Sunday, January 28, 2007

Freeze No More

The daily low temperature has slowly risen to the high 30s over the last two weeks. The mercury hit bottom at 22 degrees the day I cooked potato soup at the El Dorado Western Railway engine house. The low in Placerville didn't rise above 30 until January 18.

The temperature in nearby Grizzly Flats sat low 30s in the day Jacob and I drove down North-South Road. North-South crosses the icy creek midway between Mormon Immigrant Trail and Capps Crossing. In the summer, it's a popular "dispersed" camping spot. The Forest Service allows campers to settle along the north shore of the creek.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rice Pilaf

Rice pilaf is the perfect accompaniment to many Dutch oven entrees. It’s easy to prepare and the cast iron Dutch oven adds an element of forgiveness. You can forget the rice for a few minutes, and it’ll still come out light and fluffy.

To cook wonderful pilaf, lightly browning rice in hot oil. The browned grain gives off a nutty flavor that compliments the stock that’s used to cook the rice. For perfect rice, boil the stock before adding it to the browned rice and sauteed vegetables.

I rarely cook this dish the same way twice. I often use use my basic rice pilaf recipe to get rid of leftover condiments and salsa from the refrigerator.

Today at the El Dorado Western Railway engine house, I added two chopped roasted red peppers from a jar that's been in the cooler for several months. I will often replace up to one-third of the broth with a liquid-based flavor enhancing condiment. My favorites are salsa, tomato sauce and sundried tomato pesto.


This recipe prepares enough for 12 persons. Figure about 1/4-cup raw long-grain rice per serving.

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large roasted red peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2-1/2 cups long grain rice
4-3/4 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil in 12-inch Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and sweat. Add garlic and sweat until soft. Add rice, coat with oil and lightly saute until rice is a light brown color. Add broth, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Place lid on oven. Arrange 7 charcoal briquettes under the oven and 15 on lid. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until done. Fluff rice. Serves 12.

Smothered Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sauce

Unlike the freeze of two weeks ago, the thermometer hovered around the mid-40s at the engine house of the El Dorado Western Railway this morning. We capped productive week with a hearty meal.

Here's what happens when you offer food to the trainmen at the El Dorado Western Engine House:

About noon, I commented to EDWRF President Eric Stohl that the crew was sticking around for the meal. Eric (in white coveralls) didn't seem that amused.

"Yea, but I'm loosing productivity here!"

I think the crew ignored him. Nine volunteers (including the cook) scarfed a large pot of smothered chicken in mushroom sauce. The rice pilaf and cucumbers salad disappeared as well.


I like Pepperridge Farms Herb Seasoned Stuffing because it makes a coarse bread crumb topping. You’ll need about two-thirds of a 16-ounce package. Substitute seasoned bread crumbs if desired.

2 large onions, sliced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
6-ounces unsalted butter, divided use
5 pounds chicken breasts
3 (10-3/4-ounce) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 cups seasoned bread stuffing mix
1/4-cup chopped Italian parsley
2 (5-ounce) packages shredded Swiss cheese

Heat a 14-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Melt butter in skillet. Set 4 tablespoons melted butter aside for later use. Add onions and mushrooms. Lightly season with kosher salt. Stir onions and mushrooms frequently for about 2- to 30 minutes until soft, translucent and golden brown golden brown. Set aside in bowl.

Return skillet to heat. Brown chicken breasts over medium-high heat until browned, turning once. Don’t crowd chicken in skillet. Remove chicken to cutting board. Cut against the grain into 1/2-inch slices. Set sliced chicken breast in a single layer in a 14-inch Dutch oven.

Spoon caramelized onions and mushrooms over chicken. Mix soup, thyme and sherry until smooth. Pour over onions and mushrooms. Mix bread stuffing mix, parsley and reserved melted butter. Spread bread mixture over sauce in Dutch oven.

Bake in a 350-degree oven (8 charcoal briquettes underneath oven and 20 on lid) for about 35 minutes. Bread crumbs should be toasted. Spread cheese oven bread crumbs and return lid to oven. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese has melted.

Nine trainmen ate the whole dish today at the engine house. If you allow 5-1/3 ounces chicken per person, you can serve 15 normal eaters.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Winter Camp Cookoff Update

Don Mason just sent me this note:

Winter Camp Cookoff is being held on February 10, 2007 in the parking lot of Our Lady of Lourdes School, 745 Ware Ave., Coluda, California. The event is sponsored by the Sacramento River Cast Iron Cookers. Contact Vickie Stegall at (530) 458-8009 for additional information.

Gates open at 7 a.m. The cooks meeting starts at 8:30 sharp. And tasting begins at 1 p.m.

My blog on the cookoff is posted here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Capps Crossing Bridge

I love the quite solitude of the Sierra Nevada is winter. A holiday drive up the Mormon Emigrant Trail gave my son and me the chance to soak in warmth from a campfire at our secret spot. After a lunch of grilled sandwiches, we drove down North-South Road and stopped at Capps Crossing Campground to hike and look around.

This structure bridges the North Fork of the Consumnes River. Built in 1932 by the U.S. Forest Service, the bridge is now closed to vehicles. I'm certain that the steel and timber bridge made crossing the river much easier, especially over swift water of spring. A large concrete bridge spans the river today.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Northern California Dutch Oven Cookoff Schedule

Here's the cookoff schedule for Northern California, Nevada and Oregon from Don Mason:

I posted an updated version of the cookoff list on Tuesday, January 23, 2007.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sunset over Plummer Ridge

I hiked Trestle Trail in Eldorado National Forest last Sunday afternoon. It was nearly 5:30 p.m. after I made a brisk mile-long hike up the old Steely Fork railroad grade to the truck. The bright orange hues of the sun as it set over Plummer Ridge caught my eye. The photo is a little grainy. Next time I'll carry the tripod and shoot the picture at a much lower ISO.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Trestles on the Steely Fork Branch Line

Once the rails of the Diamond & Caldor Railway reached Caldor, some 34 rail miles east of Diamond Springs, three main feeder lines fanned to the north, east and south of the mill. The California Door Company used these lines to haul the freshly cut logs to its mill each day during the six to seven month logging season.

One of these feeder lines is still viable in the Eldorado National Forest several miles east of Grizzly Flat. The Steely Fork line ran northwest from the mill. At its northern most limit, it reached Bear Meadow.

The narrow-gauge expansion began in 1907. The line encompassed some 50 miles of logging spurs. The line allowed the company to log along North and South Steely creeks to Capps Crossing on the North Fork of the Consumnes River. The line reached Long Canyon and Bear Meadow to the west.

The Steely Fork line heads to the west as it climbs out of the Steely Fork canyon. This cut is found a hundred feet west of the ruins of the river trestle. The Steely Fork trestle crossed the river just west of the confluence of the North and South Steely creeks.

One of the few trestle bents that's remains upright. All four trestles collapsed years ago. Today the heavy timbers are slowly rotting.

The first trestle can be reached after a 10 minute hike from the Trestle Trail trail head. It's still possible to see some organization to the heavy bridge timbers on the ground. I was able to count a dozen or more bents at this trestle site. Most of the timbers (10x10 or larger) are in very good condition considering it's been 54 years since abandonment.

Bridge timbers are lined up on the ground between the eastern and western landings. This picture looks to the east.

Cross-posted at El Dorado Western Railway blog.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Remembering Dr. King at Sea

Norfolk, Va. (Jan. 16, 2007) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Devin Aikene prepares a cake in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr., aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is currently maintaining qualifications as part of the fleet response plan.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kenneth Mays.

Navy Chef Mans the Guns

Mediterranean Sea (Jan. 17, 2007) - Master Chief Culinary Specialist Scott Montgomery stands watch on the MK-38 25mm machine gun aboard the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) while transiting through the Mediterranean Sea. Bataan, commanded by Capt. David Hulse is on a regularly scheduled deployment as the flagship of the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Webster.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ice in the Pipes

Freezing temperatures in California take all the fun out of gardening in the Bay Area. My sister Elizabeth reported via email:
Here's my COLD story. I was attempting to water our yard this morning when the nozzle on the hose appeared to not be working. So I thought I'd just remove it and water straight from the hose. See (the picture) for the real problem!
According to the National Weather Service, a freeze warning remains in effect for much of Northern California. "A dry and very cold airmass will remain in place over Northern California through at least the first part of this week ... resulting in cold overnight and early morning temperatures."

We can expect temperatures in the teens and twenties to continue across the Sacramento Valley, the Delta, the Motherlode and Southern Lake County, including the Clear Lake area. Overnight lows in California's Central Valley will decrease by a degree or two each morning.

Overnight lows should reach above freezing by Wednesday.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Potato Soup in the Engine House

Northern California is in the middle of a freeze this weekend. I realize that temperatures in the lower 20s don't match the brain-numbing temperatures of the northern United States.

I thought a thick potato soup with leeks would warm the trainmen at the El Dorado Western engine house around noon. Like the loggers who ate in the camp kitchens of the California Door Company, our workers appreciate a hearty meal that fills the belly and warms the soul.

I prepared the soup in the 6-quart Dutch oven that I picked up at a Placeville antique shop last July. It's interesting that I commented on the 100-degree heat and power outage when I wrote my blog.

Under normal circumstances, the soup only takes about 1-1/2 hours to prepare. But the cold weather added an additional 30 to 45 minutes to the process. Although the temperature at the engine house was in the high 30s this morning, the dry conditions made cooking with charcoal easy.

I used Yukon gold potatoes because they added a nice, creamy texture to the soup. And the soup gave me an opportunity to use the pint-sized jar of garlicky Alfredo sauce that's been in the cupboard for several months.

I forgot to purchase chives at the market this morning. Strips of the tops of the leeks made a nice substitute. Also try frying julienned leeks in hot oil for garnish.


Substitute an equal amount of heavy cream for the Alfredo sauce if desired.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts sliced thinly
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth
6-7 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 (16-ounce) jar garlic Alfredo sauce
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 bunch chived, chopped
3-ounces grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Sweat leeks until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for several minutes. Do not scorch flour.

Add potatoes and broth. Cook until potatoes start to crumble, about 20-25 minutes. Mash mixture with a potato masher. The soup will be chunky. Add Alfredo sauce and gently bring to serving temperature. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Garnish each bowl with chopped chived, crumbled bacon grated Parmesan cheese. Makes about 10 (8-ounce) servings.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

5th Annual Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff

Here's notice of the 5th Annual Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff in Colusa, California on Saturday, February 10, 2007.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Trestle Trail

This afternoon I took advantage of a light snow pack in the old logging area of the California Door Company. I've been looking for a weekend where I could survey the Trestle Trail in Eldorado National Forest east of the community of Grizzly Flat.

Very little evidence of the Diamond & Caldor Railway and its parent company, California Door Company, remain in the forest. Trestle Trail is a hiking trail that travels along one of the logging company's main feeder lines north of Caldor.

Here are three photos of our hike:

To access Trestle Trail, take Capps Crossing Road from Grizzly Flat to Forest Road 9N86. Continue east along the road for a half mile. Turn right onto Road 9N86A. An abandoned vehicle about three-tenths of a mile down the road partially blocks the road.

After you drive another half mile (or so -- I didn't clock it), you'll see this sign to the left up on the old railroad grade. Park your car in the wide spot and hike the trail.

Partially buried railroad ties are visible a few hundred feet from the trail head. Please don't disturb the ties.

You can visualize a Shay locomotive pulling a consist of empty skels up the grade toward Camp Webster.

Here's what the Eldorado National Forest website has to say about the trail:

Trestle Trail: Follow the Capps Crossing Road from Grizzly Flat or the North South Road (Forest Route 6) to the dirt road 9N36. Turn south on this road and stay to the right for approximately one-half mile to the trailhead. This pleasant foot trail follows a railroad grade for 1.2 miles to the site of the main bridge (removed) over Steely Fork Creek. The trail is in excellent condition, and passes three collapsed trestles (wooden railroad bridges) on the steep hillside. Return to the trailhead along the same route.
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