Monday, April 14, 2014

Comments on 'Round the Chuckbox

I turned Google+ comments off today on 'Round the Chuckbox. As a result, the original comment form is once again visible at the end of each article. You may post a comment by typing it into the comment box and clicking the publish button. Your comment will be visible as soon as I approve it.

You may have noticed that you were forced to establish a Google+ profile in order to post a comment. This happened when I switched to Google+ comments last September. It sounded nice at the time. However, I quickly learned that the blogger commend mechanism was shut down in the process. Plus I lost the ability to moderate comments.

The most noticeable result of using Google+ comments was the sudden drop in comments. While 'Round the Chuckbox has never inspired a flood of comments, readers have had their moments. Every month or so an article would inspire interactive conversation.

You'll notice that Google+ comments from the last seven months have disappeared. Please return and comment if you'd like to re-join the conversation. Comments on 'Round the Chuckbox are subject to moderation, as they were prior to September. I'll approve comments for publication as quickly as I see them. (Please note that I delete spam and inappropriate remarks.)

Thank you for being a loyal 'Round the Chuckbox reader. I appreciate your readership and would love to see a vibrant exchange of ideas on the blog.

CSCS Steven C. Karoly, USN, Retired
Chef-blogger on 'Round the Chuckbox

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chicken succotash skillet with kale

Last time I prepared succotash for the pages of 'Round the Chuckbox, it featured Southwestern flavors. Mild poblano chili peppers, pinto and lima beans, tomatillos and whole kernel corn combined in the skillet for an interesting flavor profile. Succotash is a great way to add interest to vegetables at the dinner table.

Though often viewed as a mixture of corn and lima beans, succotash takes its name from Narragansett Indian name for boiled or broken kernels of corn. It has its roots in the Native American cuisine. You could say that any mixture of vegetables is succotash.

I enjoy cooking succotash because of it's versatility. Unless you're looking authenticity, let your culinary creativity be your guide. I often begin with whole kernel corn as my foundation. From there, I add meat or vegetables to create the flavor that I'm looking for. It's also a great way to use leftover meat or vegetables.

I prepared this version last night in my outdoor kitchen. It includes flavors that I enjoy. I've included a series of photos to show you how I prepared the succotash. Remember that you can use any combinations of vegetables you desire. Enjoy ...

This Wagner's 1891 Original reproduction 11-3/4-inch skillet is used for most of stovetop cooking at home. My wife and I purchased it over 30 years ago at a Davis, California, hardware as newlyweds. A vintage Griswold skillet with domed lid is one of my key cast iron pieces in the camping outfit.
You can use any cooked chicken or turkey for the succotash. I sautéed a large chicken breast (about 16 ounces), butterflied, in the skillet over medium-high heat. After a brief rest, the chicken was cubed and set aside.
From this point, each step builds on the last. Crisp 4 ounces bacon over medium-high heat. Push the bacon to one side and spoon out the excess grease. You need about 2 tablespoons of fat for the dish.
Next, 1 onion, diced, and 1 red bell pepper, diced, are tossed into the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add 2 teaspoons minced garlic and continue cooking for an additional two or three minutes.
Roughly chop 1 bunch of kale. Heap in the skillet. Gently stir into the bacon, onion and pepper mixture, taking care not to spill the kale.
The kale will cook down within 3 to 5 minutes. At this point, watch the heat under the skillet so you don't burn the kale.
Pour 16 ounces of frozen whole kernel corn over the kale mixture. Stir into the onion, pepper and kale mixture, and continue cooking until the corn is hot.
Add the diced chicken to the succotash and stir. Bring the dish to serving temperature and season with salt and pepper to taste.
The finished dish -- chicken succotash skillet with kale. It serves 6 to 8.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Campfire cooking with charcoal briquettes

Over 10 years ago, a reader to my former writing project on posed a series of Dutch oven questions. The reader -- named Sheila -- found that the Dutch oven was the ideal piece of camp cookware because it solved a few "camp cooking problems."

Even after summer campfire restrictions were in place, the Dutch oven let her avoid "hot dogs, red meat and a lot of processed foods." She was able to create a myriad of one-pot meals in the three-legged cast iron pot.

Sheila's questions

Camping took her mind off of her ailments, said Sheila. Since she often didn't have the energy to build a campfire, she used charcoal briquettes to cook her meals. "A lot of times I go camping because I’m not feeling well and making a fire, especially learning by trial and error," said Sheila, "is exhausting and time consuming."

Here's her dilemma: "I found that the charcoal briquettes sank into the soft ashes in the fire pit that the state park provides. I’m thinking that next time I’ll put the briquettes into an aluminum cake pan and cook from there."

Sheila believed that charcoal briquettes were a good "way to cook up dinner." She asked:
  1. Can you perk coffee on charcoal briquettes?
  2. Will an old lightweight aluminum coffee pot work?
  3. Can you cook pancakes or eggs on a cast iron griddle over charcoal briquettes?
  4. What types of pots are good on charcoal briquettes in addition to cast iron?

"I’d like to try some cast iron Dutch oven and other types of charcoal briquette cooking using what I have and see if I like it first before getting any special equipment," concluded Sheila. "I was just checking to see if I got some of the beginner’s rules correct."
Cooking with charcoal briquettes
The answer to Sheila's questions was a resounding yes. While I prefer campfire cooking, charcoal briquettes are a good substitute for those times when campfires are banned.

Here are my general rules:

Cooking with charcoal. Charcoal makes a good ready-made source of heat for camping. The briquettes are easy to count and light. And they burn at a predictable rate. Here are four considerations :
  1. Chimney charcoal starter. Don't use lighter fluid to ignite charcoal briquettes. Instead, crumple one or two sheets of newsprint in the bottom compartment of a chimney charcoal starter and light. You'll have gray ash-covered coals in about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat control. Control the heat by adding and removing burning briquettes. This takes practice. Start by placing a thick field of briquettes under the skillet or pot. Then watch the food. If it's cooking too fast, remove briquettes with a pair of tongs. Add burning briquettes if the food is cooking too slow. And, yes, Sheila can brew coffee in the aluminum coffee pot and fry breakfast on the cast iron griddle.
  3. Fire safety. You need nearby water source to douse any fires. Purchase a galvanized steel bucket and ash shovel to collect spent briquettes. Drown spent coals inside the bucket. When all fires have been extinguished, discard the ash and briquettes. 
  4. Wind shield. Charcoal briquettes burn hotter and faster under windy conditions. In a brisk wind, coals that normally burn for 60 minutes may evaporate within 30 to 45 minutes instead.
Use a firepan. It's important to protect the environment and to guard against wildland fires. Any fireproof implement can be turned into a firepan. Set a baking sheet (or any iron or steel sheet) between two or more bricks to hold the coals. You can also cook in a kettle-style barbecue. You'll need to elevate the pots and pans two to three inches above the coals.

Cookware. Any cookware can be used when cooking over a charcoal fire. However, don't place burning charcoal briquettes directly on top of any cookware that isn't cast iron. Conversely, don't set anything directly on the briquettes. Thin-skinned cookware (like aluminum) will warp. And enamel pots can burn and chip. Either suspend pots over the coals with a chain or use a grill to hold them two to three inches above the fire.

After out conversation on, Sheila purchased several fireproof bricks at a local brickyard and a pizza sheet and grill at a secondhand store. She planned to suspend the grill between two bricks, about two and one-half inches above the charcoal. After setting the pizza sheet on top of one or two bricks, she said that she'd burn the charcoal directly on the pizza sheet.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My bear story

As a kid I attended Camp San Joaquin in Sequoia National Forest each summer. Instead of participating in the regular "kumbaya" camp session for the ninth grade, I elected to go on the high school boys backpack trip on the High Sierra Trail.

At camp our adult leaders divided the food and equipment, briefed the boys on trip expectations and back country safety. Father Fletcher Davis, an accomplished backpacker and mountain climber, explained the realities of trail life, including foot care, burying human waste and bears.

As a lifelong backpacker myself (at the ripe age of 13 or 14!), I half listened. Father Davis continued onto the topic of black bears, a very real reality in the Sierra Nevada back country. If a bear wanders into camp, bang the pots and pans in a loud manner, he explained. Nine times out of ten the bear will run.

Somehow the math didn't work out for one alert boy. What happens on the tenth time, he impatiently asked? Father Davis' retort was calm and to the point: You won't be around to know!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recovering a rusty Dutch oven

"You can't beat cast iron," says Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef on the Sportsman Channel. "No matter how it's been abused, you can always bring it back to life."

Watch Cee Dub demonstrate how to rescue a rusty cast iron Dutch oven in this Camp Chef video. You can heat the oven inside your home oven. However, open the windows for ventilation and be ready to fan the smoke alarm.

At the end of the video, Scott gives the link to Cee Dub's website, where you can purchase Lodge and Camp Chef outdoor cookware.

Pre-camp meal service

The kitchen crew at Oakland Feather River Camp cooks for staff during the pre-camp phase of the summer. In the first four weeks of meal service, the cooks, housekeepers, maintenance staff and camp management eat breakfast and lunch in the Chow Palace. Staff that live on site enjoy leftovers or prepare their own food for dinner.

Weekend groups converge on the Oakland Camp on the third and fourth weekends of May. After a week of training, this is my first opportunity to test the cooks with the full menu. It gives me a chance to test the menu and the their skill. It also introduces the cooks to camp traditions and camp culture, two aspects of camp life that dictate how we serve campers in the Chow Palace. Any kinks are worked out in the next week.

The cooks work long days as they cook and serve the meals for 100 or more campers on these weekends. They also wash dishes and clean the Chow Palace without assistance from the dishwashers. Full staffing with the dishwashers doesn't occur until staff training week.

Staff training week begins on the second Saturday of June. With full staffing in all departments, the kitchen serves around 30 to 35, many first termers at Oakland Feather River Camp. The unique aspect of the week is that the kitchen pulls double duty, cooking and serving meals and attending the training sessions. It's a challenging week, but one that we work through to accomplish both goals.

Full camp begins in earnest on the third Sunday in June.

Pre-camp meals are served from the serving line in May 2013. With 10 to 12 at each meal, it doesn't make sense to wheel the buffet lines into the dining hall yet. The buffet lines are first used during staff training week (second week of June). The kitchen serving line is used to serve vegetarian and vegan meals for the summer camp sessions (third week of June to mid-August).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Raising the ensign

During the 2013 camp session, I was selected to lead the Independence Day ceremonies around the camp flagstaff. I am told that the honor has fallen to the chef for the last several years. As a retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer, the ceremony had special meaning to me. The raising of the ensign at 8 o'clock in the morning was always a memorable time of day.

At Oakland Feather River Camp, the emcee gives a brief talk on the historical significance of the 4th of July, raises the flag and leads campers in the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards we sing America The Beautiful, then adjourn for a fun afternoon of games and field activities. (Of course, culinary staff return to the kitchen to finish the barbecue!)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sea-going coffee break

I'm envious. The crew of the USS Cocopa (ATF-101) -- a sister ship to the USS Hitchiti (ATF-103) -- never enjoyed "twice-daily coffee breaks." The busy routine of the sea-going tug precluded such niceties of civilian life. At best, the crew gulped down their coffee before running off to stand watch or to put in a full day of work.

September 23, 1958
COFFEE IS A GREAT STIMULANT--Just ask any crewmember of the Fleet Tug USS Hitchiti. The ship's galley bakes fresh coffee rolls and pastry to be served during the twice-daily coffee breaks.

US Navy photo.