Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday Morning Breakfast

One of my favorite Saturday morning breakfasts consists of eggs over easy, cottage onions and fried potatoes, buttered toast and a tall glass of orange juice. Add a steaming cup of camp coffee and grilled sausage patties and you have the best outdoors breakfast.

The secret to perfectly caramelized onions is to start them in a 10-inch heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add one large sliced onion to hot vegetable oil or bacon drippings.

I cook my onions over higher heat at first. This gives them a little color before I reduce the heat to low. A dash of kosher salt will encourage moisture in the onion to seep out.

Be sure to stand there and watch the skillet when working with higher heat. Stir often. Reduce the heat to low when the onions start cooking too fast.

I continue cooking the onions over low heat until they have developed a rich brown color and are soft. Add four medium diced par-cooked red potatoes into the skillet and cook until the potatoes have taken on a light brown color.

Season with kosher salt, ground black pepper and paprika (if desired). A skillet of golden cottage fried onions and potatoes will serve 4 to 6.

Steaks for Firefighters

This has been a slow year for fire kitchen pictures. Outside of the few mobile kitchen photos I posted earlier this summer, federal incident command information officers have focused on the fires and not on the camp and logistics mechanism behind each fire.

Often, incident photographers post a series of camp pictures on incident websites. This gives viewers a look at the large "overhead" structure that keeps the firefighters on the fireline.

In the photo, two cooks from Stewart's Figherfighter Food Catering of Redmond, Oregon grill steaks behind mobile kitchen unit SK-103B at the Burgdorf Fire in the summer of 2000.

According to the 2006 Mobile Food Service Contract, Stewart's three large kitchens are capable of feeding 1,800 diners per day each. The federal government paid Stewart's approximately $45 per firefighter fed per day. Each mobile kitchen consisted of a kitchen trailer, two refrigeration units, handwashing unit, water hauler, supply truck and bunkhouse.

The Burgdorf Fire burned more than 64,000 acres in Idaho's Payette National Forest July to September 2000. Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division assisted the U.S. Forest Service to contain the wildfire.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What are Cooks in the Navy Called?

Here's a question that I found in a "How well do you know the Navy?" article on

What are cooks in the Navy called?

A. Mess management specialists
B. Cooks
C. Mess stewards
D. Culinary specialists

A Great Campfire Cook

I saw a column today by nationally syndicated columnist Molly Ivins reminiscing on the renowned Texas wit on the late Texas Govenor Ann Richards.

Ivins' lead paragraph said, "She was so generous with her responses to other people. If you told Ann Richards something really funny, she wouldn't just smile or laugh, she would stop and break up completely. She taught us all so much -- she was a great campfire cook. Her wit was a constant delight."

I didn't often agree with Richards. We seem to hale from differing sides of the political tracks. But I do remember hearing of her wit and frequent use of Texas-sized colloquialisms.

The words, "she was a great campfire cook," struck me. They jumped right off the screen as I read them. It seems had I met Richards under the chuckwagon fly, we could've agreed to stick to good old fashion stick-to-your-ribs chuck.

Great food and the company it keeps can sometimes equalize relationships. After all the political wrangling is done, we all have to eat. And what better place to eat than beside the wagon with "a great campfire cook."

If it's politics, we can discuss your views and mine for a time. But when it's time to eat, we set our differences aside, pick up red, white and blue picnic plates and chow down.

Liberal verses conservative view don't seem to matter too much when a slab of Texas beef brisket stands in the way.

And besides, I love to eat and cook. I'm sure I could've learned a thing or two from Ann Richards, the "great campfire cook" from the great state of Texas.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Face Lift for Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida Galley

By Miriam Gallet, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Naval Air Station Jacksonville

The mess hall at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, renamed the Flight Line Cafe, received major aesthetic changes during the last few months and held a "Name the Galley Contest" in order to keep up with the 21st century. VP-5 Sailors collectively won the name contest and will receive a pizza party from the cafe.

"This is a great occasion," remarked a smiling Captain Chip Dobson, NAS Jacksonville commanding officer. "A pleasing environment is very important to what you are doing and our new Flight Line Cafe is a reflection of it. This is an enjoyable and refreshing place for our Sailors to eat their meals."

Because it's a whole new revolution in food service in today's Navy. Our new name is reflective of our attitude and who we serve.

Our value, convenience and quality can't be matched anywhere within the industry. This new makeover has been possible because I have an outstanding team of chiefs and enlisted Sailors who believe in what we do and in who we are. Each of us takes our profession seriously and our ultimate goal is to delight our patrons with every meal serve.

Article source: September/October 2006 issue of the Navy Supply Corps Newsletter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pasta with Red Pepper and Parmesan Cream Sauce

These days cooking in my house often boils down to what's in the cupboard. The new job and the long commute leaves little time for shopping and cooking.

When I see an appealing recipe in a cooking magazine, I often adjust the recipe to match my cupboard inventory.

I purchased the latest issue of Fine Cooking last week for bus reading material. Two recipes struck my fancy.

The creamy potato soup on the back cover will help expend my overstocked potato bin. That's a recipe for this weekend.

After reading Tony Rosefield's "Pasta from the Pantry" (Fine Cooking, November 2006, pages 72-75), my first thought was to run to the market to buy the ingredients.

I then remembered that I had a container of Trader Joe's Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup and a box of mostaccioli in the cupboard. I often use the soup to flavor rice pilaf or a substitute for tomato sauce. And I like to stock several varieties of pasta.

In the original recipe, you gently saute fresh minced garlic, then add the contents of a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers that have been drained and thinly sliced. From this point on the two recipes flow in an identical manner.

The tomato and red pepper soup saved a difficult step for camp cooks. Most campers don't pack a blender. The soup brings all the robust flavor of the red pepper to the skillet.


This recipe has lots of potential. Any hearty flavor will enhance it's delicate creaminess. The author suggested sauteed cauliflower or sliced Italian sausage. Crisp smoked bacon or carmalized onions will work as well.

3/4 pound dried large tube pasta, such as rigatoni, pene rigate or mostaccioli
1 cup tomato and red pepper soup
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tooth tender. Meanwhile, place the soup, broth, thyme, pepper flakes, garlic and vinegar in a large heavy skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until reduced slightly.

Stir in 3/4-cup Parmesan cheese and cream until smooth. Add drained pasta to skillet and cook 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat to blend. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining cheese.

Morrison in Spring

Saddled between Alder Ridge to the north and Iron Mountain Ridge to the south is a large Sierra meadow called Morrison. Each spring the green pasture and melting snow attracts me to the old ranch.

The place would make an ideal summer mountain resort. Horses, ATVs and 4x4s could easily replace the cattle of years gone by. Except for the occasional truck that passes by the ranch, the guests would enjoy plenty of peace as they savor the yellow pine forest.

Eldorado National Forest road 11N46 passes between the corral and cabins. The ranch sits on a large track of private property -- almost two square miles -- within the national forest. Please don't disturb the owners.

Two or three rustic cabins are situated on the north edge of the meadow. I'm not sure who owns the ranch. But I suspect a family named Morrison were the original settlers.

I suspect the ranch rarely sees cattle these days. Cattle raising practices have changed drastically in the national forest in my lifetime.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

El Dorado Gold Flows to Georgetown

The Georgetown Divide Ditch flows under Wentworth Springs Road as it hugs the mountain contour. The ditch, which dates back to the California Gold Rush, carries valuable Sierra water from Stumpy Meadows Lake to Georgetown for domestic use, irrigation and fire fighting. The ditch is operated by the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District.

Friday, September 22, 2006

State Fire Director Urges Caution Due to Risky Fire Weather

Sacramento – Californians should be extremely cautious due to the current dry and windy weather patterns, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced yesterday.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for Northern California and parts of Southern California for extreme wind gusts of up to 65 mph and low humidity levels throughout this weekend.

In response to the increased fire risk associated with this weather forecast, CDF is warning Californians that conditions are still ripe for a wildland fire. “There is a lot of dead vegetation that is extremely dry,” said CDF Director Ruben Grijalva. “Dry north winds increase the chance of a spark igniting a major fire.”

CDF units throughout the state are placing additional firefighters on duty, staffing more fire engines and keeping bulldozers on 24 hours a day. CDF is also asking for the public’s help during this high danger time. Make sure cigarette butts are properly extinguished, and that any mowing and electric/motorized weeding is done before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Most importantly, all homes and businesses in wildfire-susceptible areas must have 100 feet of defensible space around structures.

For additional tips on how to be fire safe contact your nearest CDF facility or visit the CDF website at

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wildfires and Backyard Cooking

What do these fires mean to outdoor cooks?

Plenty! Much of the Western United States is prone to wildfires. Fire restrictions crimp our collective cooking style, especially to those enjoy cooking over hot coals.

By July each year, campfires and charcoal fires have been banned in most national forests and other public lands. Cooking fuels is limited to gasoline and propane stoves, except in established campgrounds.

And although I haven’t seen any backyard restrictions against using charcoal fires, the weather of late summer does present a serious concern to the outdoor cook. Fire conditions prompt local fire officials to ban dooryard burning by mid-June each year. These restrictions are not usually lifted until the first rain of late fall.

Dooryard, or the burning of yard waste, restrictions don’t stop or limit outdoor charcoal cooking per se. But they do encourage the outdoor cook to carefully consider the ramifications of torching the neighbor’s house. (Steve’s version of Murphy’s Laws says that the neighbors will always burn first!)

I personally reconsider the use of charcoal during hot, dry windy conditions. Any use of charcoal that spits and sputters is out. Lump mesquite is especially hazardous because it showers sparks -- sparks that ignite fires.

Here are my personal guidelines for late-summer outdoor cooking:

  • Don’t burn charcoal or firewood when hot, dry windy conditions exist. These conditions are akin to the Santa Ana of Southern California. Restrict your outdoor cooking to gas or cook indoors.
  • Keep a charged hose with a spray nozzle nearby when you’re burning a charcoal fire. Ready access to water is essential to quickly drown escaping embers.
  • Put the coals out -- dead out -- after you’re done cooking. It’s best to drown the coals in an iron bucket of water.
  • Use your head. Don’t cook with fire in extreme conditions. Consult the local fire department if you’re in doubt.

Mule Fire Contained

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that the Mule Fire was 100 percent contained at 8 a.m. The fire burned in the area of Texas Canyon and Mule Skinner roads, north of the South Fork of the American River.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fire Season is Not Over

The Ralston Fire may be contained. But the danger hasn't passed the Sierra Nevada foothills. Three new fires were reported within 50-60 miles of my El Dorado County home this week.

Smoke from the Ralston Fire hangs in layers in the Rubicon River Canyon (see photo). Fire officials declared the 8,423-acre fire 100 percent contained Sunday evening. Mop up and rehabilitation efforts will continue for several days.

At the time I took the picture Saturday, the fire continued to burn along an uncontrolled line beyond Ralston Ridge. Cooler temperatures and favorable wind conditions helped fire fighters gain the upper hand over the weekend.

Warm, dry north winds returned to the north state Monday. Conditions were once again ripe for new fires. Three new fires are now burning in El Dorado, Placer and Sierra counties.

It's a stark remainder that the fire season is not over for the year. The danger remains high in the Sierra Nevada foothill region.

Closer to home, the Mule Fire threatens the foothill community of Kelsey, about 6-7 miles north of Placerville on Hwy. 193. It's burning in the brush and timber slopes of the South Fork of the American River above Chili Bar.

At last report (10 a.m. on the CDF website), the California state fire department has slowed the advance of the Mule Fire. They've poured significant fire fighting resources into the fire, including a command airplane, four helicopters and a strike team of five engines from the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit of CDF.

Voluntary evacuations along Texas Canyon Road were lifted this morning, according to the KXTV 6 p.m. news. The report cautioned that a fire watch is currently in place for most of Northern California.

El Dorado County residents are fortunate this time. Quick action has knocked the fire down. KXTV's website story said:
The fire was reported just before 2 p.m. Tuesday at 5100 Mule Skinner Road near Rock Creek. It has burned between 60 and 75 acres and is 40 percent contained as of Wednesday morning. Fire crews say they've stopped the fire's forward progress.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

No Visitors Here

After viewing mop up of the Ralston Fire from Nevada Point Ridge in northern Eldorado National Forest Saturday, my son and I stopped by Bald Mountain Lookout. The lookout, one of three with the same name in California, is located about eight miles east of Georgetown.

My intention was to view the fire area from the lookout tower and visit with the attendant. Instead, I found a 10-foot chain-link fence guarding the steps up into the Coppola.

Unlike many western lookouts, Bald Mountain is closed to the public. The attendant never ventured out onto the cat walk to greet us. He (or she?) kept busy monitoring the radio and watching for fires.

Bald Mountain is one of several active lookouts in Eldorado National Forest. The current tower is the fourth one to occupy the site.

Big Hill Lookout is the most prominent. Perched a top the 6132-foot mountain, the tower sits in full view of Union Valley Reservoir. It was rebuilt after the 1992 Cleveland Fire destroyed the 1935-era tower.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

All Quiet Along Division Z

I returned to the Volcanoville area last night a second time to watch the Ralston Fire.

There was little activity along Division Z, compared to Sunday. The division is the southernmost of the wildfire. It's the portion of the fire that dips into Eldorado National Forest.

The threat to Volcanoville has greatly diminished. The daily update on indicates that the incident commander has pulled pulled structure suppression resources from the area.

I didn't arrive in the area along road 13N66 until after 7 p.m. I was still able to take these photographs with a tripod, zoom lens and moderate ISO (ISO 400) setting.

I plan to head up to the area again Saturday. Although I'll check Division Z for activity, I'd like to drive north on Wentworth Springs Road and get as close to the Ralston Ridge area in northern Eldorado National Forest.

But it may be tough to find a vantage point to snap photos. The Forest Service has closed significant portions of Ralston Ridge and Blacksmith Flat roads.

One of my rules is that I don't interfere with incident personnel (more on my rules of "engagement" later). My primary objective is to gather pictures of the helicopters in action.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ralston Fire

I was out on Volcanoville Road, north of Georgetown, Calif., Sunday afternoon for two hours trying to get photos of the helicopters hauling water to the Ralston Fire.

The photo looks across the Rubicon River canyon to the northeast into the fire. The Middle Fork of the American River is beyond the ridge. I shot this picture under a high-power electric line.

Just after 6 p.m. I drove up on a strike team as they were departing the Donaldson Staging Area. The team was composed of five CDF engines (nos. 1454, 1455, 1459, 1470 and 1493 if you're interested) from the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit.

I came up on the engines too fast to get any pictures (I too busy writing down the engine numbers). A captain from the Camino Fire Center was also at the equestrian staging area and picnic ground. He said the strike team was keeping a presence in the area for the night. El Dorado Supper Services, Inc., tanker 45E was also staged there.

Since the past 20 years of my work life has been in food service in large government institutions, I asked the captain who's feeding the firefighters. He said Growlersberg Conservation Camp was feeding those in the Volcanoville area and Mobile Kitchen Unit 45 out of the camp was feeding on the Foresthill side.

By the way, I never got any good helicopter photos. The trees were too thick to safely locate an observation point.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ralston Fire

The Ralston Fire, burning in steep terrain and brush 10 miles east for Foresthill, California, is typical of late summer fires in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

They burn a few acres, often less than 50 to 100 acres, on the date of origin. Once the fire reaches the extremely dry brush and the humidity drops, the fire explodes.

The Ralston Fire, burning in the canyon wall in Tahoe National Forest along the Middle Fork American River, has burned 3,712 acres as the morning report on

Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service.

Bean Pot on eBay

I found this rusted Dutch oven on eBay this morning. After a few bids, I left the auction at $17.75. The pot is being sold without a lid.

The Dutch oven is the same size as the pot that I found in Placerville last July. It appears to be the same pot as the current Lodge 10DO2A. It can also be purchased in the Lodge Logic line of pre-seasoned cast iron cookware (model L10DO3). Lodge lists these oven for $59.95 and $67.95, respectively.

Here's what the seller has to say about the pot:
Found in the back of an old chuckwagon on the Pico Ranch near Blanco, Texas is this cast iron bean pot. The old chuckwagon had completely rotted away, and this old bean pot shows a lot of age and rust. It is an original vintage cowboy collectible. I do not know the age of this pot, it is very heavy cast iron and measures 12 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep.
I couldn't find replacement lids on the Lodge website or catalog. But I've purchased replacement lids at Placerville Hardware in the past. Look around or contact Lodge. You'll find one.

The pot holds seven quarts to the brim. Working capacity is about five quarts, or about 40 (1/2-cup) servings.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Buffalo Chopper

I used Buffalo coppers for most of my eight and one-half years active duty in the U.S. Navy galleys. It's a facinating piece of machinary. The chopper has the ability to reduce a mass of onions into soup in seconds. When used properly, the verticle blade will chop any vegetable to the desired consistency. This belt-driven model is located at the Samoa Cookhouse restaurant and museum in Samoa, California.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Well Do You Like the New Kingsford Charcoal?

Don Mason asked this question in his summer newsletter. I introduced the "new improved" charcoal last April in this blog. At the time, I had not seen the new Kingsford brand charcoal with "fire grooves."

I have since purchased two bags, one regular and the other mesquite. Don and I'd like to hear about your experiences with the new product. Is it better? Or worst than the old stuff. Let Don and I know.

Here are Don's questions:

  1. Does it last as long as the old Kingsford charcoal (without the "fire grooves")?
  2. Is there more ash from the new charcoal?
  3. Does it burn hotter than the old product?

You can post your answers under the comment section for this blog. Or, you can email your response to Don at Either way, we'd like to hear about your experiences.

Diamond Springs Taco Man

Ingenuity is the motivator that drives some street vendors. The lack of a mobile catering trailer doesn't stop them. They use materials that are readily available to construct a "street legal" vending outfit.

This vendor's taco cooker fascinated me Monday. The cook placed a convex cooking pan over a propane burner. The burner sets inside the drum. He cooked ground beef in the hollow of the cooking pan and used the hump to warm tortillas. I didn't see how he drained the grease from the ground beef.

My only concern with the set up is ease at which cross-contamination could occur. The first time I walked by the booth, the cook was warming torillas in close proximity to raw ground beef. I think a better approach would be to use a flat griddle to warm the tortillas. With care it was a good set up.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Don Mason's Dutch Oven Newsletter

Here's the latest issue of Don Mason's Dutch Oven Newsletter from Northern California. Email Don at to receive an electronic copy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Diamond Springs Labor Day Street Fair

Labor Day is the big event in Diamond Springs, California. The Highway Patrol closes Main Street and redirects Highway 49 to the north. Street vendors occupy every curb, parking lot and vacant field to sell their wares.

The Fleet Reserve Association led the parade at 1 p.m.

I didn't see a large variety of food vendors at the fair. There were only about eight vendors selling food and drink present. And only one local restaurant was open. The Firehouse Cafe sold meals out of the front door.

Two hot dog carts kept a steady supply of frankfurters on the street.

Cool refreshments are always popular in the September heat. Although the mercury didn't reach into the 100s, the shaved ice chef did a brisk business after the parade passed by. This guy had a hand washing set up as well.

The snow cone vendor was no exception.