Wednesday, August 31, 2011

El charro pinto beans

By Konrad "Teddy Bear" Haskins

My basic pinto bean recipe is very simple. Beans, cumin, garlic, onion and chili with a little left over meat and finish seasoning.

Most recipe books go for a clean, simple and sterile recipe which leaves a whole story untold. For this recipe I like a whole small to medium yellow or red onion. Sweet onions (Walla Walla, Vidalia, Texas 1015 and Mayan sweet) are so mild. I up-size to a large if I'm using a sweet onion.

Mild chili powder works but I prefer using a whole Ancho (mild) pepper cut in two. You want to cooking the pepper halves with the beans and then when done, scrape the flesh of the pepper from the skin and discard the skin stirring the flesh back in.

Granulated garlic works in a pinch but I prefer a quarter to half a head of garlic. Whack the cloves with the side of a chef's knife. This crushes them, releasing flavor and makes peeling much easier. No flailing needed; just put the flat side of the knife over the clove and push down with the palm of your hand.

You'll save a ton of money if you buy whole cumin seeds and whole Ancho chili peppers in the Mexican or the bulk spice isle. Those little glass or plastic jars in the regular spice section can be ten times more expensive. New Mexico and California chilies can be substituted for Ancho.

I use two cups of pinto beans to eight cups of water. If you soak the beans and cumin seeds overnight they will cook faster. As BBQ is not that fast I usually just start with dry beans. With a large pit I put my Dutch oven of beans under some beef or pork to catch the drippings. Leftover beef or pork juice and meat works just fine. Throw some leftover BBQ in the freezer to make you next bean pot very happy.

I don't add salt until right at the end. I normal use about a tablespoon of BBQ rub right at the end as a finishing seasoning. If using straight kosher salt, I'd use a teaspoon or less. Use salt or rub, not both. If you don't have left over BBQ for the special flavor boost then use up to a cup of spaghetti sauce, added a half hour before the beans are done cooking.

How long? Well it's BBQ; so it's done when it's done. At 250 degrees F to 275 degrees for around four hours in a Dutch Oven with a good fitting lid. Allow around two hours if you pre-soaked the beans and cumin seeds overnight in the same eight cups of water you're going to cook them in. While it's okay to soak in an aluminum Dutch oven, I wouldn't soak in a cast iron Dutch oven. For cast iron do the overnight soak in a plastic or stainless steel container.


This article was first published in the August 2011 edition of The BBQ Institute® Newsletter. Click on to receive the free newsletter each month. Konrad is an award-winning barbecue pitmaster and instructor. He is based out of Texas.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Balsamic potato salad with grape tomatoes

Often the best salads are those created at the last minute. I often buy produce because it looks good or appeals to me in some fashion. I figure that I'll find was to use it during the week.

That's what I did yesterday when I prepared a potato salad for dinner at my mother's house. My son and I contributed a pot of beans and the potato salad. She had returned after a three-month visit with my sister in Northern Virginia.

I had purchased a bag of red potatoes and a pint of grape tomatoes at the market earlier in the week. The salad was the perfect way to use the tomatoes. As long as I can remember, my mother welcomed tomatoes to the dinner table throughout the summer.

After cooking, cooling and peeling a pot of red potatoes, I whisked together a quick balsamic vinaigrette to dress the salad. A heaping tablespoon of horseradish mustard in the dressing gave the salad its rustic appeal. The pint of grape tomatoes seemed to belong in the salad.

One reason I like this potato salad is because it can be changed on a whim. Trading roasted potato wedges for simmered potatoes gives the salad greater appeal. Almost any vegetable or herb can be used to enhance the salad.

I used horseradish mustard because I had an open jar in the cupboard. While Dijon mustard is traditionally used to flavor most vinaigrette dressings, experiment with flavored mustard.

The horseradish mustard came from a gift pack. Two others remain, maple champagne mustard and blue cheese herb mustard. I'll have to work one of them into the salad somehow.

My mother and sisters enjoyed the potato salad. I left the leftovers at her house for lunch sometime this week.


To prepare the potato salad, cover 1-pound red potatoes (6 to 7 small potatoes) with salted water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; and reduce to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until fork tender. Cool, peel and dice the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a medium bowl.

Meanwhile, prepare tomatoes, onions and parsley for the salad. You'll need 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved; 3 green onions, sliced thin; and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Place the vegetables into the bowl with the potatoes and gently toss.

To prepare the dressing, place a heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme in a small bowl. With a fork, whisk in 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. While whisking, stream 4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil into the vinegar. The dressing should hold together when done.

Pour the dressing over the salad and lightly toss to combine. Adjust seasoning. Refrigerate for a couple hours before serving. Serves 5 to 6 portions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Best birthday wish

I received this early birthday wish from a shipmate shortly before midnight. Although the day is young, it's shaping up to be the best one of the day.

Roger Edison of the Cowboy and Chuckwagon Cooking blog wrote on my Facebook wall:

"At our age, there are just too many candles to blow them out in one puff. Pulling an All-Nighter means we slept with all night without having to get up to go to the restroom. But one thing for sure, we never want to trade it all in. May today be bless with family and dear friends. May somebody else bake the cake as you have done a thousand times shipmate. And remember, today, it's your cake ... you can have it and eat it too.


May we all receive birthday greetings with as much wit and charm. Thank you, Roger.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Phil Reader's Santa Fe surprise

Railroader Phil Reader prepared this breakfast on Monday morning last week. "I just had a yearning to cook breakfast with the Dutch oven," said Phil.

Phil makes version of this recipe that he calls the California sunrise. Tomatoes and mushrooms replace the chile peppers. Then it is served with guacamole and sour cream.

Phil filed this report from his new home in Colorado:

"I have Karell's (pictured) Cowboy Hibachi set up in our front yard. So I get to play with it on occasion.

"Being in Colorado has one real disadvantage. There is no oak wood or apple wood to cook with like we have in California. However, that has not stopped me from cooking some cool California style cuisine such as tri-tip."


3 potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup diced onion
1 can of jalapeno peppers
6 stripes of bacon, cut into 1-inch squares
6 breakfast sausages, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 eggs, whipped
1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese.

In a 10-inch Dutch oven, cook the bacon and sausage until done. Add the potatoes, onion and peppers. Once cooked, add eggs and cheese. Place lid on the Dutch oven and add coals to the top. Cook between 10 and 15 minutes or until done. Served with pacante sauce.

The Santa Fe surprise can be served as a breakfast burrito.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Broccoli with garlic and thyme

I started dinner this evening by reducing a quart of chicken stock. One cup remained nearly two hours later. Packed in that cup was all the rich goodness from the meat and bones of a chicken.

I resisted the temptation to gulp the broth concentrate down. It was that good.

Since Debbie and I had enjoyed bacon cheeseburgers and fries at Old Town Grill in Placerville this afternoon, I was looking for a quick meal for dinner when broccoli with garlic and thyme came to me.

I minced three fat cloves of garlic and quickly chopped about 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme. After melting a pat of butter, I sauteed the garlic for a minute. The aroma cut was amazing!

The broth reduction next went into the saucepan along with the thyme. I brought the broth to a boil, dumped a pound of frozen broccoli florets in and placed the lid on the saucepan.

The broccoli was soon ready. After spooning it into two waiting bowls, I squeezed a couple lemon wedges over the broccoli and topped it with grated Parmesan cheese.

Dinner over, I strained the remaining broth from the saucepan. It was too good to toss it down the drain. Infused with garlic and thyme, I'm certain it'll become part of dinner on Monday or Tuesday.

Or I could drink as an appetizer!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Braised beef with summer vegetables

The crew of the El Dorado Western Railroad enjoyed a pot of Dutch oven stew last Saturday. With the outdoor kitchen set up under the eve of the recreated freight depot, I cooked as the railroad crew began construction of a railroad siding.

My inspiration for the dish comes from an August 2011 Sunset magazine article. The braising liquid sets this dish apart from the standard camp stew with its heavy gravy. Chicken stock, infused with generous amounts of rosemary and garlic, slowly concentrates as it quietly tenderizes the tough chuck roast. By the time the meat is fork-tender, starch from the potatoes and corn have lightly thickened the sauce.

For the most part, braised beef with summer vegetables is a one-pot meal that can be set on the fire as the cook enjoys a relaxing afternoon in camp. Except for the occasional peak and stir, the pot will tend itself.

Another benefit to this stew? You can mix-and-match vegetables to suit your own tastes or to use up stock. Substitute turnips or celery root for potatoes. Brussels sprouts easily stand in for green beans. The addition of a leafy green vegetable (try chard, kale or even spinach) will impart extra flavor to the braising liquid.

Enjoy the dish. It's already on the menu for my end-of-summer camping trip next month at the Blue Lakes in Eldorado National Forest. I'm certain my family (along with my mother, sister, brother-in-law and nieces) will relish the simple goodness from the braised beef.

Campers and railroaders alike take pleasure in a simple one-pot meal. "After a day of hiking or swimming," noted the introduction to the recipe, "(chef) Adam Sappington of The Country Cat in Portland, likes the simplicity of cooking a one-pot meal like this for his wife and their two young sons."

Enjoy my YouTube video of the dish by clicking. Ingredient amounts and technique vary slightly from the recipe printed here.


I modified the original recipe to fit inside a 14-inch Dutch oven.

Beef and marinade:
9 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 boneless beef chuck roast, aprox. 3-1/2 to 4 pounds

Vegetables and braising liquid:
1/4 cup butter
6 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 ears corn, cleaned and cut into thirds
2 medium sweet onions, cut into 6 wedges
1 pound small red or gold potatoes
12 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half
9 baby zucchini (3/4-pound total), ends trimmed, or regular zucchini cut into chunks
1-1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, stems removed

To prepare beef: In a bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, oil, salt, and pepper. Rub all over beef and place in a zipper-top plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days.

In a 14-inch camp-style Dutch oven, add butter and melt. Add beef and cook until browned on underside, 10 minutes. Turn meat over, add 4 cups broth and cover. Cook 1 hour with coals for 350 degrees, with 8 charcoal briquettes under oven and 20 on lid. Refresh coals every 30 to 45 minutes to maintain heat.

Turn meat over, add 2 cups broth with corn, onion and potatoes. Cook, covered, 1 hour. Turn meat and corn, add beans, zucchini and tomatoes, and more broth if pot is getting dry. Cook, covered, until meat is very tender, 15 to 30 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8 hearty or 12 regular portions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

CalFire's mobile kitchen units

I found this video at the Fire Department News Network. Although I never worked on one of the mobile kitchens depicted in video during my career with the state, I visited MKU-27 at Growlersbrg Conservation Camp while writing the chapter on emergency feeding for the state food service handbook.

Carlin Manufacturing of Fresno, California, built 11 MKUs between 1990 and 1991 for Cal Fire. Based on Carlin Model 36F5 High Mobility Kitchen, the MKU was designed to feed 1,200 persons three meals per day. When augmented by a support trailer, water tender, generator and mobile dishwashing unit, Cal Fire found that the MKU can feed over 2,000 people a day at an incident base camp.

As you see in the video, the conservation camps have purchased additional equipment to boost the operating capacity of the MKU. They often set-up an outdoor kitchen. Inmate cooks use gas grills and griddles to compliment the equipment inside the MKU.

Each 36-foot trailer contains the following cooking equipment:
  • 2 dual-stack convection ovens
  • 2 (30-gal.) tilt skillets
  • 1 (40-gal.) steam-jacketed kettle
  • 6-burner gas range with conventional oven
  • 1 meat slicer
  • 2-tank coffee brewing system
  • 2 twin-well steam lines

VIDEO DESCRIPTION: Firefighters working a wildfire need to eat 3,000 calories a day. These meals usually consist of sack lunches or MREs. That is why CAL FIRE Mobile Kitchen Units (MKU) have been bringing food to firefighters battling wildfires for the past 15 years. There are eleven MKUs placed throughout California that can each feed up to 2,000 people. They can be set up and ready to serve within four hours.

"It's an unusual resource. The Forest Service, by law, they have to hire mobile kitchens. And so, they will do that because that's how they're directed. But for CAL FIRE, if we're running an incident, we just request these and out they go. But, no, it's a very limited resource. It does take a lot of funding and staffing to make it work," says Bill Peters, CAL FIRE's Public Information Officer.

Inside, the trailer houses ovens, a stove, and large vats for cooking beans and soup. These are used to store canned goods when not in use. Last minute touch-up cooking is done inside the trailer, while heavy duty cooking is done outside. The food is high quality because the units are staffed by conservation camp inmates, who are paid $1 an hour for fires.

A chef hired by CAL FIRE creates the menu and directs the inmates. Bill Peters says, "There's actually a little bit of competition between the different Mobile Kitchen Units as to who puts out the best menu. Are we getting salmon tonight? Steak tomorrow? And I've been out where the cooks are good enough cooks, they can do Chicken Cordon Bleu." The variety is appreciated by firefighters who spend days fighting wildfires.

There are numerous support vehicles that carry tables, chairs, and salad bar equipment. The other vehicles are generators to keep everything up and running, and refrigerator trailers.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Braised beef with summer vegetables video

Here's my first attempt at a cooking video. While I don't expect it'll go viral anytime soon, I think I did an okay job. I'll let you judge. I shot it with my cell phone camera. I'd appreciate your feedback.

Chef Steven Karoly cooks a wonderful pot of braised beef with summer vegetables for the El Dorado Western Railroad. Located in the historic town of El Dorado, California, the railroad is a program of the El Dorado County Historical Museum. The maintenance of way crew enjoyed a succulent pot of beef with fresh corn-on-the-cob, new red potatoes, green beans and grape tomatoes. Flavored in a reduced chicken stock, rosemary and garlic rounded out the flavor profile.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Menu for railroad crew tomorrow

It's time to prepare a relaxing meal for the track crew at the El Dorado Western Railroad. I cooked chili and cornbread on a cold, rainy day last June.

I'm changing direction for the meal tomorrow and will cook the complete meal at the depot site in the historic town of El Dorado, California. In June I cooked the meal at home and transported it to the shop at noon.
  • Piping hot caboose coffee -- It doesn't matter if its 100 degrees or 70 on the right-of-way, railroaders will drink coffee all morning.
  • Braised beef with summer vegetables -- Much like a pot roast, I'll braise a large chuck roast at a gentle simmer in a large Dutch oven all morning, then add new red tomatoes, roasted red peppers, corn-on-the-cob, green beans and cherry tomatoes.
  • Tender herb biscuits -- What Dutch oven meal wouldn't be complete without a pot of baking powder biscuits?
  • Peach crisp -- Peaches are in season right now; so it makes sense to top the meal with a peachy dessert!
I'm going to make a video log of the meal tomorrow as I cook. Barring any technical glitches (or operator error), I should be able to post my video log of the meal in a couple days. Look for bonus shots of the railroad's 1940 Southern Pacific caboose (No. 1094) and Plymouth locomotive!