Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Softwood Solution

I depend on downed softwood in the Sierra Nevada high country to build my campfires. To me, it’s a waste of precious dollars to haul oak firewood or charcoal briquettes to the campground. Instead, I rely on the natural resources of the forest.

I’ve learned that to be successful with softwood you must pay constant attention to your Dutch oven. Pine, fir and cedar burn quickly. As a result, you need to watch your oven and replenish the coals often.

I don’t focus oven temperature when camping. I just pile hot coals from the campfire onto the oven with a gloved hand and a pair of 14-inch tongs. I use experience and the five senses to approximate the correct number of coals.

I usually build a campfire that’s four to five times the volume of the camp oven and burn it down to a glowing bed of coals. You can accomplish this in approximately 30 minutes with pine, fir and cedar.

I've learned from many poorly cooked dishes that you can never have too many campfire coals. To make sure I finish the dish with sufficient heat, I continue to feed the campfire even after I’ve heated the oven. I keep feeding the fire as long as I have a plentiful supply of firewood.

This article was originally presented in the Fall 2004 issue of the Dutch Oven News, the official newsletter of the International Dutch Oven Society, as a sidebar to "Three-Sided Chicken: Use Your Next Campfire to Roast a Chicken in a Dutch Oven."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tomato soup with poblano chiles

The residents at work welcome a pot of scratch-made soup each weekday for lunch. I prepared five hearty soups as two rain storms sloshed their way through Sacramento this week. A thick lentil soup was served alongside Polish sausage on Monday. Tuesday saw the traditional match-up of grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.

 Wednesday's chicken tender was served with up with a flavor packed chicken rice soup. Cheesy potato soup complimented a tuna salad sandwich on Thursday. And on Friday, the residents enjoyed tomato rice soup with an Ortega cheeseburger.

Tuesday's tomato soup was, by far, the star of the week. It's one that I enjoy cooking, especially during rainy weather. Twice featured on these pages (here and here), the soup can be prepared in less than one hour.

To prepare, I generally combine one-part tomato sauce, one-part broth (chicken or vegetable) and one-part bechemel. This soup uses a variation of that formula. Instead of preparing the three components in separate pots, I cooked it in a single stockpot.

I wanted to prepare tomato soup with a differing flavor profile, something that's better than canned tomato soup. Salsa is always popular at work. With a large stock of poblano chile peppers in the refrigerator, I figured the typical salsa ingredients (tomatoes, peppers, cumin and cilantro) would provide a robust Southwestern flavor profile for the soup.

While the soup doesn't mimic the flavor of salsa, poblano chile peppers, cumin and cilantro give the tomato a unique flavor profile. And please leave feedback (especially Chef Brian and Chef Tyrone). I'm always interested in how others (both professionals and home cooks) modify my recipes. Enjoy.


Ingredient amounts are estimated as I prepared the soup on the fly.

4 ounces unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 roasted poblano chile peppers, chared skin removed and diced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 (8 ounce) can tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1-1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups sour cream or Mexican crema
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or cojita cheese

Melt butter in a 8- to 10-quart heavy sauce pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and peppers to butter. Sweat until softened, but not browned. Add flour and stir to form a white roux. Cook roux-vegetable mixture for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring continually. Stir in tomato paste and cumin and cook for an additional minute.

Add crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, lime juice, bay leaves, oregano and cilantro. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes to meld flavors. In a medium bowl, temper sour cream by slowly whisking 2 cups of hot soup into sour cream. Pour tempered sour cream into soup while whisking.

Check seasoning. Add a little sugar if necessary to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. If the soup is too thick, thin with a little chicken broth or milk. Season with salt and ground white pepper to taste.

Makes approximately 3 quarts, or 12 (8-ounce) servings. Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro leaves and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oat hotcakes in camp

I am posting this recipe by request. After a camping trip with my sister's family to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest last month, I received this email from Elizabeth: "Hope you are going to post the recipe for your impromptu hotcakes. Both Ashley and Naomi want it!"

Elizabeth and I worked out the menu in the month leading to the trip. With family favorites, like campfire grilled chicken and roast trip-tip planned for the dinner meals, I was to bring my Dutch ovens into camp, prepare my much requested bread pudding for a dessert and the family hotcake recipe for Saturday morning breakfast.

Everyone enjoyed dinner and dessert Friday evening. My brother-in-law grilled chicken breasts and thighs to perfection over the cooking fire while I introduced Ashley, a young culinary student and my niece's high school friend, to cast iron Dutch ovens. As Ashley sliced 14 apples (a mixture of Granny Smith, honeycrisp and Fuji) for apple crisp, I prepared the 14-inch Dutch oven for the dessert.

I enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning next to the campfire with a cup of coffee while the fishing brigade worked the lake. As Elizabeth and I talked about our late-morning breakfast, I learned that I had misread her email. I was supposed to prepare the hotcake mix at home (click for my original article on "Hotcakes at 9,000 feet").

After a quick inventory, I realized that flour was in short supply in camp. Elizabeth had purposely left her flour at home. And my supply amounted to a meager cup of all-purpose flour. So, I prepared the hotcake batter with ingredients on hand. Quick cooking rolled oats filled in for most of the flour.

Oat hotcakes are a new camp favorite.


These are approximate measurements as I eyeballed each ingredient. For a richer flavor, substitute molasses or dark brown sugar for the white sugar. Try adding toasted pecans or walnuts for a nutty flavor. Raisins or currants will also work in this recipe. Click for my oatmeal walnut hotcake recipe from 2011.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups quick cooking rolled oats
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup liquid bacon grease or vegetable oil

Light a campfire and burn until you have a bed of hot coals. (Hotcakes can be cooked over a campstove if desired.)

In a bowl, stir flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Crack eggs into the dry mixture. Add milk and vanilla. Whisk just until the batter is blended. Add the oil or bacon grease and mix again just until the batter is blended. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

When the coals are ready, spread them under a lightly greased cast iron skillet or griddle and heat just until it smokes. For each hotcake, pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot griddle or skillet. Turn when each hotcake’s surface is bubbly and the edges are slightly dry. Cook until golden brown.

Serve with butter and brown sugar syrup (recipe follows). While I didn't count how many hotcakes that I cooked, each person in camp (11 total) received one cake. It should give you around 12 hotcakes.


Some things are just too easy to make at home, including hotcakes and brown sugar syrup. I figure, why buy the bottled stuff when you can easily produce quality syrup at home.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugars, corn syrup and water to a boil. Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer until thickened to a syrupy consistency, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter. Let cool slightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Culinary training, New Orleans style

BANGOR, Wash. (Sept. 28, 2012) -- Chef Tenney Flynn, co-owner of the New Orleans seafood restaurant GW Fins, offers some cooking pointers to Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Larry Risher, assigned to the Blue Crew of the ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN 743). Flynn helped the boat's culinary specialists make some of GW Fins' popular dishes for Louisiana's crew while he was visiting.

U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early.