Monday, November 23, 2015

Mercy Chefs prepare Thanksgiving meal for Middletown, California

Mercy One, Mercy Chefs' first
mobile kitchen, is ready to
serve 500 Thanksgiving dinners
in Middletown.
Mercy Chefs returned to one Middletown, California, to serve Thanksgiving dinner Saturday afternoon. A team of chefs from California, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia converged on the town to prepare the holiday meal for over 500 townspeople. Middletown was devastated by the 76,000-acre Valley Fire in late September.

Dozens of volunteer chefs stand ready to deploy at a moment's notice to the scene of wildland fires, floods, tornado and hurricanes throughout the United States. They deploy with a mobile kitchen, ready to deliver quality meals to the victims of a natural or man-made disaster. The meals are offered free of charge to anyone who asks.

"In a disaster area to share that meal with somebody is an incredibly powerful tool just to encourage them," said Gary LeBlanc in a 2013 video. Chef LeBlanc is the president and founder of Mercy Chefs

Chef Lisa presented a wonderful
buffet centerpiece.
Mercy Chefs has a tradition of sharing a chef-prepared meal holiday with those who have lost so much in recent disasters. The chefs provide a hot meal, complete with turkey, ham, stuffing and all the fixin's, along with an encouraging word and prayer, to those as they rebuild their lives. This is Mercy Chefs' way of reminding the victims of such devastation that they are not forgotten.

Thanksgiving dinner for Middletown was served from a colorful buffet table under a large white tent. Unlike disaster feeding, where the meal is served out of the mobile kitchen in to-go containers, this meal gave the chefs to present the same meal as they would have done at a catered holiday event. Diners enjoyed linen tablecloths and a pleasant fall day in the mid-70s.

Chef Peter of South Carolina was the lead chef for the meal. He led a team of four chefs over two days of preparation and panning to prepare the Thanksgiving meal, which was served from the buffet over a period of three hours. The team included chef Lisa from Oklahoma, chef Buddy from North Carolina and chef Steven from California.

The menu is presented as it was planned by chef Peter. Some 480 pounds of whole turkeys and over 60 pounds of ham were used for the meal.


Mixed baby greens with roasted baby tomatoes, mandarin oranges
& slivered almonds tossed in a  citrus vinaigrette

Roast whole turkey with gravy
Ham with an orange honey glaze
Andouille sausage & apple cornbread stuffing
Sweet & spicy cranberry compote
Roasted acorn squash with raisins & brown sugar
Mashed potatoes with pureed cauliflower & skin-on bliss potatoes with Parmesan
Green beans with mushrooms in a soy sauce balsamic reduction
Whole wheat dinner rolls

Pumpkin tart with caramel
Apple cobbler with pecans

Apple juice
Bottled water

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

German red cabbage for a (large) crowd

I realize not many readers of 'Round the Chuckbox have need for six-plus gallon batch of German red cabbage. Faced with a 50-pound of cabbage last September on my mission to Middletown, California, with Mercy Chefs, the natural thing to do was to prepare a large batch of German red cabbage. The cabbage was served with barbecues beef strips, roasted red potatoes, tossed green salad with vinaigrette and peach cobbler.

Two volunteers cut the core out of 24 large heads of red cabbage. They then shredded it by hand after discarding the outer leaves.
I prepared this dish in the 15-gallon tilt skillet on the Mercy Chefs' 32-foot mobile kitchen trailer, known as Mercy One. The red cabbage can also be prepared in one or more large stockpots or in a steam jacketed kettle. See my recipe for a family-sized batch.

This is a vegetarian recipe. Add 4 or 5 pounds of diced cooked bacon to the cabbage if desired.

50 pounds (1 case) red cabbage, cored, outer leaves discarded and shredded
2 cups vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, diced small
1/4-cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 quarts apple juice
2 quarts red wine vinegar
2 pounds brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cloves

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions. Cover; sweat for about 10 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add shredded cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat with oil and onions.

Add juice, vinegar and cloves. Stir to combine. Cover; simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, or until cabbage is tender. Check seasoning. Adjust flavor with additional vinegar and salt, if needed. Makes 200 (1/2-cup) servings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day tribute: Navy

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 7, 2015) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Steven Kane prepares pastries for dinner aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75). Donald Cook is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interest in Europe. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mat Murch.

Veteran's Day tribute: Army

An Army cook with the 180th Transportation Company prepares a meal at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Ind., June 14 as part of Operation Golden Cargo. Operation Golden Cargo gives food service specialists the opportunity to get field training that prepares them for future deployments. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Turner.

Veteran's Day tribute: Coast Guard

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Darwin delaCruz, a food service specialist at Sector San Francisco, serves the noon meal to a hungry crew member at the sector's galley Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. A typical day for a Coast Guard FS begins around 4 a.m. and ends well past the evening meal. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena.

Veteran's Day tribute: Air Force

Elmendorf force support squadron earns Lemay award--Airman 1st Class Cortny Pelton, assigned to 673rd Force Support Squadron, prepares food for lunch at the Iditarod Dining Facility April 23, 2015, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Pelton, a native of Wyoming, Mich., and the rest of the 673rd FSS, earned the Air Force Curtis E. LeMay award for best large installation-level FSS of the year in the Air Force for 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher.

Veteran's Day tribute: Marine Corps

D'ARTA PLAGE, DJ - U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mario V. Castillo, right, a food service specialist with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and native of Escondido, California, grills hamburgers for the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps during sustainment training in D'Arta Plage, Djibouti, Nov. 10, 2014. The 11th MEU is deployed as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan Waldman.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Baked French toast for Valley Fire victims

In late September I deployed to Middletown, California, to serve with the Mercy Chefs, where chefs cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for victims of the Valley Fire. Many of those served had lost everything when the fire storm raged through the community on September 13. Nearly 2,000 structures -- including 1,280 homes -- were destroyed by the fast moving wildland fire.

The chefs served over 2,500 meals during the 10-day deployment from Mercy One, a 32-foot kitchen trailer. The kitchen is based near Dallas, Texas. Chefs and support staff converged on Middletown from homes in California, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas toward the end of September.

Once the managing chef posted the menu each day, we set about preparing the different dishes for the next day. Several days into the mission, I saw an excessive amount of biscuits, cinnamon rolls and apple crumb cake in the refrigerator trailer. Quick calculations showed that the leftovers would give us five two-inch hotel pans, enough to feed a filling breakfast to 150 persons.

This recipe for baked French toast is offered as I prepared it for our fourth breakfast. (I posted a recipe for Dutch oven baked orange French toast last year.) I quickly put the formula together after briefly confirming custard ratios on the internet. Note that I didn't add any sugar or syrup to the recipe. I felt the orange juice and berries added sufficient sweetness to the dish.


The important thing here is to fill each pan with diced or crumbled biscuits and pastry. I understand that you won't duplicate my mix of leftovers breads. You'll need about three and one-half to four pounds bread for each hotel pan. (Remember the apples in the crumb cake added additional weight to the formula.)

6-1/2 pounds buttermilk biscuits, cut into medium dice
4-1/2 pounds iced cinnamon rolls, cut into medium dice
8-1/4 pounds apple crumb cake, crumbled
10 pounds frozen mixed berries, thawed
2 flats whole eggs (30 eggs per flat)
1 gallon whole milk
6 cups orange juice
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vanilla extract
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Lightly grease or spray each 12 by 20 by2-inch hotel pan. Equally divide crumbled/diced biscuits and pastry among five hotel pan. Spread 2 pounds berries over each pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt together. Evenly pour 6 to 7 cups of the custard over the bread in each pan. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, bake in a 350-degree F oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until set and puffed up. Serves 25 to 30. Serve with fresh berries if available and maple syrup.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: How many servings will a 12-inch Dutch oven deliver?

This article was originally posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2008.

The topic of catering large groups often surfaces on Dutch oven discussion boards, like the IDOS forum and Conversation rarely centers on the business side catering. It's the culinary side of feeding large groups that draws most of the attention. Questions about menus, portion sizes, amount to prepare and equipment are among the most common.

The last discussion that I joined in on began with a question from a Dutch oven group in Porterville, California. Dutchin' Dave, a member of the Sequoia Dutch Ovens, asked this question at
Got a problem. We've been asked to do cobbler for 300 folks at a fancy fundraising dinner for our Cancer Camp for children. We're thrilled to do it, but the problem stems from the fact that the majority of our Sequoia Dutch Ovens chapter is already committed to another function and there will only be 4-5 of us left. Under the circumstances, it's going to be critical that our operation run as efficiently and streamlined as possible. We need to figure out how many ovens these 4-5 cooks are going to have to manage and so we need to calculate pretty closely how many servings we can get out of an oven.
Dave went on to explain his thought process on the issue. Even though he knows how many servings can be served from a 12-inch regular Dutch oven ("6-18 servings of a 'main dish' or 'to 30' servings of a 'side dish'"), he recognized that the number of servings per pot depends upon the portion size.

He planned to prepare one recipe in a 12-inch Dutch oven and scoop the cobbler out in 2- to 3-ounce portions. Dave estimated that the his recipe would yield about 15 servings. The results will, of course, depend on the volume of fruit and topping in his recipe.

To feed 225 guests, Dave figures it will take 15 (12-inch) ovens. He believes "approximately 3/4 of them will want dessert." The remaining 25 percent will avoid dessert due to health concerns or personal taste, said Dave.

Number of cobbler servings per No. 12 Dutch oven
Let me answer Dave's question in two parts. I'll address his immediate cobbler question first since that's the main point of his discussion. Then in a couple days, I'll address the broader question of catering large groups out of Dutch ovens.

I always work from volume, not some generalized table of servings per Dutch oven. Most Dutch oven food is semi-liquid or semi-solid. It spoons or ladles out very well. The key is to calculate the volume each Dutch oven holds for a particular dish and divide by the serving size. That's the basic formula for determining portions per Dutch oven.

There are other factors, like toppings and the number of pieces (of meat, chicken, potatoes, etc.) in the pot. It's hard to serve 20 (1-cup) servings out a pot of pork chops and gravy when there's only 15 chops in there to begin with. Toppings will also limit the number of servings. A pot pie or cobbler that's topped with 15 biscuits will only give you 15 servings.

I like to work out of 14-inch oven when cooking for a crowd. They're lighter than 16-inch ovens and holds more than a 12-inch oven. The 14-inch is a happy medium between lugging heavy 16-inchers and having to wrestle lots and lots of 12-inch ovens. I recommend that you locate as many 14-inch ovens as possible.

I don't recommend using deep-style ovens for recipes that use a topping as a key component of the dish. Deeper ovens are best reserved for bread loaves, large cuts of meat and soups, chili and stew.

The problem with baking a cobbler or crisp in a deep-style oven is it can hold a larger ratio of filling to topping. You'll run out of topping long before the filling is gone. The people at the head of the dessert line will get all the topping.

For the cobbler, I use 2 or 3 (14-inch) Dutch ovens to serve apple crisp to 150 campers. A 14-inch regular oven holds 8 quarts full to the brim. A good working volume is about 2/3 of the oven capacity, or about 5-1/3 quarts of product. Divide that by 1/2-cup into 5-1/3 quarts and you get about 42 servings per 14-inch regular oven. I round to 40. My recipe (below) uses three 14-inch ovens to feed 100 campers.

You can get 50 servings if you push the volume to 6 quarts. Just make sure you leave enough head room for the crisp topping to brown. But remember, to get 50 (1/2-cup) servings per 14-inch oven, you need about 6-1/2 quarts crisp/cobbler in each oven. And don't forget my caution about the filling to topping ratio above.


Dutch oven instructions are located in the notes.

3 (#10) cans sliced apple
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2-3/4 pounds sugar
8 ounces cornstarch
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt

3 pounds brown sugar
1-1/4 pound rolled oats
1-1/4 pounds all-purpose flour
1-2/3 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
2 pounds butter, softened

Arrange 4-1/2 quarts apples in each greased 18x26-inch sheet pan. Sprinkle juice and zest over apples. Combine granulated sugar, starch, cinnamon and salt; sprinkle half over apples in each pan.

Combine brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter or margarine; blend to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle an equal quantity of the mixture evenly over apples in each pan.

Using a convection oven, bake at 350 deg F for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling and lightly browned on low fan, open vent. Cut each pan 6 by 9. Serve with serving spoon or spatula.

Yield: 2 sheet pans

Serving ideas: Serve 1 piece or approx 1/2-cup per portion. Acceptability is approx. 100 percent.
NOTES: Use 3 #10 cans sliced apples per 100 portions. Use two 18x26-inch sheet pans per 100 portions. Three lemons will yield 1/2-cup juice. Two pounds flour (total) may be used in place of rolled oats.

For 14-inch Dutch oven, use 1 #10 can of canned apples and a 1/3 the remaining ingredients per oven. This will yield approx 33 (1/2-cup) servings per oven.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch Dutch oven

Crossing Mother Lode Drive at
Mile Post 136.8.
Last Friday, the El Dorado Western Railroad maintenance-of-way crew crossed Mother Lode Drive in Shingle Springs, California, to clear culverts and cut brush along a one-mile section of of the former Southern Pacific rail line. The crew also begin repair of a major washout. The goal is to prevent further washouts on the right-of-way and adjacent trail by ensuring proper drainage.

Since I haven't cooked for the railroad in nearly two years, the crew boss and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to treat the hard-working crew to a Dutch oven lunch. With plenty of room to safely fire charcoal briquettes, I set up my kitchen on the tracks. The first charcoal chimney was fired around 9:30 a.m. The crew enjoyed lunch three hours later.

I wanted to change the lunch entree for this cook date. Over the past 10 years, I have often prepared some form of chili con carne for the railroad crew. For over a week I had been working on a Dutch oven version of shepherd's pie. Instead of a traditional shepherd's pie with lamb, shredded beef chuck road, braised in beer and barbecue sauce formed the protein base. Since the biscuits, cobbler and coffee are crew favorites, I left them on the menu. The menu consisted of:
  • Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch camp oven
  • Cream coleslaw
  • Buttermilk biscuits in a 14-inch camp oven
  • Mixed berry cobbler in a 12-inch camp oven
  • Railroad coffee

We let the rail cars pass first as they were going to be working the area behind the camera. I set up my firepan and chuckbox between the rails to keep a safe distance from the brush.We don't cook with charcoal on the right-of-way in the summer months due to the fire danger.
The first thing I did was to bake buttermilk biscuits. To ease preparation on site, I weighed the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening at home on Thursday. The biscuit mix was stored in the refrigerator to keep the shortening cold. I added the buttermilk and cut large biscuits (3-1/2-inch diameter) once on the railroad.
    With the biscuits on heat, I turned to the coleslaw, berry cobbler and shepherd's pie, in order. To prepare the meat for the shepherd's pie, I braised a 3-1/2-pound chuck roast in beer and barbecue sauce on Thursday. After cutting the roast into large pieces, I seared them in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. The braising liquid consisted of 1-1/2 cups IPA beer, 1-1/2 cups barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. The braising liquid was poured over the meat in the skillet. After covering with aluminum foil, it was placed in a 300-degree oven for about 5 hours. Once the meat tender enough to pull, I placed it in a zipper lock bag and in the refrigerator. The braising liquid was strained and placed in the refrigerator as well.
    As the biscuits were baking in a 14-inch camp oven, I cooked 5 pounds red potatoes in the stockpot. Once mashed, the potatoes would be used as the topping for the shepherd's pie.
    To prepare the shepherd's pie, I shredded the chuck roast by hand and placed it in the 14-inch camp oven (see picture above with the peas). I then skimmed the fat off of the braising liquid and poured it over the pulled meat, along with 8 ounces frozen peas. Next a thick layer of mashed potatoes was spooned oven the meat and peas. I baked the pie with coals for around 375 degrees until crisp potato peaks had formed and the sauce was buddling, about 45 minutes. I used 1-1/2 rings of charcoal on the lid and 8 coals under the pot.
    The finished meal. Lunch was served to 8 crew members around 12:30. I was able to send cobbler, biscuits and shepherd's pie home with several crew members. We could've easily fed 12 to 15 with the 3 pots.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    Pasta salad with golden cherry tomatoes & fresh mozzarella

    Pasta salad with golden cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella twice graced our table during our recent camping trip to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest. Early Friday morning, my sister and husband left camp to pick up his aunt. Shortly after their departure, his nephew and wife arrived for the weekend.

    With three additional campers, we though a simple buffet lunch would be in order. The menu (pictured above) included a cheese and salami board, pasta salad, salsa ranchera with tortilla chips and clam dip with potato chips. The salsa and clam dip were prepared at home for the trip.

    The seven campers only ate around half of the pasta salad. The prospect of taking leftovers home concerned me until I heard the five families in the campground had planned a potluck dinner that evening. I quickly threw the pasta salad in as our contribution, along with my secret barbecue sauce and leftover salsa.

    My sister contributed campfire roasted tri-tip. Our neighboring campers contributed cowboy sushi roll, fresh abalone, fresh canteloupe and a big tossed salad, plus a few miscellaneous items. Some 20 campers devoured the food.

    I mixed the ingredients for the pasta salad in my 10-inch Griswold cast iron skillet. To expedite preparation in camp, the pasta was precooked at home. I also pre-prepared the sherry vinaigrette with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, dried basil, salt, pepper and olive oil. 
    Dishes like the pasta salad are often thrown together on the fly. You can substitute red cherry tomatoes or dice fresh tomatoes for the golden tomatoes in the recipe. If desired, add 8 to 12 ounces diced cooked chicken or cuded salami to the salad.

    You my want to cut this recipe in half for a smaller family.

    12 ounces penne regate
    1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
    2 tablespoons fresh sliced basil
    1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
    1 (8 ounce) container fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced in half
    1 (10-1/2-ounce) container golden cherry tomatoes. sliced in half
    1 (4-ounce) jar capers, drained and rinsed (optional)
    3/4 to 1 cup vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste.

    AT HOME: Cook pasta according to package instructions. Cool under cold running water. Drain and place inside a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Prepare or purchase your favorite vinaigrette or Italian dressing. Store in refrigerator until you are ready to pack for the trip.

    IN CAMP: Slice the green onions, parsley and basil. Place inside a large bowl. Drain mozzarella cheese. Slice each cheese ball in half. Slice tomatoes in half. Place cheese and tomatoes in bowl with the herbs. Drain and rinse capers. Place in bowl.

    Lightly toss pasta, herbs, tomatoes, cheese and capers with the salad dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover. Place in cooler until needed for the meal. Serves 8 to 10.