Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Humble, Yet Delectable Potato(e)

I am not a Cliff Bar and coffee, nor a liver on beer alone sort of climber. I like real food, and while car(less) camping may reduce options, I'm not about to go without.

This last weekend was the annual Gear Swap at Rock and Snow, and I had stuff to sell. So, I had a choice -bring the gear, or bring my cooler. With a one-ass width and perfect height for sitting, it doubles as a camp chair, but the real reason I bring it is so I can have real eggs, fresh cheese and a packet of sandwich meat(for Teddy). And icy water, cold juice, un-melted get the idea.

But, autumn has begun to fall, and I figured, that with a little innovation, I could pack a full weekend's worth of good food that would be fine without being iced. You have to understand what an issue this is for me....

I am overly picayune about the freshness of food, and have always been so. Even as a kid, I would get grossed out by some of the food prep methods I witnessed, like when Kelly Hinkley's mom basted a Thanksgiving Day turkey with - UGGGHHHH - mayonnaise! This would NOT do, I thought, and there was no way on EARTH I was touching that bird. I can't recall how I got around it without arousing notice, but I do remember being extremely grateful, and knowing there was a God, when she whipped out the Knorr's Brown Gravy packet..... My own mom knew gravy, and how to create a wonderful sauce with the pan drippings. But Mrs H was a modern, platinum blond, 1970's divorcee; cooking was not the one way to a man's heart in her experience.....

I had been dreading the dinner, since the gravy is the binding ingredient in a T/Day dinner. It graces the potato(e)s AND the stuffing, and makes a dry bird palatable. Not to mention leftovers and the final base for soup stock.... I feared it would be green beans and cranberry sauce for me that year. Knorr's saved the event that year.....

And so - I will tell you that my potato(e) recipes to follow here are graced with the magic Knorr's Brown Gravy; surprisingly good, actually, considering how overly salty and otherwise tasteless most packet-based food products can be.

But back to the supposed reason for my food phobia...... Several years ago, one of my friends talked me into visiting a spiritual channeler, who would look into my eternal life, and explain where I'd been and what had happened while I was there...

At one point he mentioned my food issues, and how I felt a real need to insure the preservation/ preparation was properly done. He talked about how I would never - ever - order a deli sandwich consisting of something like tuna or chicken salad, which could have...gagggg, even writing the words....been sitting on a back counter courting Sal Monella and who knows what other unsavory sorts of characters.

It seemed, he said, that I had inadvertently poisoned, and subsequently killed, my own daughter. This was back in the medieval period, before refrigeration, you see. It wasn't totally my fault. But a mother guilt is not so easily diminished, as we have found through - well, certainly not through Freud. But somewhere. Who hasn't heard a mother exclaim "What did I do wrong!" whenever her darling(usually son) was naughty?

So - I poisoned my kid and was apparently skittish about having history repeat itself. And that's why I was a Tupperware Locked-In Freshness sort of girl(I DID love their old tv spots where the fruits and vegetables had deadbolt locks and skeleton key closures... Hmmmmm, it's all falling into place now....).

But first, I have to tell you how I took care of Teddy, who NEEDS meat! At least on Sunday during the trail work lunchbreak, when Dick pulls out roast chicken or a roast beef sandwich.... He won't STND to be excluded from the meat fest, and I can tell you - when teddy talks, people listen. He's part Jack Russel, and he is....persistent.

This was a quandary, because I just didn't know what meat, besides a stick of sausage, I could keep for two and a half days without eliciting my fear of poisoning a loved one. Of course, there was the old standby - canned tuna. But what to do about the (insert late night television horror music) dreaded mayo malaise?

Well - I came up with an idea while scouting my kitchen. I had figured that an onion(which will come into play in the potatao(e) portion of this program) would be okay if I sliced off a bit on Friday night, and kept it in a cool, shady spot for Sunday. This was risky, I tell you, but I thought the temps would probably be in the forties at night, and not rise above the low sixties.

Same with a green pepper, though his fist cut would come on Saturday morning(again - potoao(e) recipe following.....

And when the weather was sunny and warm, I did have a moment, or three, where I second-guessed my commitment. It was bad enough that I had brought a chunk of butter(you'll see...po(e).... But that HAD to be okay, since my mom had kept the quarter in the kitchen cupboard twelve months out of a year, shielded from evildoer microbes by only a plastic-lidded butter dish, and not even Tupperware!

So - the mayo-less tuna salad recipe secret ingredient was....balsamic vinegar! Yeah! I was saved. And - it was damned good, I can tell you. teddy like it too.

What I did was - Dice the onion, dice the pepper, and put them in a (sandwich-bag sized) ziplock baggie. Sprinkle the vegetable liberally with good ground pepper, and toss in a tablespoon or so of the balsamic. Shake it up, zip it good, toss it in another plastic sack(to protect my backpack from the hazard of a toxic spill - I guess maybe that was a bit of transference, but one has to care about something, don't they?).

Don't add the tuna! Let the vinegar do it's marinade mamba for the morning. At lunchtime, open that tuna(I used a can, because for one thing, those packet things are a price rip-off, but also because the portion would be too small to share with Teddy, and also because I wanted to have the additional moisture of the water - well, I had accidentally gotten packed-in-oil, and it was just right. Maybe add a little olive oil if you use water-packed or the rip-off packet).

Don't forget a can opener if you don't have a flip-top can, by the way. So, add the drained tuna to the marinated veggies, and shake it all about. Don't forget a fork either, I suppose I should say. Unless you want to use it on bread, and then you can sort of pour/squish the mixture out of the baggie.

I found this quite refreshing,. and will most likely repeat the thing this week. And Teddy was happy too, especially since he had to exert himself a bit to get to the corners at the bottom. Plus the licking! A dog loves to lick, as everyone knows, and Teddy was in seventh heaven. licking that baggie clean.

So...."What about the potato(e)s?" you are maybe asking. Finally - Here's the potato(e) part:

I bought a bunch of Red Jackets, but maybe I will try Yukon Golds next time. The point is - don't go with boring bakers. Go for the flavor a good potato(e) offers. You're not going to be skinning them alive, so utilize the thinner-skinned tubers.

For Friday night, it was sumptuous mashed potato(e)s and gravy. No more is needed for a comfort food feats, if you ask me. Saturday morning, I used the leftovers for a meal of home fries. Laced with the leftover Knorr's Brown gravy - oh, dear...yummy.

If you're going for the double duty dishes - you've got to plan and cook the batch all at once. Cut them up into small, but not too small, chunks. The smaller you go, the less fuel used to cook, and the faster you get to eat!

Don't start the water heating beforehand. Fill your biggest pot, but not too full; it's fine if the potato(e)s aren't submerged. Cut up all those potato(e)s and commit to reserving some of them for tomorrow's breakfast. Don't forget!

Start cooking, stirring on occasion to get the bottom ones atop and vice versa. While doing that, start the Knorr's Brown Gravy mix. When the potato(e)s are soft, but not quite mashable, remove the biggest ones from the pot and set aside. Those will be the home fries for the morning. let those cool, then put in a ziplock or some other container.

Back to your mashies....Don't forget to keep an eye on the gravy! Stir it often to avoid lumps and burning.

So - the potato(e)s are ready for mashing.....

Pour off a good amount of the water, into a container. You'll need some of it, probably, to get the right consistency, and since you're in camp, you don't want to waste perfectly good water.

Add some butter to the potato(e)s and chop them up a bit. Then add some pepper and sprinkle some dried milk on the top. There's already some water left in the bottom, so start mashing it all together. A camp fork is fine - no, I do not bring a potato(e) masher along on my camping trips.....


If you need a softer consistency, add some of that potato(e) water, but be careful unless you want a soup!

Done! Dish it out, or leave in the pot. Top with the gravy and dig in!

For breakfast, chop some onions and green pepper. Put a chunk of butter in a pot(don't use the fry pan, unless you have a big one.... Fry pan, I mean. Sheeeesh!).

Cut up the potato(e)s into chunks the size you prefer. Start cooking.

Warm up the leftover gravy from last night(if you saved any, that is).

Be sure to keep an eye on the tater(s)..... Don't let them burn. Cook until they're at least heated through, they were pre-cooked last night so that's not an issue, unless you didn't cook long enough. Then, it's an issue. Think about how crispy you like them; if you're like me - you like them crisy, and that means more butter and careful tending, as you need to cook longer without turning, but not tooooo long.

Done? Pour on some gravy. or not. And have a delicious hot breakfast.

That's it! Gotta catch the 2:51 Metro North to Poughkeepsie..... Hope you have as good a weekend as I intend to. Climbing tomorrow with a great partner, and then heading into town for the Fred Beckey slideshow.

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