Camping cookbook author Patty Ruwoldt on outdoor cuisine (recipe for chicken stew included)

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With Memorial Day comes the start of camping season, and here's a new tool to put in your pack: Patty Ruwoldt's Open Range Cook'n: Home on the Range Cooking Made Easy -- A Camp Cook's Guide to Tasty Vittles. Not only does the book include recipes for satisfying meals you can cook in the great outdoors, but also songs and snippets of folklore that should spark up those late-night campfire sessions.

We caught up with Ruwoldt to talk about camping, cooking and the art of conversation, and she gave us an al fresco recipe to share: chicken stew for two.

Westword: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Patty Ruwoldt: You know, I don't know that I can pinpoint it on any one particular inspiration. I've been cooking and camping since I was seven years old, and even at that young of an age, I just always loved the whole outdoors and the smell of food outside, and so, that sort of was the starting point for me. I always felt real comfortable in the kitchen, and then we got involved with horses and bought a ranch, and I'd put these historical rides together with cooking and people were like, "You need to write a cookbook." And a lot of the time you'd come back from a long day's ride and you're having cocktails, your little happy hour and hors d'oeuvre, and then you're like, oh my gosh, I have to cook now. I wanted to be able to feed people something good to eat but that didn't take a lot of time, and that started a whole new chapter.

You don't need to have everything from scratch, you can mix and match. It's almost like decorating: They tell you, buy one expensive piece of furniture and then get all this other stuff at a discount store, and it looks fabulous. So let's pick one ready-made ingredient and then do the rest from scratch. So like a chicken, you don't have to cook it from scratch, you can go buy the chicken and then make this fabulous hominy stew with it. So it's just an accumulation of different experiences in my life and people just saying, "You need to put this down on paper." And my love of history and singing, which I can't sing worth a darn, but I sure try.

Can you talk a little bit about your decision to include recipes and stories in the book?

Well, the reason I wanted to include and incorporate that is that I really feel that the act of conversing -- it kind of started, I would say, my husband and I went out to dinner at Del Frisco's, and I'm sitting there, and I am watching these young people, they're not talking to one another. They're just texting. And then we were on another trip in Las Vegas, and at Toby Keith's I Love this Bar in Vegas, there are these college kids, and they're not talking to one another. And it got me thinking: Is it that they don't have something to talk about, or is it too time-consuming to talk? History is such a fascinating thing, a little tidbit of everything, and people like little tidbits, and sometimes those get the whole conversation going and you're not just stuck on one-sentence, two-sentence things. I really wanted to promote people communicating with one another by voice and storytelling, so I just thought it would be neat to incorporate that, and you can share the stories with your family.

I'm 52, and one of my girlfriends is forty-ish and she's in the dating world, and I've been married since I was in my twenties, so I haven't had to experience this change today. And I'm sitting there listening to her and going, "What do you mean, he doesn't call you?" You can't get any emotion, any feeling out of a text. It's just so blah. So it's really kind of sad. And I grew up with a lot of those songs, I was in Girl Scouts, and we'd sing in the car.

What would you say to people who think it's too inconvenient or difficult to cook while camping?

It all depends on the audience we're gearing it toward. If it's a family thing, I have four grandkids and I can tell you, they love pitching in, whether it's stirring something or peeling something, picking the chicken off the bone, whatever it is for that particular recipe, they love being a part of it, and you can do it together. For the twenty-year-olds with no family, no little kids, why would they want to do that versus eating a hot dog? Well, it's just a better flavor for the palate. You're out there looking at God's beautiful creation, the mountains, the trees, you're so stimulated not just visually but by the smell. Why are you ruining it with a hot dog? Why not take it to the next level of greatness, to have a wonderful meal that doesn't take too much time, doesn't cost more, and you and your friends are out there and can experience not only the beauty of Mother Nature, but also a great, great meal. You can eat a hot dog anywhere. And I'm not saying hot dogs are bad, they're good, I love hot dogs, but there's just something about knowing that you put this together, the way the flavors blend together, and it's a little bit healthier for you, so why would you want to ... I kind of liken it to the $2 bottle of brown-bag wine instead of the $10 bottle of wine. Why wouldn't you go with the better wine? What better way to spend your time than to just have this as part of the experience?

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I just want to encourage people to get out there, get off their computers and out of the city for a little bit and get out and experience the beautiful state that we live in. We are so blessed to be living in this kind of state with so many beautiful places, and you don't even have to go that far to experience it. It will clear the mind. I'll never forget, even at the darkest times in my life, when it was really some rough times, and we've all had them, just taking a drive and going and sitting on a riverbank is the best therapy ever. I know a lot of people are struggling, but you should never struggle that much. During the week you're sitting there, slamming whatever you can in your motuh, but when you're out with Mother Nature and you slow it down, it allows you to have that time to experience some very special things. And cooking really is a blessing to be able to do. It's a chore because we're busy, but if you're out there relaxing and enjoying yourself, it's part of the experience.

You can order copies of the book at www.openrangecookn.com. And as Ruwoldt puts it, "If you ain't cookin', eatin', or experiencin' Mother Nature, you ain't livin'!"

Keep reading for a chicken hominy stew recipe for the range:

This wonderful recipe is perfect on those cooler evenings when nothing satisfies quite like a bowl of stew. If you like it spicy, use the hot Rotel tomatoes

3 tablespoons flour Salt and pepper to taste 1 pound precooked chicken-breast strips (can use fresh chicken if you cook it first) One 16-ounce can hominy One 7-ounce can green chilies One 16-ounce can green chili sauce Two 14-ounce cans chicken broth One 10-ounce can Rotel tomatoes with green chilies 1 small onion, chopped Shredded Mexican cheese Broken corn chips or tortillas

Place flour, salt and pepper, and chicken in a plastic baggie and shake until well coated. Mix all the ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes. Serve with shredded cheese and broken corn chips or tortillas.

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