"It's schlepping season," I said to my friend Sarah.
"You know about schlepping?" she responded. "It's Irish?"
Planning, buying, cooking, packing, unloading. You betcha I know about schlepping!
After Memorial Day everyone seems to want food carried somewhere. There are beach trips, picnics, camping expeditions, reunions and dinners-on-the-ground.
For 20 years my family's been making weekend trips to our country cabin. "Can so-and-so go?" a child asks. Sure. You're in the car. "Hey, Mom, so-and-so can't eat [insert three items essential to your weekend menus]."
Or maybe you have that perfect place at the beach. At least it seemed that way in the brochure.
Arriving late after five hours in backed-up Chesapeake Bay traffic, you find the refrigerator is two cubic feet, the stove runs on propane and there is none, the raw chicken that you packed has bled into the potato salad and you forgot the wine.
Hey, these things are fun. So relax. A good plan is all it takes.
There are several specific and valuable things about schlepping food that I have learned over the years. Tossed salad shrinks, rice expands. Frozen soup and stock cool an ice chest about as well as frozen water and you can eat them. A smoked turkey breast can be served 489 ways and wastes no space if you fill the breastbone cavity with that little bag of dried cherries you need for the sauce. I can carry a pound of dry spaghetti and a half-pint of frozen pesto in my pocketbook.
It feeds four.
An empty jug-wine box is great for packing a lot of stuff. Napkins, paper towels and sponges go in one section, little glass jars of olives, mayonnaise and capers are protected by rice and granola in another. Lined with four layers of newspaper, the box is a good cooler.
Once I carried all the food for a cocktail party for 50 to New York in two Carlo Rossi boxes.
Well, everything except the 150 tiny pastry shells I had labored over for hours. They were left in the freezer, which brings up another important point. Plan well and then read your lists.
More than once I have found salvation in a can. My vegan salad is a regular at our Flickerville Farm Fourth of July party. Drain cans of whole kernel corn, black-eyed-peas, kidney and black beans and sliced black olives. Add lots of cilantro, lime juice, onion, bell pepper if you have it, and chili powder. That's it. Some people spoon it, some scoop it. I came up with this recipe for my daughter who not only does not eat meat, but does not eat fat. And maybe you thought you have problems?
Preparing and transporting a dish to a reunion or some other occasion involve entirely different considerations.
I'll never forget the July reunion in Georgia where I watched my beautiful tomato aspic melt into a gelatinous red blob with a flotilla of olive bits and baby shrimp. And as much as I have tried to forget it, I still recall a red cabbage that I speared with marinated shrimp, which then dripped over the table like some exotic flora in a rain forest.
It is very difficult to impress the boss or your cousin Caitlin while you're trying to coax your molded pate back onto the crystal compote.
Stability. It's a good concept. That's why there are so many potato salads at picnics.
Deviled eggs are stable. Egg-and-caviar pies are not. Blackberry cobbler is stable. Blackberry mousse is not. Waldorf salad is stable, but it's awful.
Don't be afraid to cook that bourbon-basted ham or that barbecued brisket one more time. If everyone has always loved your favorite culinary contribution, there is no reason to think it will not be loved again. You know the rule. Don't buy new clothes for the cruise!
This is fun, remember? Don't get fartootst.
Grilled (or Roasted) Pork Loin with Tomato Marmalade Sauce
(10 servings plus leftovers)
This is a recipe designed for travel. The loin of pork is braised in the oven and then frozen to make the trip. When you arrive it likely will be defrosted. Rub the spices on the pork and then briefly grill it for great flavor. If something should interrupt your grilling plans, the meat is ready to eat without more cooking. Read on for how to use the leftovers for other easy meals.
Second Time Around: Make sandwiches of thinly sliced pork and lettuce tucked between slices of toasted olive bread spread with chipotle mayonnaise. (Chipotle chili peppers are dried jalapenos. To make chipotle mayonnaise, soak 2 chipotle peppers in 1/4 cup water for 10 minutes. Seed the chilies, then chop them and combine with 1/2 to 2/3 cup of mayonnaise, or to taste. Drained chipotles in adobo sauce may be substituted.)
Third Time Out: Julienne the remaining pork and toss with sugar snap peas, snow peas or shelled peas (raw or blanched) or a combination of the above. Add thin strips of scallions and dress with soy sauce mixed with dark sesame oil. If you're in the middle of nowhere, use canned, drained baby limas instead of fresh peas.
For the roast pork:
Nonstick spray oil
5 to 7 pounds boneless pork loin
About 2 cups apple juice
1 medium-size sweet onion, sliced (preferably Vidalia or Walla Walla)
For the pork rub:
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 recipe Tomato Marmalade Sauce (recipe follows)
For the roast pork: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a roasting pan (not hugely larger than the pork loin) with nonstick spray oil.
Place the pork loin in the roasting pan and pour enough apple juice over it to reach halfway up the loin. Place the onion slices over the pork, cover with foil and roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes per pound or until the meat registers an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
Remove from the oven and let the meat cool in the juice. When it is cool, wrap in aluminum foil and freeze.
Before continuing, defrost the pork roast.
For the pork rub: In a small bowl, mix together the garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, paprika, brown sugar and salt. Rub the loin with the spice mixture and allow it to sit for about 2 hours before grilling.
Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill. If using a gas grill, preheat on high and then adjust to medium. When the coals are all gray but still hot, grill the pork about 4 inches above the fire, turning the meat to expose all sides to the heat. So that all of the juices will be retained, be careful not to pierce the meat. The meat is ready when it is warmed through and has a nice brown finish, approximately 30 minutes. Serve with Tomato Marmalade Sauce (recipe follows).
Per serving (based on 15; without sauce): 253 calories, 45 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 136 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 202 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Tomato Marmalade Sauce (Makes about 1 cup)
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 thin slices lemon, unpeeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce is syrupy, about 45 minutes. Serve warm.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 26 calories, 1 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 79 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Black Japonica Rice and Porcini Mushroom Salad (4 servings)
Here's one to take to the class reunion! Or to a family gathering if you still need to impress Aunt Hilda. Black Japonica rice is a designer rice developed by the Lundberg Farms in California. They also developed Wehani rice, which may be substituted, or use a combination of brown and wild rice. The ingredients for this salad won't fill half a shoe box as you schlepp them and yet will make enough to serve 20 people. And it's delicious.
1 cup Black Japonica Rice* or 1/2 cup brown rice and 1/2 cup wild rice
About 2 1/2 cups water
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon orange zest, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 thin scallions, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Rinse the rice in several changes of water and place in a heavy saucepan with 2 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest for 10 minutes without removing the lid. Then fluff with a fork and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with about 1/2 cup hot water. Soak until the mushrooms are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the individual mushrooms, cutting the larger ones in half; set aside. Reserve the liquid.
Heat 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the mushrooms until they are lightly browned and release an aroma.
In a small bowl, make the dressing by mixing together 2 tablespoons of the reserved mushroom liquid with the sesame oil, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, orange juice, soy sauce, orange zest and salt.
When the rice is cool, add the mushrooms, scallions and dressing and toss to combine well. Add the black pepper and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Note: Black Japonica rice is available for approximately $2.30 per pound at many area co-ops and specialty food stores, including the Bethesda Co-op, 6500 Seven Locks Rd., Cabin John; call 301-320-2530. Per serving: 341 calories, 8 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 450 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber
Hot Jicama Slaw (4 servings)
Jicama ranks high among those sturdy vegetables that love to travel and it gives a lot of flavor and great crunch to this dish. This is a recipe that you will want make your own with the addition of some of your favorite ingredients, such as dried cherries or cranberries, red bell pepper or toasted nuts. Before you slice the cabbage, remove a few leaves to use as a pretty base for serving the slaw, either on a platter or in individual servings.
2 cups peeled, julienned jicama*
1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced (save some leaves for serving)
1 to 2 fresh jalapeno chili peppers, seeds and white ribs removed, finely minced (wear rubber gloves)**
1/4 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/3 cup mayonnaise mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, toss together all of the ingredients. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
* See Market Watch, F3.
** Note: The heat level of chilies varies greatly, so taste each one before it is used and determine how many, or how much, you wish to add.
Per serving: 173 calories, 1 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 172 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber
Nadia's Sauce (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
This sauce was created when I needed a nice dip for celery to serve at a wedding party for my friends, Nadia and Billy. We all thought it was great with the celery, but it is also delicious tossed with warm or cold pasta. Spoon over fresh, sliced tomatoes for a really good salad, even if the tomatoes are not perfect. The ingredients need no refrigeration before their containers are opened and they will fit easily in a corner of your backpack. Don't forget the can opener!
6-ounce can water- or oil-packed white tuna
2-ounce can anchovies
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup olive oil, or more as needed
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Drain the tuna and anchovies, cut the anchovies into small pieces and mash the anchovies and tuna together. (Do not puree.) Add the capers, olive oil, lemon juice and pepper and mix well. If you want a thinner consistency, add more olive oil or lemon juice or both.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 103 calories, 4 gm protein, trace carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 280 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Walnut Chicken Salad (8 to 10 servings)
This salad is sure to make a hit at the potluck. It is adapted from a classic Circassian chicken dish with a delicious, velvety sauce of ground walnuts and chicken stock. Mound the salad on a pretty platter and surround it with seedless green and red grapes to please the eye as well as the taste buds. It's very stable.
3 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) or low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
Salt to taste
Pour the chicken stock into a large skillet and add the chicken breasts. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Do not overcook or the chicken will dry out. Cool the chicken in the stock. When the chicken is cool, remove it from the pan and shred it into bite-sized pieces. Strain and reserve the stock. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the flour and onions and cook, stirring, until the onions are transparent and the flour is light brown. Scrape the flour mixture into a food processor. Add the walnuts, garlic, pepper and lemon juice to the container and process to a grainy paste. With the motor running, add about 1 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken stock. The sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream. Add additional stock, if necessary and adjust the seasonings, adding salt to taste.
Toss the chicken with about half the sauce, adding more, as needed, to attain a moist salad. Reserve any unused sauce to add at serving time, if desired. Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours before serving.
At serving time, add more sauce, if needed for moisture, and mound the salad on a platter.
Per serving (based on 10): 262 calories, 31 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 92 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Some Schlepping Stories
All of us can learn from those who have schlepped before us. Here are stories from some of my friends:
When I was a little girl, we would drive from our home in Cleveland to our farm in Pennsylvania. It was a seven-hour trip back then and, on one occasion, my mother made us a lovely picnic lunch to have on the way. We stopped at Beaver River, west of Pittsburgh, and everyone was looking forward to our delicious meal. When my mother got out the bag, she discovered that she had packed the garbage instead of the food!
My friend, Ann, brought a fruit gelatin salad to a very special luncheon. Someone asked her, "What's that in the salad?" And she said, "Oh, that's a pear. And that's a cherry." "But what is that at the bottom?" the guest asked. It was a worn-down old kitchen spoon that had slipped into the mold.
When I was a child in New York, once a month on a Sunday, we looked forward to going to Coney Island. Mother got up and cooked and cooked and we went out on the subway. We would find a place for the party and then we would go under the boardwalk to put on our swimsuits and I was always afraid that I'd drop the towel and someone would see me without my clothes. Then we would run on the boardwalk and finally my mother would scream, 'It's lunch!' And there would be chopped liver and hamburger patties and mashed potatoes. We would sit in a circle. I'll never forget the wonderful smell of those hamburgers and chopped liver.
My sister and her husband are devotees of Maryland blue crabs, which are hard to come by in Denver where they live. When she visited me in Washington, we bought a cooler and stopped at the Maine Avenue fish markets immediately before her flight home. The cooler, stuffed with live crabs, didn't make it through the security scanner. We were ordered to open it. The crabs eagerly scrambled out and sidled across the floor at Washington National Airport. My sister made her flight and we think we recovered all the crabs, which were pronounced delicious.
Carry food to the beach? We buy it on the way.
CAPTION: Carry your road food in Artic Zone's nifty cooler, available at Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart stores and many supermarkets. Prices and styles may vary.