Willow in the Kitchen

At dinner on Friday night at our favorite local Arlington restaurant, Willow, we got an unexpected menu idea while raving over our appetizer. Tracy O’Grady, Willow’s Executive Chef and co-owner, is an inspiration both inside and outside of the kitchen, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that we were motivated to try to take a little slice of Willow outdoors. Suzy’s cousin Maureen gets credit for the idea, even going so far as to point out what gadgets we’d need to bring along to make it happen (Mo, we saved you leftovers).

So yesterday morning we loaded up the car and headed for the hills of West Virginia–to a favorite little spot up Waite’s Run near Wardensville–with our full kitchen kit and hundreds of pounds of ultralight gear.

Should I be worried that Souzz is reading about a moving sale?

After setting up a simple camp, we started working on our streamside feast.  We kicked things off with Tracy’s inspiration: penne pasta, home-made pesto, scallops, prosciutto, cream, parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs baked briefly (10 minutes?) in a fry-bake and then browned with a hand held torch. I can’t remember what Tracy calls her dish, but we called it fabulous…even if it wasn’t quite up to Tracy’s high standards.

Next time we won’t freeze the scallops ahead of time, as we had a bit of water build up that kept them from browning. Perhaps it’s easier in a commercial kitchen…or maybe extraordinarily talented professional chefs know things that we don’t?  But the dish still came out nicely, and the torch was a big key. We aren’t sure if we could pull this off in the backcountry, but we are going to try it on our next backpack.

We followed up the appetizer with Suzy’s trademark, Potato Gratin a al Savoyarde, which is a fry-bake dish consisting of thin-sliced potatoes, chicken broth, gruyere cheese, carmelized onions, and rosemary. Another key gadget to have along is a mandolin, which helped in evenly slicing the potatoes as well as the onions. It’s not very practical for the backcountry, and harder to play than a ukulele, but it’s easy enough to bring along at a roadside camp.

One thing that helps with fry-bake cooking when the ground is cold is to use a cookie sheet under the pan–which is more low impact, as well. For the potato dish, we put 7 coals on the bottom and 10 on the top and baked it for an hour. To time things out, you can just taste it periodically, as Souzz does, or you can geek out with an oven temperature guide (and suggested number of coals) by clicking here.

Lastly, the Pièce de résistance was rack of lamb–and now you know the only expression that I know in French. We seasoned it with olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and rosemary, grilled the rack over charcoal for ten minutes or so, and then put it in a frybake with a few coals on top to finish the job. It came out perfectly medium rare, although that was more luck than plan.

If we were to repeat this, we’d have cooked the lamb in the fry-bake start to finish, and I would have practiced more French ahead of the trip.

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