Fresh Off the Grid is composed of a Michael van Vliet and Megan McDuffie: intrepid road warriors, national park aficionados, and backcountry chefs extraordinaire. In August 2015 they quit their jobs, sold most of their possessions, and hit the road. From time to time they’ll be serving us up recipes and inspiration from a life well-traveled. Read below for their take on campfire sweet potatoes & chili.
When camping during the summer, it’s nice to have a fire. With its flickering orange glow, it’s the outdoor equivalent of mood lighting. Pleasant and cheerful, one can find endless enjoyment just watching the flames dance across the logs. But during the fall camping season, a fire becomes more than just entertainment – for us, it becomes a necessity.
As the temperatures start to drop and the daylight hours become increasingly shorter, having a fire is the best way for us to keep the outdoor experience enjoyable. When it’s really cold out, just existing outside be difficult. It might be fine when we’re moving around, but once we sit down the cold starts to creep back again. A campfire allows us a someplace to “be” in comfort.
This is especially true during the evening. With the sun setting around 4:30 in the afternoon, we often have to fight the urge to crawl into our sleeping bags at 6:00pm. But having a campfire can make all the difference. Now there’s warm and bright place to eat, drink, and hang out.
On colder days, the campfire has a strong gravitational pull and we often find ourselves subconsciously drawn towards it. While we love our cooking on our camp stove, it’s usually all the way over there on the picnic table – way farther away from the fire than we’d like to be. We’d much rather do our cooking over the fire if we can.
So last weekend we made baked sweet potatoes and chili, prepared entirely from our seat next to the fire. We started by wrapping sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and tossing them into the embers. Sweet potatoes can take a long time to bake in an oven, but when tossed right into the hot embers of a fire, they only take 30 minutes or so. While they were cooking, we chopped up an onion and sautéed it in a small pot. We then added some beans, tomato paste, beer, chili powder, and cumin and let that simmer away while the potatoes cooked. When the potatoes were soft to the touch, we retrieved them from the fire and assembled our meal.
On a cold day, it’s always heartening to enjoy a warm meal (especially spicy chili), but enjoying a warm meal next to a warm fire really takes things to another level. So if you’re going to be doing some late-season camping this year, don’t give up your seat next to the fire and make this right from where you are.
Chili & Baked Sweet Potatoes
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 14 oz can kidney beans, drained
- 6 oz can tomato paste
- ½ can beer
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- ½ tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Other optional toppings: Green onions, cheese, avocado, etc.
Wrap each of the sweet potatoes in heavy duty foil and nestle them into the embers of your campfire. Turn them every so often to ensure they cook evenly.
While the potatoes are cooking, make the chili. Over medium heat, warm the oil in a pot. Once hot, add ¾ of the diced onions (reserve the rest for topping) and sauté for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add the beans, tomato paste, beer (or other liquid, like broth), and spices. Stir well to combine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Once the potatoes are soft and cooked through (about 30 minutes total, give or take a bit depending on their size), retrieve from the fire. Carefully unwrap the foil. Use a knife to cut a slit in the potato, then top with the chili, onions, and anything else you have on hand. Enjoy!