Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ready, bake, flop

Or should I say, ready, bake fizzle? That's precisely what happened two weeks ago on our annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake with my sister and family. I mixed a double batch of my no-knead bread at home early in the week before heading to the lake, located in the southeastern reaches of Eldorado National Forest. We readied for the trip as the dough slowly fermented in the home refrigerator.

I set the dough aside Thursday and Friday while we enjoyed relief from the heat of the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. After exploring nearby lakes and four-wheel drive trails with my sister, I settled in to prepare dinner. I quickly got ready to bake two breads from the dough. Eighteen biscuits went into a 12-inch camp oven. My thought was to bake the biscuits, then set them aside for breakfast. The remaining dough was formed into five balls and placed inside a 12-inch deep camp oven.

Since the biscuits were rising at this point, I already had half of what I needed to fix for the replacement meal. Encouraged on by more than one B&G enthusiast in camp (notably, my brother-in-law's nephew), I lit a roaring campfire. Hot coals were soon being shoveled onto the waiting Dutch oven. The photos tells the story.

I usually burn pine and cedar wood when I camp in the National Forest. It's a matter of supply. Since I don't see the need to buy firewood when it's available for free, I burn the wood that I find on the forest floor. It's different when we camp with my sister and brother-in-law. Jim brings a mixture of hard and soft woods with then to the campground.
Sunday afternoon before the camping trip, I mixed a 4-pound dough (flour weight) and fermented in in the refrigerator. The dough went into the cooler Wednesday afternoon in preparation for departure. I filled a 12-inch Dutch oven with biscuit-sized pieces of dough late Friday afternoon.

The Cambro container is a bit messy because the batch of dough was too large for its 8-quart capacity. I had to punch the dough down as it fermented Sunday. The dough settled down once I placed it in the fridge for a cold slow ferment.
The 12-inch camp oven held 18 golf ball-sized biscuits. To form each biscuit, I pinched off a piece of dough and molded it into a smooth ball.
While the biscuits appear done in the photograph, they're doughy on the bottom. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the coals gave out. When I dug the half done biscuits out of the Dutch oven, I learned they were nearly raw underneath. To rescue them, I placed the dough on the grill. While I generally have success when cooking with campfire coals, sometimes the coals burn out.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Penne rigate with poblano cream sauce in camp

All of our meals last week were prepared over the campfire. With a mix of hard and soft wood supplied by my brother-in-law, the campfire burned most of the day, from six in the morning to late in the evening. Rain clouds, distant thunderstorms and cool breeze off Upper Blue Lake made the fire a welcoming feature of our camp. Its comforting flames provided warmth throughout the day.

I prepared our first campfire meal Thursday evening. Penne pasta with poblano cream sauce and chicken sausages filled the crew after an ambitious afternoon of setting up camp. I'll post the recipe for the poblano cream sauce soon. Please enjoy the photographs in the meantime.

I began the meal by placing a large pot of salted water over the fire. Once the water boiled, two 13.25-ounce packages of whole wheat penne rigate were cooked al dente. In the meantime, I combined around 3 cups poblano chili base with 1 pint of heavy cream in a saucepot. The sauce simmered over medium heat to blend flavors and reduce.

The chili base was prepared at home and transported to camp in the cooler. It consisted of roasted poblano chilies, chicken stock, garlic, cilantro and lime juice, pureed in the blender.

With pasta cooking in the stockpot and sauce simmering next to it, I sautéed onions and sweet peppers in my Lodge No. 12 skillet (hidden from view). Here, I'm adding a dozen roasted red pepper and asiago chicken sausages to the skillet.

A close up of the sausages as they brown in the Lodge No. 12 skillet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Congratulations chief petty officers

September is a special month in the career of the U.S. Navy chief petty officer. It's the month when newly advanced chiefs receive their anchors and khaki uniform, including the khaki combination cover. As the most recent class of senior enlisted naval leadership, these chief petty officers will join their brothers and sisters in the chief's mess.

Congratulations chiefs ...

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 13, 2013) -- Newly pinned chief petty officers Chief Electronics Technicians Patrick Tucker left, and Lawrence Lombard and Chief Culinary Specialist Robert Haag, from the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas (SSN 775) receive their combination covers at a chief petty officer pinning ceremony at the USS Parche Submarine Park and Memorial at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Pacific Submarine Force promoted more than 40 Sailors to the rate of chief petty officer.

U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Steven Khor.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Basic French dressing

When I was in Navy cook's school in 1971, French dressing was the term for vinaigrette dressing. The 1963 edition of The Professional Chef says, "French dressing is a temporary emulsion of oil, acids (usually vinegar) and seasonings." It has since evolved to mean a catsup-based dressing, similar to the bottled dressing made by Kraft.
The 4th edition of Professional Cooking provides the same formula to young culinary arts students. The recipe is titled, "Basic French Dressing or Vinaigrette." Both cookbooks contain a number of variations to the basic recipe.

Lightly coat the salad leaves with vinaigrette, about two to three tablespoons dressing for pound of lettuce greens. Use just enough dressing to coat the salad without the dressing pooling in the bowl.

Here's the recipe from the 1963 cookbook:


1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 cup salad oil

Dissolve seasonings in vinegar. Combine with oil and mix vigorously. Mix well at time of service.

Makes 1 cup.

I like to play with the basic vinegar to oil ratio. While a 1:3 ratio is traditional, I usually work with a 1:2 ratio. The addition of 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and several finely minced garlic cloves add much more interest to the dressing. Trying different vinegars (sherry or balsamic, for instance) and oils (oil or any variety of nut oils), along with your favorite herb combination will make this a camp favorite. A touch of sugar or honey tempers the sharpness of the vinegar.

Here's one of my favorite vinaigrettes:


1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl until dissolved. While whisking, stream oil in until dissolved, stirring constantly. Adjust oil to taste.

Makes 1-1/4 cups tablespoons.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Creativity in the camp kitchen

Stories such as this one about chef Alex Smith of Ontario Pioneer Camp offer encouragement to camp chefs:

"Even though chicken tikka masala with rice and naan bread is not typical camp food, Alex took a risk to prepare this meal for a dining hall full of hungry teenagers," the blog Extraordinary Stories reported. "The results were better than he expected, actually one of the best new recipes he has tried at camp."

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Annual camping trip to Blue Lakes

Debbie and I are joining my sister's family for our annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest next week. Each year we collaborate on meals at the lake. Elizabeth and I divide responsibility for each breakfast and dinner. Each family prepares their own lunches.

In the past I've prepared a variety of Dutch oven favorites. Sourdough bread stood in for a sweet loaf when I prepared Dutch oven bread pudding three years ago. That year we didn't camp at the lake, but visited them mid-week. I brought the proper bread two years ago. I'm now under orders to replicate the bread pudding each year! (As I write, I realized that I failed to post the recipe last year. Here's Dian Thomas' recipe from 2007.)

Blue Lakes split pea soup with ham shank was ready for dinner two years ago when the family arrived. Midway through our vacation, we moved camp to Upper Blue Lake from South Lake Tahoe. Jim and Elizabeth, a brother and our mother were scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon. A bowl of hearty soup hit the spot. As one of our mother's favorites, the soup warmed her in the brisk evening air at the 8,000-foot elevation.

Last year my sister "hired" a sous chef for me (a family friend). Ashley, a third-year high school culinary student, chopped and cut her way through the camp kitchen. With impeccable knife skills, she sliced 14 apples for apple crisp in a 14-inch Dutch oven. Ashley then prepared and cut zucchini, yellow squash, red onion and carrot for roasted summer vegetables.

Scrambled eggs with chives and pepper-jack cheese for breakfast, salsa with fire roasted tomatoes for the afternoon snack, and Dutch oven bread in time for dinner filled our Saturday. As a culinary student, I found Ashley hungry for information. Her enthusiasm for cooking and willingness to jump in gave this chef a smile.

Bread pudding for breakfast rounded out the weekend's campground feast. Since the kids (young and old!) enjoyed s'mores Saturday after dinner, we decided bread pudding would fit in our Sunday morning breakfast menu. We essentially had French toast in a pot!

For our 2013 visit to Upper Blue Lake, I'd like to introduce sous chef Ashley to one or two new Dutch oven dishes. We'll also build on the dishes that we prepared last year. Repetition will help solidify the camp cooking skills she learned last year.

I'll have more to say after I finalize the menu.