The Hashbrown Chronicles, vol. 3

All the years I’ve been making hashbrowns I’ve used baked russets, and over the past week I’ve finally tried boiled yukon golds.  And I don’t know if I’ll go back.

Well of course, whenever we have baked potatoes I’ll reserve some for frying up, but yukon golds are nice!  I boiled mine whole for maybe 15 minutes, enough to soften a little, and then when they cool I peel them.  They’re easier to peel when they’re fresh, and even when they’ve been in the fridge for a couple days I think they’re easier to peel than raw.  I’ve seen recipes that call for shredding them raw, but haven’t yet dared try that yet.  That’s next on the list, because if I want to simplify the process of making these in order to use a simpler stove, that would be the obvious way.  I use medium-high heat on a conventional stove, so I expect that using one of my wood stoves should work ok.  But time will tell.

Anyway, this morning I seasoned them with savory, rosemary and marjoram – again, I ground the tough herbs with salt and then rubbed the marjoram.  I think I’ve found a winner.

As I mentioned before, I buy my spices from Penzeys, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.  Not only are their spices top-notch but they have a very friendly and loving attitude and atmosphere that pervades their catalogs.

(By the way, that link is not an affiliate link: I won’t get paid anything if you buy from Penzeys.)

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The Hashbrown Chronicles, vol. 1

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that hashbrowns are one of my favorite foods.  I have fond memories of eating them as a child at my mother’s table: the golden crispiness side by side with the soft whiteness (she always used leftover baked russets and so do I).

Hashbrowns, fried onions, beans . . . these are a few of my favorite things.  To me they are ideal camp foods, not necessarily because I think they would be that easy to cook in camp but because I want to eat them outdoors surrounded by trees.  They also seem to me like very manly foods: flannel and beard kinds of foods.  I am not a conventionally masculine man, and so maybe eating these kinds of foods – and growing my beard – is a way to hold on to my gender identity.

During my adult life I’ve tried different ways of seasoning hashbrowns, since I love herbs and spices.  Our kitchen cupboards are full of jars from Penzeys, which we discovered in 2004 and of which we have been loyal customers ever since.  One of my favorite ways to flavor hashbrowns is with Penzeys’ Northwoods Seasoning, but I like to experiment.  This morning I cooked my hashbrowns on a normal electric stove.  But I’ll tell you what I put in ’em.

I started out with a little pinch of savory (for two medium russets) and ground it with some kosher salt.  Savory has a very distinct and assertive flavor, the kind of taste that threatened to give me a headache as a child, but which I’ve wanted to explore as an adult.  The leaves are tough and hurt my fingers when I try to rub them as I would sage or thyme, but ground with salt, they break down pretty nicely.

I added a bigger pinch of thyme and ground that in with the savory and salt.

I sprinkled this on the shredded spuds, along with a few dashes of powdered galangal – another flavor I might not have liked when younger, but lately I’ve been fascinated with it.

I grated some nutmeg over everything (a few rotations of the crank)

and sprinkled some powdered toasted onion.  I mixed it all up and fried them in butter as usual.

It was good: as I had hoped, the savory and galangal agreed nicely, and I couldn’t really distinguish the nutmeg, but it sure didn’t hurt.  The whole thing had an aroma that reminded me of pot roast, a dinner-y sort of smell with some sophistication.

Cooking with (wood) gas: porridge

I’ve been trying to make my homemade woodgas stoves work with pellets.  I’m still figuring it out.  People like this guy are able to produce flames of 1500 degrees F with pellets in small can-built stoves.  My stoves haven’t been so carefully made, but they’ve performed well enough with sticks and chips and chunks.  Pellets, though: I keep having them go out less than halfway through.

This morning, since I don’t have to be at work until noon, I decided to try my little stove with another load of pellets to cook porridge, a favorite of mine for breakfast.

First, something about this porridge: I ate conventional oatmeal made from rolled oats when I was younger, but I never was fully converted to the texture, and after a while I decided I didn’t like it much.  Then I tried Scottish oats, and I fell in love with them.  I’ve had steel-cut too, which are nice, but I most definitely favor the texture of the coarse-ground groats when they’re cooked thoroughly.  I like to buy the groats whole and then run them through a hand-cranked auger grinder at a loose setting.

There’s something else I do: I add plenty of salt to them near the end of cooking, and I season them with herbs.  My standard recipe is a bit of ground rosemary and sage, and then maybe some pepper and butter in the bowl when I eat them.  Sometimes I’ll add nutmeg too, though I find I like that best with thyme.

Well, after getting the pellets started, I put the water on, in one of my outside pots.  It’s shallower than I like to use for porridge: I stir with a spurtle and I like to get it poked way down in.  But this was what I had.

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 1

The gas jets flickered faintly and fitfully: it was hard to get a picture of them.  Their insubstantial blue color seemed like a good sign, but they were destined to disappoint today.

In went the oats, and they simmered away happily for a while.

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 2

By the way, this was about three parts water to one part oatmeal: in this case 2 1/4 cups to 3/4.  While this was cooking I prepared the seasoning: a few rosemary leaves,

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 3 mortar

ground up with some salt

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 4 mortar

and a couple of sage leaves.

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 5 mortar

I took that out to where I thought my porridge was simmering, to find that the dang stove had gone out.  This has not happened when I’ve used other fuel, so I’m not sure what I should be doing different with the pellets.  I like the idea of using pellets.  I like being able to burn scavenged and salvaged chunks and sticks too, but pellets are so convenient and compact.  I like their smell, I like paying five dollars for a forty pound bag.  I wonder if I need more or bigger intake holes.

Somehow, Lucia stoves manage to burn for up to 6 hours on a load of pellets.  So it can’t be only a matter of the fuel being packed too tightly: those stoves are much larger than mine.

I’ll keep posting about my experiments with them.  Meanwhile, here’s what I did with my porridge.  I stirred in my seasoning

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 6 stir
(My spurtle is a wizard wand I bought from local artisans at a festival, so I can conjure a patronus with it if I need to.)

woodgas stove 2015-08-26 porridge 7 stir

and then I ate it.

People are often surprised when I tell them how I season my porridge: Americans aren’t used to having savory oatmeal.  I’ve been eating it this way for years and I won’t go back.  Try sage and rosemary in yours, it’s delicious.