What’s Cooking in MacTown

I feel like I’ve recently spent an inordinate amount of blog space describing other people’s work or the available distractions from my own work here at McMurdo and, while both are major perqs to working down here, I fear I have been remiss in keeping you filled in on what I do for 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week.

One of the benefits of being primarily responsible for ensuring the vegetarians and vegans have adequate dining options is that I get a lot of control over my menu. The rest of the menu is on a pre-set cycle with only a little room for variation here and there. But my menus don’t have to follow that cycle and so I can get pretty creative as the mood, and necessity, dictates. And I’ve been getting some very positive feedback from the station population – even non-vegetarians have told me they often prefer the vegetarian offering because it’s more interesting and flavorful. To be fair, though, I am cooking on a smaller scale, as the vegetarian population is smaller so I can take a little more time with my prep and avoid having the food taste like it was mass-produced hours in advance.

Depending on how busy Russell has been during the week, he’ll usually give us our menu for the following week on Saturday or Sunday. Either way, because I have relatively little to do with regard to brunch preparation, I use Sunday morning to go over the menu for the week: I highlight my items, specifically noting what the protein source will be in each, and make notes on when certain parts of an upcoming dish need to be prepared by. This is also when I brainstorm any changes to the vegetarian entrées that I think would be appropriate or preferable. Then Russ and I sit down to discuss and negotiate my proposed changes or additions.

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Often enough owing to Russell’s sense of humor, I see an item listed on the menu like “Meatless Balls of Fury”.

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This is when I get to brainstorm a recipe for something that is vegetarian or vegan and that could more or less be described as such. In that specific case, I prepare “Nature Burger” mix with buffalo sauce, then shape the mix into balls on sheet trays earlier in the week. Just before service, I’ll bake them off and serve them with blue cheese dressing and more buffalo sauce. These turned out to be a hit, surprisingly, but I have a feeling it had more to do with the name than the actual product.

After my sit-down with Russ, I begin the process of pulling the soy-based proteins from the freezer. We have at least three different kinds of tofu and each has applications for which it is better suited. What I call the “regular” tofu is the larger 12-16 oz blocks that are vacuum-packed together in sets of 25. It’s less dense but freezes so solidly that even if I pull it from the freezer a week in advance, I usually still have to force-thaw it in a sink or steam kettle before I use it. The “steaks” are also the larger 12-16 oz blocks but they are individually wrapped (like how you’d buy them at a Whole Foods), denser, and have “grill marks” on them. Then there’s the “Baked” which comes in bags of already baked cubes and they can be prepared straight from frozen. In addition to those, we have boxes of tempeh, bags of frozen, shelled edamame, Boca Chik’n patties, Boca Meatless Soy patties, and Gardenburgers. We also have a few veggie protein sources in dry storage: dried chickpeas, dried lentils, a wide variety of dried beans, quinoa, bulgur, barley, and wheat gluten.

Thanks to Mark’s instruction, I’ve become quite adept at using the wheat gluten for a number of seitan-based applications – not least of all the Seitan Wellington (or Swellington) at Christmas. I’ve also made jerk seitan, seitan pastrami for reubens, and seitan stroganoff, to name a few. The most popular application has got to be the sausage – I made some for the sandwich line when I filled in for Sarah over her birthday, remember? People loved it. Sarah loved it too and wanted to make a bunch so we could freeze it and have it to hand so I gave her the recipe:

  • 10 cups wheat gluten
  • 2 cups nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese
  • 8 tsps garlic powder
  • 12 tsps each ground fennel, ground sage
  • 8 tsps each paprika, oregano
  • 4 tsps each red pepper flakes, thyme

Mix the dry ingredients together well, then mix in

  • 8 cups of fairly hot vegetable broth
  • 8 Tbsps tomato paste
  • 1 cup of soy sauce

Roll the “dough” up in cling film like little sausages and steam for about 3 hours, until firm.

The giant glutinous “dough” mass can be a lot of work to mix thoroughly.

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As we were rolling the sausages at the end of the day, our mood turned a bit silly and Liz had the hilarious idea to give each one a little more “character”.

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In addition to pulling “proteins”, I also take stock of what frozen vegetables and canned goods I’ll be needing. Everyone’s lives have become a lot more complicated by the complete and total lack of Freshies for the last 3+ weeks. As a result, we’re running through our canned and frozen vegetables at an incredible rate, so on Sundays I try to set aside whatever I will need that week that we’re running low on – this usually means canned tomatoes, canned mushrooms, frozen chopped onions, frozen carrots, etc. Fortunately, usually all anyone has to do to “stake their claim” is write “For [insert name or shift here] on [date you intend to use the product]. So, for example, I would write “FOR JESSA/VEG ENTREE on 08FEB” Then once that date has passed, it’s free game to anyone.

So let’s translate one of our menus. This is the one for next week (only showing Monday thru Thursday):

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First things first – from 05:00 until 07:30, Breakfast and Midrats Dinner is served. For Breakfast on Monday, the large flat top in the serving area is occupied by the Omelette Station (which also does fried eggs when we have fresh eggs which we don’t and haven’t had for about a month now). Also for Breakfast is the following, all in hotel pans in one steam table: Plain Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Sliced Potatoes, Pancakes, and Cream of Wheat. This follows the required breakfast formula of: some form of scramble, some form of meat, some form of potato, some form of sweet starchy dish (pancakes, waffles, french toast), and a hot cereal. What isn’t on the menu but is always offered is plain and flavoured yogurt, fruit of some kind, and salsa and cheese (for your eggs). On the other steam table is Midrats Dinner which, as you know from my earlier posts, goes out with Breakfast and on Monday would be Seafood Gumbo, Vegetarian Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, and whatever veg Matt (the Sous Chef) rustles up.

Lunch starts at 11:00 and runs until 13:00. On Tuesday, the Action Station is submarine sandwiches, which will be assembled before lunch and served by one of the AM cooks from the large flat top in the serving area. The Deli Station (Sarah’s Sandwich Line) is listed as Open because she has free rein to make whatever sandwiches she wants provided there is both a meat and vegetarian option. Both steam tables will be occupied by Honey Baked Ham, Orzo Rice Pilaf, and Mark’s vegetable of choice. The Vegetarian Line will have hotel pans of Tempeh Gumbo, Orzo Rice Pilaf and Mark’s choice of vegetable.

Dinner starts at 17:00 and runs until 19:30 (19:00 on Sundays). On Wednesday, the action station is a Nacho Station. In this instance, the large flat top in the serving area will not be used – instead one of the steam tables will be devoted to all the nacho fixings. On the other steam table, you will find Flour Tortillas, Chicken Fajita filling, Mexican Rice, chef’s choice of vegetable, and Refried Beans. On the Vegetarian Line, I will have my Vegetarian Enchiladas (with my homemade mole sauce of course), Mexican Rice, and the chef’s choice of vegetable. Additionally, while not on the menu, the PM shift will use one of our portable steam tables that holds two hotel pans and put out a full hotel pan of breakfast potatoes (usually tater tots, McMurdo loooooves the tots), a half hotel pan of scrambled eggs and a half hotel pan of a breakfast meat. This is breakfast for the Midrats.

A quick note about the PM Action Stations: when they DO use the large flat top and the task of serving the public falls to Max, he has taken to asking me to write the action station item on his hanging white board since he was getting a lot of complaints about his illegible handwriting. I started having maybe a bit too much fun doing this…

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As well as soundly confirming that I am definitely my eldest brother’s sister:

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Finally, from 00:00 to 00:30 as you all surely know from my earliest posts, the Midrats put out their lunch which, on Thursday, will be Salisbury Steak, Fiesta Pasta Mexicana (which is one of those dishes that is very much open to the interpretation of the cook preparing it – I, personally, have never prepared it the same way twice), Potato Cakes, and Matt’s choice of vegetable.

In addition to all this, we always have our two soups and our composed salads but none of those are ever listed on the menu as they are usually made from leftovers so we can never predict what they will be…but there is always at least one vegetarian option and one non-vegetarian option. The bakers have their own menu they work from so I can’t really tell you much about that but they always offer a selection of pastries at breakfast, as well as freshly made bread and desserts at lunch and dinner.

I’m attaching this map of the galley’s serving area (as opposed to the actual kitchen) so you get a better idea of what I’m going on about in terms of placement of food.

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I will also try to start including in my blog posts some of the recipes I’ve developed down here, particularly the ones that have become quite popular, but with this caveat: the yield on all the recipes will far exceed any normal family’s needs (unless you’re that family with 23 kids or however many they have now).

For now, I’m heading to bed because Roger and I hiked Castle Rock today and while it was a gorgeous day for it – we actually were able to stretch out in the sun and take naps at the summit – I’m still exhausted and have a feeling I’ll be a bit sore tomorrow as it was much snowier than last time, which made for a much more slippery climb.

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