak night the menu consisted of more than just a great cut of beef. We cooked a massive rib steak on the coals Dad had spent all day developing in the fire pit. Baby potatoes with home-grown herbs; creamy and fresh, they were like garden gems that glistened with a little olive oil. Grilled asparagus, a classic appetizer, we love this veggie treat and enjoy it with all our meals. Tender, mixed-green salad with pickled onions and radish, a palate-cleansing course that included our own garden lettuces and herbs. And my favourite Ukrainian dish ever; small crepes cooked to perfection in a cast skillet, filled with dill and homemade cottage cheese, rolled and placed in a casserole then smothered in garlic cream sauce and baked until absolute. bubbling. perfection.
If that weren’t enough, we finished with banana chocolate trifle, vanilla cream, and fresh raspberries. We paired each dish with a wine, beer, or liquor and savoured the entire three-hour feast while being entertained by the camaraderie of family and crackle of our wood fire.
We also enjoy rib night, lamb night, wing night, and of course a fish night. While the meat dishes take the title, I have often found that my most favourite dishes are the freshest flavoured ones ... or whatever has the most garlic.
The buzz in our culinary sporting this year is my garlic chili dip. It is by no means a culinary revelation; but you certainly can’t beat a great dip that is versatile, flavourful and addictive. The addictive characteristic is what made me decide to submit it as this week’s recipe. We have been enjoying it at home as a condiment, on burgers, toasted tomato sandwiches and kolbassa; but when I put it out as an appetizer with a bag of artisan tortilla chips and sugar snap peas, it vanished.
The tanginess and spice combined with the rich garlic flavour get better with a day of marinating and like any addiction, another bowl is just not enough, I got requests for five-gallon pails of it!! I considered that to be the best endorsement a recipe could ever have.
I must also say that you couldn’t get an easier dip to make. No cooking involved and only a few ingredients, this recipe packs more punchy flavour than most. It has unlimited usage potential. I listed a few above, but it really goes well on any type of sandwich, we toss wings in it, we marinate it ribs with it, we used it to dip home-made French fries in, and its ability to liven up a veggie tray is unmatched. So while I call it a dip, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be awesome on just a plain ol’ hot dog.
Happy camping, Westman!
Garlic Chili Dip
- 1 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, real mayo)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 3 Tbsp Franks red hot sauce
- 1 Tbsp heaping Sambal Oelek (ground fresh chili paste) Add more if you prefer a spicier flavour. (Find it in the ethnic food section.)
- 2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced fine
- 1 tsp sea salt
Mix the mayo, sour cream, hot sauce, sambal, and ground pepper in a dish. Mince garlic and sprinkle with sea salt. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add to mayo mixture and stir to evenly combine. Adjust seasoning to your preferred level of heat.
Simple, flavourful, addictive.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 9, 2012