Souzz and I drove a few hours west this weekend to a “dry” cabin (no running water) for a quick fall getaway, and we’ve decided that cabins are the perfect place to push the envelope on food options. Picnic tables and covered porches combined with crisp fall air create a lot of dinner inspiration. And as long as one brings the right gadgets and enough fresh water for clean-up, just about anything is possible.
As we mulled over menu ideas ahead of the trip, Souzz’s mom suggested an Octoberfest theme–which somehow led to stumbling into quotes from folks as diverse as George R. R. Martin, Otto von Bismarck, and Mark Twain about the unlikely topic of sausage. In most every case, the general theme was that you may want to eat sausage…but you definitely don’t want to see how it’s made. If that describes you, then stop reading now.
The weekend’s destination was Silberman Trail Center in south central Pennsylvania. Like many of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) properties, Silberman Cabin has no power or water–but it does have plenty of prep space and a kitchen with lots of pots and pans. The plan was to make sausage from scratch, as well as a favorite Italian pasta/pumpkin dish called tortelli de zucca (complete with home-made pasta). We also had salad and fry-bake bread on the menu, and a dessert recipe that is trending on Facebook right now called Baked Apple Roses.
We stopped at nearby Cowans Gap State Park on the way, which offered up beautiful fall colors (maybe only a week away from peak) during a great hike where we worked off some of the calories to come. The hike alone was worth the trip!
Then it was on to the cabin and off to work on dinner. Souzz relaxed for a bit on the covered porch while I started the process of grinding and seasoning pork shoulder, mixing in fat, and then stuffing the resulting mixture into casings. Thankfully, after seeing my futility, Souzz was compelled to jump in, too.
While sausage making is totally worthwhile, it was a somewhat messy project that was sure to take away one’s appetite…until the actual sausage was cooked and served, of course. It also turns out that sausage making is a process that could probably make the Queen of England crack a naughty joke (if you bring your toddlers to London to share a kitchen with Her Majesty, choose a different dish).
Based on a sample size of one, it seems that the key things are having the right equipment (until two days ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a sausage stuffer), the right mix of meat/fat/salt, and the right temperature for storage (the meat should be super-cold before grinding). It probably also helps to bring along the right attitude, as a few things will always go wrong (and did).
With the sausage making complete, next up was the pasta. With a pumpkin filling, tortelli de zucca is a popular fall treat in northern Italy. Granted, it’s a colossal effort to prepare, but it’s also a colossal delight to eat. This is a dish that we make a lot at home, and it’s a favorite recipe by way of our friend Ivano, who lives in Mantova, Italy.
As with the sausage, we did the prep on the porch on a picnic table over a plastic table cloth. This kept the mess to a manageable minimum–although, it turns out, not so manageable that a pasta-loving raccoon didn’t pay us a visit. We named him Ricardo, and he left our place hungry. If you find yourself in the mountains of Pennsylvania any time soon, watch your pasta.
When it was time to eat, we par-boiled the sausage for a few minutes before cooking it over charcoal, and we boiled the tortelli for just a minute and a half before topping it with butter, olive oil, fresh sage, grated parmesan, and fresh pepper.
The sausage was flavorful and was cooked about right, a nice first effort, and the tortelli (and the bread and salad) were good, too. All in all, it seemed like a meal fit for a queen (and hopefully a queen with enough decorum not to make sausage jokes during Grace).
Oh, and lastly, the Apple Rose dessert was, umm, totally forgettable–suggesting that choosing a dish based on what is trending on Facebook might not be the best idea.
After all, Facebook is the land of Candy Crush, cats with Donald Trump hair-dos, and an app that tells you what kind of office supply you would be (I got stapler). From now on, we are taking our menu recommendations from Bon Appetit.