Monday, February 28, 2011

Salsa verde

Like Salsa Ranchera, cookbook authors Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless cook the bright green chili sauce after roasting the tomato, garlic and chili pepper.

I prefer to leave the salsa uncooked when serving it next to fried tortilla chips or raw vegetables. If desired, heat two tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until soft, then pour tomato mixture in and cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about eight minutes.

Click to read my three-part series on "My salsa journey."

SALSA VERDE

Use the cooked version of the salsa as the basis for a rich chili verde with stewed pork butt.

2 pounds whole tomatillo with husk removed
3 cloves garlic
4 serrano chili peppers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Roast or broil tomatillos, garlic and peppers until slightly charred. Cool and place in food processor bowl. Pulse several times to create a slightly chunky sauce. Add onion, cilantro and salt. Adjust seasoning.

Yield about 1 quart.

Use the sauce the basis for a rich chili verde with stewed pork butt.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Salsa ranchera

This sauce has its origins in Central Mexico, according to cookbook author Diana Kennedy. Kennedy cooks the sauce in a skillet after blending the tomato, garlic and chili peppers into a coarse sauce.

I prefer to leave the salsa uncooked when serving it next to fried tortilla chips or raw vegetables. If desired, heat two tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until soft, then pour tomato mixture in and cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about eight minutes.

Click to read my three-part series on "My salsa journey."

SALSA RANCHERA

In addition to serving it as a table sauce, use the salsa for huevos rancheros or to season shredded meat for tacos, etc.

2 pounds fresh tomato
3 cloves garlic
4 serrano chili peppers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lime juice

Roast or broil tomatoes, garlic and peppers until charred. Cool and place in food processor bowl. Pulse several times to create a slightly chunky sauce. Add oil, onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Adjust seasoning.

Yield about 1 quart.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My salsa journey, part 3

Continued from last week.

We need to back up a bit in this journey. My effort to create the perfect salsa for the residents at work began before I picked up Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking.

Since I frequently prepare tortilla chips and salsa for the mid-afternoon snack, I read through the basic salsa recipes in Rick Bayless's Mexican Cooking. Using Bayless' basic technique, I wanted a salsa format that could be applied to a variety of culinary applications.

My goal was to replicate the basic salsa recipe that are found in many taqueria and burrito shops near my home. I wanted a process that would apply to both tomato-based and tomatillo-based.

As it turns, Bayless and Kennedy use a similar technique for their salsa recipes. When I opened Kennedy's book in late January, I quickly found that my salsa recipes were prepared in the same spirit that her recipes represent.

To prepare the salsa, I took about five cups of diced tomato (remnants from a stuffed tomato salsa) and pureed it in the food processor. I added one slightly caramelized onion and minced garlic, along with fire-roasted poblano and jalapeno chili peppers. The whole mess was processed until it was finely chopped.

At this point, the salsa differed from Bayless' because I opted to run it through the food processor without first roasting the tomato. The tomato-chili-garlic mixture was flat, yet had a distinctly fresh tomato flavor.

I knew that the best way to incorporate additional flavor into the salsa was to pour it into a blistering skillet. The salsa sputtered and sent red dropplets in a circular pattern around the stove.

Within five minutes, the color changed from bright red to a reddish-brown. Once it cooled, I seasoned it with kosher salt, black pepper and lime juice. A handful of chopped cilantro added a fresh herbal contrast to the cooked salsa.

Although the salsa wasn't as spicy as I wanted, the residents enjoyed it. I've since learned that it takes around four to five medium jalapeno chili peppers to bring out a moderately spiced salsa. Remember that as a rule, a smaller chili pepper will pack much more heat that a larger one.

I now had one more step to take. The next time that I prepared chips and salsa for the ladies at work, I first roasted tomatoes and tomatillos (as separate sheet pans) in the oven with jalapeno chili peppers and whole garlic cloves.

Then, instead of caramelizing the onion, I added one chopped white onion with kosher salt, chopped cilantro and lime juice. The raw onion added a fresh contrast to the cooked tomatoes (or tomatillo) in the salsa.

I'll post both recipes soon -- both Salsa Ranchera and Salsa Verde.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cooking in frozen Korea without a can opener, part 2

Continued from Wednesday. Phil Street, a US Marine cook during the Korean Way, served with the First Marine Division in Korea in 1952 and 1953.

Life in camp: frozen water supply, black coffee and blackout conditions

When we received water in the water buffalos (portable water trailers) that were frozen solid. It became a 250-gallon giant ice cube. We had to climb on top and take a big steel bar to break the ice into chunks so we could melt it to make coffee and cook for the Marines.

The coffee was black. So was the camp as we were close enough to the front lines. No lights could show after dark. We had an enemy plane that we called Bed Check Charlie who would fly over us on cloudy nights and drop out hand grenades.

We always had coffee and something to eat if they wanted it.

We had one cook who for a reason known only to him wanted the truck drivers to get his permission for a cup of coffee. The coffee was made in a 32-gallon GI can. The water was first brought to a boil, then the coffee grounds were dumped in and allowed to settle to the bottom.

We kept a fire under the GI can. The coffee could almost walk on its own as it was so strong.

The cook who wanted permission from the Marine who ran the generator as only the mess tent had lights at night and it was blacked out. The cook had just bought a short wave AM brand all leather bound radio from the PX truck which cost that cost way over $100. The PX truck came around about once per month.

The cook chewed out the Marine because he did not ask first ask permission for a canteen cup of coffee. The Marine went back to the generators, ran it up to 300 volts and blew up the cook's radio. The radio caught fire and never worked again.

The Marine came running over to the mess tent and said that something went wrong and the generator shot up 300 volts. He brought us new light bulbs as the serge burned them all out. He told me later that he did it on purpose as that would teach the cook to not want him to have coffee.

I never did tell the cook what happened to his radio to burn up as he deserved it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cooking in frozen Korea without a can opener

Phil Street, a US Marine Corps sergeant in the Korean War, recently shared his story with me. Phil served as a cook in the Corps from 1951 to 1954. The photograph shows Phil during warmer months in Korea.

Click to view a series of pictures of a M-1937 field range in action. Even though the blog hasn't been updated since July 2009, it gives you an accurate picture of how the stove was deployed in the Army and Marines.


I arrived in Korea in February 1952, where I was assigned to the 7th Motor Transport Battalion. On my first day there I noticed we had no can opener. We fed 850 Marines at each meal since we had a company of amphibious DUKWs TAD from the Second Marine Division assigned to the First Marine Division.

We also rode shotgun on the trucks and loaded large dump trucks with sand, using entrenching tools that were made to dig foxholes. Maybe we could have used those entrenching tools to open cans of food.

Much of our food came in 16-ounce cans, and we had to use a meat cleaver to open them. Bacon came in 16-ounce cans also. We had to cut both ends out and then split them down the sides so we could try and get the bacon out of them. Many of us had a lot of bad cuts from trying to get the bacon out of those small cans.

When I left at the end of my tour 13 months later we still had no can opener.

Everything froze

Most of out 2-1/2-ton trucks in Korea never even had doors on them. In subzero weather, the trucks had to be started every 30 minutes to make sure they would start when needed 24 hours per day. Then several did not want to start so the drivers would pull them with a chain trying to get them to start.

Our canteens would freeze and burst on our sides of they were filled more than half full.

The Navy corpsmen put small glass vials of morphine in their mouths to keep them from freezing so to give shots to the wounded. Blood plasma would freeze before they could get all of it into the wounded who needed the blood.

Lighting field stoves in freezing weather

Then there were the ranges. Our M-1937 cook ranges had to have 40 pounds of air pressure pumped into them to get them to burn properly. But, we did not have an air compressor, so we used a bicycle pump, which took forever. The cold affected out cook ranges as it did everything else.

The cook ranges had a generator (piece of pipe) running down the center that had to reach a certain temperature before they would burn properly with a blue flame. Otherwise, the flame was yellow and would flood. The gas would run out on your feet and catch your shoes on fire.

This happened many times. I think that was how the dance The Twist was started and you danced trying to get the fire out. Sometimes the gas lines would spring a leak and shoot flame out line a flame small thrower. You hoped the fire was not towards you.

With temperatures as low as 40 below zero, the leather seal inside the bicycle pumps froze and when it was zero weather the leather was so stiff it could take 20 minutes or more, taking turns pumping to get the 40 pounds of air in one range.

We had many ranges to pump up, so it took forever to get ready to light the burners. To make matters worse, when it was below zero the generator was too cold to generate. So we used a blow torch to heat the generator. But it was often so cold the blow torch would not generate either.

So we had to burn gasoline in the little cup below the blow torch nozzle in order to thaw the torch. Many times it was still to cold for the blow torch to generate so you had to keep repeating the process until the torch thawed out enough to work properly.

We had one cook badly burned trying this as he took a funnel with gas in it with his finger over the end and just dripped the gas into the cup a little at a time. When he repeated this the second time the cup on the blow torch was too hot and ignited as soon as the gas hit it. He threw the funnel in the air and the gasoline came down on his arm and set his clothes on fire.

To be continued ...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preview of coming articles and recipes

I currently working on several articles and recipes for 'Round the Chuckbox. They include:
  1. Article on cooking in the Korea War by US Marine Sergeant Phil Street
  2. Final article in "My salsa journey" series; click for the first and second installments
  3. Recipe for Salsa Verde; although I haven't posted a recipe for the ubiquitous green pepper sauce, you can click for a Chili Verde recipe
  4. Recipe for Salsa Ranchera; click for my most recent salsa recipe, Salsa Americana
  5. Follow-up article to the Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette recipe

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Sailors win inaugural Best of the Mess cooking competition

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joey Morgon, USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Feb. 14, 2011) (NNS) -- Three USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) culinary specialists competed in, and won, the first Best of the Mess charity event held Feb. 11 in Virginia Beach, Va.

The competition was sponsored by the Chief Petty Officer Scholarship Fund and pitted five local naval commands, Theodore Roosevelt, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS Churchill (DDG 81), Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2 and Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; against each other in a contest of cooking skill and presentation.

Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Kenyatta Pore, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Angel Vasquezvelez and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Rogelyn Cambe represented Theodore Roosevelt.

The team entered the competition confident they could win despite one big disadvantage -- while most of the competing commands had been preparing since November, Theodore Roosevelt was a late entry and had just one week to prepare, said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Kenyatta Pore.

"We had a ton of stresses trying to prepare for this in just one week," said Pore. "Did we have all the supplies and ingredients? Could we feed 300 people on top of getting the job done for the judges? But, it was kind of the same thing as feeding the crew every day so it was stressful but kind of easy in comparison."

Each team had a budget of $1,250 and a list of ingredients to use. Theodore Roosevelt's chefs began preparing the meal at 4 a.m. on competition day. They cooked for more than 12 hours before the event and continued long into the night.

"When you serve a crew you have to continue to cook during the meal," said Vasquezvelez. "The competition was setup in the same way. We started serving the guests and 45 minutes after that we had to present our meal to the judges."

Theodore Roosevelt's team accomplished what they set out to do. On short notice and working under pressure, they came together and presented the judges and guests with the winning meal.

"I had a pretty good feeling we would win," said Pore. "I could hear the guests talking and the way the judges were responding to our food made me pretty confident. We were in it to win it and came away with the trophy."

The event raised money for the Chief Petty Officer Scholarship fund.

"We've got the best mess," said Cmdr. Paul Amodio, TR's supply officer. "To be able to showcase that and showcase our guys talents is always a great opportunity, especially when it's for charity."

"These events are how we help each other and that's what it's all about," said Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. "This is a great opportunity to get money into a scholarship fund that will then be distributed by the Chief Petty Officer Association. This is a real win-win for the people and for the Navy; we all come out winners on this. It's a real good thing."

Theodore Roosevelt will own the trophy for the next year. Their chefs are determined to extend their time with the prize.

"We won this with only a week of preparation," said Vasquezvelez. "We blew away the competition and impressed the judges. I can't wait to see what we can do next year."

Patrick Kearney, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of Virginia, spoke highly of the Theodore Roosevelt's competing team.

"We had five commands competing to see who had the best chow and hands down it was [TR]," said Kearney. "They did a really good job tonight. It was some really tough competition but they really put their heart and soul into what they did, and it was apparent and really came through in their food."

Photo caption: Adm. J.C. Harvey, left, watches as culinary specialists assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Rogelyn Cambe, right, and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Angel Vasquezvelez prepare their entries during the Best of the Mess competition. Culinary specialists from Theodore Roosevelt went on to win the competition. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Karen E. Eifert.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Culinary sendoff

I enjoy viewing the work of other photographers. In addition to visualizing the rush one receives when placed near the center of action, I evaluate the photograph of the photographer's point of view.

Pictures such as this one allow me to rehearse the camera settings that I'd use to replicate the shot. My mind quickly turns to attributes such as shutter speed, f-stop and ISO setting.

It's crucial that the photographer act quickly in these situations because the scene changes in a flash. The pilot won't wait for the photographer. He must quickly clear the flight deck to allow the next helicopter to deliver its load.


PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 9, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Drew Iverson directs an SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter to take off from the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) during nighttime vertical replenishment flight operations training.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Fidel C. Hart.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My salsa journey, part 2

Continued from Monday.

Within two weeks, I had a copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking in my hands. My initial exploration of the book focused on dried chilies. The chapter on "Chiles and How to Prepare Them" (page 453) helped since I had prepared several sauces using dried New Mexico and guajillo chilipods in January.

With my article on Salsa Americana fresh on my mind, I quickly turned to the chapter on "Sauces, Relishes and Salsa" (page 331) to compare it to Kennedy's.

I learned a key point on Mexican salsas. Among the 18 salsa recipes included in the chapter, none listed over eight ingredients. Five or six seemed to be the norm.

What struck me was the simplicity of recipes. Unlike my salsa recipe -- its massive list of 18 ingredients is imposing -- most of Kennedy's salsa recipes share the same ingredients. The predominate ingredients are fresh tomato or tomatillo, chili pepper, white onion, garlic and salt.

The dividing line between the salsa of one region in Mexico when compared its neighbor often rests in the technique used. Even when the same five or six ingredients are used, each salsa differs from the other in flavor and character.

Let's use the first two recipes in the chapter to illustrate this point.

In Salsa Verde Cruda (Raw Green Tomato Sauce) on page 334, the tomatillos are cooked in water until soft, but not falling apart. They're then run through the food processor with cilantro, garlic, serrano chilies and salt. The salsa, which has a bright, refreshing flavor, is often garnished with chopped white onions and more cilantro.

Cooking Salsa De Tamate Verde Cocida (Cooked Green Tomato Sauce) on page 335, on the other had, contributes a deeper, sweeter taste to the salsa. The tomatillos are cooked in water a bit longer, then run through the food processor as before.

One additional step helps to create a new salsa. Set a cast iron skillet over high heat. After coating the bottom of the hot skillet with oil, pour in the raw salsa mixture. Cook it until the salsa reduces and develops a new flavor set. An earthy, cooked flavor will replace the crude taste of the raw salsa.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Roasted red pepper vinaigrette

I enjoy making vinaigrette dressings at work. It's a fun way to introduce new flavors into the menu. And it provides a refreshing break for the residents from bottled dressings (Ranch, 1000 island and Italian).

Like most chefs, I treat the basic vinaigrette (called French dressing when I started cooking in 1971) as a vinegar and oil canvas that's ready to accept a host of flavors. By varying the supporting flavors, the cook can tailor the classic dressing so that it fits almost any cuisine.

I've used flavors like cilantro and lime juice or tomato and orange to give a salad of mixed greens a wonderful boost in flavor. It beats ranch dressing any day. And remember that a vinaigrette can double as a marinade or sauce for chicken or fish.

Yesterday I prepared a robust vinaigrette with roasted red peppers and served with chef's salad for the lunch meal. I pureed two freshly roasted sweet peppers with red onion, Dijon mustard, garlic and seasonings in the blender.

Then, as the blender whirled on high, I streamed in olive oil to form a rich sauce. The emulsifying power of the mustard helped hold the oil and vinegar together in perfect union.

Even today as the last bit of the dressing was served next to the tossed green salad for lunch, residents continued to tell me how much they enjoyed it.

"This was good," said a resident kitchen helper, pointing to the vinaigrette. "This stuff was the bomb!"

ROASTED RED PEPPER VINAIGRETTE

Add a tablespoon or two of honey or sugar to counteract harshness from the roasted red peppers, if needed. Add several dashes of hot pepper sauce to give the dressing a spicy tone. Or replace up to one-third of the vinegar with fresh lemon juice to add zip.

2 roasted red peppers, seeded, skin removed and chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil

Blend red peppers, onion, mustard, thyme, salt, black pepper and vinegar in blender until combined. With blender on high, stream oilive oil into red pepper and vinegar mixture until blended. Adjust seasoning.

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

This list is much shorter than past years. Several cookoffs have either dropped off or haven't been schedules this year. I'll post revisions as I get them from Don Mason.

February

None scheduled

March

Nor–Cal Boat, Sport and RV Show
March 4-6, Shasta District Fairgrounds, Anderson, California
March 4: Iron chef cookoff
March 5: Dutch oven cookoff
March 6: Barbecue cookoff. Shasta County Fairgrounds
Contact: Lynn Gilliss, 530-365-1381 or mail@norcalsportshow.com
Space is limited, so enter early

April

Ride for Life Cancer Fund Raiser and Dutch oven Cookoff
April 2, Red Bluff, California
For more Dutch Oven Cook-off information and applications contact Don Mason at 530-527-1027 or dmason50@att.net

Colusa Western Days Dutch Oven Cookoff
April 2, Colusa County Fairgrounds, Colusa, California
Contact: Colusa Chamber of Commerce, 530-548-5525
The oldest Dutch oven cookoff in Northern California; rib cookoff on Sunday, April 5

Red Bluff Round-Up Chili and Dutch Oven Cookoff
April 9, Red Bluff, California
For information contact Don Mason at 530-527-1027 or dmason50@att.net

May

Back Country Horseman’s Pack Clinic and Rogue Dutch Oven Cooker’s Dutch Oven Cookoff
May 6, Klamath County Fairgrounds, Klamath Falls, Oregon
Registration is free
For more information, contact Dave Herzog at 541-613-4758

Cooking in the Park has been rescheduled to April 9, 2011 and combined with the Round-Up Chili Cookoff and Dutch Oven Cookoff

June

Carson City Rendezvous
June 11 and 12, Carson City, Nevada.
June 11: Dutch oven gathering -- 3 p.m. start cooking and serve at p.m.
June 12: Dutch oven cookoff -- starts at 9 a.m. with a 3 pot cookoff
Registration is $250 per team
Prime Rib Tickets (for DOG on the 11th) $15 per person
For more information contact Dave Herzog at 541-613-4758 or norcaldutchovendave@yahoo.com

July

Nothing scheduled

August

Paradise Cowboy Poetry and Dutch Oven Cookoff
August 13, Gold Nugget Museum, 502 Pearson Road, Paradise, California
Gates open 7 a.m. for cooks; 3-pot cookoff is $10 per dish or $25 for all three
For more information, contact Steve "Woody" Culleton at 530-521-1984 or moesteve@comcast.net

Olive Festival and Dutch Oven Cookoff
August 27, Woodson City Park, Corning, California
Fore more information, contact Corning Chamber of Commerce at 530-824-5550 or Don Mason 530-527-1027 or dmason50@att.net

September

Draft Horse Classic and Dutch Oven Cookoff
No date set, Nevada County Fairgrounds, Nevada City, California

October

Fortuna Dutch Oven Society Apple Festival Dutch Oven Cookoff
No date set, possible October 2, Fortuna, California

Trinity County Historical Society Dutch Oven Cookoff
October 8, Weaverville, California
For more information, contact George Chapman at 530-410-8013.

Historic Hawes Ranch Dutch Oven Cook-off
No date set, Anderson, California
For more information, contact Carrie Moore at 530-229-3626

November

Nothing scheduled

December

Nothing scheduled

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Culinary search and seizure

Never argue with a well-armed cook ...

CARIBBEAN SEA (Feb. 2, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Devon Patterson searches Boatswain's Mate Christian Montes, a role player, during a visit, board, search and seizure demonstration while members of the Colombian coast guard observe as part of Amphibious Southern Partnership (SPS) 2011. SPS is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Latin America.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nashaunda Tilghman.

Monday, February 07, 2011

My salsa journey

I've posted at least eight salsa recipes since starting 'Round the Chuckbox six years ago. So it doesn't surprise my readers that I’m continually experimenting with different flavor combinations.

While tomatoes for the basis for most of my salsas at work, I've occasionally ventured away from the ubiquitous red fruit and prepared salsas using other fruits as the flavor foundation.

Last summer, the residents at work enjoyed many fruit-based salsas. Two non-tomato salsas stood out. In June, I worked a fresh batch of ripe mangoes into a spicy salsa with red sweet peppers and a mixture of mild and hot chilies.

And I added seeded and diced cucumber to salsa throughout the summer. The clients enjoyed the refreshing change from traditional salsas.

The last salsa recipe that I posted to these pages was my basic tomato salsa. Since I shared the recipe on December 31, I've renamed it as Salsa Americana in my recipe files. This recipe is essentially a variation of my recipe for Camp Salsa, posted in July 2005.

While the residents at work have enjoyed my basic salsa recipe, I'm a recent convert to the idea that a good salsa should be constructed with a minimum number of ingredients. Between four to six seems to be ideal.

I've learned that too many ingredients overload the palette. A variety of supporting ingredients, like canned chilies, chili powder, hot pepper sauce and vinegar, muddy the salsa with competing flavors and cover up the vibrant flavor of the tomato and fresh hot chili peppers.

My quest for a simpler flavorful salsa started with a conversation. Early last month I stopped in at Charlotte’s Bakery and Cafe for my morning coffee.

As I often do, I lingered for a few moments to talk shop with Chef Carolyn Krumpe, owner and pastry chef for the cafe. Her efforts to open the business have fascinated my since the cafe premiered in August.

Since I had recently rekindled my interest in dried chilies, our conversation must've centered on Mexican influences in our different cooking styles. Carolyn reached into her bookshelf and recovered a copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy.

I confessed that while I knew of Kennedy, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Cooking was the book on the topic in my library. Although I own one or two books that feature Southwestern or Tex-Mex cooking, I haven't focused on authentic Mexican cuisine.

To be continued ...

Wiskey Creek Dutch oven potluck

Remember this was canceled due to rain last November, so lets cook in March and maybe catch an almond blossom. Don Mason

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Top ten tools for the camp kitchen

I originally posted this article to Suite101.com in November 2000.


By now, you've seen that I'm a proponent of anything cast iron, especially camp Dutch ovens. Sure, theye heavy. But nothing beats cast iron. It's versatile, hold heat and cooks evenly. So, it's no surprise that cast iron cookware is king in my camp cooking outfit.

But cast iron isn't the only type of cookware in my camp cooking kit. Over the years, I've put together enough cookware to feed my family of five, plus a few visitors. Although my top ten list only covers cookware, my kitchen outfit includes everything from cookware to water jugs to an extra table or two.

Here’s what I'd carry if I were limited to 10 pieces of cookware:
  • Dutch oven with accessories –– If you only take one piece of cast iron cookware, make it a 12-inch Dutch oven. They're versatile: One-pot meals, bread, biscuits and much more can be cooked in camp ovens. And the lid can even be used as a griddle.
  • Cast iron skillet –– Next to a Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet is a must, especially if you saute, pan-fry and braise your way to flavor-packed camp meals. An eight- to 12-inch cast iron skillet should work for most families. Also buy a tight-fitting lid for your skillet. It helps you cook everything from fried eggs to stews.
  • Coffeepot –– What camp kitchen isn't complete without a hanging coffee pot? There’s nothing better than drinking a cup of your favorite coffee next to the morning campfire. If you don't drink coffee or tea, a coffeepot can be used to boil hot water for other beverages and for the dishes.
  • Fire grate –– A must for campfire cooking. If you enjoy cooking over the campfire like I do, you'll need a sturdy fire grate. Last spring, I purchased a 16-inch by 20-inch grate from Texsport.
  • Pots –– Two-quart and three-quart saucepans should work for most meals in the wild, especially if you take a Dutch oven and skillet. Although you can initially build a camp kitchen with old kitchen pots and pans, it’s wise to eventually invest in quality pots and pans.
  • Stove –– Unless you cook with fire exclusively –– as I do on occasion –– you need a petroleum-fired camp stove. If you have room in your vehicle, I recommend investing in a Camp Chef two-burner propane stove. It sure beats pumping a white gas stove. No more fires, flare ups or worn out generators.
  • Knives –– Unless you’re going to butcher cattle alongside the trail, two or three knives are all you need. I carry a 10-inch French knife, a 6-inch boning knife (to pare vegetables, not strip meat from the bone) and a 12-inch slicer. And, unless you're a gourmet, Henckels and Wusthof don’t have to be part of you cutlery collection. As a professional cook, I’ve used the Connoisseur line by Russell Harrington Cutlery for over 20 years.
  • Utensils –– Okay. I took a little writer's liberty and lumped all utensils into one group. After all, my list would have 30 items if I didn't. Here's the minimum outfit: spatula, solid spoon, slotted spoon, wire whip, ladle, measuring spoons, can opener, potato masher, tongs, cutting board and meat fork. Depending on your cooking style, a few other items are useful. I find that a citrus zester, for example, is a must-have item. I also include an old hand-crank meat grinder, a garlic press and lemon press. But be careful. Things quickly get out of hand when you try to include every gadget that’s listed in the latest Cooking.com catalog.
  • Thermometer –– Using a thermometer is the only way accurately to test for temperature. Get a digital thermometer. They're more accurate and less subject to jarring than the so-called instant-read thermometers. Cooper Instruments and Taylor USA both make thermometers for home and camp use.
  • Kitchen box –– The most important item is a gearbox to hold all this cookware. I've used an Army footlocker for the past decade. I place all of my pots, pans and utensils in the box. Everything has its place. The only thing that doesn't fit is the cast iron.
This list should give you a few ideas to help you build your own kit.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Food labels

One of my constant challenges is making sure that all food in the refrigerators and freezers are labeled correctly. It's disconcerting to arrive at work on Monday morning and find a half-dozen unlabeled containers of food in the kitchen reach-in.

I'm usually able to identify the such food items. Occasionally a container will confuse me. If color or texture can't help, I'll toss the offending item into the garbage, unless the resident cooks can shed light on its makeup.

This leads me to a recent thread on the ChefTalk.com Professional Chefs Forum. A question posed by Chicago Chef, a new member on the forum, brought a tear to my eye.

"Just wondering what funny things you have seen on labels in the walk-in, or anywhere else in your kitchen," wrote the cook. "The other day I was going through the walk-in trying to find some bleu cheese, and was having a hard time, until I noticed the container labeled 'Bloochies' and found what I was looking for."