Sunday, March 30, 2014

My bear story

As a kid I attended Camp San Joaquin in Sequoia National Forest each summer. Instead of participating in the regular "kumbaya" camp session for the ninth grade, I elected to go on the high school boys backpack trip on the High Sierra Trail.

At camp our adult leaders divided the food and equipment, briefed the boys on trip expectations and back country safety. Father Fletcher Davis, an accomplished backpacker and mountain climber, explained the realities of trail life, including foot care, burying human waste and bears.

As a lifelong backpacker myself (at the ripe age of 13 or 14!), I half listened. Father Davis continued onto the topic of black bears, a very real reality in the Sierra Nevada back country. If a bear wanders into camp, bang the pots and pans in a loud manner, he explained. Nine times out of ten the bear will run.

Somehow the math didn't work out for one alert boy. What happens on the tenth time, he impatiently asked? Father Davis' retort was calm and to the point: You won't be around to know!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recovering a rusty Dutch oven

"You can't beat cast iron," says Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef on the Sportsman Channel. "No matter how it's been abused, you can always bring it back to life."

Watch Cee Dub demonstrate how to rescue a rusty cast iron Dutch oven in this Camp Chef video. You can heat the oven inside your home oven. However, open the windows for ventilation and be ready to fan the smoke alarm.

At the end of the video, Scott gives the link to Cee Dub's website, where you can purchase Lodge and Camp Chef outdoor cookware.

Pre-camp meal service

The kitchen crew at Oakland Feather River Camp cooks for staff during the pre-camp phase of the summer. In the first four weeks of meal service, the cooks, housekeepers, maintenance staff and camp management eat breakfast and lunch in the Chow Palace. Staff that live on site enjoy leftovers or prepare their own food for dinner.

Weekend groups converge on the Oakland Camp on the third and fourth weekends of May. After a week of training, this is my first opportunity to test the cooks with the full menu. It gives me a chance to test the menu and the their skill. It also introduces the cooks to camp traditions and camp culture, two aspects of camp life that dictate how we serve campers in the Chow Palace. Any kinks are worked out in the next week.

The cooks work long days as they cook and serve the meals for 100 or more campers on these weekends. They also wash dishes and clean the Chow Palace without assistance from the dishwashers. Full staffing with the dishwashers doesn't occur until staff training week.

Staff training week begins on the second Saturday of June. With full staffing in all departments, the kitchen serves around 30 to 35, many first termers at Oakland Feather River Camp. The unique aspect of the week is that the kitchen pulls double duty, cooking and serving meals and attending the training sessions. It's a challenging week, but one that we work through to accomplish both goals.

Full camp begins in earnest on the third Sunday in June.

Pre-camp meals are served from the serving line in May 2013. With 10 to 12 at each meal, it doesn't make sense to wheel the buffet lines into the dining hall yet. The buffet lines are first used during staff training week (second week of June). The kitchen serving line is used to serve vegetarian and vegan meals for the summer camp sessions (third week of June to mid-August).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Raising the ensign

During the 2013 camp session, I was selected to lead the Independence Day ceremonies around the camp flagstaff. I am told that the honor has fallen to the chef for the last several years. As a retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer, the ceremony had special meaning to me. The raising of the ensign at 8 o'clock in the morning was always a memorable time of day.

At Oakland Feather River Camp, the emcee gives a brief talk on the historical significance of the 4th of July, raises the flag and leads campers in the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards we sing America The Beautiful, then adjourn for a fun afternoon of games and field activities. (Of course, culinary staff return to the kitchen to finish the barbecue!)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sea-going coffee break

I'm envious. The crew of the USS Cocopa (ATF-101) -- a sister ship to the USS Hitchiti (ATF-103) -- never enjoyed "twice-daily coffee breaks." The busy routine of the sea-going tug precluded such niceties of civilian life. At best, the crew gulped down their coffee before running off to stand watch or to put in a full day of work.

September 23, 1958
COFFEE IS A GREAT STIMULANT--Just ask any crewmember of the Fleet Tug USS Hitchiti. The ship's galley bakes fresh coffee rolls and pastry to be served during the twice-daily coffee breaks.

US Navy photo.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Re-purposing leftovers at camp

The cooks must find creative ways to re-purpose leftovers at Oakland Feather River Camp. Serving reheated leftovers in their original form is frowned on by camp management. With few exceptions, campers expect freshly prepared meals.

As the chef, I understand the restrictions. Campers pay over $90 per night to camp under the towering Ponderosa pines. They expect three newly prepared meals in the Chow Palace each day. It's not fair to serve to recycle meals.

While I try to plan meals as closely as possible to demand, there are times that campers don't eat what we expect then to. As a result, we're left with numerous pans of leftovers in the walk-in. So, I'm driven to find ways to work within the spirit of the policy. For obvious reasons, I cannot discard leftovers. It's cost prohibitive and poor management of limited resources.

Re-purposing leftovers is an important tool. Most of our solutions last summer were simple. We didn't have time to completely convert each leftover dish into something new. Where possible, our normal solution was to use the item as a basic ingredient in another dish.

I've saved leftover French toast to use in bread pudding for years. The custard-infused toast enhances the sweet dessert. It adds another layer of cinnamon-nutmeg goodness. Last May, in the wake of our first weekend camp, I learned that these campers weren't big on bread. Faced with some 150 leftover dinner rolls, I saved them in the freezer a later bread pudding.

The cooks routinely left the sauce off of one-third of the Friday night barbequed chicken. The meat was pulled from the bone and refrigerated. It was then used for chicken salad for the salad bar, chicken chili (as an alternative to beef or pork chili) or breakfast burritos.

Likewise, the meat was often pulled from the leftover pork spareribs. Sauced meat was repurposed as pulled pork. The smokey notes of un-sauced meat made for great chili verde.

Options to use leftover vegetables abound as well. Many work well in salads. Leftover whole kernel corn was used to prepare corn and tomato salsa. Add fresh diced tomatoes, minced chili peppers, garlic and chopped cilantro. We served the salsa with the appropriate meal.

Yes, there are times that I allowed the cooks to serve reheated leftovers alongside the planned meal. Our largest camp -- a private group of more than 300 campers -- expects leftovers. In that instance, they become a blessing by relieving the pressure placed on the regular menu by the large group.

We also served leftovers for dinner on Independence Day last summer. After stuffing themselves at a midday barbecue, most campers enjoyed the leftovers, which were served alongside limited portions of the regular dinner meal. The camp director was happy, as were the campers. It gave them a chance to eat as much or as little as they desired.

Not all of my attempts to repurpose leftovers have enjoyed complete successful. One time I renamed leftover macaroni and cheese and served it for breakfast to a limited reception. I named it "Thomas Jefferson Frittata" as a tribute to his role in bringing pasta to America. By the end of the meal the campers only ate one of the two leftover pans.

Most ideas that I've presented are basic. I'd love to hear your ideas for using leftovers in the camp kitchen. If I acquire enough ideas, I'll present them in a future blog post.

My personal breakfast this morning consisted of leftover sautéed cabbage and carrots, roasted broccolini and grilled Polish sausage.


Last summer, the cooks stocked leftovers in the staff refrigerator, which is located in the break room. They placed eight to 10 portions of the entrée and side dishes into zipper lock bags. As the week progressed, the stock of leftovers progressively grew to unmanageable proportions. I found myself discarding older leftovers two or three times each week.

This practice has it's limitations as most staff eat in the Chow Palace during regular meal periods. It's great for the occasional staff member who misses the meal and those with the midnight munchies. Space limitations are compounded by the fact that the staff refrigerator is the designated place for staff to store small quantities of personal food.

I plan to revisit this process this year. At times I felt the cooks were using the staff refrigerator to avoid stocking leftovers in the walk-in. If managed closely, it can work to the benefit of staff who find the need to miss a meal. Yet, the cooks need to respect staff that store personal food in the refrigerator.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Sourdough cinnamon rolls by Kent Rollins

Here's a nice video by cowboy and chef Kent Rollins.

YouTube description: "Kent Rollins shows how to make these glorious lil' pastries."

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Dutch oven pot pie revisited

The last time I visited Dutch oven pot pie on 'Round the Chuckbox, refrigerator biscuit dough stood in for the top crust. Biscuit dough gave me a quick way to prepare pot pie in camp. The filling was made using canned cream of mushroom soup, frozen vegetables and pre-cooked chicken.

On Saturday, I prepared Dutch oven pot pie with dark turkey meat, frozen broccoli and a scratch-made sauce. The sauce was a basic velouté, prepared with turkey stock and a roux. Once ready, I stirred in diced cooked turkey and broccoli florets. It cooked long enough for the broccoli to begin thawing before placing biscuits on the surface.

Instead of using biscuit dough, I pinched off 12 golf ball-sized pieces of dough from a batch of artisan no-knead bread dough. After lightly rounding each dough ball, I placed them on top of the pot pie filling. With charcoal briquettes for approximately 400 degrees (5 under and 20 on the lid), the biscuits baked for around 30 minutes. As you can see in the image below, the biscuit topping took on a golden color.

In the enclosed environment of the Dutch oven, the biscuits enjoyed a steam bath as they baked under the intense heat of the coals on the lid. The steam imparted the tough and chewy crust that we enjoy on sourdough bread. And it gave the biscuit topping a shinny coat as well.

Yet, the bottom of the biscuit crust was moist and soft. It reminded me of dumplings being bathed on a pot of turkey stew. While the dough remained chewy on the underside, it absorbed the rich goodness of the pot pie gravy.

My impromptu turkey pot pie with no-knead biscuit crust was a hit last night. I was able to put the dough, which had been fermenting in the refrigerator all week, to good use. My only regret? There was only sufficient pot pie for four modest servings. Once we scooped up the turkey filling, three or four biscuits remained. But that's okay. I'll finish them at dinner tonight.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Chicken spaghetti

It's time to revisit this recipe for chicken spaghetti. While I originally prepared it in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, the casserole easily converts to a 12-inch camp-style Dutch oven. Enjoy ...

Tonight's meal comes from jail and fits every stereotype of jail food. It's heavy, starchy and loaded with fat.

But the creator of this baked chicken casserole missed one important stereotype about jail food -- it tastes good. And yes, it fills you, and makes you feel good about the meal.

The cooks at the Ionia County Jail, Ionia, Michigan, regularly prepare chicken spaghetti. "Inmates ask to take this recipe with them when they are released," said cook Cindi Ruehs. Cole slaw, peas, mixed fruit, bread and margarine accompany the meal.

The recipe was featured on the 2008 Jones Zylon Cooking for Crowds calendar. Jones-Zylon supplies the serving trays, dishes, flatware, carts and racks to corrections, schools and healthcare.

Monday night, I found that Reuhs' chicken spaghetti recipe easily converts into a skillet casserole dish. You'll get eight to 12 servings in a standard 10-inch skillet. A precooked (4-1/2-pound) fryer and a one-pound box of spaghetti formed the base for my recipe.

I roasted the chicken Sunday evening with one sliced onion and one carrot in a 375-degree F. oven. Monday, while spaghetti cooked in a large stockpot, I boned and diced the chicken, discarding the skin. The roasted onion and carrot added a nice flavor element to the casserole.

When cooked to al dente, I dumped the drained spaghetti and diced chicken into the skillet. I then mixed 2 (14-ounce) cans of condensed cream of chicken soup, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. The sauce, chicken and pasta were mixed in the skillet.

I baked the casserole in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Although Reuhs' adds cheese to the sauce, I elected to top the dish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese after crisping the pasta in the oven. Once I spread the cheese over the casserole, it took another 20 minutes to add some color to the cheese and bring the whole dish to 165-degrees in the center.

Chicken spaghetti is a great one-skillet dish. Add frozen broccoli flowerets or peas to boost its flavor profile. A handful of diced flat leaf parsley makes a simple garnish.

And the nutrition profile isn't as bad as you'd think. One serving (at eight servings per skillet) contains 533 calories with 54 percent of the calories from fat. You can reduce fat in the recipe by using Campbell's 98% fat free condensed soup and discarding the chicken skin.


25 pounds diced chicken
4 cups diced green peppers
12 pounds spaghetti
3 (50-ounce) cans chicken soup
3 (50-ounce) cans mushroom soup
5 pounds shredded cheese
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons pepper
3 pounds margarine

Day before serving: Cook and dice chicken. Save chicken stock to cook spaghetti in. Dice green peppers. Day of serving: Start preparation about 2:30 p.m.

Remove fat from stock. Cook spaghetti in stock. In tilt skillet, melt margarine and sauté green peppers until tender. Add soups to butter mixture and heat until warm.

Add cooked spaghetti and diced chicken. Heat to temp (165-degrees F.). Add cheese and mix in.

Servings: 120 (8-ounce) black or orange handle spoodle.