Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grill work

YOKOSUKA, Japan (March 27, 2013) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Tiffara Jones, from Los Angeles, cooks shish kebabs aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). George Washington and embarked Carrier Air Wing 5 provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's time to retire this chef coat

After three years and three months, I've been laid off from my job as the house chef for a drug and alcohol recovery home. The facility, located in a 113 year-old boarding house in Mid-town Sacramento, is closing its doors at the end of the month. The facility was used to rehabilitate female parolees after release from California prisons.

During my tenure, I planned the menu and cooked for up to 26 residents during the week. Teaching was an important component to my position at Bridges. Since I enjoyed the weekend off duty, I trained the women to cook lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. It was a good job, one that I will sorely miss. It's now time to move on.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Never cross the cook on the open range

Enjoy the opening sequence to the 1968 Western Classic Will Penny. Slim Pickens played the chuckwagon cook. All I have to say is never steal biscuits from the cook!

"Chuck! Come on you cow nurses," hollers the wagon cook, played by Pickens. "Come and get it or I'll throw it out. Chuck's on!"

Video description: "Will Penny -- (Movie Clip) Open, Git Along
"Elongated opening sequence featuring star Charlton Heston and Slim Pickens as the crusty cook, in writer-director Tom Gries' Western Will Penny, 1968, photographed by Lucien Ballard."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

One antique pot, five hearty meals

For more than two years, this Dutch oven languished in the garage. It was a gift from a long-time docent at the El Dorado County Historical Museum. A widow of many years, the Dutch oven was a wedding gift, along with a set of cast iron skillets.

Too small to feed large groups, the Dutch oven joined my modest collection of small cast iron pieces in the corner of the garage, near the roll-up door. Dust collected on its domed lid. And a light patina of rust covered the bottom of the five-quart kitchen Dutch oven.

While I moved two of the small skillets into the house, most of my Dutch oven cooking in the house had been with a covered fry skillet that I acquired from my mother. Among the skillets was a nine-inch grill pan that I’ve used a number of times to give nice grills marks to chicken breasts and pork chops.

Our recent vacation in Ocean Shores, Washington, was the perfect opportunity to recover the Dutch oven from the garage and put it to use in our resort kitchen. As I planned for the trip, I was looking for a small Dutch oven to use in the kitchen of the time-share condominium. Though each unit featured a fully furnished kitchen, I knew that I would need a heavy pot for soups and stews.

I considered taking a 10- or 12-inch camp Dutch oven. But the weather forecast called for a week of rain. We would take all our meals indoors. With the family confined to the condominium, I settled on packing my 12-inch Griswold skillet. It would handle most of the frying, sautéing and grilling. Its domed lid extended its usefulness.

As I searched my garage-bound collection of cast iron pieces, the Dutch oven looked like the perfect vessel for a wide range of dishes. My large kitchen Lodge Dutch ovens carried too much capacity for the family at nine- and 12-quarts each. The Dutch oven, a Revere Ware brand oven, seemed like the perfect match for our meals.

The Griswold skillet and Revere Ware Dutch oven proved useful over the week. The three main cooks of the trips each used both implements a number of times. I led the week on Monday by roasting red bell peppers in the oven for the soup. Sautéed asparagus on the skillet accompany a pot of spaghetti on Tuesday. Candie used it to steam her dish of Mexican rice for taco on Wednesday. (We missed taco Tuesday!)

The Revere Ware pot proved to be the star of the week. With a five-quart capacity, it was large enough to feed seven and eight adults (eight Debbie’s brother arrived on Wednesday). Mike and I prepared a wonderful pot of albondigas soup for Monday dinner. Tuesday dinner was a big pot of Spaghetti with Italian sausage. Ground beef tacos kept the family going on Wednesday.

The up received double duty on Thursday. Candie simmered a wonderful pot of cheesy potato soup for lunch on Thursday. Then after I cleaned the pot, I seared two chuck roasts for Yankee pot roast. A late dinner of pot roast, roasted vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots) and gravy filled us.

One pot gave us five great meals this week. The cuisine prepared out of the Griswold and Revere Ware pieces of cast iron provided a week of comfort food for the family. Now safely tucked away in the truck for the trip home, the Dutch oven is ready for our next adventure.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A week of walks in Ocean Shores

Laziness comes naturally when dark clouds hang over the beach town of Ocean Shores. Spending the days cooking, sitting on the couch and enjoying the company of the in-laws saps one of energy. Rain, interspersed with a south wind that runs the length of the peninsula, hinders outdoor activity.

To counter my inclination to waste away my days inside the condo, I've forced myself to venture outside for a daily walk. Exercise is good. It gives me the opportunity to instill movement into this sixty year-old body, and to clear my mind.

A new route each day keeps the walk fresh. I find new sights along each route, pleasing views that I'd never discover in front of the television. On Monday, I noticed as I walked south along the golf course in the center of town that many of the houses appear to be vacation properties. The walk also let me scope out businesses along one of the main boulevards.

Driving rain on Tuesday prevented me from walking. The family watched a movie at the local theater instead. Yesterday's hike took me north from the condo. A light rain showered down as I cut past city hall on my way to the beach. Low tide exposed the broad six-mile long beach. Other than a lady and her dog who was walking into town as I came onto the beach, I enjoyed the view in solitude.

My walk this morning led me around the upper reaches of Duck Lake. Long stretches of residential streets cut through the forest. Well constructed homes on the shores of the standout among the tall pines. Flora on the eastern side of the peninsula stands in stark contrast to the ocean side. Thick understory prevents a leisurely hikes through the forest. In contrast, open spaces, sand dunes and the lack of trees punctuate the western side.

We leave Ocean Shores in the morning. Each couple will head for home. My in-laws are visiting friends in southern Washington. Debbie and I will cross the Columbia River at Longview, Washington. Once in Oregon, we're driving south to Camp Emerald Forest to visit a friend for the evening. An evening walk around Emerald Lake should refresh me after an afternoon on the truck.

The 13th green on the Ocean Shores Golf Course was a lake after tow days of driving rain during my walk on Wednesday. Only Canada Geese walked the course as it was too wet to play.

Water drains into the Pacific Ocean to the left of this piece of driftwood. The beach should be a great venue for long walks in the summer.

I found these rental units a block over from city hall. Much of the Town of Ocean Shores in vacant this time of year.

Homes dot the shoreline of Duck Lake in Ocean Shores. The lake runs the length of the resort on the harbor side of the peninsula .

These cabins stand vacant in Tuesday's driving rain. Too wet to walk, we drove around the peninsula after going to the movies.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Using baker's percent to adjust challah bread recipe

I recently set out to bake whole wheat challah bread at home. The decision came late one Friday evening, too late to shop for ingredients. The quantities of flour, both whole wheat and bread flours, plus the sugar, salt, eggs and oil in my kitchen would have to do.

My standard recipe for challah bread calls for 3 pounds 8 ounces of bread flour. My plan was to substitute 50 percent (by weight) whole wheat flour for the bread flour. The adjusted formula called for 1 pound 12 ounces each of bread and whole wheat flours.

Once I weighed the flours, I learned that 1 pound 8 ounces of whole wheat flour and a little more than 9 ounces of bread flour were all I had on hand. Though insufficient to prepare the recipe as written, I adjusted the amount of yeast, salt, sugar, water, eggs and oil in proportion to make the recipe work. My adjusted recipe prepared 3 pounds 12 ounces of dough, enough for two loaves of whole wheat challah bread.

This dilemma is one encountered by professional and home bakers alike. The question is, how do I adjust the recipe while maintaining the relationship of each ingredient to the flour? To develop a successful product, you need to use the ingredients in the correct proportion. The answer is found in the baker's percent method.

Baker's percent

Commercial bakers use the baker's percent method to adjust recipes. It gives the baker with an easy format to convert recipes from small to large batch sizes. It works for bread and pastry recipes and can be applied American system of measures as well as the metric system.

Since most bakery recipes contain flour, flour is the basis for baker's percent. Flour is always considered to be 100 percent. All other ingredients are measured by weight as a percentage to the flour. Baker's percent allows the baker to quickly -- and accurately -- adjust the formula of a product to yield any quantity of dough that he desires.

The same unit of measure must be maintained when using baker's percent. Pounds must must be used with pounds. Kilograms must be used with kilograms. The formula breaks down when you mix pounds and kilograms. I recommend using a calculator when working with baker's percent.

The flour is always listed as 100 percent. To determine the percentage of the other ingredients, take the weight of the ingredient and divide by the weight of the flour. Then multiply by 100. The product is the baker's percent of the ingredient. The formula is displayed like this:

Weight of ingredient / weight of flour x 100 = baker's percent

Here's an example using instant yeast:

1 oz instant yeast / 50 oz flour x 100 = 2% 

In the example, the formula uses 2 percent by weight of instant yeast. That means that for every 100 pounds of flour, the baker adds 2 pounds of instant yeast to the dry ingredients. A baker that uses the metric system adds 2 kilograms of instant yeast for every 100 kilograms of flour.

The home baker also uses baker's percent as effectively as the professional. The same principle applies even though he uses much smaller quantities of flour. For evey 10 ounces of flour the home baker adds .2 ounces (that's two-hundredths) of instant yeast to the dry ingredients.

Remember we are talking about the relationship of each ingredient to the flour. The sum of all wheat flours used in the recipe is considered 100 percent. If your formula calls for bread flour and whole flour, the weight of the two flours are added to give you the total amount of flour used in the recipe.

Challah bread formula conversion

Let's use my formula for challah bread as an example for our calculations in baker's percent. Here is the formula that I used:

Bread flour -- 100%
Instant yeast -- 1.25%
Granulated sugar -- 7.5%
Salt -- 1.9%
Water -- 42%
Eggs -- 14%
Oil -- 10%
TOTAL = 176.65%

Other than an indication of the method used to produce the dough (straight dough in this case), this all the information that the baker needs to produce his bread. Ingredient quantities aren't noted because he most likely prepares a different amount each time.

When I weight the flours, I found that I only had 1 pound 8 ounces of whole wheat flour and a little more than 9 ounces of bread flour, not the 3 pounds 8 ounces called for in my recipe. (I rounded the bread flour to 10 ounces with some all-purpose flour.)  The two flours equaled 34 ounces when added together. This became the starting point (or 100 percent) for my adjusted formula.

I then multiplied the baker's percent of each ingredient times 34. The formula for the conversion is as follows:

Baker's percent for ingredient / 100 x weight of flour = quantity to use

Here's an example using the eggs:

14 / 100 x 34 ounces = 4.76 ounces eggs

I repeated this process for each ingredient. Since we're dealing with small quantities, I rounded the quantity of each ingredient to the nearest tenth. Here's the formula that I used to bake two loaves of whole wheat challah bread:

1 pound 8 ounces whole wheat flour (71%)

10 ounces bread flour (29%)

.4 ounces instant yeast (1.25%)
2.6 ounces granulated sugar (7.5%)
.7 ounces salt (1.9%)
14.3 ounces water (42%)
4.8 ounces eggs (14%)
3.4 ounces oil (10%)
TOTAL weight = 3 pounds 12 ounces

Weighing tenths of an ounce is easily done on a digital scale like the one pictured above. A 2009 article addresses my use of digital scales (and it gives you a recipe for four cheese pizzas). I will post the recipe for challah bread soon.

This recipe produced two loaves, each with 1 pound 9 ounces of dough in a standard 5 by 9 by 3-inch loaf pan. You could also mold the dough into one large loaf and place it on a sheet pan. Since my adjusted formula produced 60 ounces of dough, I used the remaining 10 ounces to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

At a later date, I will show another way to use baker's percent. Starting with the quantity of dough needed for production, the baker can work backwards to determine how much flour to use in his formula. We'll save the article for another day.

Now that you understand how to use baker's percent, a world of baking possibilities opens up. I used it to adjust my recipe to the amount of flour I had in the kitchen. It's used to express the relationship between flour and the other ingredients in bread and pastry recipes. Once you know the basic formula, you can produce bread in any quantity desired.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Albondigas soup

Debbie and I are spending quality time with her family in Ocean Shores, Washington, this week. The whole clan (my in-laws and Debbie's sister and husband) had settled into our rooms by Saturday evening. One of Debbie's brothers will join us tomorrow.

We discussed meals for the week Sunday afternoon. A trip to the supermarket after worship last night confirmed the menu. Since preparing albondigas soup last week at work, I wanted a second chance to perfect my recipe. My brother-in-law and I prepared the soup this evening.

The main cooks for the week are my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and myself. We each selected dinner entrees that appeal to the family and we enjoy cooking. The remaining dinners will consist of spaghetti with Italian sausage, fish tacos (we are on the coast) and cheesy potato soup. We may sneak in yeasted pancakes in for breakfast on morning one morning.

The family enjoyed the Mexican meatball soup this evening. With warm flour tortillas to sop up the broth, each person added in their favorite garnishes. Finely shredded green cabbage and thinly sliced radishes, along with chopped green onions and fresh cilantro leaves, let each person tailor the soup to his or her taste. A squeeze or two of lime brightened the soup.

This recipe is a keeper. The combination of caramelized onion and carrot with the roasted red pepper boosted the flavor of the packaged chicken broth. (Certainly use fresh stock when it's available.) The soup contained the essentials of a basic aldondigas soup. Meatballs with rice and a rich chicken broth with vegetables rounded out the soup. This one is going in my recipe file for work.


Albondigas soup easily adapts to suit your taste. You don't need to restrict the vegetables to carrots, potatoes and green beans. Use any combination of vegetables that you desire. Zucchini, chayote, fresh corn on the cob or greens are all acceptable choices. Be mindful that space in the soup pot limits your choice of vegetables to three or four. Fresh or dried chile peppers will give the soup a spicy note.

I like to brown the meatballs in a heavy skillet before adding them to the soup. The resulting crust adds texture and flavor to the meatballs and soup.

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
3/4 cup long grain rice
1/2 onion, diced small
1 jalapeno chile pepper, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 roasted red peppers, diced small
2 quarts chicken broth
3 potatoes, diced small
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut to size
Zest of 1 lime

To prepare the meatballs, mix the beef, pork, eggs, rice, chile pepper, garlic, cilantro and seasonings. Form mixture into 1-inch meatballs. This should give you 25 to 30 meatballs. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot. Add the onion and carrot. Slowly caramelize until the vegetables are light brown, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking an additional 5 minutes.

Add the red peppers and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Place the meatballs, potatoes and green beans in the broth. Cook until the rice in the meatballs is done, about 20 minutes. Stir in the lime zest. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 quarts. To serve, set 2 or 3 meat balls in a bowl. Ladle the soup with over the meatballs. This recipe will serve a gathering of 6 to 8 persons as the main course. Or it will serve 15 as a soup coarse.

Provide shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion and lime wedges for garnish if desired. Warm flour tortillas should also accompany the soup.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Leading by example

Looking back at my naval career, I've come appreciate two leading commissarymen the most. As the lead chef for the ship's galley, Commissaryman 1st Class George Rooney of the USS Cocopa (ATF 101) and Chief Commissaryman Oscar Ray of the USS Stein (DE 1065) were two men who led from the galley, not the office.

Yes it was annoying to have the boss looking over your shoulder. As a young cook, I felt that I knew it all and didn't need direct supervision. Yet these leaders showed us how they wanted the meal prepared. They worked alongside the cooks many days during our long weeks at sea. And through their example, CS1 Rooney and Chief Ray taught us how to lead cooks.

Looking back, I can now see where I developed my leadership style. I learned invaluable lessons that helped me when I stepped into leadership, first as a watch captain on board the Stein and later as the lead chef for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 4, 2013) -- Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Ryan Albrecht rolls pizza dough in preparation for the crew's dinner aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66). Hue City is on a deployment to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew R. Cole.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Cooking with snow capped charcoal

Last time I baked pizza in a cast iron skillet, I had intended to bake the pizza in a 14-inch Dutch oven. I set up a chimney of charcoal briquettes on the patio. Switching direction midway through the process, the charcoal sat outside on the patio for three weeks.

In the meantime, the Sierra Nevada foothills received five inches of snow. A dome of snow capped the chimney. With melting snow dripping down the chimney, I figured the charcoal was lost.

I didn't bother to inspect the charcoal as it dried.

The Dutch ovens remained in the garage through most of February. Itching to cook outdoors today, I rescued a 10-inch camp oven and set it on the Dutch oven table next to the charcoal chimney. With a new storm on the horizon, this seemed like the best time to use the charcoal.

I lit the wadded newsprint under the chimney. Blue smoke drifted into the backyard within minutes. A week of unseasonably warm weather dried the charcoal. Even the paper immediately caught fire. The family was enjoying a nice meal within the hour.

I'm happy. One of my favorite Dutch oven meals, Mexican rice with chicken (arroz con pollo), was on the menu. And I didn't have to discard a chimney of charcoal.