Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicken thighs in gravy

When I first planned the menu for Saturday's Home and Garden Show, my thought was to serve hot turkey sandwiches to the crew. I wanted to spread a layer of sausage stuffing on the bread for the open faced sandwich. A couple slices of turkey and a generous ladle of gravy would top the bread and stuffing.

Once at the market, I realized that I'd have to change direction. The stock of fresh turkey products was slim last Friday night. Two drumstick packages wasn't enough to feed 17 hungry volunteers.

Although I looked forward to fixing hot turkey sandwiches, I settled on chicken breasts. At $2.99 per pound, the chicken breasts became an attractive alternative.


Instead of printing a traditional recipe, I've written the instructions in a pictorial format. Tonight's dinner is essentially the same dish that I cooked for Saturday's event. Here, I used a package of 12 chicken thighs in place of the breasts.

For chicken thighs, I removed the skin and trimmed the fat with a pair of kitchen shears. Seasoning the chicken with any seasoning mixture that compliments the finished product. Kosher salt and ground black pepper work well for most dishes. I used a mixture of kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic granules and paprika here.

To sear, pour 1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, sear chicken in hot oil in batches. It takes no more than 5 minutes per side when the skillet is heated to the right temperature. Adjust the heat as needed to avoid burning the chicken.

I used an older Lodge #12 skillet here. The skillet, which has a 13-1/2-inch diameter, will hold about 8 thighs or 6 breast halves without over-crowding. Once brown on both sides, remove chicken to a waiting platter. Pour off and save the fat. Add enough vegetable oil to bring it to 1/2-cup.

Next, heat 4 ounces (about 1/2-cup) oil in 12-inch Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 8-ounce mirepoix to hot fat and saute until browned. An 8-ounce mire poix is a mixture of 4 ounces chopped onion, 2 ounces chopped carrot and 2 ounces chopped celery. Browning the mirepoix will add a robust element to the gravy.

Remove mirepoix if desired and discard. When left in, most chefs strain the mirepoix out at some point to enhance the gravy's appearance. In my experience, many home cooks leave it in. The choice is yours.

Add 4 ounces flour to the fat and stir to make a roux. Brown roux to desire color over medium heat.

In the camp kitchen I add a slightly cooled roux to hot chicken stock while vigorously whisking. This ensures a smooth, lump-free gravy. I reverse the process when working outdoors to save a step. Slowly pour hot stock over the roux, while vigorously whisking to prevent lumps from forming.

Place chicken thighs in gravy, being careful to prevent splattering. Simmer gravy for 30 to 45 minutes, until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes or buttered eggs noodles.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Submarine schoolhouse

The U.S. Navy has long valued on-the-job training for its cooks and bakers. Here, two restaurant chefs learn from a submarine cook as the new boat prepares to take to sea for the first time

KITTERY, Maine (Oct. 22, 2008) -- Chef Dan Dumont, left, Culinary Specialist Nate Baker, and Chef Chris Soulder prepare lunch for the crew of the Pre-commissioning Unit USS New Hampshire (SSN 778). Dumont and Soulder, chefs of restaurants in the Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, area, were aboard New Hampshire to experience what its like to cook for the ship's crew.

New Hampshire will be commissioned Saturday, Oct. 25, during a ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. New Hampshire is the fifth submarine in the Virginia class, the first major U.S. Navy combatant vessel class designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roadell Hickman.

Menu for railroad event

The crew of the El Dorado Western Railway gathered at the engine house yesterday to pull the Diamond and Caldor No. 4 locomotive out onto the tail track. The occasion was the third annual Home and Garden Show at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.

As with last year, I used the occasion as an opportunity to cook for the volunteers. Since the engine house and machine shop (located at the El Dorado County Historical Museum) doesn't have a kitchen, I hauled my outdoor cooking gear to the site and set up a kitchen on the tailgate of my truck.

I used the two-burner Outdoor Cooker stove (manufactured by Camp Chef's former owner) and three Dutch ovens to cook the following menu:
C&O recipe collection

Inspiration for this menu came from a dining car recipe collection that I picked up two years ago at the California State Railroad Museum. Chesapeake and Ohio Dining Car Recipes (compiled by E. Stirling "Tod" Hanger, Jr., Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society, 1995) re-prints all 170 post-World War II recipes for the railroad. (The recipes are called formulas in the book.)

The East Coast line used these recipes for a brief period in the years following the war. Commissary department managers enlisted noted chef Michael L. DeZutter to help the railroad upgrade culinary service from wartime service. During the war, the cooks set the "finest 'hotel style' foods and service" aside to convert their dining cars into a "mess hall on wheels," according to Hanger.

Prior to development of DeZutter's recipe collection, the railroad didn't specify how to cook each item on the menu. It instead relied on the senior cooks to mentor trainees. On-the-job training took the place of organized classroom training.

These cooks, many with more than 25 years of service to the railroad, handed "down the traditions, recipes and methods to the 'youngsters' as they joined the team," said Hanger.

DeZutter's task was to "ensure consistent food preparation, style and service" to the post-war passenger. In addition to a training program, he developed the recipe collection, which was given to each chef in a three-ring binder. This is the only recipe book published by the railroad.

Last year's menu also came the C&O book, as well as two other railroad dining car books. The menu featured old fashion navy bean soup (Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad and Chesapeake and Ohio Railway), cole slaw (Missouri Pacific Lines) and toasted hot Mexican sandwich (Santa Fe Lines).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Campfire, takeout and a tree stump ...

Chow time
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
No, I'm not in a state of denial about an approaching forest fire. Nor am I picking at my food. I was trying to hide the remote as I fumbled the fork

It was time for one of my campfire, takeout and tree stump sessions up Iron Mountain Road up past Jenkinson Lake in Eldorado National Forest. My last campfire was Veteran's Day 2007.

Until I got involved with the El Dorado Western Railway three years ago, my son and I had a tradition of a campfire and Chinese takeout twice each month.

Two Saturdays each month, we'd shoot up the Eldorado National Forest road to our favorite spot about one and one-half miles beyond the information station. IMR, also known as Mormon Immigrant Trail, connects Pollock Pines and Sly Park with State Route 88.

We'd clear a spot, light a campfire and set up folding camp chairs. A book or two and my ever present notebook occupied our minds as we took in nourishment and the mountain beauty.

It took two or three hours for the fire to burn down to a glowing bed of coals. That was our signal to drown the fire and move out. From there, we'd drive forest roads for another hour or so before heading home.

I've chronicled several campfires on this blog over since 2005. I don't really need to repeat what I've written in the past.

But I will quote campfire cooking expert Johnny Nix:
Something about a campfire invites people in. Strangers start telling their stories. Pretty soon they're not strangers anymore. When you're outdoors, you get a real connection back to what God has created for us all to enjoy -- good food, good friends, the love of family and a sky with more starts in than their are worries in the world. Cooking over the campfire isn't quick, but that's the point. It slows life down enough to remind you of what's important. So come and join me on the range.(Guideposts, August 2006.)
I think that says it all ...

Monday, October 20, 2008


Focaccia makes a nice sandwich bread for camp. It can easily be baked on a full sized sheet pan. To form sandwiches, cut bread in sheet pan 6 by 8. Then slice each portion flat and filled with desired sandwich fillings. or served un-split as an accompaniment to soup or salad.


Makes an 8-1/4-pound dough. If desired, divide dough into 4 (2-pound 1-ounce). Shape into ovals or rectangles about 1/2-2/3 inch thick. Bake 15 to 20 minutes after proofing.

4-1/2 pounds bread flour
3 pounds warm water, 105-110 degrees F.
4-1/2 ounces olive oil
1-1/2 ounces salt
2 ounces sugar
1 ounce instant yeast

Olive Oil Topping
1 ounce fresh rosemary, chopped
30 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil

Add flour, water, oil, salt, sugar and yeast to 10- to 20-quart mixer bowl. Mix until blended using dough hook. Mix on low speed for about 10 minutes until dough is smooth and satiny.

Turn into lightly greased bowl, then turn over to grease top. Cover. Let rise in warm place (80°F) until double in bulk (30-40 minutes).

Turn dough onto floured surface. Form into ball and cut an X halfway through the dough. Pull cuts out slightly to form a rough square. This will make it easier to shape dough into a rectangle tater. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.

Place dough into center of greased 18x26-inch sheet pan. With oiled hands, work dough until it completely covers pan. Cover and let dough rest 10 minutes halfway through shaping, if necessary.

Mix rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Brush dough with olive oil mixture and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and coarse ground pepper. Let rise until 1-1/2 times its original size.

Bake at 450°F for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.


Toss 1-pound thinly sliced onions with 1/4-cup olive oil, 1/2-teaspoon salt and 1/2-teaspoon pepper. Distribute onion mixture on dough after shaping. Proof and bake as directed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carl Vinson crew enjoys first free meal on board

Now that the aircraft carrier's galleys are operational after a three-year renovation, the food service division celebrated the return to free meals with a special "surf and turf" menu. The crew received a cash allowance for meals during the nuclear refueling and maintenance overhaul.

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Candice Villarreal, USS Carl Vinson Public Affairs

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) (10/18/2008) -- Sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) gathered on the ship's aft mess decks Oct. 7 to feast on the first free meal served to the crew since the "Gold Eagle" entered its scheduled shipyard period in late 2005.

The celebratory meal – symbolic of the progress the ship is making in its Refueling Complex Overhaul (or RCOH) and its imminent return to operational status – brought crew members together to enjoy a hearty lunch that consisted of steak, crab legs and all the trimmings.

"This meal marks the beginning of a big shift in food service on board and a big milestone for the ship," said Chief Warrant Officer Brian Armstrong, the ship's food service officer. "It's a good day for the whole crew."

The first serving of free meals on board coincided with the termination of the commuted rations (COMRATS) form of basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) that was provided for the "Gold Eagle" crew before any of the ship's galleys were fully operational. Now that the aft galley and mess decks have been brought back to pristine functional condition, crew members will instead be served three free, hot meals a day on board.

Carl Vinson's culinary specialists and food service attendants put several hours of preparation into the special meal. About 820 pounds of steak, 400 pounds of crab and 600 pounds of potatoes were served to the crew, in addition to a full salad bar, side dishes and desserts.

"It was a lot of work; we started preparing at 4 a.m., and we started marinating the steaks two hours before that," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Maria Husbands. "There are a lot more mouths to feed now that the food is free, but it turned out really well. The crew was happy, and that's what matters most."

USS Carl Vinson is currently undergoing its scheduled refueling complex overhaul at Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard. The RCOH is an extensive yard period that all Nimitz-class aircraft carriers go through near the mid-point of their 50-year life cycle.

During RCOH Carl Vinson's nuclear fuel will be replenished and the ship's services and infrastructure will be upgraded to make her the most state-of-the-art aircraft carrier in the fleet and prepare her for another 25 years or more of service.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Alfredo sauce with cream cheese?

This video come to YouTube from chef Frank Terranova's "Cooking with Class" segment on NBC 10 News in Providence, R.I. Navy culinary specialist Chad Loveland of the USS Springfield (SSN 761) shows the Johnson and Wales University chef how to make Alfredo fettuccine with cream cheese in place of traditional heavy cream.

Happy navy birthday

This brings me back to a certificate that needs dusting. It honors those who were serving during our nation's 200th anniversary.

And yes, the cooks roasted and served at lot of lobster in the 1970s ...

GULF OF OMAN (Oct. 13, 2008) Culinary Specialist Seaman Recruit Charlene Cruz de-shells a batch of lobster tails in the aft mess decks aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in preparations for a crew appreciation dinner, celebrating the Navy's 233rd birthday. To commemorate the occasion, 117 Sailors reenlisted in the Navy during a mass ceremony earning a combined selective reenlistment bonus of $2.4 million.

Ronald Reagan is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, reassuring regional partners of the United States' commitment to security, which promotes stability and global prosperity.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Torrey W. Lee.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hope Valley

In a bit of irony, the operators of Sorensen's Resort couldn't have engineered a better display of fall colors. I found the most colorful aspen trees as we turned the corner on Highway 88 at the roadside cabin resort this afternoon.

As we climbed Carson Pass from the west, it was obvious that we'd missed the peak of the fall colors in the Sierra Nevada Range. Many aspens in the surrounding area had turned brown. And a number were already bare.

Our descent into Hope Valley -- a picturesque photo spot in its own right -- nearly confirmed my suspicion. But halfway down the grade, I spotted a few isolated aspen groves that were ticked against the mountain.

The vibrant colors of Hope Valley seemed to turn from bright auburn to spotted brown in a week. A motel deadline kept us from stopping on our recent trip through the area. A quite day with my wife was reason enough to return to the valley.

"A few weeks ago was better," said our young waitress at Sorensen's Cafe. "It's been coming and going really fast."

"We've seen better seasons," she added as she shuttled off to attend to other diners.

She's right. The colors in the valley were certainly past their prime today.

But there's hope for Hope Valley. As we drove up Highway 89 toward Luther Pass, I noticed a band of soft green aspens at the 6,500-foot level. The highway cut right through the large grove at the abandoned Dangberg Ranch.

Given the right conditions of cold, frosty nights, the valley -- long known for an annual color show -- could yet ramp up its display.

The most vibrant groves hug the base Waterhouse Peak and the Willow Creek drainage this year. While we may still see some colors along Willow Creek this season, we may have to wait.

Your best bet is to tour the south end of Hope Valley for the best fall colors, right along Highway 88 as it climbs up to Carson Pass.

Many groves and individual stands still quake in the afternoon breeze. Fall colors abound. You'll enjoy the yellow, brown and green hues.

The warm slopes of the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Range will enlighten you as it warms your body and colors the image in your lens.

You'd better act fast. This weekend may be too late.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spinach mushroom fettuccine

Although this recipe would satisfy almost any vegetarian, dedicated meat eaters will love it too. Spinach mushroom fettuccine dishes up a satisfying bit of pep. And it’s a refreshing change from a steady diet of beef and chicken.

This quick dinner pasta dish caught my attention for two reasons. First, I need to build my repertoire of vegetarian dishes for camp. By next summer, I plan to add eight to 12 new recipes to my recipe file.

On the home front, spinach mushroom fettuccine comes together quickly. It only takes 20 to 30 minutes from stove to plate.

I doubled the original recipe (page 106, Northern California edition, October 2008 Sunset) to make sure it multiplies easily for the camp kitchen. Although I haven’t tested a larger batch yet, I’m confident you can double or triple the basic recipe. Adjust the size of the skillet or saucepan accordingly.

I made two changes to the Sunset recipe. First, I felt the addition of extra garlic was needed to give the dish a flavor boost. Reduce the garlic to one or two minced cloves if it’s too much garlic.

And I changed the whole wheat pasta to fettuccine, reminiscent of fettuccine Alfredo, which is made with reduced heavy cream and melted butter. Any whole wheat or plain spaghetti or fettuccine will work for this recipe.

Clean and slice the mushrooms as the pasta water comes to a boil. Then mince the garlic and wash the fresh spinach leaves. Turn your attention to the sauce as the pasta cooks. The sauce and pasta should be ready at the same time.


Carefully stir the sauce after you combine the cream cheese and milk. It takes about 10 minutes the soften the cream cheese to the point where it blends with the milk. Stir gently to avoid breaking up the mushrooms.

Save some pasta water and use it to thin the dish as it absorbs the sauce.

1 pound fettuccine pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
4-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds sliced mushrooms
12 ounces cream cheese
1 cup milk
4 quarts lightly packed spinach
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Boil 1 gallon water in a large stockpot and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cream cheese and milk and heat until boiling, stirring often. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over pasta. Sprinkle with chives and serve with Parmesan on the side. Serves 8.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hunting camp trailer for sale on eBay

I found this interesting camping trailer this morning on While not a true mobile kitchen or travel trailer, it apparently comes with tents, kitchen equipment and support gears to set up a long-term hunting camp.

From the description, it'll support about a dozen campers or hunters.

The opening bid sets at a respectable $2,900. Or you can use the "Buy it Now" feature and pick up the outfit for $3,300. Biding closes Sunday evening at 9:25 p.m.

Here's the sellers description:

Hunting Camp Trailer - Fully Equipped

This listing is for a fully equipped hunting camp with a heavy duty trailer. The trailer is set up on a one ton axle with brakes and spare tire. The tires have very low mileage.

The trailer has two fifteen gallon propane tanks mounted on the front. The propane is plumbed to the rear of the trailer which is where the kitchen tent area is set up. You can attach the cook stove/oven to the propane at the end of the trailer.

This trailer is set up for off road use and extreme conditions. All of the included tents are set up for gas or electric lighting.

The trailer includes the following items:

  • One 16 x 32 wall tent with frame
  • One 16 x 24 cook tent with frame
  • One 12 x 14 wall tent with poles and ropes
  • One arctic tent with poles and ropes
  • Three wood stoves with pipes
  • One wood stove with 5 gallon water heater attached
  • Two steel bed frames
  • Power cords and light strings for inside the tents
  • Twelve metal folding chairs
  • One 55 gallon cook stove/oven
  • One 8 foot cook table
  • Ten traps in different sizes
  • Trash containers - soft and hard sided
  • Two trailer mounted five gallon gas cans
  • Cook box with dividers and haul handles
This trailer is a complete hunting camp.

The pictures don't do justice. The trailer is stored inside a shop. The seller is selling this outfit for a friend who doesn't use it any more.

He is located in South Central Idaho and is willing to deliver the hunting camp up to 300 miles.

See the item description on for more information.

Let's celebrate ...

We Americans look for any opportunity to celebrate with food. The U.S. Navy is no different. The Navy has a long tradition of baking a cake to honor any significant event.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 23, 2008) -- Lt. Cmdr. Matt Wells, left, Culinary Specialist 1st Class Emmanuel Torquido and Machinist Mate Fireman Denis Lipatnikov make the first cut into a cake during a ceremony commemorating the Battle of Flamborough Head on the mess decks aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). The ceremony was held in memory of the fateful battle waged between the British ship HMS Serapis and Bonhomme Richard in 1779.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Patterson II.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kitson fire mobile kitchen

Even though fall is upon us, wildland fire continues to threaten many areas in the Western U.S. The worst is yet to come in some areas, like Southern California. Last year's firestorm didn't explode until October 20-21, 2007.

Late summer and early fall often bring out the most damaging forest fires. A long hot summer of without rain has left the forest and grasslands ripe for fire.

The Kitson fire has burned in the central Cascade Range since the early morning hours of September 24, 2008. Containment of the 800-acre fire, which continues to burn in "old growth timber ... regeneration units, brush and grass," is expected by this Friday, according to

Cooler weather and decreasing winds have helped firefighters who are fighting the burn in Willamette National Forest. The fire is located about six miles southeast of Oakridge, Oregon, on the south side of State Route 58.

The pictured mobile kitchen unit, owned and operated by Stewart's Firefighter Food Catering out of Redmond, Oregon, was feeding about 775 firefighters and support staff as of this morning's update. The culinary crew is operating from the incident base camp, somewhere near the fire.

The Montana Standard published this on the catering company's work at Big Timber, Montana last August:
Food is prepared by a 20-person crew employed with Stewart’s Firefighter Food Catering out of Oregon. It costs about $45 a day to feed one firefighter.

The kitchen crew must be able to serve 350 meals per hour for breakfast and supper, and each meal carries certain dietary requirements, such as serving 10 ounces of meat on each supper plate.

Lunches go out to the fire line in paper sacks. On a recent day, sacks were filled with a sandwich on wheat bread, two boiled eggs, a peach, a candy bar, a roll, a bag of cookies and two juice packs.

Kitchen manager Anita Hyde wakes at 3 a.m. to begin preparing breakfast, and the last of the kitchen crew turns in after 11 p.m. (Diane Cochran, "Wildfire camp a huge undertaking," August 27, 2008)
Hyde divides her staff into three crews. The "salad bar and service group keep food bowls full and tables clear and clean," said Carrol Harrison (Eureka Reporter, "Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more," July 26, 2008).

The kitchen crew preps and serves two hot meals each day. Hyde served breakfast from 5 to 10 a.m. to 1,600 firefighters at Junction City, California last July. Dinner was served from 5 to 10 p.m.

The lunch and freight crew fixes sack lunches for the noon meal and unloads food, beverages and paper goods from the Sysco truck.

Hyde has served some 800,000 meals to firefighters over 18 years as the unit manager of Stewart's mobile kitchen SK-101, according the the company website.

Stewarts is contracted to operate three large mobile kitchens. The federal mobile food service contract sates that each unit can feed up to 1,800 persons per meal. Units are staged in Lakeview and Medford, Oregon, and Wenatchee, Washington during the fire season.

Each mobile kitchen unit is composed of a kitchen trailer, two or three refrigeration units, hand washing unit and beverage trailer. A supply truck, pick-up truck, supply van, office van and bunkhouse round out the kitchen.