Sunday, February 2, 2014

Laziness leads to a lifetime of cooking

Roasted salmon on saffron couscous
and ratattouille with a fresh bean salad
and herb vinaigrette dressing. 
More
about that later.
During my enlistment with Boy Scouts I learned very quickly if a guy could cook to the point where other people liked it, he could avoid a whole lot of more arduous tasks. While other kids hunted up firewood or tried to scrub pots clean in icy cold streams, all I did was cook a quick camp meal.

My biscuits baked in a reflector oven made of tinfoil did not have that rock hard  bottom so many had.  My meats were evenly cooked, not burned on the outside and raw in the middle. It became automatic when chores were assigned at the beginning of a camp out. Tim, you cook.  All Right!

That skill served me well again in college where to make it through I had to work for my board in a dormitory kitchen, and it almost got me fired. As quickly as I could I weaseled my way from dishwasher to cook's helper to cook. Eventually I worked my way to breakfast cook. It took some experimenting, but attempting to make breakfast palatable almost led to my downfall. Anyone who has eaten in a dormitory will remember rubbery fried eggs, yolks as tough as a bad steak. The way we did it was we made the eggs on a grill in the back kitchen and put the eggs into a pan to be served from a steam table. What made the eggs hard was not the original frying. What happened was they kept cooking while they waited on that steam table for someone to serve them. 

By communicating with the servers I found I could lower the time on the steam table by linking supply to demand. Also, I didn't cook them all the way done. I left them a little undercooked. That way they completed the cooking process on the steam table and the result was fried eggs with soft yolks. The new problem was, word got around and more people started eating breakfast.

At least in those ancient days, college food service made money on breakfast. On a meal ticket you paid for breakfast, but it was the lowest attended meal of the day, week, month, year.  The savings added up. Now all of a sudden there were lines for breakfast. A fellow who lived down the hall from me told me he only went to breakfast when he knew I was cooking. During that period, our regular kitchen supervisor was replaced by a woman from another dorm. She watched me carefully finally almost screamed at me, "those eggs aren't done!" I explained my process to her.  "Well, that's not how we did it at Sims (the dorm she came from)," she said.

And I told her, "This isn't Sims.  Our people like breakfast." I found out later she tried to have me fired partly for insubordination and partly (at least rumored) because too many people were coming to breakfast and the kitchen was losing money.

Later in life, my skill again served me when I started messing about on boats, particularly on longer voyages. On one extended voyage to Hawaii, there was another fellow who loved involved breakfasts and I liked major dinners, so we split the chore along that line.

Through 24 days at sea we were frustrated constantly by head winds and had to tack often to maintain our course. The result was the trip took a lot longer than expected. By the third week we began to ration a little just to be careful.  Early that week we caught a couple of albacore and I started substituting, alternating one night of albacore, with one night of regular food. Eventually it grew to two nights of albacore and one night of regular food. The only break we got was one day catching a mahi mahi. We had some sourdough starter on board so I made a breading of that and crushed croutons and fried it.  A 10-pound fish disappeared in minutes.

The next night I pulled out an albacore filet and noticed something I hadn't before. Looked at from the end, the filet resembled a pork chop.   Sooooo. I cut the filet that way, not into slabs but what resembled a chop cut off a pork loin. The result was perfectly shaped pork chops. I opened a couple of pork flavor Ramen noodles packs and seasoned the meat with the Ramen flavor packs.

When it was ready I called them to the table and as was my habit I went up and took the helm while everyone ate. From below the first thing I heard was: "Oh man, where did you find pork chops?"  Just wait, I thought.

The noise from below subsided as the eating began.

And then came the cry of realization, "Oh crap, this is TUNA!"

I laughed quietly to myself and then brought the boat back on course after losing focus for a moment.

I have no secrets to my success unless it is the old adage "keep it simple, stupid." Simple and basic usually provides the best, generally accepted meals and are much more difficult to mess up.
At times I have gone to recipe books and that is what that picture at the top is all about. I mean, who the hell would even have just the ingredients mentioned in the title, let alone all the other little tidbits probably called for in the recipe.

 A few years ago a dear friend of mine named Lael Morgan set out on a round the world voyage with her husband.  They got as far as Juneau, Alaska, where she left the boat and him. The result of that voyage was a cookbook Lael wrote which she called "Cooking on your knees."  It appears some publisher changed the name to "Woman's guide to boating and cooking."

I loved the premise.  Look in any cookbook designed for boats and try to find one recipe that you can make while you are pounding through 20-foot seas with the boat heeled to a 35 degree angle while eggs and pans fly by your head at irregular intervals. And, that's not to mention all the exotic ingredients no one could find on any self-respecting boat to begin with. Those recipes might work on a yacht tied securely to land where you could run up to the nearest gourmet shop, but beyond that, well, just NO.  That picture at the top is an example from a boating magazine. On a real boat you might have the fish and a pack of Ramen Noodles.

Now, here's one of mine

In a skillet fry some sliced potatoes. in butter  Once they are almost crisp, pile in whatever vegetables you can find.  Broccoli and cauliflower work great for this. You actually steam the vegetables in the vapor rising from the potatoes. When the vegetables are just about done, cover with any cheese you like. I've used everything from Kraft singles to shredded parmesan.  Could throw in some pepper or some garlic.  And onions; I almost forgot onions, as many as you can stand and cook them in the butter with the potatoes. If your skillet will handle it, put it in the oven just to melt the cheese, otherwise let it melt on the stove top. It's known in lower boating circles as Medium Famous Orca Jones vegetable mess. Rib sticking food and one pot.

And why is it when the sun finally shines on the downhill slope to spring, thoughts of the big ocean intrude into the mind.

1 comment:

  1. Gerry lived in a house with four other guys during college. The idea was that each of them would cook and clean one night each week, and they'd go out on weekends. Gerry is quite a health nut, and he knew millet was really good for you, but he didn't find any sources nearby, so he bought a bag of birdseed and cooked it up for his roommates. And, THAT is how he achieved permanent, full-time clean up duty. Still.

    ReplyDelete

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“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

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Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

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Things sports announcers say

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"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

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Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

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Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

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After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

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