Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lunch at the engine house

I haven't cooked lunch for the crew at the engine house of the El Dorado Western Railway in six months. Several priority projects kept me from cooking in the months leading to my early June departure for the summer camp job. My labor was more important at that point.

Railway President Keith Berry and I first discussed a lunch meal several weeks ago. We both wanted to reward the crew for a summer of notable accomplishments. Twice this summer, Keith called on the volunteers to complete high-profile projects in a short period of time.

Last June the crew rallied to remove the rail, tie plates and rail joiners from the old Southern Pacific yard at Diamond Springs. Once the county gave its approval to remove the track and associated hardware, we had no more than two weeks to complete the track disassembly.

The crew completed the project in eight days. Several volunteers worked every day. The rails and hardware will be used to add a third rail and build the yard at the recently approved El Dorado County Historical Railroad Park in the town of El Dorado.

The county board of supervisors approved the park on August 25. The park will be located on the right-of-way of the Southern Pacific depot in El Dorado.

Volunteers again answered the call this weekend when it became evident that we had to move about 300 ties to a secure location. The ties were open to theft in their current location along the old right-of-way, which is being converted into a riding and walking trail.

Lunch menu

I often use meals at the engine house to try new recipes and to use ingredients that I already have at home. Since I had a 4-pound pork shoulder in the freezer, I knew the menu would be built around a pork dish.

Although chili verde is a favorite -- a dish I enjoy cooking for potlucks -- I wanted to try a flavor combination that was new for me. The idea for a pork stew came to me as I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats television show last week.

In the re-broadcast of his 2005 "Dis-Kabob-Ulated" episode, Brown marinated beef sirloin in a spicy marinade with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Turmeric, smoked paprika and cumin formed the flavor base for the marinade.

Since it isn't practical to make pork kabobs with the tougher pork shoulder, a braised or stewed dish seemed to be the best way to tenderize the meat. I used the marinade to impart flavor, then prepared a tradition stew from that point.

I worked the recipe in my mind Friday evening as I moved railroad ties. I had originally planned to work out the menu and shop that evening. But a 3 p.m. telephone call from Keith brought me to the Diamond Springs yard instead.

When I arrived at the storage site for the ties, the crew asked me what was on the lunch menu for Saturday. I received a chuckle or two when I told them that Keith had pulled me away from my menu planning duties.

They weren't amused when I said that I should be home planning the menu. At that moment, the crew was more interested in my back than culinary skills. Since we didn't quit until 7:30 p.m., I delayed shopping until Saturday morning.

My original thought was to prepare the stew with orange marmalade, but hit on the idea to build the stock with apple juice after moving almost 250 ties. Yams and apples seemed like a natural addition from that point.

Here's the menu for the El Dorado Western Railway lunch:
I arrived at the museum yesterday around 9 a.m. After setting the chuckbox and firepan up next to a historic Studebaker wagon, charcoal briquettes were lit by 9:30 a.m. and the meat was at a simmer shortly after 10 a.m.

All three dished were prepared in 14-inch Dutch ovens. While I could've made the stew in a 12-inch deep Dutch oven, I customarily use 14-inchers when cooking for crowds.

In the end, 11 crew and guests enjoyed the meal. While I cooked, the crew loaded the 1937 Waukesha engine from the Diamond and Caldor railbus onto Doug's trailer. Doug is going to rebuild the six-cylender engine and return it to the museum next spring.

After lunch, Keith asked if I was going to help move the last 40 or 50 ties at Diamond Springs yard. Lunch over, it was time to get back to work.


Use the marinade to flavor diced beef for spicy beef kabobs. Prepare the marinade and combine with 3 to 4 pounds of boneless beef sirloin as directed. Alton Brown's recipe has cooking instructions.

4 pounds pork shoulder
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1 quart apple juice
2 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, diced
3 Granny Smith apples, diced

Cut the pork into 1- to 1-1/2-inch cubes and place into a large bowl or container. Set aside.

In a bowl combine garlic, paprika, turmeric, cumin, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar. Drizzle in olive oil while vigorously whisking.

Pour the marinade over meat and toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator in an airtight container or a zipper-lock bag and marinate for 2 to 4 hours.

In a colander, drain marinade from stew. Discard remaining marinade. Heat a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven to medium-hot. Brown pork in 2 or 3 batches to avoid overcrowding. Remove each batch to a waiting plate or bowl as it's done.

Return browned pork to Dutch oven. Add apple juice and stir. Season with salt to taste. Simmer until pork is tender, about 60 to 75 minutes. Add yams and apples and continue cooking until yams are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes about 12 (1-cup) servings. Serve over buttermilk biscuits.


  1. Hi I saw your note on Doug rebuilding a 1937 Waukesha Engine. If he has questions or needs manuals please send him to the Waukesha Engine Historical Society at

    Waukesha Engine Historical Society

  2. Thanks for the information, Dennis. He has located several manuals. While I suspect Doug has found the website, I passed the URL on just in case he missed it.