Saturday, January 21, 2006

Camping in Snowy Weather

Last Friday, we had great weather for the middle of January. After the warmth of the sun broke through the clouds sometime before noon, I stripped to a long-sleeve T-shirt. The day ended with moisture-laden storm clouds making their approach. But even as darkness encroached, the moon broke through and bathed our camp with the soft beams of light.

It rained from midnight until 7 a.m. At 8, when I snapped this photograph, a slushy layer of snow covered the colder patches of ground. Sly Park sets at 3,500 feet. The snow line that morning sat at around 3,800 feet.

I trust my 14-inch skillet will survive! I left it and my cutlery roll on the picnic table overnight.

Cucumber Salsa

I sent this salsa over to my parent's house last Thursday. My sister and her daughters have been visiting and helping Mom in her recovery from hip-replacement surgery two weeks ago.

The salsa was a hit with the kids, including my 14-year old son. He's since asked for more -- a rather impressive deed for a teenager who's idea of food is hamburgers, Taco Bell and chicken tenders.

CUCUMBER SALSA

The recipe is from the September 2005 issue of Sunset magazine.

2 cucumbers (1-1/2 pounds total), peeled
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces total), rinsed and cored
1 red onion (6 ounces total), peeled and chipped
5 green onions, rinsed and thinly sliced, including green tops
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Dice cucumbers and tomatoes into 1/4-inch cubes and combine in a bowl. Add red and green onions, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and black pepper. Add cayenne to taste. Mix well. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Frank's Hearty Skillet Breakfast Revisited

Many will remember two blogs on Frank's Hearty Skillet Breakfast (here and here). On an overnight camping trip last August to Wench Creek in Eldorado National Forest, Frank cooked a breakfast of bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, gravy and scrambled eggs in to large cast iron skillets.

For some, the troublesome element of this breakfast was its economical use of bacon and sausage grease. Not one drop of the rendered fat was lost to the fire or garbage.

Frank's breakfast is hearty is an epicurean contradiction -- good tasting and not-so-good for you, all in one setting.

My family recently learned that Frank is moving his family and his construction skills to Idaho, where he is going to manage a division for a large contractor.

So last weekend, we took one last camping trip, this time to Sly Park. Campers were few and the fee was reasonable at $10 per night. Winter camping is more primitive than summer camping at Sly Park. They shut the water system off in winter to prevent the pipes from bursting. Sly Park doesn't have electrical hookups.

Frank repeated his breakfast production, this time without the scrambled eggs. This time I snapped several photographs of the breakfast. Here they are:

Two cast iron skillets with cottage fried potatoes on the left and bacon grease on the right.

Contractor, turned breakfast cook.

Sausage patties deep fried in bacon grease.

Gravy just isn't gravy without biscuits.

Breakfast gravy simmers over the campfire.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Dutch Oven Potatoes and Chicken with Broccoli

I borrowed the idea for this recipe from 5 Year Taste of Dutch: IDOS Convention Recipes, 2000 to 2004. Lou and Senia Winrich presented a dish called Top Hat Chicken Casserole at an International Dutch Oven Convention during the past five years.

In the original recipe, cooked chicken breasts were placed over a bed of lightly browned onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and potatoes. With no desire to eat celery and no mushrooms in the larder, re-wrote the Dutch oven one-pot casserole to include two ingredients in the refrigerator—chicken drumsticks and thighs and fresh broccoli.

DUTCH OVEN POTATOES AND CHICKEN WITH BROCCOLI

Resist the temptation to use too much moisture in the Dutch oven. The heavy cast iron lid creates a fairly tight seal. As a result, very little moisture escapes during cooking.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
10 pieces chicken, thighs and drumsticks
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 medium onion, sliced
5 medium potatoes, cut into eighths
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 small bunches broccoli, cut into florets

Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and heat. Combine flour, salt, black pepper thyme and paprika. Dredge each piece of chicken until coated with seasoned flour. Set on plate. Place the thighs, skin side down, in hot oil. Brown chicken and turn to brown other side. Remove thighs to a plate. Repeat process with drumsticks.

Heat a 12-inch Dutch oven medium heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and heat. Add onion, potatoes, garlic and carrots to oven. Sauté vegetables until lightly browning, stirring continually. Combine broth thyme and Worcestershire sauce in a measuring cup. Pour over potatoes and stir. Sprinkle parsley over potatoes. Spread broccoli in a layer over potatoes. Place chicken in a single layer over broccoli.

Place lid on Dutch oven. Set 8 charcoal briquettes underneath oven and 17 on lid for 350 degrees. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes until potatoes are soft and chicken is cook through. Serve 2 pieces of chicken and a hearty portion of potatoes for each person.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Chili Verde with Tomatoes?

Few accuse me of being a food purest. Claims of authenticity at ethnic restaurants (be it Italian, Hungarian or Mexican) don't move me.

My test is simple: Does the food taste good? Beyond taste, I don't really care where a dish came from or how authentic are its flavors.

So when I express alarm over Sunset's latest chili verde ("Dishes that define the West," Sunset, Northern California edition, pages 97-8), it's not because the recipe violates some long-standing culinary code.

It's because the test cooks used tomatoes (the red kind) as the foundational ingredient.

The caption to the photograph of Sunset's tomato-infused verde reads, "Cooks have long battled it out whether New Mexico, Arizona or Colorado has the 'true' version of the spicy simmered pork dish."

So, I guess I'm injecting myself into the battle.

I’m not sure how cooks make chili verde in New Mexico, Arizona or Colorado. We use tomatillos here in Northern California. Mexican restaurants that I frequent use tomatillos and green chilies in their verde. I've never had a tomato-infused verde at Casa Ramos or Colina de Oro (click for El Dorado Co. restarants).

Sunset's approach baffles me. Although I love to mix flavors (when combinations make sense and the dish comes a live in my palate), I look to traditional flavors in some dishes. Chili verde is a prime example. I enjoy the lively flavors of the green pork stew.

This approach makes sense to me. After all, verde means green in Spanish. You use green ingredients, not the red tomatoes in the Sunset recipe, in chili verde. I though a red chili was called chili colorado!

I suppose I could learn to relish a green and red pork stew. But why try?

So add tomatoes if you must. You won't offend me. But I think you'll enjoy the traditional chili verde. It's a refreshing change from the thick, hearty red chili.

CHILI VERDE

Many supermarkets stock canned tomatillos. You'll find them in the Mexican isle.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 pounds boned pork shoulder (Boston butt), fat-trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 onions (2 pounds total), cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
5 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) can canned whole tomatillos
1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth
2 (7-ounce) cans whole green chilies, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Heat vegetable oil in a 12-inch Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, lightly season cubed pork with salt and ground black pepper. When hot, add 1/3 the pork. Turn pieces as necessary until well browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer meat to a bowl. If pot is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil. Repeat process for next 2 batches to brown pieces on all sides.

Reduce heat to medium. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of leftover pork fat in Dutch oven. Add oil, if necessary, to bring the total to 2 tablespoons. Add onion, garlic and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 8 minutes.

Return meat and any accumulated juices to Dutch oven. Crush tomatillos with your hand and place in Dutch oven. Add broth, chilies, bay leaves and oregano to Dutch oven. Bring chili mixture to a simmer

Place lid on Dutch oven. Bake at 350 degrees (17 coals under oven and 8 on lid) until pork is very tender when pierced and flavors are blended, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Adjust seasoning. Serve topped with cilantro leaves. Garnish with lime to squeeze over chili. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Winter Camp Cookoff in Colusa, California

I received this email from Don Mason the other day:

Sacramento River Cast Iron Cookers are having their Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff on Saturday, January 21, 2006 at the Colusa County Fairgrounds in Colusa, California. Cooking starts soon after the cooks meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Once again this year we are inviting the youth to come out and cook. Ages 9 through 17 can cook, no entry fee will be charged. Every youth that cooks will receive a participation gift. If they should win their class (first through third place) they will receive a plaque.

All judging will be Peoples Choice for both youth and adults. The public may purchase a $5 ticket and sample the food cooked that day and then vote on the best cook and pot of food. Youth judging will start at 12:00 noon and end at 12:30 p.m. Adult judging starts at 12:30 and ends at 1:30 p.m.

Winners will be announced at 2 p.m. Adult class winners for first place will receive $100 and a plaque. Second and third places will receive plaques. Youth winners only receive a plaque.

SRCIC will provide prep tables and one plastic table cloth, trash cans, cold running water and hot ash cans. Everything else is on you. Hope you can come. Dress warm and enjoy the day with us.

I would like to wish all of you a happy holiday and a happy healthy new year. Hope to see you in 2006.

Thank you, Vickie Stegall.

Crowds at the 2005 Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff.

Applications for the Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff are due to Vickie by January 15, 2006. The fee is $30 per team. Categories are main dish, bread and dessert. Each team may cook in one, two or three pots.

To participate, contact Vickie at: (530) 458-8009.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Big Green Truck Pizza

My favorite shows on the Food Network are those that give me food business ideas. You'll find me viewing Best Of, Food Finds and Rocker on the Road when my schedule permits. I love it when one of these shows features a big green 1946 chuckwagon on rubber tires.

I like these shows -- I believe Al Roker's show is the only one currently in production -- because they move around the country showcasing small food businesses.

As a frustrated government worker, these shows have given me hundreds of hours of fantasy-filled viewing. I always seem to be a retirement check away from filling a food niche here in El Dorado County.

My latest business idea came to me Friday evening in the form of a 1946 International Harvester flatbed truck. Roker featured the New Haven, Connecticut based truck in the Tapas and Brownies episode.

The Big Green Truck is a self-contained wood-fired pizza oven on wheels. For $950, Douglas Coffin, a self-trained chef who’s operated a successful catering business for 15 years, will bring the truck to your home or business and prepare hand-made pizza for 50 of your closest friends or business associates.

I'm always looking business ideas. My ideal post-retirement culinary business must meet several self-imposed limitations. The full service restaurant is definitely out. I’m done with late hours and early mornings and every hour in between.

My concept has to fill a local need -- one that's unique to the local area. The idea must sell and not cost a fortune. And it must be operated with two or three employees.

I have no illusions about starting the next culinary empire in Northern California. Ideally, my concept will be centered around on or two products -- like Coffin's handmade pizza, galeto and cappuccino.

That's where the Big Green Truck comes in. It gave me an idea for a local catering business. More correctly, his idea confirmed an idea that I've had for some time now. All I have to do now is to blend the two (soon, Lord willing).

But just in case Coffin finds these words: Don’t worry about competition from the left coast.

Coffin's concept will give me ideas. I can certainly garner thoughts on menu, design and concept. Unless he shares his well-guarded trade secrets for a West Coast division, I’ll develop my own concept from scratch.

You'll have to click over to Douglas Coffin’s website to see more photographs. It sounds fun if you live near New Haven.