Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Square biscuits

Campers liked my square biscuits the other morning. Square biscuits save the time of punching out individual biscuits with a biscuit cutter. And because you avoid re-forming the dough after the first cutting, this method ensures that each biscuit will be equally tender.

All I do is dump the dough onto a greased sheetpan and press it into the pan. I pre-cut the dough (6x8 or 6x9 for an 18x26-inch sheetpan) and bake at the normal temperature. The biscuits come out standing tall.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Training at Deer Crossing Camp

Three weeks into camp, I can clearly see the three-phase approach to training at Deer Crossing Camp. Training begins 10 days before the first campers arrive. While most training sessions (like first aid, CPR and life guarding) are direct at the instructors, the cook and his assistance use the training period to:
  • Clean and organize the kitchen after nine months in mothball status
  • Clean and organize the food storeroom and refrigerators
  • Learn the Deer Crossing two-week cycle menu
  • Prepare all of the recipes as is practical
  • Adjust to the erratic nature of food supply and refrigeration
  • Prepare and submit the first Sysco order
  • Teach the instructors food safety in the role as they supervise clean-up and dishes
  • Learn how to re-fuel and to safely start the generators
  • Learn how to take daily chlorine readings in the water system
Once campers arrive for Session 1, the next two weeks are devoted to preparing all the DCC recipes in larger quantities, adjusting to the likes and dislikes of the campers, appetites and meal set-up and family style of service.

Session 1 helps because it typically has less than 50 campers and staff. The cooks are able to ease in to Sessions 2 and 3, which max out at 65 to 70 campers and staff.

The remainder of the summer season is devoted to fine tuning the skills of the cooks. One of my goals this year is to work on the DCC recipes and to purchase a few extra herbs and spices (mainly missing standards like thyme, oregano and garlic graduals), revise the two-week menu and continue training my assistant cook (her home is in Mongolia!).

By Session 4, I envision a well-running team in the kitchen. We’ll then be ready for the 2010 season.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mandoline vs. mandolin

I just learned this afternoon that I've been misspelling mandoline at 'Round the Chuckbox. While you slice potatoes (and other produce) on a mandoline, Doc Mercer won't play one with his Cumberland Highlanders band.

Drop the "e" and you have Doc's favorite muscical instument, the mandolin.

Whishbone, a camp cook from the neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, posted this request at Camp-Cook.com last Thursday:
Anyone ever use one & what type do You Like. I looking at Pampered Chef ones on eBay. Son & I need to cook up a bunch of potatoes (augratin style) for 28 Girl Scouts, Leaders & Parents the last Meal at Local summer Camp. Wishbone-Ks
Stick with a simple mandoline, one that cuts without all the "bells and whistles." I purchased a top-line model at a local restaurant supply several years ago (pictured below). It works well enough, but it's heavy, a bit clunky and the safety guard is doesn't flow smothly.

I wouldn't spend more than $40 or 50. I spent about $200 and now wish that I had purchased an economy model. They do the same thing for much less. I found an Oxo V-blade model on Amazon for $40 (pictured at left).

Either way, Wishbone, a mandoline is a worthy investment if you plan to do any camp cooking for large groups. A sharp one will quickly cut a load of potatoes for scallops or au gratin.

I used mine at camp yesterday to cut cucumbers for the cuke and onion salad for today. I had the job done in 10 minutes with nice, thin slices of cucumber.

I don't care how good you are with a knife, a mandoline just makes good sense for the camp kitchen.

I wrote a safety brief on the use of a mandoline in the kitchen last year. Mandoline safety is serious business in the kitchen. Properly used, they are a great time saver and help you produce professional looking products. In the wrong hands, you'll be spending a lot of time in the emergency ward.

Remember: Doc Mercer plays great Bluegrass tunes on his mandolin as I slice potatoes for scallops on my mandoline.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mulligatawany soup

The camp uses canned soup for lunch about four or five days each week. Instead of heating a can and serving it to the campers, I often "doctor" the soup by using the canned soup as a base for a new dish.

So far, the campers and staff have been receptive to my innovative ideas. Most are simple and fit in within my limited variety of ingredients.

When I arrived three weeks ago, I found over six cases of Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup in the storeroom. With 12 (50-ounce) cans per case, I quickly figured that I was going to be serving a lot of cream of chicken soup to the campers.

I've used the soup as a base in macaroni and cheese and to make a thick chicken noodle soup. Although I have yet to serve plain cream of chicken soup, I may during one of the sessions.

During staff training I hit on an idea that dates back to my Navy service in the 1970s. Why not make a mulligatawny soup?

I was looking for something to add to the soup when I remembered the curry-spiced soup from India. The ingredients of the soup were always the subject of a question on the advancement exam for Navy cooks.

The soup started when sweated a one-pound mire poix with two julienned bell peppers. I them dumped one can of the creamy soup base with a can of water into the stockpot and stirred.

The soup was flavored with two diced apples and a moderate dash of curry powder. I then cooked one pound of dry pasta and added it to the soup. Although rice is more traditional, pasta is a big hit at Deer Crossing.

A little thyme would've been a nice addition, but I don’t have any right now. The zest from one lemon would also give the soup extra pep.

Of six quarts of soup, I had enough leftover for the picture. Thirty-six campers and staff enjoyed an interesting diversion from cream of chicken soup today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pizza night

Pizza night was last night. Since the menu was pizza, double chocolate chip cookies and punch, I planned of three to four slices for each camper. Three campers helped assemble the pizzas.

I used one of Sysco's pre-baked pizza shells and had the campers apply either pesto or pizza sauce to each pizza. We then topped them with mozzarella, sprinkling of cheddar cheese and Parmesan.

The pizza were baked in a 450- to 500-degree oven and cut into eighths. Here's the breakdown for 45 campers and staff:
20 pizzas total
10 cheese with tomato sauce (50%)
6 cheese with sausage (30%)
4 cheese with pesto and various toppings (20%)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Water in a wilderness camp

First Cove
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
All cooks and food service workers understand the importance of personal hygiene. A daily shower and clean uniform form the first line of defense in the daily battle against food borne illness. It’s an aspect of food safety that most cooks take for granted.

The situation changes when you’re working in a wilderness kitchen. Since the local utility companies don’t supply water or electricity to Deer Crossing Camp, which is located on the wilderness side of Loon Lake in Eldorado National Forest, all water for cooking, cleaning and hygiene must be pumped from the lake and treated.

Fuel becomes a precious commodity when at a camp that generates its own electricity and pumps, filters and chlorinates lake water in a wilderness location. When the supply of propane and gasoline dips below the comfort level, propane tanks and Jerry cans must be hauled down to the boat landing, loaded on the boat and transported across the lake.

One person must then drive to Pollock Pines or Georgetown to re-stock, a four-hour trip (or more) round trip. This process is repeated every two weeks during the summer season. Not only does the supply trip pull a staff member from his duties, each full fuel container must then be carried back up the hill to their respective storage points.

We view each drop of water as a precious resource, one that must be conserved whenever possible. We run the water generator only for short periods to build water pressure, except when washing dishes.

A 10-minute run on the generator will fill the supply tanks. As long as the campers don’t flush too many toilets during food preparation, the cooks will have sufficient water to cook the meal and clean the kitchen. When the water runs out, the I head down to the generator shack and start the water generator.

In addition to his normal duties as the chef-in-charge of the kitchen, I start the water generator each morning. Water pressure is zero most mornings. I often run down to the generator shack before walking into the kitchen at 6 a.m. and run the generator for 10 minutes.

This process is necessary just to wash our hands; fill the wash, rinse and sanitize sinks; and set aside water for cooking (plus coffee!). I also test the water for chlorine level each day.

Vigilance in all aspects of food safety doesn’t change in the wilderness camp. If anything, the primitive setting calls for increased attention to detail. All the cooks must pay close attention to sanitation, especially where water is needed to clean and sanitize.

The chef must find a balance between the need for a clean kitchen and water and fuel conversation. We run the water generator five or six times each day. This supplies sufficient quantities of water into the kitchen for our needs.

Since hot showers use an incredible amount of propane to heat the water heater, most staff and campers take a shower every three to four days. Since the cooks can’t ignore hygiene, I take a sponge bath each morning. This way I help the camp conserve critical fuel supplies while maintaining a high level of hygiene.

If the cook can’t perform basic hygiene tasks, like washing his hands upon entry into the kitchen, then he must find a reliable source of water before food preparation can begin.

Otherwise, canned food is on the menu.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Powdered milk

Deer Crossing Camp uses a lot of powdered milk. With limited refrigeration, it's not practical to purchase and store large quantities of fresh milk at the camp.

All food must be brought to the camp by a boat. We just don't have any space in the camp's one reach-in refrigerator to store 20 or 30 gallons of milk for the week.

Each morning I make two gallons of milk from instant non-fat dry milk. For each gallon, I add:

5-1/3 cups instant non-fat dry milk
1/2 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

Since our water is cool in the morning, I usually make the milk in the morning. It doesn't make sense to make it at night, I don't have a lot of extra space in the refrigerator in the for two or three days after the food delivery.

Deer Crossing currently uses about 1-1/2 gallons of milk for 45 campers and staff. Most campers use the milk with their morning cereal. Space permitting, leftover milk is saved for the next morning or used during the day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spice cake with caramel fudge icing from cake mix

I’m finding it very easy to improvise in the kitchen at Deer Crossing Camp. Although I rely on canned food items and boxed baking mixes, I've been able to find ways to improve these products each day.

During the camp’s 10-day training session, which ended Saturday, I improved one or more dishes each meal. For dinner last Thursday, I added cinnamon and nutmeg to a yellow cake mix to form a spice cake. I then made a caramel fudge icing for the topping.

This is just one way to extend the flavor potential for boxed cake mixes. Even if your facility camp relies on the mixes, you can always improve on the product as I have.

Check the box when looking for ideas. The manufacturer often prints one or two recipes on the side panels.

The box for BakerSource blueberry muffin mix (Sysco #5912290), for instance, includes two recipes. Blueberry banana muffins may help when you have too many bananas. I won’t use this recipe at my camp. A 40-pound box evaporates in about three days!

The second recipe is sour cream crumb cake. Add 13 fluid ounces water, 40 ounces sour cream, 5 eggs and 1/3-cup vegetable oil to 5 pounds (1 box) blueberry muffin mix in a mixer bowl. Mix on low speed using a paddle for 30 seconds. Scrape the sides and continue mixing for 30 seconds. Scale 29 ounces batter into each of 5 (8-1/2x4-1/2x2-1/2-inch loaf pans.

For the topping, Place 7 ounces brown sugar, 6 ounces sugar, 4-1/2 ounces all purpose flour and 4 ounces softened butter or margarine in mixer bowl. Mix on low speed with a paddle for 30 seconds or until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over batter in loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees F 55 to 60 minutes in a conventional oven. Or bake 50 to 55 minutes in a 300 degree convection oven. The recipe yields 40 (1-inch) slices.


I tested this recipe using BakerSource yellow cake mix (Sysco #5908371).

5 pounds yellow cake mix
1/4 cup cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Add cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to cake mix. Prepare cake mix according to the instructions on the package.

3 pounds brown sugar
3 cups milk
12 ounces butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine sugar and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Using a brush dipped in water, wash down sides of saucepan to prevent sugar crystal formation.

Bring mixture slowly to a boil without stirring, until it reaches 240 degrees F. Pour mixture into mixer bowl. Add butter and salt. Mix with paddle attachment.

Turn machine off. Let mixture cool to 110 degrees F. Add vanilla and turn machine on low speed. Beat icing until it is smooth and creamy in texture. If it is too thick, thin with a little cream or milk.

Spread cooled cake while icing is warm, or rewarm in a double boiler.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deer Crossing Summer Camp

Camp has been going great for the post 10 days. I've been feeding 15 staff for the training session. After a day off on Saturday (to go home and get my wife!), I'll start feeding about 40 staff and campers.

I've been working on the menu and would like to make more items from scratch as many are made from cans and baking mixes. Even when I can't make a scratch dish, I've improvised and improved the boxed mix. Tonight I was able to turn a yellow cake mix into spice cake and cook a caramel fudge icing from scratch.

More to come ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Culinary toolbox

Last March, I posed this question on the Christian Chefs Forum:
If you can only carry six culinary tools, what would they be? I'm looking for hand-held tools, not pots, pans, skillets, etc.
My thought was to canvas chefs who customarily carry the tools that they can't work without. These are chefs who have a lot of experience walking into poorly-equipped kitchens.

Like a carpenter who brings his own tools to the jobsite, I often carry a wide selection of culinary tools when I work in an unfamiliar kitchen. It's frustrating to walk in a kitchen -- especially one that you've never seen -- and find out that there are no tongs anywhere.

After receiving input, I composed the following list:
  1. Knives--I never leave home without my knife roll; it includes French, slicer, bread and boning knives plus a steel
  2. Tongs--I use tongs for everything: pick up food, stir a saute or sweat or baste chicken breasts in a skillet
  3. Dough cutter--Outside of tongs, this is the best all-around tool; I use it for scraping, cutting dough, picking up chopped vegetables, etc.; it double as a spat in a pinch
  4. Digital thermometer--A necessity; every chef should own one or more quality thermometers
  5. Scoops or dishers--I love dishers and keep a bunch in my utensil drawer at home; essential sizes include #8, 12, 16, 24 and 30; they're good for portioning out meatballs or cookies and can be used to measure ingredients in a pinch
  6. Whisk--I rarely find a decent whisks in kitchens
My original intent was to put together a short list of tools that I could pack in my duffel bag. While shopping the other day, I changed direction. I purchased a sturdy Craftsman 20-inch toolbox with liftout tote tray.

Over the weekend, I packed a wide selection of tools into the toolbox. While compact, the toolbox has sufficient room in the tub to hold everything that I need. The tote tray holds all the small items.

I figure that I can leave the toolbox in the truck if necessary and recover it later in the week. My knife roll is already packed in my duffel bag. All I'll have to do is stuff the scale, dough cutter, thermometer and one or two other tools in the bag for the trip across the lake.

Off to my summer camp job

I leave this morning for my summer camp job at Deer Crossing Summer Camp. The camp is a hour and one-half drive from my home. I meet the boat at Loon Lake in Eldorado National Forest at 1 p.m.

I'll try to keep blogging at my normal pace, about 15 posts per month. The camp has Internet access via satellite, so I'll have to gauge how often I can get on-line each week.

The camp website says that staff average about one and one-half hours per week on the Internet. I plan to write blogs out longhand in my notebook before posting them to 'Round the Chuckbox. This will save precious time.

My contract carries me through August 15. Hopefully, one or two photographs of me will appear on the camp's photo page as the summer progresses.

The first campers arrive on Sunday, June 21, after a 10-day staff training session. The camp features four (two-week) sessions. My assistant cook and I will feed between 50 and 60 staff and campers each day.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tuesday Teatime: The Smiths

My sister posted this blog and picture with my granchildren at Brave Writer:

We had quite a crowd over that day. My niece’s children joined us as well as a close friend’s two children. Because of the span of ages, we read from a poetry book that we haven’t enjoyed for awhile: Mice are Rather Nice ... (continue reading).

Workin' on the railroad

I've twice had opportunity to lay and remove railroad track. The first came in 1983 when my reserve unit, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 2's Detachment 0402, built a 880-foot rail spur at McClellen Air Force Base in Sacramento.

I should've come away from the five-month project with a new found appreciation for the heavy physical labor required by track workers. But it didn't happen that way back then.

I worked a desk job during the years that I drilled with Det. 0402. As the detachment career counselor, it was my job to convince the young Seabees to stay in the Naval Reserves when their first enlistment came to an end.

During those years, I often held counseling sessions on the tailgate of my pick up truck at the job site. While I spent many hours at McClellen as the Seabees removed the old spur, built a new loading dock and lay the ties and rail, I pushed paper instead of driving spikes.

I did drive several spikes at the insistence of some of the Seabees on the project. As a life-long rail enthusiast, I eagerly joined in. I can say that driving a spike with the long, pointed spike maul is not easy. It takes years of experience to hit the spike square on its head.

My newest experience started Saturday. The crew of the El Dorado Western Railway is removing the track on the old Southern Pacific Placerville Branch right-of-way east of Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, California.

The crew is relocating the track, along with the switches, joiners, joiner bolts, spikes and tie plates from the old Diamond Springs yard to the site of the proposed El Dorado County Railroad Park in the town of El Dorado. A contractor is currently expending the El Dorado Trail a long the old right-of-way from Placerville to Missouri Flat Road.

I have a new found appreciation for the work of the old section gangs. It took two four-hour days for the crew to remove the joiner bolts on approximately 1,000-feet of mainline and siding track.

Using early twentieth century track tools, our crew of six unbolted the joiners that were spaced every 30 feet on Friday and Saturday. A four-man crew removed spikes on 300 feet of track on Sunday afternoon.

I realized Sunday that track work gives you a good, healthy cardio workout. My pulse approached 130 beats per minute after I had pulled spikes for an hour. I felt good despite a few aches and pains Sunday night. I belive my evening walks helped.

The track relocation is a project of the El Dorado County Historical Museum. As volunteers of the museum, the El Dorado Western Railway is providing labor and technical assistance to the museum as it moves forward with the railroad park in El Dorado.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thoughts on Cmdr. Duane Wolfe

My father-in-law offered these thoughts on Duane's service to his country and Lord:
To a fallen soldier, first of the Lord, secondly of his country. Thank you Duane for your friendship and hospitality at the Los Osos/Cayucos spiritual gatherings of God's Family in this beautiful area; but especially thank you for your sacrifices throughout your career and finally for this ultimate final sacrifice. We thank all our fallen heros (Lalo Enriquez).
This passage comes to mind every time I attend a funeral:
A good name is better than precious ointment,
And the day of death than the day of one’s birth;
Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sea food at sea

I always loved it when we had surf and turf at sea ... both for the cookin' and eatin'.

PACIFIC OCEAN (May 21, 2009) Culinary Specialist Seaman Manuelito Belocura stirs a pot of crab legs for dinner on the last night the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) is underway before beginning a ship's restrictive availability period.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cynthia Griggs.