Saturday, October 29, 2011

U.S.S. Philippine Sea shares culinary techniques with Bulgarian students

In 1973, one cook from the U.S.S. Stein (DE 1065) exchanged places with a cook from a Royal Navy ship for a week. Though the navies enjoyed a common seafaring tradition, each navy had developed its own culinary tradition. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about British Navy fair from the British cook.

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Prill, Navy Public Affairs Support Element-East Detachment Sigonella

BURGAS, Bulgaria (NNS) -- Culinary specialists from guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) met with culinary arts students of the Burgas High School to provide techniques and training as part of a community service project, Oct. 26, 2011.

During the event, the crew worked alongside students making cultural dishes, desserts and appetizers that they later enjoyed at lunch. The event also gave the Sailors a chance to meet with residents and experience the rich history and culture of Bulgaria.

"The lunch was amazing," said Lt. Jonathan Black, command chaplain, Philippine Sea. "It was a great chance for us to enjoy another culture while also embracing the idea of hospitality towards our host."

Every Sailor was given the chance to do their part in preparing the meal. Some worked with the culinary students preparing the main course, while others showed the students how to prepare some side dishes like ceviche and cherry turnovers.

Interactions with the local community can help build cultural understanding, trust and strengthen the relationships between Bulgaria and United States.

"I really love the opportunity to go out and display our talents and learn from other people who also love to cook," said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Eber Barraza. "I was given the opportunity to share a little of my local culture by making ceviche for people who have never tried Hispanic foods."

Following the meal, the crew toured the school's dining facility, where the students have the daily responsibility of providing lunch for all of the students.

"I've always wanted to be a chef, and it was very interesting for me to see U.S. Navy chefs work," said Desislav Lilov, a Bulgarian culinary student. "I enjoy learning about other country's food, because my dream is to cook true Bulgarian food in Japan some day or even America."

Philippine Sea is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the Black Sea and serves to promote peace and security in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

Close quarters

Naval ships have never been know for their spacious galleys. Note the close quarters in these photographs.

BLACK SEA -- (Oct. 20, 2011) Culinary Specialist 1st Class David Gonzales serves the crew "Surf and Turf" dinner aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).

BLACK SEA (Oct. 20, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Alex Ottusch cooks steak on the grill for "Surf and Turf" dinner aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).

Philippine Sea is on a scheduled deployment in the Black Sea and serves to promote peace and security in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Prill.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Story behind Blue Lakes split pea soup

I rarely post a recipe without telling the story behind it. I made an exception Tuesday evening when I published the recipe for Blue Lakes split pea soup. As I finished writing the story, it disappeared from my computer screen! In view of the late hour I thought I'd rewrite it later. Here's the story:

Midway through our week long vacation last month, we moved camp from South Lake Tahoe to the Blue Lakes in Eldorado National Forest. We had planned to join my sister and family for their annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake. The lake has been a favorite for the last four years.

This trip was special because our mother joined us at the lake along with a brother. We planned to arrive at the campground a day early. I used the time to set up our camp and secure a campsite on the waterfront for them.

A large pot of split pea soup factored in as well. Long before our father's death in October 2007, mom and dad often enjoyed a hot bowl of soup in the evening. Mom frequently built a brothy soup around a chicken breast or small piece of meat and vegetables.

I thought mom would enjoy the ham enriched soup for her first dinner in camp. The soup would contribute a hot accompaniment to dinner and allow time to set camp up.

To start the soup, I lit the campfire around 11 a.m. The split peas, ham shank, aromatic vegetables and herbs went into a 10-inch Dutch oven with chicken broth. It took three pot hooks to suspend the pot over the fire.

The soup came to a roaring boil just after noon. I removed one pot hook to reduce the amount of heat under the Dutch oven. The soup gently simmered for the next three hours. All I had to do was feed the fire and occasionally stir the pot.

In my work kitchen I can prepare a wonderful bowl of split pea soup in two hours. Prepare the same soup at the 8,000-foot elevation mark and you must have patience. Cooking any dried peas or beans in camp at high altitude adds an additional hour or two to the cooking process.

A simmering pot of split pea soup is the perfect meal for a lazy afternoon in camp. You need to remain close to the pot to tend the campfire, stir the pot and cut the meat from the ham bone.

My sister and brother-in-law pulled up to the lake around 1:30 p.m. The truck was unloaded and two tents set up in two hours. We were ready to eat by 4 p.m.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Lakes split pea soup


At the 8,136-foot elevation of Upper Blue Lake, it takes twice as long to cook the soup as it does at sea level. You need three to four hours to cook the peas into a thick soup. I took the photograph at the three-hour point.

1 pound green split peas
5 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 ham shank (about 8 ounces)
1 yellow onion, small dice
1 medium carrot, small dice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Wash and sort peas. Add to a 10-inch Dutch oven. Pour in stock and add ham shank, onion, carrot, bay leaves and thyme. Place Dutch oven over fire and heat to boiling. Adjust heat and simmer, covered, 1-1/2 to 3 hours or until peas are soft (depends on altitude). Remove bone and cut off meat and dice. Return meat to soup. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

6th annual Whiskey Creek Dutch oven gathering

This is a fun D.O.G. and you get to meet some fine people from Arbuckle, California.

Don Mason

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some thoughts on Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School

818536-R1-20-21A by Red River Ranch
818536-R1-20-21A, a photo by Red River Ranch on Flickr.
Food has occupied my working life for most of the past 40 years. Yet after I moved into the ranks of management in large institutions, I found myself cooking more and more at home and at the campground. Since I rarely cooked at work at that time, off-work culinary projects satisfied my drive to cook.

A large portion of my time was devoted to cooking for 'Round the Chuckbox and the family. I looked for volunteer opportunities where I could practice my craft. Planning to feed over 150 at a summer Bible camp occupied my time in later years.

Now that I'm cooking full time again, you'd think that I'd slow down, take a break from things culinary and pursue other hobbies. Except for the El Dorado Western Railroad, where I edit the newsletter and maintain the blog, a large portion of my off-work time is still devoted to food related activities.

I'm always watching for opportunities to learn. I read continually, listen to others and ask questions. As I approach my 60th birthday, I figure that a cook is never too old to learn. In that regard, Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Camp Cooking School will be a natural experience for me.

818538-R1-16-17 by Red River Ranch
818538-R1-16-17, a photo by Red River Ranch on Flickr.
In one sense I don't need this school. After all, I've been cooking and managing kitchens professionally for over 40 years. As a lifelong camper and camp cook, I purchased my first Dutch oven in 1995. I can cook with the best in camp.

But I always figure I can continue to learn, especially from a lifelong wagon cook like Kent. I'll come home with new recipe ideas, new found skill in tending Bertha (Kent's 365-pound wood burning cook stove) and idea's for feeding a dozen working cowboys three meals each day.

Experience may be a hard teacher. While I've only cooked behind an authentic chuck wagon once or twice in my life, I'll use the chuckwagon school to hone my Dutch oven cooking skills.

I feel that four days of intense cooking from oh-dark-thirty until the stars appear will do just that. Feeding real folks (like cowboys on Kent's ranch) will certainly to sharpen your skills.

"Learning is the whole experience and I think you would enjoy it!" explained Shannon Keller Rollins, Kent's wife and partner. "We've had professional chefs and Dutch oven experts and everyone has walked away with something new."

Monday, October 10, 2011


In the 40 years since I graduated from Commissaryman Class A School in San Diego, Calif. in March 1971, the school has been located in San Antonio, Texas, where the Navy and Air Force operated a joint school, Great Lakes, Ill. and Fort Lee, Va. The Army and Marines also train their cooks and bakers at Fort Lee.

FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Helen Speight, from Hawthorne, Calif., helps Seaman Recruit Anthony Hicks, from Oakland, Calif., during the first day of baking classes at the Culinary Specialist A School. The culinary specialist entry-level school moved from Naval Station Great Lakes to the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence at Fort Lee in January 2011.

FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- Students attending the Culinary Specialist A School perform a class chant while returning to school at Fort Lee, Va.

U.S. Navy photos by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Melissa F. Weatherspoon.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School

Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School is one of those vacations that I wish would come sooner than later. Instead I have to wait six months. The anticipation grows each day as I look forward to the course.

I learned of the school two weeks ago during a routine Google search. I had located a vintage Griswold Dutch oven at a local antique dealer. The right combination of search words reacquainted me with Kent's website at

Once I viewed the website I realized that I had quoted the chuckwagon cook and cowboy poet in the past. The topic in May 2009 was camp coffee. "Cookie’s first thing on the fire, and the last thing off; was for sure - 'The coffee'; and some say - the most important part of a camp meal!" explained Kent in the October 29, 2003 issue of the Chef2Chef Recipe Club weekly email.

Although I've never spent much time on or near cattle ranches, there's something about the chuckwagon that appeals to me. I could easily adapted my lifestyle to that of a nineteenth-century wagon cook. Kent's Chuck Wagon Cooking Scool may give me the opportunity to get learn from the master.

My wife and I are already making plans to attend the school from March 28 to April 1, 2012. And I'll finally have the opportunity to meet Kent and work behind his 1876 Studebaker Chuckwagon.

Enjoy the video. I'll have more to say in the coming week about the school.

YouTube video description (posted August 26, 2009): Every spring and fall, Kent Rollins, cowboy poet, humorist and chuck wagon cook, teaches students how to cook in a Dutch oven. To learn more visit

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Cast iron wheels and coffee

I often stop by Sugar Lillie Bakery in historic El Dorado on Saturday morning for coffee and a pastry. Located in a small two-room building behind the Books 'n Bears Bookstore, a walk through a pleasant garden greets you as make your way to the bakery. The garden is a mixture of antique artifacts and vibrant colors of tomatoes, pumpkins and flowering plants.

I frequently linger in the garden before heading on to the railroad work site nearby. It's a pleasant way to relax, drink coffee and photograph the greenery. As I sit at the wrought iron patio table and collect my thoughts, I'm surrounded by industrial tools from the past.

This old shop cart has been given a new life in the garden. With the cart's cast iron wheels are buried in the soil, it won't be moving goods around a railroad dock anytime soon. A collection of potted plans, including flat-leaf parsley and other herbs, have found a home on the cart.

You can view the garden at 6211 Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado, California.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


Holiday meals have always brought periods of intense activity to the ship's galley and bakery.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 28, 2011) -- Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Abraham Dweck, left, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Samantha Achille prepare traditional bread for a celebration of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana in the bake shop aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 are underway conducting operations off the coast of Southern California.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez.