Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Few Wee Brown Squares

Next season I'm going to give 'er hell.

Always seems to happen. Plans, up front, look good. So clean. So clear. Head out and do it right for once.

In the middle of it all it gets less clear. Life is all compromise. So is backpacking. You have to make the most important choices right when you have the least time to think and plan and choose the best of anything.

In other words, you have to grab at whatever goes by and make the best of it. "When you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

Food is one area where you can't wing it. You have to eat what you take, and you learn to take what you can eat. So far I'm moving more and more toward preparing things at home and eating them as-is on the trail. In other words: pre-made, pre-cooked, pre-packaged, ready to eat. Not store-bought at $20 a pound.

One cooked meal a day is my goal, with the other two meals something I can both eat and enjoy, without a stove. Oh, can't forget point three: the food has to keep me going too.

I wrote earlier about shortbread. That works.

This time it's about brownies. They work, and they taste like chocolate. How can you beat that?

So next season I'm going to give 'er hell.

I mean this season.

Late last summer I did a longish short trip. About five days. I carried some nitro brownies. Last day of the trip I ate a slab of my home-baked brownies for breakfast. A little dry and crumbly, but OK otherwise.

That was about 8 a.m.

At 2 p.m. I stopped for lunch, only because it was the last water I would be passing for a while, and so the last chance to cook. I had hiked uphill all day, even taking a wrong turn and putting on an extra three or so miles, and I still wasn't dying of hunger.

Brownies work. For me. They contain everything but vegetables: protein, carbohydrate, fat (lots), eggs, milk, peanut butter, and most important, that yummy chocolate flavor.

Here's about how I make them. The point is to use no water, instead substituting oil, and keep them as dry as possible.
Main ingredients
3 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups cocoa powder
1 36 ounce jar peanut butter
3 cups dark brown sugar, honey, or equivalent in cooked raisins or other sweet, dried fruit
4 cups flour
6 eggs
  • Peanut butter: I use Adams, which is made of peanuts. Period. You can get it salted or not, smooth or crunchy, even organic.
  • Flour: I use whole wheat. A matter of taste. You can try white flour, adding dry oatmeal or using other grains.

Optional ingredients
1 tablespoon salt
orange peel
powdered milk
  • Honey seems sweeter than cane sugar, so you might want to use less. I haven't tried using fruit as a sugar substitute in brownies, though I have used a lot of fruit in some other things.
  • Orange peel gives a nice kick to the flavor. You can try cinnamon too.
  • Extra oil is handy. Use whatever liquid cooking oil that you prefer. Add as much as needed to get the right texture and calorie count.
  • Powdered milk adds protein and sugar. You can add a cup or two. If so you'll probably need more oil to compensate.
  • Salt: not needed, especially if you add powdered milk, but you might like the taste.
Dry ingredients
  • Mix together cocoa powder, sugar, salt, orange peel, and flour.
  • If using honey or stewed fruit for sweetness, do them in the next step.
Wet ingredients
  • Remove peanut butter from jar and stir until it is all blended.
  • Add vanilla, eggs, honey or stewed fruit and blend.
Do this

1 - Combine ingredients:
  • Work dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then knead thoroughly until everything has a consistent texture.
  • If it ends up looking too dry, sparingly add cooking oil and keep kneading. Repeat this until you have a soft, slightly moist bowl of brownie mix. All the moistness is due to the oil. Do not add water.
  • Too much oil will run off and puddle during baking. Too little oil will result in crumbly, dry, powdery brownies.
2 - Prep the oven:
  • Heat to 350 degrees F (180 C).
3 - Fill the pan:
  • Pat all the mixture onto a cookie pan. The heavy aluminum foil oven liners are fine for this kind of baking. They have a small lip which prevents crumbs and oil from soiling the oven. You might need two.
  • When done you should have a slab of brownies mix about 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) deep.
4 - Bake:
  • Check after 15 minutes. Get to the point where the corners and edges of your brownie slab just start to brown and dry out. This might take longer, up to 20 minutes or so, because you have a big slab and not a small pan as is more usual.
  • Keep watching, be careful, and don't burn your brownie slab.
  • When it starts to brown, remove from oven and let cool.
5 - Finish:
  • After brownie slab is cool, cut into smaller slabs. If you know what you need you can cut meal-sized chunks. Otherwise shoot for whatever seems reasonable.
  • After cutting you might need a spatula to help pry the cut brownies from the pan, but there should be enough oil in the mix to prevent sticking.
  • Store in freezer.

On trail, carry brownie pieces individually wrapped in heavy zip lock bags. (One day's worth in each bag.)

The best bags are brand name, quart sized freezer bags. They don't puncture or let oil migrate through their sides.

Lightweight bags (like sandwich bags) will let odors and oil through, and may contaminate your pack and gear. (If you don't think so, then smoosh up some potato chips and put them into a sandwich bag for a couple of days, then check on them. The OUTSIDE of these bags will be oily.)

T&T Almond Fudgies (The recipe I started from. Posted by bettyboop50 at May 15, 2001)
Adams Peanut Butter
Hardtack (If you want to try a hardcore trip.)