Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baytown drive-thru kitchen

From what I've seen, disaster relief agencies, like the American Red Cross, are masters at the efficient use space and layout at their field kitchen sites in Louisiana and Texas. From the kitchen to storage areas to Emergency Support Vehicle parking and service areas, the ARC can transform a large area, like any high school parking lot, into a mass food production facility.

Carol Hedstrom, of the Great Idaho Chapter, hands out lunch to residences in one of the three drive-thru lanes at the Baytown Kitchen site. This is the first time the American Red Cross has used this drive-thru concept for mass feeding.

Photo Courtesy: Ed Porter/American Red Cross.

For more information, please visit our Hurricane Ike Newsroom.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New chief petty officers

September 16, 1985, is a day I remember well. It's the day I was advanced to chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy ...

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 16, 2008) Chief Storekeeper Joel Fababier, left, and Chief Culinary Specialist Ramon Angeles pin anchors on Chief Culinary Specialist Travin Harrell, from East St. Louis, Ill., during a Chief Petty Officer Pinning Ceremony aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). McCain, one of seven Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, is permanently forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Byron C. Linder.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Value of a recipe ...

Early last week Cathy posted a comment to my recipe for Beef Tacos for 100. The recipe helped her determine purchase amounts for the tacos. Here's he brief message:
Thanks for the help! I'm cooking for church this week and I didn't have any idea how many pounds of stuff to purchase. Cathy
Thank you for your input, Cathy. Your comment succinctly indicates that a recipe is more than a list of ingredients and a set of instructions.

A well-written recipe tells you how much food to purchase. When it's written for 100 portions (as many institutional recipes are) you can derive important data on the quantity per hundred to purchase and prepare.

As you found out, 22 pounds ground beef will yield 100 (1/4-cup) servings of seasonned, cooked taco meat. That's enough meat for 200 tacos.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day in the life of a Hurricane Ike relief kitchen worker

Here's a snapshot of what it's like to prepare food during disaster relief operations. This information comes from Jason Fletcher's blog, Hey Fletch. Jason lives in Live Oak, Florida.

Jason posted this quote from Fritz Wilson, Director Disaster Relief and Recovery Dept., Florida Baptist Convention, this morning. Fritz was reporting from in Texas City, Texas. He and his team have responded to Hurricane Ike relief.
Yesterday was a good day. We moved out of survive mode and into performing mode. Our kitchen prepared over 23,000 meals yesterday, most of that went out on Salvation Army canteens but about 2,400 meals were served by our people in the drive through line. Our volunteers got up @ 3:30 AM to do the following:
  • Start cooking @ 4 AM so they can have lunch (12,000 meals) ready and shipped by 9 AM.
  • Unloaded, sorted, and organized over 9 semi-trailers of food, drinks and paper products
  • Washed over 700 cambros – That is the containers that we put the food in
  • Cleaned up the site.
  • Went to bed @ 9:30 so they can do it again the next day
About 170 volunteers from Alabama and Florida are working 16 hours per day at the mega kitchen, said writer Mickey Noah ("Sacrifice, sweat and sharing Jesus in Ike-ravaged Texas"). The "mega feeding center" is located in the parking lot of Texas High School in Texas City. (The NAMB.net photo was taken by Jim Whitmer.)

The center is one of four in East Texas currently. The others are located in Baytown, Houston and League City. Each center was asked to "gear up" to 80,000 meals per day. Here's a few more thoughts from the article:
Of course, local victims didn't care who provided their food and bottled water or where they came from. Most of the victims who came through the Alabama/Florida drive-through line had not had power or tap-water in their homes for nearly a week

When asked what she thought about the Southern Baptists’ operation as she drove through to pick up her beef stew-over-rice meals, Cheryl Kasper of Lamarque, Texas said, "I think it’s the most wonderful thing anyone in the world could do for us."

Army mobile kitchen trailer for catering?

I'm not aware of anyone who's purchased an U.S. Army surplus mobile kitchen trailer (MKT in army parlance) to use in a commercial venture. The design of the culinary war-fighting platform makes conversion to civilian use a difficult issue.

Like military collectors who've restored vintage Army mess trucks, I'm sure there are collectors who've bought the MKT as a collectible. It makes sense when you consider the thousands of trailers that were in service from the 1970s on.

Last week, Ron, a retired U.S. serviceman, posted a comment to an article I wrote on the MKT in June 2006. Although Ron doesn't say so, I suspect that he's a retired Army cook. Here's his question:

May name is Ron I am retired military and currently reside in SC. My dream is to Someday open my own restaurant. I am planning on starting small, with a on the go (type) menu that hopefully will lead to catering, and ultimately a restaurant in 5-10 years.

I was hoping to buy at DRMO a used MKT. Has any one done this before? Would like to know what the drawbacks and positives my be.
Thank you for writing Ron. Your plans are certainly ambitious. But with skill and drive, you should be able to bring you idea to fruition.

You might want to reconsider your plans to use a MKT for street-side vending. I don't believe the trailer will meet code in most U.S. locations without extensive conversion. An used commercial catering trailer or van would serve you better.

Although I'm guessing that you might have more experience on the MKT than I do, the platform wasn't designed with civilian food service in mind. The Army took the existing 2-1/2-ton trailer and added field cooking equipment (mainly the M59 field range outfit with the M2 burner), built in few storage cabinets and and put a collapsing roof over the top.

The lack of on-board lighting, plumbing, ventilation and water storage systems will certainly hinder your plans. The South Carolina health code is going to require on-board lighting, sufficient water storage capacity, sewage holding tanks, hand-washing and food-preparation sinks and adequate refrigeration.

I certainly don't want to discourage you. Your business plans are intriguing. I'd be there to help if I lived in South Carolina.

Talk to your local county environmental health inspectors. They'll be able to guide you in the right direction. It's always helpful to have the local authorities involved in the process from the beginning since they're going to issue the permit.

South Carolina Regulation 61-25, Retail Food Establishments, should help. While I don't know the how South Carolina regulations function in the working world, this paragraph will give you a starting place. Click here to reach the South Carolina food protection program website.
Mobile food units preparing food shall have preparation and display areas completely enclosed with a solid material, and doors shall be kept closed when not in use. These units shall be provided with a handwashing lavatory equipped with hot and cold water under pressure, soap and disposable towels, an approved waste water tank, and may prepare such foods as hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza, soft ice cream, and other similar foods approved by the health authority. (Chapter X, Mobile Food Units, page 43.)
While you should be able to move forward from mobile vending to catering to a restaurant, I don't think a MKT is the way to go.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Railroad wedding barbecue

It's nice to post a barbecue picture of the railroad wedding of Patti LaRose and Dennis Thurman, crew from the Pacific Coast Railroad Co. in Southern California. Chief mechanical officer Phil Reader provided the picture.

Commissary crew member Patti "Cookie" LaRose took the day off of cooking for the crew in honor of her wedding. Here, Rob Himoto (president of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad) and Harry Harlow grilled chicken for the wedding.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Hit-and-miss #1
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
Until now the historic collection at the El Dorado County Historical Museum has been nothing more than a rusting pile of junk. Last month museum volunteer Mark Bruto started working on the collection of hit-and-miss engines.

Today, he and Keith Berry fired up this 1-1/2 horsepower Chore Boy engine this morning. The engine was built by Associated Manufacturing Co. of Waterloo, Iowa.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the engine's name:

The name comes from the method of speed control that is implemented on these engines (as opposed to the "throttle governed" method of speed control). The sound made when the engine is running is a distinctive "POP whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh POP" as the engine fires and then coasts until the speed decreases and needs to fire again to maintain its average speed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

You know it's a railroad wedding when ...

It seems the commissary crew at the Pacific Coast Railroad has been getting a lot of practice lately. I've reported on the culinary delights prepared by Patti LaRose, Mary Harlow and Karell Reader at least three times this year. These ladies cook more than I do on the El Dorado Western.

The railroad, which is located on a private Santa Margarita Ranch, found another reason to barbecue chicken and give up train rides.

Commissary crew member Patti "Cookie" LaRose tied the knot with fellow railroader Dennis Thurman, a trail crewman on the PCRR. The ceremony occurred at the nearby Bittercreek Western Railroad, a 7-1/2-inch gauge steam railroad park in Arroyo Grande, California.

One aspect of the nuptials stand out when you read the blog article. It's not "sight of steam engines lined up in the steaming bays and circling the miles of track" or the "delicious chicken barbecue."

Like a railroading couple I know, Patti and Dennis experienced a true railroader's wedding, down to the bride's conductor "wedding gown" and her bouquet.
Since Patti's bridal bouquet was a signal lantern and could not be tossed easily, the lantern was passed to Stephanie, Karl's sweetheart. Everyone had a wonderful time and wished the newlyweds well on their honeymoon to northern California. Congratulations and lots of love to Patti and Dennis.
It looks like the ladies will soon have a couple reasons to put some good railroading vittles. I'm certain they'll fire up the coals once the fire danger passes.

And Stephanie and Karl may just tie the knot themselves. That's reason enough to cook in my book.

No weddings are on the horizon at our Northern California railroad. But I'm sure I'll find sufficient reason to cook for the El Dorado Western soon.

Cross-posted at the El Dorado Western Railway blog.

Home-style cooking a winner on railroad dining car

Here's a nice quote from the 1921 The Journal of Home Economics. Despite efforts by many eateries of the period to introduce "foreign" food into their menus, one railroad dining car department was adapting home-style cookery into its menu.

Enjoy ...
Most of us who have tasted both American and foreign cooking prefer our home dishes, when well prepared, to anything else for a steady diet. Those who travel much and those who depend upon restaurants and hotels miss these home dishes and wish they could get them. Some of the more progressive hotels realize the importance of this matter and have tried to remedy it by installing home kitchens as a part of their equipment. Some of the best restaurants, dining-cars, cafes, and cafeterias also specialize on "home" food. For instance, one evidence that the wishes of the traveling public are not being overlooked, is shown by the Northern Pacific Railway, which has adopted "home" foods and "home" cookery in its dining-car service. A book of instructions for dining-car stewards and chefs on this railway has recently been published by G. W. Nelson, who makes the following statement:

"The art of cookery in all its branches is in such process of evolution that a few years only are sufficient to completely change the methods of preparing dishes once enthusiastically received by the public. Our departure from French and French cookery, and the adoption of plain English designations, and the plain home-like cookery have won the approval of our patrons. The variety of food products adaptable to dining-car service is small compared to that which the large hotel may use with unlimited combinations. We have, therefore, given you a limited specification of dishes that may be run on your specials, together with their prices, and you will strictly confine your menu-making to those things designated, and do not at any time run anything on your specials that deviate from the instructions. All dishes must be prepared according to the recipes which we provide, and these, together with the portion list will be issued to you in circular form" (Hotel Monthly, 29 (1921), no. 334, pp. 58 and 59).
Source: "A Plea for American Cookery and Home Dishes," The Journal of Home Economics, vol. 13, no. 10 (Oct. 1921), p. 506 (published by the American Home Economics Association).

Monday, September 08, 2008

Alton Brown's onion dip

If I had to select the ultimate snack food, clam dip with potato chips would easily rise to the top. While I enjoy many snacks the rich, creamy texture of clam dip has been a favorite since childhood. I've been know to make an evening meals out chips and dip.

I'm not sure where I learned to prepare clam dip. But it, along with Lipton's California dip, were a mainstay at home.

So I smiled last week when my daughter asked me to bring three dips to her annual s'mores party. Her request included clam dip and guacamole, two snacks from her childhood.

The request for guacamole came with a caveat. I had to make it without onions. I thought Alton Brown's onion dip would compensate nicely. The dip tastes just like the packaged version.


"In order to qualify as a dip, the candidate substance must be able to maintain constant contact with its transport medium over three feet of white carpet," said Alton Brown in the Good Eats episode, "Dip Madness."

He achieves this by combining two parts sour cream with one-part mayonnaise. The emulsifying properties of the egg in mayonnaise help hold the dip together.

The low-fat versions of sour cream and mayonnaise work just as well in this recipe. This may help reduce the caloric count a bit.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1.4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a heavy skillet over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt. Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions.

Refrigerate and stir again before serving. This will give the flavors time to meld.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Don Mason's Dutch oven newsletter

Here is the summer edition of Don Mason's Dutch oven cooking newsletter. To have a copy emailed directly to your computer, contact Don at dmason50@att.net.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chili cookoff, cake decorating and culinary skills

Culinary specialists from Navy ships and surface commands in the San Diego area participated in three competitions on August 22, 2008. Competitions included a chili cookoff, cake decorating contest and professional culinary skills competition.

One enlisted culinary specialist per command could enter each contest. A culinary specialist was only able to enter one of the three events. Chief petty officers were excluded from the competition.

For the chili cookoff, the cook prepared two gallons of chili in the ship's galley, either traditional red chili or chili verde. Following International Chili Society rules, beans and pasta were not allowed. Entries were judged on originality of ingredients, texture and appearance and taste.

The cake decorating contest featured similar rules. One one baker per command baked and decorated one cake with a nautical or naval theme in the ship's bakery. The cakes were frosted and decorated with a boiled or butter cream frosting. Entries were judged on originality of design, color combination, texture of frosting, texture of cake and taste.

For the culinary skills competition (pictured above), culinary specialists submitted a recipe for 100 servings to the competition coordinator five days before the event. In addition for the standard recipe format, each recipe had to show calorie, cholesterol, carbohydrate and sodium content for each serving.

Recipes were then evaluated on serving size, nutritional balance, creativity, flavor, taste and palatability. The top 15 finalists prepared at least 25 portions and presented their entries to the judges.

A time to plate ...

SAN DIEGO (August 22, 2008) -- U.S. Navy culinary specialists show off plate presentation skills for the professional culinary event during Surface Line Week. Surface Line Week is an annual competition that allows San Diego Navy commands to showcase their athletic and professional talents in a variety of tournament-style events.

Culinary Specialist 1st Class Michael Louise

Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Garner

Culinary Specialist Seaman Rachael Harris of Assault Craft Unit 5 took 2nd place in the professional culinary skills competition.

U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elena Velazquez.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First day ...

For the record, today was my first full day of retirement. The weekend and holiday don't count.

There's not much to report: I woke up at 5 a.m., went back to sleep and got up at 6:45 (a.m., not p.m.).

And I didn't leave the house until afternoon.

Don't worry. I'm not going to report on my daily retirement activities! I don't have that much energy and don't want to run any readers off.

This retirement -- my second -- is not a stay-at-home-do-nothing affair where I never set foot inside a place of employment again.

Even if I could afford it, I wouldn't do so. I have too many projects to quit now. I'm sure church, the railroad and blogging will keep me busy for some time to come.

But I never see myself not working to some degree.

Retirement number two (the first was my Navy retirement in 1999) is more of a career change. After living in Excel spreadsheets for the past two and one-half years, I'm looking forward to a chance to return to my first career love.

For 35 years -- until early 2006 -- I labored in residential food service. My best memories come from 20 years feeding the U.S. Navy Seabees in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 and the 3rd Naval Construction Brigade (hence, the Seabee Cook moniker).

My immediate goal is to return to my present job (you know, the spreadsheet job) on a part-time basis. That'll give me a few days and evenings each week to work at a local food service.

By next summer, I expect to be immersed in the world of menus, recipes and food production. Smiling faces, the shuffle of pots and pans and the smell of fresh bread is the world I was born into. It's time to return.

More to come ...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Tanker 88 drops on Division Mike

Cal Fire Tanker 88 runs up the center of the Clay Fire and drops its load of fire retardant on Division Mike, a group of 4 or 5 fire engines led by Diamond Springs Fire Chief Todd Cunningham (Chief 8100). Division Mike was assigned to suppress the head of the fire as it ran up a ravine toward a cluster of houses.

You'll have to excuse the grainy shots. My Canon EF 17-300 mm lens had a hard time producing crisp photos from my vantage point on Sacramento Hill, about a mile to the southwest of Clay Street in Placerville.