Sunday, December 28, 2014

2015 Christmas dinner menu

Nearly 25 residents, staff and guests enjoyed a festive dinner at work on Christmas Day. Holidays are important to the residents. With half the residents restricted to the house for various reasons, the meal gave them a chance to celebrate.

Staff do their best to make the recovery house a home during the 90-day program. Christmas tree, presents and frequent visits from family help the residents through the holiday season. One could argue that the holiday meal is the most important aspect of the festivities.

Christmas dinner gave me the opportunity to present a meal that's a cut above the normal fare. With a modest daily food allowance, the high cost of beef roast keeps it off of the menu. And it let the residents enjoy a special meal.

Two chuck shoulder clod roasts, averaging six and one-half pounds each, gave a generous portion. Into a hot oven just before noon, the intense heat developed a richly-colored crust. From that point, a 100-degree reduction in oven temperature (from 425 to 250 degrees F.) let the roasts coast to a perfect medium.

Accompanying the roast were scalloped red potatoes with a rosemary cream cheese sauce, roasted broccoli florets and Dutch apple pie. One of the residents, a former professional cook, assisted me on Thursday. He enjoyed the day as much as I did.

The festive Christmas dinner gave the men the opportunity to enjoy a family tradition, one which gave them a brief respite from their struggles with addiction.


Garden Salad with Ranch & Italian Dressings
Seasoned Croutons
Fresh Vegetables Marinated in Balsamic Vinaigrette

Beef Gravy from Natural Juices
Scalloped Red Potatoes in a Rosemary Cream Cheese Sauce
Broccoli Florets Roasted in Garlic Olive Oil
Freshly Baked Dinner Roll

Dutch Apple Pie

French Roast Coffee
Sweet Iced Tea

Monday, December 01, 2014

Meatloaf flop

I won't be posting the recipe to cheeseburger meatloaf anytime soon. After testing the recipe last night, I wasn't pleased with the results. Though the recipe appeared to be straight forward, it needs re-working before I can give it the 'Round the Chuckbox stamp of approval.

I must confess that the failure of the recipe isn't entirely the fault of the source. It was located on the ChefRef cell phone application by Sysco. A major contributing factor was my selection of the wrong measuring cup, something that I rarely do.

The recipe called for a mixture of bread crumbs, chopped pickles, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, egg and mustard. Once mixed, it was worked into ground beef and shredded cheddar cheese. Since the initial ingredients were portioned in quarter and half-cup increments, I had intended to select the quarter-cup measure.

There's one problem. Our quarter-cup measure has been missing for some time. (It's likely buried in the rice or flour container.) Instead, I absentmindedly selected the third-cup measure. While I enjoyed the basic flavor, I couldn't move beyond the pasty texture. And I couldn't slice it for the plate without it falling apart.

I do intend on presenting a Dutch oven meatloaf recipe on these pages in the coming week or two. I will place the recipe for cheeseburger meatloaf on the back burner for now and work on a basic comfort recipe.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A sea-going Thanksgiving

SOUDA BAY, Greece (Nov. 27, 2014) -- Guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman.

Culinary Specialist 1st Class John Mobley, from Philadelphia, Pa., bastes a turkey for a Thanksgiving meal aboard the Cole.
CS2 David Tiberio, from Red Hook, N.Y., carves turkey food for a Thanksgiving meal.
CS1 John Mobley, prepares a turkey for carving for a Thanksgiving meal. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving spread at work

For the last month and one-half I've been working at a men's residential recovery program in Sacramento, California. My former boss called me in early October looking for a cook. I agreed to work lunch and dinner until I leave town for my summer job.

Readers who've been around for several years will remember that I previously worked in a woman's recovery home. I am once again working in the same location in mid-town Sacramento. The woman's facility was closed some 20 months ago. Most staff were laid off and the house was converted into a sober living home.

Little has changed in the house other than the fact that male parolees have replaced the women. While the men eat more than the women, they have the same heartfelt appreciation for the meals that I cook during the week. Six weeks ago I move into the job as if I had never left.

This isn't the first time I've talked about Thanksgiving at work. I last featured my menu and prep list in 2011 on 'Round the Chuckbox. Here's the menu for 2014 Thanksgiving dinner:
Roast turkey breast
Sour cream mashed red potatoes
Candied sweet potatoes
Cornbread dressing
Traditional turkey gravy
Orange cranberry sauce
Seasoned green beans
Tossed green salad with homemade ranch dressing
Hot dinner roll
Pumpkin pie 

I miss working in a commercial kitchen with a steam line. Cold food isn't an issue since 25 residents can be served in 15 minutes. I lay the pans out on the counter and on the range and serve each resident as he passes through the kitchen. 

Serving the residents gives me the opportunity to set a nice looking plate. It also ensures even portion control. I want the last resident to receive the same portion as the first. Note that I forgot to place the cranberry sauce on my sample plate.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Finding inspiration for the camp menu

I originally posted this story in 2006 during the ramp-up to a camp that I worked at for one week each summer. 

I glean menu and recipe ideas from many sources. Professional trade magazines -- Foodservice Director and Food Management among them -- give me ideas that are specially suited for the institutional kitchen. Popular magazines like Sunset also provide inspiration. I can often use an idea and work it until it fits a group setting.

A photograph of an artfully arranged collection of skillets arranged on an outdoor buffet table sparked my cowboy breakfast idea. Twin stacks of blue enamel plates and a lone Dutch oven complete the display -- no fancy garnish for the dudes of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, near Emigrant, Montana.

This thousand-word inspiration gave me the impetuous to celebrate our nation's 230th birthday. The crisp, smoky air of the campfire will greet campers next Tuesday. Bright yellow scrambled eggs, airy biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and gallons of cowboy coffee (hot chocolate for campers) will kick off our celebration next week. The meal will be cooked in cast iron that's stood the test of time from the colonial hearth to the Western range to the backyards of today.

In 2004, campers kept saying, "That's what 4 a.m. rolls look like!," as they walked through the cafeteria line. Their response puzzled me all morning until I walked out into the dining area and saw this hand-printed menu.
Inspiration for camp menu ideas come from many sources. Television programs, cookbooks and magazines have helped my over 35-year culinary career. The one thing that's worked best for me since the late 1980s has been a series of culinary notebooks.

I keep the notebook handy. Now that I'm commuting to Sacramento each day, the 200-page composition book rests in my daypack. I record ideas -- often gathered from professional magazines on my desk -- and clippings on my hour-long commute home. My 18-notebook collection is full of ideas.

It doesn't matter if the idea comes from TV or print. Shows like Al Rocker's Rocker on the Road can give wonderful ideas. Take Douglas Coffin's New Haven, Conn.-based Big Green Pizza Truck (the show that aired last January). I may not be able to restore a 1946 International Harvester flat-bed truck. But the pizza menu idea will come in handy one day.

They key is to clip ideas and place them in your culinary scrapbook. Soon your collection of ideas, complete with thousand-word photographs will have you cooking for a herd of hungry campers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pie dough for a 12-inch skillet

Use this recipe for pie dough with the iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan.


Keep butter and shortening in the refrigerator to ensure a flaky crust.

18 ounces all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons table salt
9 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 ounces shortening, cold
3/4 cup ice water

Place flour and salt in a mixer bowl. Using flat beater, mix flour and salt on low speed 15 seconds. Place cubed butter and shortening in bowl. Mix on low speed 1 minute, or until mixture resembles cornmeal. Some butter lumps will remain.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add ice water. Mix just until water is absorbed. Do not over work the dough. Scoop dough onto counter. Gently press into a large ball and cut in to two pieces. Flatten each piece into a rounded disk. Place the disks in a zip-top bag. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Flatten gently. Using a floured rolling pin, roll lightly with quick strokes from center out to edge in all directions. Form a circle 13 to 14 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Bottom crust will be slightly thicker. Shift or turn dough occasionally to prevent sticking. If edges split, pinch cracks together.

BOTTOM CRUST: Fold each piece of rolled dough in half. For iron skillet apple pie, proceed with instructions in the recipe. For other applications, such as chicken pot pie, carefully place in ungreased 12-inch skillet with fold at center. Unfold and fit carefully into skillet, being careful not to leave any air spaces between skillet and dough. Place contents over bottom crust, being careful not to overfill.

TOP CRUST: With top crust folded in half, make several small slits with a knife near center fold to allow steam to vent during baking. Brush outer rim of bottom crust with water. Lay top crust over filling with fold at center. Unfold and press edges of two crusts together lightly. Trim overhanging edges of dough by with a knife or spatula. Seal pie by pressing edges of crust firmly together or crimping with thumb and forefinger to make a fluted edge.

Brush top crust with 1 whisked egg. On fruit pies, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over crust. Do not use sugar on savory pies. Bake pie as directed in recipe. Place pan under skillet to catch syrup spills. Watch skillet pie in oven as it requires longer baking than a traditional 9-inch pie. If needed, shield crust with foil sheet in last 15 to 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning.

Iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan

I presented my version of the iron skillet apple pie last night to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. The pie was baked in a large cast iron skillet. We arrived just as the last diners we filling their plates. I placed the pie among the other desserts and cut it into 12 servings.

I thought that the crust was the best part of the pie! The crisp crust, both top and bottom, complimented the soft and sweet apples. A clean skillet was all that we brought home. Word of mouth quickly brought diners to the dessert table to try a slice of pie.

Enjoy ...

Iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan will feed a crowd. 

This is an enlarged version of an on-line recipe, from the September 2011 issue of Southern Living. Amounts have been adjusted to fit inside a larger cast iron skillet. I used an 11-1/2-inch Wagner skillet for the test run.

Purchase 5 large Braeburn and 5 large Granny Smith apples. Yield will be approximately 4 pounds, give or take, of apple slices after peeling, coring and slicing. You may need to prepare your own pie dough since the skillet is several inches larger than a 9-inch pie pan. Or you can use my recipe.

2-1/2 pounds Braeburn apples
2-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
6 ounces unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 pounds 4 ounces pie dough, rolled into 2 pieces
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and core apples. Cut into 1/2-inch wedges. Toss with cinnamon and 2 cups sugar. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Do not caramelize. Remove from heat.

Place 1 pie crust over brown sugar mixture. Spoon apples over bottom pie crust. Top with second pie crust (with several slits cut in to vent steam). Pinch crusts to seal. Whisk egg. Brush top crust with egg wash. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over crust.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Place pan under skillet to catch syrup spills. Shield crust with foil sheet in last 15 to 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool before serving. Serves 12.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day tribute: Navy

ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 24, 2014) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Alkyshia McDonald, from Palm Beach, Fla., prepares food aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 24, 2014) Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Patrick Hunn, from Slaton, Texas, left, and Culinary Specialist Seaman Robert Wren, from Kernersville, N.C., prepare food aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W.  Bush (CVN 77).

USS George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Stephens.

Veteran's Day tribute: Coast Guard

Petty Officer 3rd Class Arianne Gunn gracefully decorates the birthday cake the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star's galley baked in celebration of several crew members, who celebrated their birthdays aboard the ship's two-week shakedown voyage through Washington state's Puget Sound, April 3, 2013. The food service specialists aboard Polar Star work tirelessly doing their part to ensure the crew retains a high level of moral. U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Akiyama.

Veteran's Day tribute: Marine Corps

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug 26, 2014) - - Lance Cpl. Timothy McKnight, a food service technician at Gonzales Hall, adds peppers to potatoes for the breakfast line before an inspection for the Best of the West competition aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Aug. 26. The air station’s mess hall competed in and won the competition in fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014, and hopes to regain the title for 2015. Photo by Cpl. Christopher Johns.

Veteran's Day tribute: Army

Sgt. Thao Vangsouan, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, shows Pfc. Jacques Herrington, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 705th Military Police Battalion, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., how to properly filet a Dover sole during a cook off as part of the Big Red One's Food Service NCO and Soldier of the Quarter Competition. Five Soldiers participated in a cook off, demonstrating their cooking and presentation skills, and were required to make a meal using Dover sole, bacon, leeks and rice. Competitors took a written test after the cook off and attended a board Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs.

Veteran's Day tribute: Air Force

Certified Master Chef James Hanyzeski and Airmen of the 374th Force Support Squadron take photos of the healthy breakfast alternatives they made July 15, 2014, on Yokota Air Base, Japan. Hanyzeski's visit provided hands-on training to services Airmen as part of the Healthy Base Initiative. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Danford.