I recently spent a weekend in the backwoods of Mendocino County. Let me emphasize that when I say backwoods, I'm not kidding. We're talking a few miles off the nearest paved road where a high-clearance 4x4 is a necessity, past numerous cleverly-rigged hydroponic hippie buses (this is clearly where old buses go to die), beyond a pack of car-chasing, fang-toothed guard dogs, and eventually down into the riverside sanctuary that is my friend Lori Narlock's cabin. Before I get into the details of our weekend, I'll just say (feeling more than a bit guilty), I hardly lifted a finger all weekend - Lori cooked for our cabin of six females, meal after delicious meal. Today I'm going to feature her skillet smashed potato recipe - first because they were delicious, and second to demonstrate how equal part thoughtfulness, experience, and prep work can culminate in delicious meals, even under rustic conditions.
How rustic you might ask? As I was packing that was exactly the question I kept asking myself as well. I had a few clues based on the flurry of pre-trip emails - including snippets of information like this:
"The cabin is very rustic. There are two bedrooms with one bed each and then two-single beds in the living room....There is no real electricity. We mostly read, play scrabble, drink copious amounts of beer and wine and gab by day and lantern."
"Please bring clogs or other slip on shoes for using at night if you need to
get up and use the loo--there have been a few creepy crawlers show up every now and then."
I later found out that creepy crawlers=scorpions. Lori's sister Lisa also chimed in with the following:
"Let me please add that this is not a "Tahoe" cabin, and any slippers or such that you wear around the cabin may very well get filthy - so I would leave your favorite white slippers at home."
So, if your imagination is prone to run amuck like mine does - I was preparing for a weekend in the rain, in a shack (moon through the slats in the roof, spiders through the gaps in the floorboard), huddled by a stove in a Theodore Kaczynski-style shelter. Something along the lines of an overgrown outhouse. This is what's going through my mind, and I was completely up for it. I mean, there was no tent involved, so this was going to be an upgrade for me any way you look at it. You can imagine my surprise (and delight!) when I walked into this....
The cabin sits on a huge plot of land owned for generations now by the Narlock family. The cabin was built by hand, and an amazing amount of t.l.c. has gone into it. Pictures of the family line the walls, as well as artifacts various family members have contributed. It's the kind of place you're immediately comfortable - complete with wood-burning fireplace, the sound of the river in the backdrop - and the stove! Can you believe the beautiful stove?
Lori put this family treasure to good use over the course of the weekend, but before I get into that, let me back up a bit and say - it's great to have a host who also happens to be a food writer. I'm sure many of you are familiar with Lori's work on books like The Food Lover's Companion to the Napa Valley, The Wine Lover's Guide to the Wine Country, Smoothies, The Niman Ranch Cookbook , and Cocktail Food. She's fantastic and talented on every front. Watching the way she pulled together meals for us in the cabin (no electricity, water that takes an hour to boil) was fascinating - and it gave me all sorts of cooking/prep ideas for future "rustic/camping outings"....in part because she was so smart about how and what she prepped before she even got to the cabin.
For what she was serving up, Lori's meals were coming together with barely a bead of sweat from her brow (or at least she made it look that way). So I started asking her about some of her tricks for cooking at the cabin. The skillet smashed potatoes were a great example. She pre-boiled the potatoes and brought them that way - In the morning, just before breakfast she smashed them into a big skillet with some olive oil and salt - in a few minutes they were crispy and brown on the outside, hot on the inside, and the perfect complement to the frittata she threw together. I also have to mention the pasta she made for dinner later that night - outrageous amounts of garlic (in a good way), tons of shredded zucchini, and grated cheese. She'd boiled off the noodles the night before we got the cabin. Do you know how many times I've struggled boiling noodles over a camp stove? You don't even want to know. Her pasta was delicious - the noodles weren't mushy or sticky at all. Maybe I can convince her to guest post about it when we come around to zucchini season again. Lori had all sorts of great shortcuts like this that never compromised the end dish.
So, here's how she made her skillet mashed potatoes. Imagine all the things you could drizzle or sprinkle on them. Thanks for the recipe and the great weekend Lori! I'll sleep with the scorpions any time...
Lori's Skillet Smashed Potato Recipe
The great thing about these potatoes is that you can boil them off (pre-cook) the night before. they come together in just a few minutes just as you are ready to serve the rest of your breakfast or brunch.
one small bag of small potatoes (yukon golds, fingerlings, or something similar)
salt & pepper
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
Start by placing the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add a teaspoon of salt and cover with water. Don't peel the potatoes, because the skin helps keep the potatoes together. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil until they are tender enough to slide a knife in easily. It is important not to over-boil them, for golf ball size potatoes about 10 minutes or a little less. Drain the potatoes and refrigerate until you are ready to brown them in a large skillet.
Heat the olive in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Keep in mind it needs to be big enough to hold the potatoes, which double in size when they are smashed. Smash each potato with a masher or the bottom of a heavy glass. Season with salt and pepper and cook until crisp, and them turn and cook the other side. Sprinkle with chives, fresh herbs, whatever and serve.