Thursday, October 21, 2010

Invented Recipe 1

I've been cooking almost every day. The recipes from my backpacking cookbook can be hit-or-miss, so recently I've gone trailblazing (GET IT?.) with dishes from my own invention. Tonight's turned out especially tasty, and it abides by the principles I learned for one-pot, dehydratable, nutritious meals:

1. A complete 1-dish meal is usually a carb base, plenty of vegetables, and some form of protein.

2. Don't use too much fat, and the fats you do use should be saturated. Oil won't dehydrate; it just makes things greasy.

3. Small pieces de- and re-hydrate better than large.

4. Cook everything completely to release juices for thorough dehydration and to prevent spoilage.

The above steps, while great for dehydrating, conspire to make dishes look like unappetizing slop. The same is true for the following, but I think es schmeckt! You can certainly change the chop and doneness for at-home eating.

(Note that measurements are approximate; I was adding and adjusting as I went. You'll also notice that there's no salt; this was absent-mindedness, but it tasted seasoned enough from the brats, cheese, and salted butter. I also didn't make a proper roux because I'm lazy. Improv!)

Cheddar Beer-Brat Stew
(I'm tempted to dub it MandelBrats, in honor of the recently late mathematician.)

2 12-oz beers
About 1 lb bratwurst (my package had 5)
1 large onion, finely diced
Enough butter to saute about 1 cup of each:
cauliflower (finely diced)
carrots (finely diced)
1 scant cup whole-wheat cous cous
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 cup milk
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 apple, diced

Puncture the brats so they don't asplode, and lay them along with the diced onion in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover entirely with beer. (I used Long Trail Ale, in honor of the outstanding Cheddar Beer Soup they serve at their Vermont brewery, and in honor of it being in our fridge.) Bring to a boil, and set to simmer until the brats are cooked through and the onions are soft.

Meanwhile, saute the cauliflower, carrot, and peas in butter until they're softened.

Once the brats are cooked, remove them from the beer and set aside until they're cool enough to handle. With the beer still at a brisk simmer, stir in the cous cous. Return to a boil for a few moments, and then remove from heat and cover until the cous cous is soft and has absorbed the liquid.

Dice the brats. Add the brats and sauteed vegetables to the cous cous. Incorporate the flour and dry mustard. With the heat on low, slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Cook until the milk begins to thicken. With heat as low as possible, (or off, if you have an electric stove that takes like 20 minutes to cool, like I do) slowly add the cheese, stirring to incorporate. Add the diced apple before serving.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

These Boots Might Be Made For Something.

I threw down 10+ miles on my hiking boots today. BAM. Keep in mind that these are the all-leather, major-breaking-in kind. And you know what? NO blisters. No sore spots, chafing, or other problems. I got some fatigue in my arches from the weight of them, but WHAT EVER. I'm not even sure how I'm supposed to know when they're broken in.

So here's my official shout-out to Scarpa, makers of really sweet hiking boots. They make walking 10 miles feel like nothing, especially after dancing all night in 4-inch heels at my friend's wedding!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Holy Crap Food Math!

I cooked my first backpacking recipe today. Peanut soup, with a bit of ginger and lime added as a personal touch. I ate a sample serving to check its palatability, and the rest is humming away in the dehydrator now.

Then I sat at my lovely color-coded calendar and calculated how much food I'll need to make. I tallied all the days I'll want pre-prepared food. Then I divided by how many servings each recipe provides. I was very generous. I didn't bother subtracting driving, city, and other non-wilderness days, which realistically will take up one or two days a week. I took out only the Grand Canyon trip (catered) and two weeks around the holidays when I hope to be in one friendly city or another, either out west or on a Christmas break back home. I was also generous with the amount of food. The recipes in the book say they make 4 servings (and the author is certainly familiar with the increased caloric demand of backpacking), but I calculated them to make only 3, given my habit of VERY thoroughly taste-testing everything I cook within reach.

174 days. Round up to 180 for easy math. Divide by 3 servings per recipe. 60 RECIPES! Holy crap! And that's only dinner!

I could safely do a lot less, given that I'll both eat on the road and buy at least some fresh and commercially-made foods. But still. 60 recipes! I'm glad I don't have a job. (As for breakfast and lunch: for lunch I'll want no-cook stuff like snacks, sandwiches, bars, and dried fruit. Breakfast TBD, but probably a lot of instant oatmeal or dried eggs, both of which I'll buy rather than make.)

This doesn't mean 60 different recipes, obviously. At home, I subsist on maybe three or four basic recipes for about 80 percent of my cooking. Today's peanut soup is a good approximation of a dish of vegetables, rice noodles, and homemade Thai peanut sauce that's one of my weekday staples. Give me a pasta with red sauce, vegetarian chili, and some sort of tuna noodle casserole, and and you've pretty much described my winter. But I must remember that I'm spoiled living in Boston surrounded by childless, food-loving friends. I go out or grab takeout at least a couple of times a week, and this culinary variety saves my lazy ass.

But I guess 60 is a good number. It's got a lot of factors. Should I make 5 rounds of 12 different recipes? 6 of 10? However the math works out, the point is that I have a lot of cooking to do. And if I want to do it at a reasonable pace (and if I insist on making my own soup stock, as I did for this recipe), I have to get going, and keep going, right now.

Thank God for planning. Thank God for time! Also: mmm, peanuts.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The trip needs a nickname. I usually call it "my trip," "the big trip," "when I go out West," etc. These are boring. I need something catchy. Flashy. Something that would look good in a logo cut out in chrome and plastered across the grill of a pickup. I need something that evokes this:

In 1983, Journey commissioned NFL Films to make a concert documentary. The epic results are totally worth the substantial difficulty in hunting the thing down. The movie is mostly about Journey roadies, a ragtag gang of rebels with no future but the next town and no lady but the open road. Load up your gear. We're going Frontiers & Beyond.

If that turns out to be just too epic or, alternately, not pretentious enough, the thesaurus suggested "Peregrination," of which I'm rather fond.