Sunday, July 09, 2006

Camp -- We'll Make Do

On Thursday each year, we offer peanut butter, dill pickle and mayonnaise sandwiches to the campers as an adventuresome alternative to grilled cheese. Although fewer than 10 accept the challenge each year, everyone now knows my favorite peanut butter sandwich!

Last Thursday and Friday the cooks persistently informed that we needed to make a Safeway run. We were already running out of catsup, margarine, white sugar, vegetable oil and dry cereal.

It's human nature. The cooks see that we're out of one or more products and assume that we need to run to the market and replenish the cupboards. I know that my cooks had the camp's best interest in kind when they made the suggestion.

But I had one consistent answer throughout the week: "No, we'll make do."

As chef, I have a job to perform. Budget and the need to use excess stock drove my response. Although I came in about $300 under budget for the week, I saw little need to spend more money. I knew with a little ingenuity, we'd make do.

There are several reasons for running low on stock. This year, the 20 extra campers caught us all by surprise late in the week before camp. We used the last 32 boxes of cereal Friday morning. I had cut my cereal order from five cases to four because the original estimate was for 140 campers and staff, not 165.

I generally buy a one-gallon jug of oil for the week. The olive-vegetable oil mixture is great for salads. But when the jug starts to run on empty, I look for alternatives. Wednesday or Thursday, I instructed my salad cook to assemble a tomato-cucumber salad.

Instead of mixing a vinaigrette dressing, I had her thin the creamy Italian dressing with cider vinegar and milk. It worked well. This was a good use of creamy Italian because we always have one or two quarts left at the end of camp.

With few exceptions -- margarine and cereal among them -- we substituted stock on hand for the missing items. I had my baker use raisin brand and bran flakes in place of the rolled oats for the apple crisp topping. We purchased margarine for toast only. Bacon grease worked well on Friday (we don't serve bacon until Friday).

We served oatmeal for the first time in five years Friday. As an aside, I plan to serve oatmeal maybe two or three days next year. It was very popular.

A word to the wise: Watch your stock. For many dishes, margarine, shortening and oil are interchangeable. But a drive to conserve salad oil, for instance, may push the cooks into using greater quantities of margarine. As chef, you need to constantly balance like products. Ask, "Is margarine best for this menu item?" Or, "Can I use shortening or bacon fat?"

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