Saturday, September 29, 2007

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Last week creamy scalloped potatoes accompanied a grilled tri-tip roast for a fund raiser and silent auction in Pleasanton, California. The potatoes, along with spicy pink beans in a red sauce and the roast, formed the menu.

A mixed green salad, dressed with a vibrant line-cilantro vinaigrette, and Dutch oven peach crisp completed the meal.

Sixty generous alumni from Florida College enjoyed a great meal and raised over $1,800. The money will fund scholarships for students from Northern California.


This recipe will serve 50 (1/2-cup) portions from two 2-1/2-inch hotel pans. Fifteen pounds potatoes, as purchased, will yield about 12 pounds when peeled and sliced.

Always use a shallow dish for scalloped potatoes. Don't stack the potatoes many more than 1-/2 to 2 inches high. Otherwise, you'll end up with a crispy-brown top and undercooked potatoes inside.

To bake in a 14-inch Dutch oven, arrange 4 pounds sliced potatoes as instructed. Pour 1-2/3 quarts sauce over the potatoes and bake as directed. Bake with 8 charcoal briquettes under the oven and 20 on the lid. Extra coals may be needed during the last 15 minutes to hasten browning.

6 ounces unsalted butter
6 ounces all-purpose flour
4 quarts whole milk
1 quart half-and-half
4 teaspoons salt
White pepper, to taste
8 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
2 bunches chives, chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

15 pounds potatoes, as purchased
2 pounds onion, sliced thin

Heat butter in a heavy sauce pot over low heat. Add flour and make a white roux. Cool the roux slightly.

In another sauce pot, scald the milk. Gradually add roux, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring sauce to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer and lightly simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Add cheeses to sauce and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Add parsley and chives, stir and remove sauce from the heat.

Peel and eye the potatoes. Cut into 1/8-inch slices. Place 6 pounds potatoes (edible portion) in each buttered 2-1/2-inch hotel pan (2-1/2 x 12 x 20 inches), alternating potato layers with onion.

Pour 2-1/2 quarts sauce in each pan. Lift the potatoes slightly so that the sauce can run between the layers. Cover with foil and place each pan in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Uncover and continue baking until the top is browned and potatoes are tender. Total baking time will be about 1 hour. Each 2-1/2-inch hotel pan will serve 25 (1/2-cup) portions.

Recipe adapted from Professional Cooking, 4th edition.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Boot Chief

Twenty-two years ago this month, I was advanced to the rate of chief petty officer in the United States Naval Reserve. It was the proudest day in my 29-year naval career.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 21, 2007) - Chief Yeoman Alex Magee puts the chief petty officer combination cover on Chief Culinary Specialist Rodrigo Sabanga during the pinning ceremony aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63). Stethem is part of the Forward Deployed Naval Force stationed in Yokosuka, Japan.

U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Danny Ewing Jr.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tex-Mex on the High Seas

Carne quisada is a "stewed meat made with beef, onions, bell peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, comino, which is then served over white rice, or with Spanish rice and refried beans," according to the Tex-Mex Dictionary. The stew can be served on a warm flour tortilla and eaten as a soft taco.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Sept. 16, 2007) - Culinary Specialist Seaman Casey Steinhauer, of Huble, Texas, prepares carne guisada in the aft galley aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Casey is preparing 1,500 servings of carne guisada as one of the dinner entrees. Kitty Hawk is nearly four months into her summer deployment from Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kyle D. Gahlau.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fund Raiser Menu

Next Saturday I'm cooking dinner for a fund raiser in the Bay Area. Faced with limited kitchen facilities, I offered to prepare an outdoor menu. The menu, which is centered around a beef tritip roast, fit the event hosts request for a traditional meat and potatoes meal.

Here's the menu for Saturday's event:

  • Grilled Santa Maria-style Tritip
  • Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
  • Piquinto Bean with Spicy Red Sauce
  • Pico De Gallo
  • Mixed Greens with Cilantro Vinaigertette
  • French Bread with Sweet Butter
  • Peach Cobbler

I found this recipe on the El Dorado Hills Fire Department website.

5 ripened tomatoes, seeded, small dice
1 red onion, small dice
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded, fine dice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Mix all ingredients in bowl. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Chill and serve.

Toma Toes at Patrick's

This sign grabbed me as we drove down Pleasant Valley Road this afternoon. The name illustrates my love-hate with America's beloved fruit. I love to cook with tomatoes, but gag as its bright red meat slides down my throat. Something in the bright acidic flavor doesn't agree with my palette. Maybe I've been eating (or avoiding) toma toes all these years.

Patrick's Garden grows over 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes on a dozen acres at 1589 Pleasant Valley Road in Placerville. I plan to stop by late this week and buy a flat. A flat of freshly picked brandywines should make a vibrant pico de gillo for the grilled tritip menu this Saturday.

Don't be confused by its Placerville address. Patrick's is located about 2.2 miles east of the Diamond Springs post office (4946 Pleasant Valley Road). Watch for President Nixon on your left as you drive eastward toward Pleasant Valley. The farm is open until 6 p.m. most days.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

From Apple Hill to the El Dorado Western

Friend Keith Berry spreads cold-application roof adhesive to the roof of the Westside and Cherry Valley Railway combine car. The crew from the El Dorado Western Railway is re-roofing the combination caboose and baggage car in preparation for the winter rains.

Crewman Bill Rogers, a local retiree who drives a tractor at one of the Apple Hill ranches, supplied the five-gallon bucket for the roofing job.

I wandered out loud: "Why is Apple Hill buying prepared apple filling? I thought its reputation was built on fresh ingredients like recently picked apples."

Bill assured me that his employer makes apple pies with fresh apples from the ranch. You know, the kind with a six-inch high crown of sliced apples that have been sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. The ranch uses sliced apple pie filling from a five-gallon bucket for turnovers.

A nice slice of apple pie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would've hit the spot in the 90-degree heat on the roof.

Friday, September 07, 2007

California State Police

A squad of California State Fair Police bicycle officers monitor fair goers on the midway on a hot Friday evening.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Kitchen at Castle Rock Fire

These are the first fire camp kitchen photographs that I've found this summer ...

Fire crews completed hand lines and bulldozer lines around the Castle Rock Wildland Fire this morning. The 48,520-acre has burned in the Sawtooth National Forest in south-central Idaho. Mop up and rehabilitation of the burned area will continue. Lightening ignited the fire on August 16, 2007.

Next to the smoke and yellow glow of the fire line, the camp is one of the most visible aspects of any firefighting operation. A camp can grow from a few tents to a bustling city within a days.

All aspects of logistic support for the fire are centered out of the fire camp, which is located at the Upper River Run ski area, just south of Ketchum. The camp is the domain of the of the vast logistics apparatus, led by Logistics Section Chief John Olney.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported that Olney's workforce of 150 men and women erected the camp "in under three days." Like any small city, this one has all the essential services you'd expect, including a state-of-the-art kitchen.

The job of feeding 1,640 firefighter and support personnel (called "overhead" in fire lingo) fell to Incident Catering Services, a mobile catering company from Snohomish, Washington. The Idaho Mountain Express reported on Wednesday, August 29, 2007:

The Food Unit, headed up by Danny Fox, sent 245 hot dinners out to firefighters on the line last night, via helicopter. They then served 1,280 meals at the camp, after dishing out 3,350 sandwiches at lunch.

"Today we served 13,000 lbs of food," explained Ray Keener, owner of Incident Catering Services of Seattle. "At breakfast we went through 500 lbs of eggs and 450 lbs of sausage."

Dinner tonight is lasagna, and the smell of tomatoes and garlic wafting from the kitchen in Upper River Run parking lot is a welcome respite from the constant charred smell of burning trees.

"You have to have a passion to feed people, take care of people," explained Keener, when asked how he manages his demanding role. "Or else you have to be nuts!"
Photo credit goes to Pat York and Gary Chase (second picture).

Monday, September 03, 2007

California State Fair

Last Friday morning my daughter called and said the was driving up from the Bay Area with her children. She and her husband (he was in Sacramento already for training) were going to the state fair. I though it would be nice to spend an evening strolling among the exhibits and midway. Except for the 100-plus degree weather, we enjoyed a pleasant evening with family.

As a rule, fair food doesn't impress me. I don't relish eating fried Coke (this year's fad food at the fair). Our $35 meal consisted of corn dogs, burritos, fries and soft drinks. This cord dog stand was located in the middle of the midway.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

You're Being Watched

When I'm in Eldorado National Forest I do what comes naturally -- I drive the forest roads. My family has always questioned the sanity of steering a four-wheel-drive truck over less-than perfect roads.

They express their displeasure in my leisure activity by questioning my driving ability. It's kind of the equivalent of "Are we there yet?" Frequent admonishments -- "Don't get lost" and "Don't get stuck" -- come from the back seat.

My son should know by now that that I aways find my way home. Getting stuck? Let's just say he's helped me extricate the truck from more than one snowbank.

We encountered three small herds as we drove down into the Alder Creek basin from Iron Mountain Road. No. 29 kept her distance as I tried to quietly maneuver through the trees. These docile creatures wore loud cow bells that clanked they made their way through the forest.

I caught this cow standing in the middle of Alder Creek upstream from the crossing at Morrison Ranch. Last spring that water would've been about three feet deep in this area. Remind me not to drink the water next summer.