Monday, May 30, 2011

Feeding the crew on the USS Constitution

We've come a long way in 199 years ...

YouTube description: USS Constitution spent much of 1812 at sea on extended cruises to protect the nation's maritime interests. A well-fed crew was essential to the victories she won during the War of 1812. Her modern crew of 70 US Navy sailors also eat well, thought the means of food storage and preparation have changed... much for the better!

This video offers a quick comparison of how the "cook" of 1812 and the "Culinary Specialist" of today feed the ship's company to ensure they are ready and able to meet the duties of the day.

Steven's Memorial Day scramble

Steven's Memorial Day scramble with cottage fried potatoes, caramelized onions and leftover chicken breast with mushrooms was a hit in the chef's house.

I know it doesn't look as appealing as it tastes. But looks can deceive.

I started 1 sliced white onion in a large cast iron skillet. Next came three diced Sierra Gold potatoes.

As the potatoes and onions cooked, I diced a couple leftover chicken breasts and added them to the skillet. Once the potatoes were tender and had taken on a good crust, I poured 6 whipped eggs in and stirred until done.

When done, season with kosher salt, ground black pepper and paprika. Serve your favorite hot pepper sauce on the side.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Follow 'Round the Chuckbox on Twitter

'Round the Chuckbox has joined Twitter; first tweet's already up. Follow me @SeabeeCook - so much to say & so little space w/140 characters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cajun roux

I made a deep reddish-brown roux in 10 minutes this afternoon at work. After finishing the roux, I used it to thicken and flavor a chicken and sausage gumbo for the resident's dinner.

I used Chef Paul Prudhomme's technique from his Authentic Cajun Cooking. Chef and owner of K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, he authored the booklet for Tabasco sometime in the 1980s or earlier. I found it at a local thrift store for $1.

Chef Paul heats the oil first, according to the gumbo recipes in the booklet. He then whisks in the flour. The roux smelled like fried chicken when I first stirred in the flour!

I cooked the roux on high for the first four minutes, and then turned the heat down to low when the flour started cooking too fast. There's no multitasking with this one ... stir constantly with a flat-bottomed wood spatula for best results.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Guajillo adobo sauce

I enjoy working with dried chile pods, especially Guajillo chiles. They add a wonderful layer of flavor to chili con carne and other dishes that you can't get from chili powder.

The process to turn the dried chile pod into a rich sauce is straight-forward. To use, you must first extract the flavor and form it into a rich guajillo chile adobo.

I know the process described below creates a bit more work. But the end result is well worth the extra effort. Your taste buds will appreciate the effort.

A Mexican adobo sauce is a "dark-red, rather piquant sauce (or paste) ... made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar," according to the third edition of the Food Lover's Companion. Don't contuse this sauce with Filipino adobo, which has a much different flavor profile.

Use this three-step process to draw the rich flavor out of dried guajillo chile pods:

STEP 1 -- Toast and re-hydrate

For 3 cups guajillo chile adobe, toast around 16 guajillo chile pods (4 ounces by weight) in a cast iron skillet over low to medium heat, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Lightly toast chile pods, being careful not to burn.

When cooled to handle, snip stem off and shake out loose seeds. Don’t worry about seeds that end up in the sauce. They're an important part of the flavor profile. Place toasted chile pods in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak 20 minutes to soften pods. Discard water.

STEP 2 -- Puree and strain

Add soaked chile pods to blender bowl with 1-cup hot water, 3 garlic cloves, 1-teaspoon cumin and 1/2-teaspoon ground black pepper. Puree into a smooth paste.

(Optional step.) Pour puree into a fine strainer set over medium-sized bowl. With the back of a wood spoon, push chile paste through the strainer, extracting every bit of flavor from the paste. Discard mash.

STEP 3 -- Cook and flavor

At this stage, the raw, underdeveloped flavor of chile paste will repel even the most ardent lover of Mexican cuisine. While the adobo can be used where it'll be cooked further, cooking it smooths the rough edges.

Wear an apron for this step. The sauce will sputter, splatter and complain.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in chili paste (strained or unstrained) and cook until raw chili taste is gone. Reduce heat to a simmer. Whisk in 3 cups chicken chicken stock and cook to reduce to desired strength.

That's it. The question now is, where do you go from here? At work, I use the guajillo adobo for two main applications. First, I add it to a 1-1/2-gallon pot of chili con carne. Start with around cups sauce and add more to suit the taste buds of your crew. I also prepare several spicy guajillo gravies or sauces.

The red chile sauce can be used to dress enchiladas or flavor vegetarian or meat taco. Rick Bayless (Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, Scribner, 1996) recommends marinating New York strip or sirloin steaks in the sauce (1-part vinegar nixed with 3-parts sauce), then grilled over a hot fire with thick onion rings.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


From the moment the ship departs its homeport for overseas, Sailors count the days to a grand welcome home.

NORFOLK (May 16, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Roberts is greeted by his wife after the amphibious transport dock ship USS Ponce (LPD 15) returns to Naval Station Norfolk after completing an extended deployment in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. Ponce is part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and deployed with the embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU).

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Goodwin.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sack lunch

I forgot to comment on this photograph last month.

For the first time in 16 months at my current job, I assembled a sack lunch for the residents in mid-April. It was a welcomed change from the hot lunch that most eat each day.

Since I would assemble the lunches on Tuesday without assistance from my assigned workers, I made the salad on Monday. I then enlisted several ladies who wrapped the bread and meat-cheese packs. On Tuesday, I pulled all the ingredients from the refrigerator as soon as I arrived at work and set up an assembly line.

At 11 a.m., the residents filed past the kitchen, grabbed a sack lunch and walked out of the house. Staff escorted them to a local park for a picnic.

The menu for the sack lunch:
  • Turkey and cheese or ham and cheese sandwich -- bread and meat/cheese were wrapped individually to keep the bread fresh
  • Black bean and corn salad -- cupped into an 8-ounce containers
  • Doritos chips
  • Juice cup
  • Apple or orange
  • Mayonnaise and mustard packs
  • Napkin and spoon
The residents enjoyed a nice sack lunch in the park, while I took advantage of the extra time and worked on shredded beef burritos for dinner.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oatmeal walnut hotcakes

I enjoy breakfast for dinner. Earlier this week, I prepared scrambled eggs with bacon and toast. Nothing to write about, really. Sometimes a simple meal is all you need to satisfy hunger at the end of the day, especially when covered with a few shots of Cholula hot sauce.

I changed coarse tonight. After mulling over several options (including two thawing duck leg quarters), I settled on hotcakes. Thinking back to the granola pancakes on the menu at work one Sunday per month, I didn't think the one cereal in the cupboard would work.

I took my standard hotcake recipe (click here for the recipe) and folded 3/4-cup old fashion oatmeal and 1/2-cup finely diced walnuts into the batter. After tasting the batter, I mixed a bit of vanilla extract and a spoonful of extra sugar in for extra flavor. Some additional milk gave me a batter with the right consistency.

Toasting enhances the sweet, nutty flavor of the walnuts. To toast, set a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the walnuts and toast 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. And watch the amount of walnuts you add to the batter, otherwise the hotcakes will be too mealy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ugly drum smoker

On Easter Sunday, my sister took her family to a friend's house in Fresno for a barbecue. Her brother build this ugly drum smoker out of a drum that held honey.

I last commented on a UDS in October 2009. Dorie, my sister's friend, posted this description of her brother's UDS:
Dorie said...
BELIEVERS--My brother, who is in Ag Sales, gave us this ugly farmer's drum with holes at the side that a steel bar goes through. The next step is to hang chunks of meat on stainless steel hooks and smoke them to perfection for 2-3 hours. It uses very little charcoal and creates some great tasting meat. My husband has hauled this ugly thing to work BBQs and has made believers out of many tri-tip loving City of Fresno employees!
Enjoy the pictures ...

Sunday brunch, Navy style

The griddle is king when it comes to Navy breakfast. Since the Navy doesn't equip its galleys with burners, culinary specialists cook omelets on the flattop.

INDIAN OCEAN (May 8, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Maisha Dublin, front, from Queens, N.Y., and Culinary Specialist Seaman Christina Clayton, from Tampa, Fla., cook omelets as part of a Sunday brunch meal in the galley of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan is operating in the Indian Ocean.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shawn J. Stewart.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Rise of the Southern Biscuit

I watched The Rise of the Southern Biscuit this afternoon and recommend the 30-minute documentary to my viewers.

After all, who doesn't enjoy a light, flaky biscuit? Smothered in creamy sausage gravy or decorated with homemade raspberry jam, many give the biscuit an central place in their diet.

One thing struck me on my first viewing of the DVD on the Documentary Channel (197 on Dish Network). Even though each biscuit maker uses different ingredients, the result is most always the same.

Some work shortening (or "Crisco" after the predominant brand) into sifted self-rising flour. Others insist on natural fats like butter or lard.

Biscuit bakers even differ on the liquid ingredient. Milk, buttermilk and cream all have their place. Like the choice of fat, the source of moisture seems to have little bearing on the final product.

One thing you will notice when you watch The Rise of the Southern Biscuit. It takes lots of love -- and a gentle touch -- to create a great biscuit. The rest is left to the baker.

Maryann Byrd, Emmy award-winning filmmaker and creator of the The Rise of the Southern Biscuit, has this to say about the Southern biscuit on her blog:

"Whenever I speak to a group about Southern biscuits, I always tell them, 'Biscuit dough is a blank canvas.' Add your favorite flavors and ingredients to your dough and make your own creation.

"Most of us are used to adding toppings; like honey, jams, and gravies to give a biscuit that great taste. And it does work. But, I say put some fun stuff in the dough! It is even better."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Lessons from the camp cook

Children learn valuable lessons when they attend summer camp. I don't think anyone disputes that fact. The fact succeeding generations of children swell summer camp populations is a testament to this truth.

Even when thrown into an unfamiliar setting, children quickly develop new friends, often with guidance from a skilled camp counselor. Some friendships last a lifetime.

I found a nice article in The Province, a British Columbia newspaper. "Parents send their children to camp to have fun, make new friends and acquire activity skills," said the April 12, 2011 on-line article. "In the process, campers learn that ... (introducing Lesson No. 1) Time flies because camp is so much fun!"

The article outlines nine lifelong lessons. The ninth lesson hit home for this camp cook. It reads:

"If I don't like what's served at lunch, by dinner I am hungry enough to eat anything!"

In the paragraph that follows the lesson, the unnamed writer unwittingly highlighted the main responsibility of the camp cook. As the cook writes a menu with "variety and choice," he plans "nutritious meals ... with children's preference in mind."

The camp cook works to please campers with wonderful meals. He listens for camper comments, both good and bad. He watches the dining room for reactions to each meal and even peers in the garbage for telltale signs of uneated meals.

In addition to dishes for "vegetarians and campers with special dietary needs," the camp cook provides plenty of variety in the menu. Plenty of salad fixin's, 24-hour peanut butter and jelly bar and ample portions all help campers get their fill.

"However, the camp cook cannot please everybody all the time," the article concludes. "Nevertheless, fussy eaters soon learn to enjoy the meal served to them after a day full of activity and with the example of other enthusiastic eaters around the table."