I ate very well on my trip to Harney County. All that work I did packing the cooler paid off in some delicious campsite meals, and I also had the pleasure of dining at some nice little restaurants, and even picking up some tips on cooking steak.
The highlight of my own cooking actually came from two things I threw in the cooler as an afterthought and didn’t even include in my last post — a pound of small sweet potatoes that I microwaved to doneness before packing, and some aluminum foil. If I were more patient, I could have cooked the potatoes all the way by wrapping them in foil and putting them in my campfires, but I liked that I only needed to warm them up. I’ll call it twice-baked campfire potatoes — I sliced them open and filled them with kale and cheddar cheese before leaving them in the fire for a little while, and in the meantime roasted sausages over the flames. When the potatoes were done, I ate out the sweet, cheesy, green filled innards and left the skin, which I then used as a bun for the sausage. Yum.
The pickles (because I know you were wondering) turned out okay. From best to worst: Red Beet, Golden Beet, Radish and Carrot, and Daikon/Spring Onion. Adding a good amount of herbs and spices is clearly key, and I’ll also experiment with length of pickling time in the future. After about a week, they were still very close to being raw vegetables. Perhaps cutting smaller pieces would make a difference? They were definitely great to have, though, because vegetables were hard to find on the open range, even in restaurants.
Well, I guess that’s a little bit of an overstatement — it was easy to find potatoes. Fries and hashbrowns showed up on every menu I saw. I had a good burger in the tiny town of Diamond, and another one in the tiny town of Fields at Fields Station. (Fields Station was a very fun and friendly little stop– highly recommended to anyone passing through.) I also ate at one of the fanciest restaurants for hundreds of miles, The Meat Hook Steak House in Burns, where a waitress with holes in her stained T-Shirt served me the best rib steak I have ever eaten. This is another friendly place I’d recommend to anyone passing through. When the chef came around to check in with all the diners on their meals, I got to talk with him about his methods and learned a few interesting things.
When I asked for my steak cooked rare, I had to specify if I wanted it “warm rare” or “cold rare.” I had never heard the distinction before, but I suspected that I would prefer warm. The chef said that for “cold rare,” he cooks the steak as hot and fast as possible, so that it’s seared on the outside but literally still cold on the inside. For warm rare, though, he doesn’t go as hot. That way, the center has a chance to warm up more as the outside cooks. (It still goes fast — 2-4 minutes a side, he said.) He said he flips by color. I was very interested to learn about this technique. It’s true that there wasn’t much char on the steak — it wasn’t the prettiest steak I’ve ever seen — but I did not care one bit when I started eating it. You know, the whole melt-in-your-mouth thing, except not an exaggeration.
He also said that good, aged beef was key to a tender steak, and that the locally raised steaks they were serving aged for 10-14 days before they got cooked. He suggested that when buying steak at the supermarket, I should wrap them up and let them sit in the fridge for an extra couple days before cooking them.
Always happy to bring some new knowledge home from a vacation!