Sunday, February 21, 2010

This old pot

This old pot
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
I love these old stockpots. Unlike a new out-of-the-box pot, this one at last week's 1st Annual Hangtown Winter Fest '10 matches the character of many of the competitors.

Rough and unkept on the outside, many are sweet people who have hearts full of kindness on the inside.

The pot's rough exterior -- tarnished from boiling over on top of an untamed propane flame -- shed light on its contents.

Full of simmering water when I shot the picture, I suspect the pot has been used to dissolve salt and sugar for a brine in the past. Or it may be from a lively pot of chili, one that boiled over when the cook's attention turned toward something else.

I didn't get a chance to talk to the owner of the stockpot. I suspect that the team was presenting its entry for beef brisket to the judges when I took the picture.

My only advise to the pot's owner: Please don't clean it exterior. It has too much character to srub it away!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hangtown Winter Fest '10

Louis and Stephanie Hudson of North Highlands, California pause for the camera moments before turning their beef brisket entry in to the judges.

Lou and Stephanie smoked a 13-pound brisket throughout the early morning hours of Sunday, February 14 for the 1st Annual Hangtown Winter Fest '10 in Placerville.

I first met the couple at Oinktoberfest in Oroville, California last October. Lou is currently a culinary arts student at Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts in Sacramento.

"The only reason I'm going to school is to learn the restaurant and catering business," said Hudson.

A "stage lighting designer" by day, Hudson looks forward to the day that he can open a barbecue restaurant in his native Redding, California.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Broccoli spear cooker

I buy a 24-pound case of broccoli spears from Sysco ever week or two at work. With 12 (2-pound) packages, the case gives me four meals for the residents.

Over my career I've learned that you don't want to dump three packages into a stockpot of boiling water. Half the broccoli will be overcooked. The other half will be underdone

In the fully equipped kitchen, the cook steams the broccoli inside a high-pressure steamer. Since I feed two-dozen residents out of a home-style kitchen, I had to re-think my broccoli cooking process.

As shown in the photograph, I set a steamer up on the range top, as follows:
  • Place 4-inch hotel pan with 1-quart water over two burners
  • Set 2-inch perforated hotel pan inside the 4-inch pan
  • Place 3 (2-pound) packages of broccoli spears inside the pan
  • Cover broccoli with lid or aluminum foil
  • Turn both burners on high and steam broccoli for 5 to 10 minutes; reduce heat to medium once the water boils
  • Gently separate broccoli spears with a pair of tongs
  • Continue cooking until done

The 2-inch hotel pan next to the broccoli is baked macaroni and cheese.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pasta shells with roasted broccoli and walnuts

Pasta salad is currently on the menu at work one time each week. When I started in December, I quickly discovered that the residents had tired of the vinaigrette-based salad.

To offer variety, I often morph the salad into a hot pasta dish every other week. This gives me the opportunity to experiment with a full range of different flavors.

Successful tests will be incorporated into the new menu, which will feature one pasta dish for lunch each week.

Spaghetti puttanesca filled the void twice in the past two weeks. While popular, the sharp bite of the puttanesca isn't universally accepted.

Today's pasta dish came from an article that I clipped in the doctor's office last year. The photograph of the dark green roasted broccoli in a bed of pasta shells caught my attention.

Since I was looking for vegetarian entrees at the time, I clipped the recipe and filed it in my large recipe binder.

As often happens, the recipe sat in the binder for a year. I had intended to use it at Deer Crossing Camp this past summer.

The recipe could've made a good inter-session dish. The crew would've enjoyed the rich blending of broccoli and walnuts roasted in olive oil with garlic.

It's a fair compromise when you feed a significant number of vegetarians, as I did during inter-session at Deer Crossing.


To use frozen broccoli spears, steam until cooked about halfway. Cut the stems off the broccoli. Reserve the stems and cooking liquid for cream of broccoli soup.

Roast as directed. Since the semi-cooked florets will be moist, the roasting process may take a few minutes longer.

2-1/2 pounds pasta shells
6 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets
2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, toss the broccoli, walnuts, oil, garlic, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper together. Pour onto a sheet pan. Roast in a 400-degree F oven until the broccoli is tender, about 20 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the broccoli mixture, butter and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. (Add more water if the pasta seems dry.) Sprinkle with the Parmesan before serving.

Serves 24 portions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Camouflage uniform at sea?

I worn the camouflage uniform during my last eight or nine years in the Seabee reserve as a chief petty officer.

At the time, Seabee leadership welcomed the change from the olive drab utility uniform. It helped us blend in with the U.S. Marines on the battlefield. This was important during Operation Dessert Storm because our old uniform resembled those of the Iraqi army.

While I comprehend camouflage uniforms for the land forces, I'm puzzled by the Navy's recent conversion to camouflage. Why do sailors, especially those who spend the better part of a career on board ships, require a multi-colored uniform?

The answer comes from
The concept uniforms are not intended to be ‘camouflage’ uniforms as is the case with similarly patterned uniforms of the other services. We have no need for camouflage. However, by learning from our past working uniforms as well as the uniforms from other services, the Navy realized that a solid cover uniform shows heavy wear areas much more predominantly than a multicolored pattern.

The solid color uniforms also show wrinkles in the fabric more predominantly and often a small stain or spot of paint renders a solid colored uniform not wearable. A multicolored uniform alleviates those problems as well.
This old chief doesn't buy into the whole idea of a pristine working uniform. After all, they're "working uniforms." That implies that the wearer will soil his uniform.

The new Navy Working Uniform -- even with a blue-grey camouflage pattern -- doesn't fit in with naval tradition. Blue chambray starts and dungaree trousers have served the Navy well.

In the photograph, Culinary Specialist 1st Class Richard Rieth, assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), looks through the different components of the Navy Working Uniform at the Navy Exchange uniform shop at Fleet Activities Yokosuka on February 10, the first day the uniform was available in Navy Region Japan.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dominique Pineiro.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dutch oven cookoffs for Northern California, Southern Oregon and Western Nevada

Here is Don Mason's 2010 list of Dutch oven cookoffs in Northern California. Originally intended to broadcast cookoffs in the north state, Don has expanded it to include events in Southern Oregon and Western Nevada.

Check with the contact person for applications, rules and maps and to make sure dates and times are correct.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Camp cook job opening

For anyone looking for a camp cook job in Northern California, the Silver Lake Campers Association is looking to staff the High Sierra Family Camp this summer. The camp is located at the west end of Silver Lake, just to the south of State Route 88.

The camp has immediate need for two cooks and two prep cooks. An ad in the Gold Country Craigslist reports that the positions run from July to August 16, 2010. The job may extended beyond August 16 if there's a need.

In addition to room and board, the cooks are paid $1,800 per month. The monthly salary for the prep cook is $1,400. Submit your resume to if interested in one of the positions. (I don't have any connection to the camp.)

According to the ad, the morning cook works from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cook prepares breakfast and lunch, plus overseeing the duties of other kitchen personnel and meal planning.

The evening cook works 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cook prepares dinner, plus overseeing the duties of other kitchen personnel and meal planning.

The prep cooks work 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. to – 8 p.m. Prep cooks work under the direction of the shift cook. Duties include food preparation, salad bar set-up, food service and kitchen cleaning. The prep-cook replaces the shift cook on his/her day off.

The cooks and prep cooks work six days per week.

"The Silver Lake Campers Association is a nonprofit group that has worked to support the City of Stockton’s operation of Silver Lake Family Camp for more than 50 years," reports their website. "In the past, the Association has provided 'those little extras' that enhance the Family Camp experience."

City officials approved the association's proposal in 2009 to operate the camp in the wake of the city's decision to not open the facility this year.

Fears that the "facility would fall into disrepair and be subjected to vandalism if the city stopped operating the camp even for a year" prompted the group to shift its focus from fund raising to operating the camp, reported a March 24, 2009 article at

The City of Stockton has operated the camp since it opened in 1922 under permit with Eldorado National Forest.

"Wouldn't you like to spend your off time fishing, hiking or just relaxing in this scenic area?" asked the job 2009 ad.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

British Army chef connects with his inner-Spam

Here's a story that belongs in the annals of World War II, when Spam was a common feature on the mess trays of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Pacific Theater.

Being at the front line of a war zone brings countless hardships.

But Britain's brave Armed Forces are justly famous for their resourcefulness in times of adversity.

And one heroic figure surely deserves a medal for maintaining morale in Afghanistan among the soldiers of the 2nd Royal Welsh Guards - on a 42-day diet of Spam.

Army chef Corporal Liam Francis refused to surrender when food supplies were interrupted by Taliban fighters for six weeks.

With almost no gastronomic ammunition to hand, the 26-year-old opened tin after tin of the chopped pork and ham and produced a series of dishes to rival the famous Monty Python Spam sketch.

"I was surprised what we could do: Sweet and sour Spam, Spam fritters, Spam carbonara, Spam stroganoff and Spam stir fry," said the father of one from Tidworth, Wiltshire.

"We were on compo [field rations] for six weeks and we only had one menu - Spam."

But he added that the troops were relieved when fresh supplies finally arrived. "The first day off Spam, I prepared battered sausages, chips and curry sauce," he said. "The Sergeant Major said it was the best meal he had ever had."

Corporal Francis, who serves as a Royal Logistics Corp chef attached to the 2nd Royal Welsh Guards, began his tour of Afghanistan in July.

He was forced into emergency action at the Forward Operating Base in Sangin when Taliban fighters shot down a civilian supply helicopter the day before he arrived, leaving him without the usual beef burgers, chicken, sausages and fish and chips.

Yesterday his proud mother Pat, 65, from Bristol, said of her married son: "I was amazed when I heard the story about serving the troops using nothing but Spam because he hates the stuff.

"He would never have eaten it if I'd served it to him, that's for sure."

Source: Luke Salkeld, "Operation Spamalot: After Taliban hit supplies, Army chef serves up 42 days of Spam,", February 5, 2010.

Friday, February 05, 2010

1,000 articles and counting ...

While one-thousand blog articles in five years may not form the basis for an earth shattering record, it's a significant milestone for me personally. 'Round the Chuckbox represents my longest running writing project.

Prior to the establishment of 'Round the Chuckbox on February 4, 2005, my average writing project would fall apart in its second year. I was beginning to worry if I had it in me to stick with one project for the long term.

I pulled the plug on each of a dozen projects for various reasons. Lack of capital forced me to cease publication of my most ambitious project in early 1999.

I published the Seabee Log, a journal that "celebrated Seabee wit and ingenuity through history," between 1997 and 1999.

Some, like the Seventeen Stewburner, a quarterly newsletter for the cooks of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 in 1992 and 1993, came to a close when I moved on to my next assignment.

But most projects fell for less valid reasons. I usually lost interest and quit writing or contributing to the project around the 18-month mark. That's what happened when stopped paying its contributing editors in 2001.

When I conceived the idea for 'Round the Chuckbox in late 2004, my concern was that I'd loose interest sometime in 2006. Another writing project would fail.

But something happened. Writing for 'Round the Chuckbox. I posted a steady stream of blog articles for the next eight months. Even after my productivity fell off in the winter, I surprised myself.

I kept writing and posting recipes. I currently have no plans to let 'Round the Chuckbox die a premature death. I'll keep writing as long as I'm able.

'Round the Chuckbox has become a natural extension of my work as a chef and cook in the world of non-commercial food service. I enjoy cooking for residential populations (like my current position in a drug-alcohol treatment program).

As long as I'm able to cook and write, I trust that you'll continue to find the blog interesting. Please drop a note. I'd always enjoy hearing from my viewers.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

5th anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of 'Round the Chuckbox. And I'll post my 1,000th blog article tomorrow, which is the fifth anniversary of my first blog article. See you then.

In the meanwhile, enjoy a photograph of me that was taken last summer at Deer Crossing Camp.

Another culinary photographer

BODEN, Haiti (Jan. 26, 2010) Sailors assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) deliver humanitarian supplies in Boden, Haiti. Normandy is supporting Operation Unified Response following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that caused severe damage in Haiti Jan. 12.

U.S. Navy Photo by Culinary Specialist 2nd Class George Disario.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Spaghetti puttanesca

I made spaghetti puttanesca for the residents at work for lunch today. Out of respect for the women, I called it "spaghetti with a lot of stuff in it!"

The residents enjoyed garlic, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pepperoncinis, olives and olive oil tossed in with spaghetti. The sharp bite, which is characteristic of the dish, made it a hit.

I enjoy cooking the dish because it's easily modified to accommodate ingredients in stock. Since I don't stock anchovies or capers, I left them out. Two ingredients that I stock in the pantry -- roasted red peppers and sliced pepperoncini peppers -- enhanced the pasta dish.

Spaghetti puttanesca is a good fall-winter dish for the menu when imported produce is expensive and California-grown produce is non-existent.


This recipe re-printed from Professional Cooking, 4th edition. My version eliminated the anchovies and added 1/2 (28-ounce) roasted red peppers (chopped) and 1 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers to the recipe.

3-1/2 pounds tomatoes
2 ounces olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
15 anchovy fillets, chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
5 ounces black olives
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 ounce olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 pounds spaghetti

Peel, seed and dice tomatoes. Let them stand in a colander to drain moisture. If using canned tomatoes, drain and chop coarsely.

Heat olive oil in a saute over moderate heat. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Add anchovy fillets and saute for a few seconds.

Add tomatoes, capers and olives. Bring to a boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add oregano, parsley and second quantity of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Boil spaghetti, drain, toss with the sauce and serve immediately. Grated cheese is usually not served with this dish. Portion 12-ounce servings.

NOTE: "Spaghetti a la puttanesca (whore's spaghetti) is a spicy, tangy and somewhat salty Italian pasta dish that culinary experts regard as modern and reflects the bounty of the market rather than the garden. The ingredients are inexpensive, easy to find and typically Mediterranean. Italians refer to the sauce as sugo alla puttanesca" (Wikipedea, January 23, 2010).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Steam-jacketed kettles are called coppers in the U.S. Navy.

GULF OF OMAN (Jan. 30, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kiley Margenson prepares lunch for the crew of the guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66). Hue City is deployed with the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to support maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Bookwalter.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Roasted red pepper salsa for hamburgers

Hamburgers are on the menu once each week at work. The burgers usually appear early in the week on the four-week cycle menu. Hot dogs, grilled sandwiches and pasta dishes fill the remaining lunches.

As you might guess, the residents have expressed boredom with the current menu. Since I'm obligated to follow the approved menu, I add interest by paring a relish or salsa with the sandwich lunches.

Last Thursday a roasted red pepper salsa accompanied the grilled hamburger. I served it on the side so the residents had a choice.

The spicy salsa served two purposes. It helped make up for the lack of cheese on the hamburger. (I didn't have enough inventory.)

It also gave the ladies an additional layer of flavor on the hamburger. It gave the sandwich an uplifting flavor profile while helping the residents avoid unwanted calories.

I plan to keep the roasted red pepper salsa when I write the new menu. One salsa or relish will be featured with each sandwich. The three hamburger lunches (reduced from four) will feature:
  • Roasted red pepper salsa with cheddar cheese
  • Green chili salsa with Monterrey jack cheese
  • Sauteed mushroom & sweet onions with Swiss cheese
Sliced onion and tomato, pickle chips and lettuce with all the condiments are still available to residents who want to assemble a traditional hamburger.


Use canned roasted red peppers if desired. To roast the sweet peppers, follow directions below.

4 roasted red bell peppers, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes about 2 cups.

To roast red bell peppers: Blacken skins of bell peppers under a broiler or over the flame of a gas burner. Place blackened peppers in a zipper lock bag and seal closed. Leave for 5 minutes so the steam helps to lift the skin from flesh.

When peppers are cool enough to handle, pierce a hole in the bottom of each and squeeze out the juices into a bowl. Peel, core and seed the peppers, then finely chop with a knife. Add reserved juices to the salsa.