Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year appetizers

The residents are enjoying a New Years party this evening. To help them celebrate, I purchased sodas and an assortment of chips. The sodas are a rare treat since I only purchase them three or four times each year.

I also prepared three dips and a salsa for the evening. All of the recipes except one are found on 'Round the Chuckbox. The dips are:
  • Clam dip -- this is an old family favorite
  • Onion dip -- I adopted this dip from Alton Brown
  • Spinach dip -- to prepare, add approximately 20 ounces thawed and drained frozen spinach to a quart of onion dip; mix and chill
  • Garlicky salsa ranchera -- roast tomatoes, chiles and double or triple garlic in oven until charred; continue with recipe instructions
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Summa soup

This article was originally published to in November 2001. Carefully selected, leftovers become the perfect starting place for an impromptu soup in camp. It's a skill that I use at work some 35 years later.

Summa this. Summa that. That's what Navy cooks called the supper soup.

Each afternoon, the ship's cook added all of the noonday leftovers to the soup pot. Since the supper menu only identified the soup as "Soup Du Jour," the cooks hand a free hand at creating any soup for the evening meal. Summa soup, as the cooks called it, gave an outlet for breakfast and dinner leftovers, and it tested their culinary skills.

Leftover meals pose a problem for camp cooks as well. They eat up precious space in the ice chest, and they can quickly spoil if handled improperly. So, it's best to use them quickly. Summa soup is the answer this dilemma. Like Navy cooks, camp cooks can use leftover beans, spaghetti or stroganoff, for instance, as the foundation for flavor-packed soups.

A camp cooking adventure

Summa soup is the ultimate culinary adventure -- at least in the realm of leftovers. You never know how the soup's going to taste. Today, the soup's ingredients meld wonderfully. Tomorrow, they fall short. But despite expectations, summa soup's always good.

It's as easy as blending all the leftovers that you want into a large stockpot. All you need a leftover dish and a few other ingredients. Sometimes, leftovers are sufficient to build a summa soup. Other times, you'll need to add a few fresh ingredients to build your summa soup. Here are a few ideas:

  • Leftover beans are a good place to begin. Make vegetable bean soup by adding steamed vegetables (who doesn't have steamed broccoli or green beans lurking in the ice chest), chicken stock and bacon or sausage. Sprinkle salt and pepper, add fresh thyme and the soup is ready. It makes a quick lunch.
  • Leftover spaghetti easily becomes minestrone. Add chicken stock, julienned green peppers, shredded green cabbage and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and top each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The spaghetti sauce gives the soup its foundation while the pasta and vegetables add substance and a little starch for body. The stock brings it all together like an orchestra conductor.
  • Leftover stroganoff transforms into a beef mushroom soup. It's as simple as adding beef stock and cream. You can use milk if cream is too rich. Just remember to thicken the soup with flour or cornstarch. Stroganoff transforms into beef mushroom soup with a hint of tanginess.
  • With a little imagination, you'll have wonderful soup to accompany sandwiches on a drizzly day in camp. But remember summa soup is risky business. You may never create the same soup twice. Each meal is an adventure.

    Sharpen your soup-making skills

    Start with any foundation desired. Expect its flavor to dominate your soup like the beef and mushrooms of the stroganoff. What you start with doesn't matter. Chili becomes Mexican spiced soup with rice and beans. Leftover roast serves as the foundation for quick vegetable beef soup.

    Just add to the flavors that your ice chest presents to you. Have chicken, beef or vegetable stock handy to add volume and the essence of meats or vegetables to your foundation. Fresh herbs like parsley, basil, thyme or cilantro enhance a lackluster dish. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or hot pepper sauce send the soup on tangents -- Asian, American or Southwestern.

    Even if your ice chest is lacking leftover steamed rice for a chicken vegetable, try leftover pasta or beans. Any complimentary ingredient is fair game. Start with traditional accompaniments and expand.

    When you cook you summa soup, simmer. Don't boil. If you do, you run the risk of cooking everything into a pulp. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat on your camp stove as low as it'll go. By simmering, the meat, vegetables, pasta and starches will heat slowly so they retain they're shape and texture.

    Food safety with leftovers

    Remember to heat leftovers to 165 degrees. This is necessary to kill any wayward bacteria that may be lurking in your leftovers. If you don't have a thermometer to test the temperature, let the pot simmer (when bubbles are barely breaking the surface) for about 15 minutes. Since a simmer is about 190 degrees at sea level, this will ensure your safety.

    Avoid using leftovers that have been hiding in your ice chest for more than three days. And throw out any that are questionable. If leftovers have a sour or putrid odor, toss them. Also avoid any that look funny, are discolored or have mold growing on the surface.

    Is your appetite still there? Open the ice chest and see what lays hidden on the bottom. It just may be the beginning of your next culinary adventure.

    Guidelines for handling leftovers in camp are found in my article "Handling Leftovers in Camp or Spaghetti that's Better Leftover." The leftover spaghetti's a good place to start.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    Chef to chef

    A naval vessel doesn't close its doors during holidays. In port, a portion of the crew remains on board to secure the ship and keep it ready for sea. If the duty crew can't go home, then the captain invites family to the ship's mess decks for a wonderful Christmas meal.

    NORFOLK (Dec. 25, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Susan Graham serves ham to Culinary Specialist 1st Class Carrol Williams during a Christmas dinner held aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) for the ship's crew and family members.

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter.

    Monday, December 26, 2011

    Soft scrambled eggs with cream cheese

    I eat eggs over easy on toast once or twice each week. It's my favorite quick breakfast.

    I gently flip two eggs in my heavy cast iron egg skillet, then set the pair on two pieces of toasted cracked wheat sourdough bread. The toast soaks in the busted yokes. It's better than eating buttered bread.

    To complete the breakfast, I add a small glass of orange juice or several slices of cantaloupe. Breakfast is done in less than 10 minutes. It's the perfect breakfast for a weekday morning.

    As a big fan of cream cheese, I thought its addition to soft scrambled eggs would enhance their flavor. The process is simple. Cook scrambled eggs to the soft stage -- the point when the eggs are a bit runny.

    Off heat, you then work a dollop of your favorite cream cheese blend into the eggs. The cheese softens as it warms and blends with the eggs.

    The cream cheese brings out the creaminess of the eggs. The smooth texture and rich flavor brings the eggs alive.


    Doubling the cream cheese ingredients lets you use the whole 8-ounce package. Use half of the cream cheese mixture for the recipe and save the remainder in the refrigerator for anther use.

    4 ounces cream cheese
    1-1/2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
    2 green onions, chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
    1 small serano chile, minced
    8 large eggs
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    2 tablespoons butter
    8 slices sourdough bread

    Bring cream cheese to room temperature. Mix cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno chile in small bowl until blended. Seasoned with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

    Whisk eggs and salt in medium bowl. Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. When foam subsides, add eggs and scramble until eggs are almost cooked but soft. Remove from heat.

    Add cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Arrange 2 slices of toast on each plate. Spoon eggs on toast. Garnish with chopped cilantro and crumbled Mexican cotija cheese if desired. Served 4.

    Sunday, December 25, 2011

    Christmas at sea

    From the date of the photos, my guess is the USS John C. Stennis celebrated Christmas Day early to fit it into the operational schedule.

    ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 20, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class David Yuzon carves slices of turkey in preparation for the Christmas meal in the aft galley aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

    ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 20, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Jon Ketola grills lobster tails in preparation for the Christmas meal in the aft galley aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

    ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 20, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Matthew Ryback measures flour in preparation for the Christmas meal in the bake shop aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

    U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy for a crowd

    Nothing says breakfast more than a tall buttermilk biscuit smothered in sausage gravy. It seems every breakfast joint serves its own version of the classic American breakfast dish. Bert's Cafe, located an hours drive from home in South Lake Tahoe, serves the best sausage gravy in El Dorado County.

    I often judge a restaurant by its biscuits and gravy. Any joint that serves frozen biscuits and packaged gravy doesn't deserve a repeat visit. I'll reward any place that takes the time to mix scratch biscuits and crumble real sausage into milk gravy with repeat business. There's nothing like the genuine product.

    Since I rarely cook breakfast at work, I've wanted to perfect my sausage gravy for some time. I mastered buttermilk biscuits years ago. A rich sausage flavor is a must in my gravy. And the gravy should be thick, full bodied and void of any flour aftertaste. I insist on whole milk, a roux cooked into the sausage and the right mix of onions, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings.

    Last week's Christmas breakfast potluck for employees gave me the right opportunity to test my newest version of biscuits and gravy. I modeled the gravy after the dish I ate in South Lake Tahoe the summer before last. The chef worked roasted red peppers into the sauce. It was the best tasting sausage gravies that I've had.


    This recipe will serve 25 heafty portions or 50 more modest portions. You can use your favorite biscuit recipe if desired. Don't skimp on the milk. While lowfat or nonfat milk may shave a few calories off the finish product, you loose the richness provided by the extra fat in the milk.

    2 pounds all-purpose flour (baker's percent: 50%)
    2 pounds pastry flour (50%)
    3 ounces granulated sugar (5%)
    1-1/4 ounces table salt (2%)
    3-1/4 ounces baking powder (5%)
    1/2 ounce baking soda (1%)
    1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
    1-3/8 pounds shortening (35%)
    2-5/8 pounds buttermilk (65%)

    12 ounces pork sausage
    12 ounces spicy pork sausage
    1 cup minced onion
    3/4 cup minced red bell pepper
    12 ounces all-purpose flour
    1 gallon whole milk
    2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    2 teaspoons beef base (optional)
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

    FOR BUTTERMILK BISCUITS: Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until blended, approximately 10 seconds, using flat beater. Add shortening to flour mixture. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. Stop and scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Mix 1 minute longer. The mixture will be crumbly. Add buttermilk. Mix on low speed to form a soft dough, about 30 seconds. Do not over mix. Dough should be as soft as can be handled.

    Place dough on lightly floured board or table. Knead lightly 15-20 times. Roll to 3/4-inch thickness. Biscuits will approximately double in height during baking. Cut with a 2-inch cutter, or cut into 2- inch squares with a knife. When using round hand cutters, cut straight down and do not twist to produce the best shape. Space the cuts close together to minimize scraps. Use of a roller cutter or cutting the dough into squares eliminates or reduces scraps. The scraps can be rerolled, but the biscuits may not be as tender.

    Place on ungreased baking sheets 1/2-inch apart for crusty biscuits, just touching for softer biscuits. Repeat, using remaining dough. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Biscuits may be held 2-3 hours in the refrigerator until time to bake.

    FOR SAUSAGE BRAVY: In a 8- to 10-quart stockpot or braiser, add sausage and cook until browned and cooked through. Drain grease and add onion and red pepper to sausage. Continue cooking until onion softens.

    Add flour and cook over medium-high heat until the sausage is well-coated with the flour. Add milk and Worcestershire sauce and stir until desired thickness. Season with salt, beef base (if used) and pepper, to taste.

    The recipe prepares 50 (2-inch) biscuits and 5 quarts of gravy. Serve 3 ounces gravy over each split biscuit.

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Eating to cook

    You have to eat to cook. You can’t be a good cook and be a noneater. I think eating is the secret to good cooking.
    --Julia Child
    I came across Julia's quote this week on Twitter. While I haven't found the source article or book, it reminds me that eating is essential element in the cook's journey. The only way the cook can develop a sense of flavor is to eat.

    To become "well eaten," the cook must eat at a variety of tables, both home and restaurant. Relish the occasion when you can eat at the table of an accomplished home cook, especially one who descends from a long line of cooks. Enjoy a great meal, soak in the good company and make mental notes of the meal.

    And don't discount a good local restaurant. Beyond an enjoyable outing with the family, I always watching out for new a flavor or sauce to incorporate into my culinary repertoire. Get out of your comfort zone and eat around. Most neighborhoods are full of homegrown local eateries that showcase the chef's culinary wares.

    Being well read as a cook is just as important to the cook. As a picky cookbook buyer, I don't want to fill my shelves with books that I'll never read. I focus my limited resources on specialty cookbooks (The Sporting Chef's Wild Game Recipes by Scott Leysath), regional favorites (Chef Paul Prudhomme's Authentic Cajun Cooking) and ethnic tomes (Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking). (I purchased and read each cookbook listed this year.)

    Julia's right. The only way to develop a sense of taste and flavor is to eat. Good food, bad food, mediocre food -- you have to eat it all. Only by eating (and reading) can you learn how to cook good food.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Cee Dub on teaching chefs

    The other day I asked Cee Dub "Butch" Welch to give his input on the teaching a Dutch oven class. I'm introducing Dutch oven cooking to a group of chefs at the Christian Chefs International conference in March.

    Since Cee Dub leads camp cooking clinics near his home in the Texas Hill Country, I figured that he could give me a few pointers. What I didn't count on was that Cee Dub would respond with his own chef story! Thoght intimidated for a minute, Cee Dub continued on with the class. Read on and find out how Cee Dub handled this situation.

    Here's the question I asked on Cee Dub on his Facebook page:

    I'm teaching a Dutch oven class to a group of chefs at a convention next March in Oregon. I have 75 minutes in the first workshop after lunch. I do get a chance to follow up as I'm hosting the dinner that evening.

    Any pointers? I plan to keep it simple and am basing my presentation on the assumption that the chefs do not cook in Dutch ovens currently. My goal is to give them enough information to cook their first meal.

    Here's Cee Dub's response:

    Steve, Sounds like fun!

    Your post got me thinking about a clinic I held a couple of years ago. One, Jaques Duhr, a native of France and a retired French chef from here in the Texas Hill Country, was the first guy to sign up for the clinic! I was intimidated for about a minute. Talk about a prince of a man! A buddy of his with a big ranch out in West Texas flew him to the ranch each year for a big shindig and he wanted to expand his horizons.

    Like every clinic I learned something from my students and especially so in this case. We had a blast! But ... like others who've taken my clinics who were damned good cooks in their own right, I started them all with beginning type recipes. You won't have to teach them how to cook or prepare a recipe.

    But what they'll have to learn is there is no dial to select temperature. The tough part I've found is teaching them to plan the lag time for charcoal to light and old iron pots to heat up to cooking temp. Also teach them to keep the lid on especially when they're baking. Instead of using their vision to tell when things are done they'll need to use their nose.

    I hope this helps,

    Cee Dub

    Cee Dub is the proprietor of and author of Cee Dub's Dutch Oven & Other Camp Cookin', plus a number of other cookbooks. Cee Dub teaches outdoor cooking at Camp Lonehollow in Vanderpool, Texas each summer.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Bakery school at sea

    The Navy's Adapt a Ship Program has provided culinary support to the fleet for over a decade. Professional chefs voluntarily share their training and experience with Navy culinary specialists.

    The link takes you to The Deck Chef's description of the program. Kent Whitaker is know as The Deck Chef because of his involvement (in part) with the Coast Guard Auxiliary Chef program.

    ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 11, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Matthew Ryback trains alongside Master Baker Chef Leslie Bilderback in the bakeshop aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

    ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 11, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Matthew Ryback checks on apple tarts in the oven in the bakeshop aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

    John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and support missions as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

    U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Will Tyndall.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Chicken and sausage gumbo

    I prepare chicken and sausage gumbo every fourth Tuesday at work. Most of the residents enjoy it. And a couple staff always ask for the leftovers on Wednesday morning!

    When I began working at the recovery home two years ago, I struggled with the stew. The roux gave me fits. I gave up after four or five months. For the next year, I used a packaged gumbo mix to flavor the pot. Though the residents still enjoyed the dinner, I wanted to give it another try.

    My motivation came last spring when I found a copy of Authentic Cajun Cooking, by Chef Paul Prudhomme, at a thrift store in Placerville. Known for "propell(ing) the distinctive cuisine of his native Louisiana into the international spotlight," Chef Paul's gumbo recipes captivated my interest. The makers of Tabasco hot sauce published the booklet around 1982.

    I focused on the roux since I was satisfied the rest of the recipe. For the several months I browned the roux in about 10 minutes. While this saved time in the kitchen, I was not happy with the flavor the roux gave the gumbo. I slowly realized the only way to create the best roux was to slow the process down.

    I now heat the oil for the roux over high heat, then quickly whisk the flour. I immediately turn the heat down to medium. I find that I need to start incrementally turning the heat down after about 10 minutes. It takes at least 30 minutes to produce a roux with a deep reddish-brown color. To avoid burning the roux, even slightly, I'm constantly stirring the roux. Your whole focus should be the roux.


    I have tailored this recipe to satisfy the tastes of the residents at work. While I usually use a mild Polish sausage for the gumbo, andouille is the best for the stew.

    1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 large onion, diced
    1/2 bunch celery, diced
    3 large green bell pepper, diced
    3 quarts chicken stock
    1 teaspoon black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    2 teaspoons granulated garlic
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    3 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce
    2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    3 bay leaves
    2 tablespoons filé powder
    2 pounds frozen okra
    4 pounds diced cooked chicken
    2 pounds sausage, diced

    Heat oil in a heavy skillet until hot. Gradually stir in flour. Immediately turn heat down to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, until roux is dark reddish-brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. Slowly reduce heat under skillet as the roux browns.

    After the roux has brown to desired color, add trinity (onion, celery and bell pepper) and stir to combine. Continue cooking until trinity softens. Set aside.

    Heat chicken stock in a 12- to 15-quart stockpot to a boil. Add black and white peppers, garlic, cayenne, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves and filé powder and stir.

    Slowly add roux-trinity mixture to stock, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 to 45 minutes, uncovered.

    Add okra, chicken and sausage and simmer until chicken is done. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

    To serve, place a mound of white rice in the center of a large bowl. Ladle 8 ounces of gumbo around the rice. Serve immediately. Serves 25 (8-ounce) portions. Yield: 6-1/2 quarts.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Avocado yogurt sauce

    Every four weeks I prepare chicken burritos at work. Since the residents enjoy any meal with a south of the boarder flare, this is one of the more popular lunches. I rarely have leftovers as every one of the ladies come down for the meal.

    To prepare, I add three cups of guajillo chile sauce, two tablespoons white vinegar and one cup tomato sauce to four pounds of sliced roasted chicken breasts. A handful of chopped cilantro finishes the dish.

    I'm ready to portion the chicken and sauce onto large flour tortillas after heating it for about 10 to 15 minutes. Mexican rice, lime wedges, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, shredded chedar cheese and sour cream are available on the counter. I let each resident assemble and fold her own burrito with these fixin's.

    Although the residents enjoy the full-bodied flavor of sour cream, it adds too many calories to their diet. Avocado yogurt sauce gives me a flavorful alternative to sour cream. And the yogurt adds a nice tang to the sauce.

    It goes without saying that the yogurt-based sauce is the healthier of the two. The residents enjoyed the sauce. The avocados were an added bonus since I rarely buy them. It was the perfect marriage of flavor. The rich creaminess from the avocado offset the tangy goodness from the yogurt.

    The avocado yogurt sauce gave the residents two added benefits. They enjoyed a rare chance to enjoy the smooth richness of the avocado. And the yogurt shaved a healthy dose of calories from their diet.


    Use as a dip or substitute for sour cream. Yes, you can substitute Mexican crema or sour cream for yogurt for richer flavor. Remember that this variation boosts the caloric count by about 60 percent, from about 50 calories per ounce to 80 (there are 2 tablespoons in each fluid ounce of the sauce).

    3 medium avocados
    2 cups plain yogurt
    2 limes, juiced
    1/4 cup whole cilantro leaves
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

    Puree ingredients in food processor until smooth. Adjust seasoning. Serve 2 tablespoons per person. This batch makes about 3-1/2 cups.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Robert Mast's World War II U.S. Army field kitchen

    Here are two photographs and an article by Robert Mast, a World War II reenactors from Tionesta, Penn. Robert uses the M59 field range outfit in his field kitchen. The M59 was developed after World War II and served military cooks well until it was replaced in the late 1990s. In November I posted a photograph of Roberts immersion heater battery.

    The unit that I cook for is Easy Company, 393rd Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. They were instrumental in securing the last bridge over the Rhine for the Allied crossing into German in World War II.

    We have had 150 allied and 150 German reenactors for the past three years. You can go to The Bridge at Remagen for information on the event. Everyone has a pretty good time.

    I was in during 'Nam 1966-1968. But I was an MP instead of a cook. The MPs and cooks also got along fine. It was like, You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Anyway, I decided to buy some cook gear and try being the company cook. It's a lot of fun and a lot of work.

    This past year we had two meals for the guys. We served about 175-200 for supper and about 125 for breakfast. We cooked 200 pounds of chicken leg quarters for supper along with mashed spuds, corn, gravy and brownies. For breakfast we had sausage gravy on toast with eggs.

    If you look at the picture, you will see a makeshift oven I made out of an old cooling cabinet, which I modified to a shorter height to match the M-59s. It is located to the left of the "open" sign.

    I had a third M2 unit that I used to heat the oven. I baked the chicken in it. It has five shelves, each holding two 13- x 18-inch trays. Of course the potatoes, gravy and corn went into the 10- and 15-gallon pots.

    The square roasters held the chicken after it was cooked. Of course the SOS went into the 10-gallon pot and the toast was baked in the homemade oven. Coffee was made in another 10 gallon pot and dipped. Wish I had an insulated urn of 4- to 5-gallon size. Eggs were scrambled in the roaster lid.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    Dutch oven presentation to chefs in March

    Dilbert.comThis coming March I'm giving a presentation to a group of chefs at a conference in Canby, Oregon. My goal is to teach these chefs how to use the cast iron Dutch oven. After the mid-afternoon presentation, I'll host a dinner prepared in Dutch ovens.

    My challenge is to tailor the workshop to the chefs without going into information overload. The fact that they're all accomplished cooks and kitchen leaders will simplify my task. I want to avoid giving a dry lecture, one that will send the chefs into zombie land.

    Unlike Dilbert here, my PowerPoint slides will focus on one main point. I want to give them just enough detail to get started in Dutch oven cooking. Each chef will be able to go home, buy a Dutch oven and start cooking. They can learn advanced technique later.

    After considering several approaches organizing the presentation, I rediscovered an on-line article in Backwoods Home Magazine. "Seven secrets of Dutch oven cooking" by Robert L. Beattie will provide the basis for my PowerPoint slide series.

    Beattie's seven points walk the reader from purchase to cooking wonderful meals. The title of each of his "secrets" will be renamed to suit a chef's point-of-view. After helping the chefs buy the right the Dutch oven, we'll season it and discuss the right tools for the job.

    In step four, I'll slow the process down a notch. I want the chefs to appreciate the importance of controlling the fire to their advantage. In the last three steps, the chefs will learn how I plan menus by focusing on three food groups (meat, vegetables/sides and breads).

    I like Beattie's approach because it's to-the-point. It stays on the task of teaching the beginning Dutch oven cook. And the presentation will leave the chefs looking forward to the main show of the evening -- a dinner cooking in Dutch ovens.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Thanksgiving Day prep

    I enjoyed a busy day at work on Thanksgiving Day. As the chef in a institutional program, holiday meals give me the chance to cook a special meal for the residents. The holiday meal provides a break from the routine of the standard menu.

    Prep work began on Monday morning when I placed two 12- to 13-pound turkeys in the refrigerator to thaw. On Tuesday morning, I wrote a list of a dozen tasks that had to be completed in two days. I worked on most items on the list while cooking the regular meals.

    Here's a list of the prep work for the Thanksgiving Day meal. Even though the holiday has past, it gives you an idea of how to organize prep for any large meal.

    • Thaw turkey
    • Finish shopping for the meal
    • Cut carrots and celery for relish tray; place in ice water
    • Prepare orange cranberry relish from 2 (12-ounce) bags of fresh cranberries
    • Prepare 1 quart of cilantro lime vinaigrette
    • Dice 3 pounds of cracked wheat sourdough bread for stuffing
    • Prepare 1 cup of green salt by whirling 1 cup kosher salt with fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in the food processor; the salt was used to season the turkey
    • Thaw turkey
    • Peel 9 pounds (A.P.) of fresh sweet potatoes
    • Gently simmer sweet potatoes in salted water until al dente
    • Prepare about 3 quarts of turkey stock from the necks, giblets and hearts
    • Remove plastic wrapping from turkey and set in roasting pan
    • Baked 4 pumpkin and 2 pecan pies with assistance from a team of residents
    • Remove turkey from refrigeration and season at 9:15 a.m.
    • Place turkey in oven at 10 a.m.
    • Two residents assemble the relish tray appetizer at noon
    • Complete the rest of the meal meal between noon and 2 p.m. with assistance from a team of residents
    • Pull turkey from oven at around 1:30 p.m.
    • Carved turkey two residents mashed the potatoes and the rest of the hot dishes
    • Served the meal at 3 p.m.
    • Traditional relish tray with carrot and celery sticks, radish roses, stuffed green olives, pepperoncini peppers and gherkin pickles
    • Tossed green salad with cilantro lime vinaigrette
    • Roast hen turkey
    • Giblet bread dressing
    • Mashed garlic potatoes
    • Candied sweet potatoes
    • Braised collard greens with smoked turkey necks
    • Mustard herb gravy
    • Orange cranberry sauce

    Saturday, November 26, 2011

    Carving turkeys at sea

    MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Nov. 24, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Charles Masten carves a turkey in a galley aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush is underway in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility and is celebrating its first Thanksgiving deployed.

    MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Nov. 24, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Aaron J. Hammond slices a ham on the mess decks aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

    U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Molly Treece.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Birthday cake

    It's only fitting that a ship designed to carry Marines celebrates their birthday.

    GULF OF ADEN (Nov. 8, 2011) -- Chief Culinary Specialist Jason Teasley and Culinary Specialist 1st Class Michael Mahan decorate a cake for the Marine Corps birthday celebration aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41). Whidbey Island is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts is the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Turner.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Roasted Brussels sprouts

    An older episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives rekindled my interest in Brussels sprouts. Chef Louis Silva of Naglee Park Garage, San Jose, Calif., tosses the sprouts in olive oil, lemon slices, bay leaves, sage leaves, fresh garlic cloves, salt and pepper. He then wraps them in parchment paper and aluminum foil and roasts the sprouts in a 350-degree oven until they pass the smell test.

    "When I smell them," explained Louis, "I know they're done."

    The roasted Brussels sprouts come out the oven, cool for a minute or two and head straight for a skillet. A healthy pat of butter, ladle of hot chicken stock and handful of cooked crumbled bacon join the sprouts. The vegetable quickly cooks as the stock reduces.

    The adventure of trying a new vegetable on the residents intrigued me. I purchased five pounds at the market and prepared them for dinner one evening last week. My goal was to duplicate the Chef Louis' process.

    Yet, I had reservations. I've always had this love-hate affair with the little cabbages. While I enjoy the bright cabbage flavor when cooked right, bitter compounds that leach out during cooking ruin the experience. And as I entered this new experience, I didn't know how the residents would react to Brussels sprouts.

    The residents surprised me (as they have in the past). Enthusiasm for the vegetable surfaced early in the afternoon. "We're having Brussels sprouts," a resident exclaimed as I trimmed the sprouts. "We're have Brussels sprouts!"

    My initial purchase of five pounds proved inadequate. Almost all 26 residents took a serving of roasted Brussels sprouts that evening. It didn't help that they accompanied tri-tip roast, mashed potatoes and brown gravy, one of the most popular meals at work.

    The kitchen workers missed out on the dish with its bright lemon aroma. Only one sprout remained when it came time to serve the kitchen workers. I was only able to taste one sprout myself earlier before the meal was served.

    I will add to the menu often this fall and winter. And next time, I may need to purchase six pounds for the residents.


    This recipe easily multiplies to feed larger groups. I've found that 5 pounds is the minimum quantity needed for the 26 residents at work. As an alternate to the skillet step, I open the foil, stir in the remaining ingredients (bacon, stock and butter) and turn the oven heat up to 400 degrees. Once the sprouts caramelize a bit, I remove the pan from the oven and serve.

    1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
    3 cloves garlic
    3 sage leaves
    2 bay leaves
    3 slices fresh lemon
    Kosher salt, to taste
    Ground black pepper, to taste
    1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
    1-1/2 tablespoons butter
    1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
    4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

    In a large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts, garlic cloves, sage leaves, bay leaves, lemon slices, salt and pepper with olive oil until well coated. Lay out a 20-inch piece of parchment paper over aluminum foil on a sheet pan and pour the Brussels sprout mixture into the middle. Fold the foil over itself.

    Place in a 350-degree F oven. Cook for about 30 minutes or until they smell done. A larger batch will require 10 to 15 additional minutes. Remove from oven, open foil wrapper and cool slightly.

    In a large skillet, melt butter. Add Brussels sprout mixture, chicken stock and bacon crumbles. Cook over medium-high heat until stock reduces and sprouts are tender. Serves 4 to 6 portions.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Guest article on Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School

    Last month I asked Lesley Kershaw Tennessen of McHenry, Ill., to write a guest blog on her experience at Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School. She attended the course last spring. My request couldn't have come at a better time as Kent released a new video on the school. While Lesley isn't shown in this video (it features the October 2011 class), it gives a more detailed view of the school. My first two articles on the school are posted here and here.

    Here's Lesley's report:

    Way back when, a few years ago, I'd heard about going to a chuckwagon school. The thought intrigued me, more and more as time when on. The more I became involved in Dutch oven cooking and of course, teaching about Dutch oven, the more the idea surfaced in my thoughts.

    So, round about fall 2010, I took the plunge. I'd met some gals while teaching at a local Women In the Outdoors event and became friends. One of the gals is a go-getter, never leave life behind type of person! When I told her about this opportunity, it was a 'heck yes!' type of response. So we signed up. That was early in December. Counted the days. Looked online, dreamed of getting there.

    What did I want to learn? Mesquite cooking like Kent teaches. More about rustic Dutch oven cooking. Meeting new friends. Returning to Texas! Even though I am a tent camper, sleeping in a teepee is not usually how I camp! So that was new. Enjoyable.

    What did I find out? I found that cooking with mesquite is like cooking in nucleator! LOL. Really hot wood compared to northern hardwood. And I found that cooking in Kent's kitchen with Ole Bertha keeps you really warm!

    I loved learning about sourdough. It's about all I use now for biscuits. I learned cooking with trivets on the ground. I usually use a table and mostly off ground. And best of all, living outdoors in the Texas sun for a few days in late March feels really good.

    Cooking in Kent's Chuckwagon School teaches you about yourself and how to adapt to old time ways and simpler things. And it's about having fun while working hard! I'll do this again and not soon enough!

    YouTube video description (posted October 31, 2011): Each spring and fall, Kent holds his Dutch oven cooking camp. Students come from all over to experience the old cowboy way of life and to cook from Kent's 1876 Studebaker chuck wagon."

    CIA chef weighs in on cast iron myths

    Have ever wondered why most chefs don't use cast iron pans in their restaurants? Or heard that soap will ruin your precious cast iron skillet?

    As with most topics, there are more opinions than writers. Articles rarely explain why or how something is good (or bad) for you when it's cooked in a cast iron skillet and Dutch oven.

    The answer to these questions (and more) comes from an unlikely source. Fox News "set the record straight" in "5 Myths of the Cast Iron Pan Explained," with chef David Kellaway.

    The article explorers five myths about cast iron cookware. Will soap ruin a cast iron pan? Kellaway says go ahead if "you had a particularly messy sticky cooking session." But there's a caveat! The pan must be "re-seasoned immediately."

    Why don't more restaurants use cast iron pans? They're too heavy for routine use, Kellaway explained to Fox News writer Sasha Bogursky. Too much "care (is) required to keep them clean without rusting."

    Read on. You'll want to read the article before cooking in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven.

    Chef Kellaway is a certified master chef and the managing director of the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America. Soon you'll un

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Veterans Day tribute -- U.S. Navy

    As part of my annual Veterans Day tribute, I'm featuring a photograph of a cook from each of the services. We owe a lot to these men and women, many who have sacrificed a big part of their lives to serve this great county. A hearty thank you from 'Round the Chuckbox.

    MAYPORT, Fla. (Nov. 2, 2011) -- Celebrity chef Jeff Rumaner, who appeared on the Food Network television program "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," shows Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Tyree Jennings how to prepare his signature chicken wings for a special lunchtime meal for Sailors at Naval Station Mayport. Culinary specialist stationed near Naval Air Station Jacksonville worked alongside the chefs to learn innovative, healthy and fun approaches to cooking.

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr.

    Veterans Day tribute -- U.S. Coast Guard

    As part of my annual Veterans Day tribute, I'm featuring a photograph of a cook from each of the services. We owe a lot to these men and women, many who have sacrificed a big part of their lives to serve this great county. A hearty thank you from 'Round the Chuckbox.

    CGC Forward FS bakes bread underway

    ATLANTIC OCEAN--Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Dave Blonn takes loaves of fresh baked bread out of the galley oven onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Forward while underway during an African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership mission May 31, 2011. The Coast Guard Cutter Forward deployed on a four-month patrol to West Africa in support of the AMLEP mission in an effort to increase resident host nation capabilities and to build maritime safety and security on and off shore. The team of five food service specialists prepare three meals a day for the crew of the Forward, as well as a snack for late night watch standers.

    U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Annie R. B. Elis.

    Veterans Day tribute -- U.S. Marine Corps

    As part of my annual Veterans Day tribute, I'm featuring a photograph of a cook from each of the services. We owe a lot to these men and women, many who have sacrificed a big part of their lives to serve this great county. A hearty thank you from 'Round the Chuckbox.

    Corporal Brian Bieber, food service specialist, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, gives a smile as he hands a box of food over to a Marine from Company D during a battalion field exercise. The food, prepared by food service Marines, will be a part of the battalion’s evening chow after a day of tank and infantry integration training.

    U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Pfc. James Frazer.

    Veterans Day tribute -- U.S. Army

    As part of my annual Veterans Day tribute, I'm featuring a photograph of a cook from each of the services. We owe a lot to these men and women, many who have sacrificed a big part of their lives to serve this great county. A hearty thank you from 'Round the Chuckbox.

    223rd Medical Detachment holds field sanitation course

    Christina R. Marks, a food services specialist at Camelot, dining facility three, with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas, and a New Iberia, La., native, inspects a water buffalo for rust during a field sanitation class Oct. 19 through Oct. 22 at the 223rd Medical Detachment at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

    Photo Credit: Sgt. Ryan TwistSgt.

    Veterans Day tribute -- U.S. Air Force

    As part of my annual Veterans Day tribute, I'm featuring a photograph of a cook from each of the services. We owe a lot to these men and women, many who have sacrificed a big part of their lives to serve this great county. A hearty thank you from 'Round the Chuckbox.

    The fire inside: an Air Force chef's journey to culinary excellence

    Staff Sgt. Ghil Medina, a 633rd Force Support Squadron services journeyman, tries to beat the clock while preparing a meal for the American Culinary Federation's National Student Chef of the Year Award competition at the 2011 ACF National Convention in Dallas on July 24, 2011. While he ultimately did not win this award, Medina has won numerous awards in the military food services community, including being the first Airman to win the 2011 Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year Award.

    Photo courtesy of the American Culinary Federation.

    Saturday, November 05, 2011

    Army dish washing

    In the coming weeks I will be posting additional photographs of Robert Mast's World War II era field kitchen. Robert is a reenactor from Tionesta, Penn. His group of reenactors represents Easy Company, 393rd Infantry. As one of three infantry regiments in the 99th Infantry Division, the unit crossed the Rhine River into the heart of Germany on March 11, 1945 at the Remagen Bridge.

    The reenactors use the gasoline fueled immersion heater to clean and sanitize field mess equipment in the field. After each soldier finishes his meal, he dips his personal mess kit and canteen cup into the series of wash cans (32-gallon GI garbage can). After scraping leftover food into the garbage can (at the far end of the line), he washes his gear in the first two cans (pre-wash and wash cans). The third can is used to rinse the gear. A bleach solution in the last sanitizes the gear.

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    U.S.S. Philippine Sea shares culinary techniques with Bulgarian students

    In 1973, one cook from the U.S.S. Stein (DE 1065) exchanged places with a cook from a Royal Navy ship for a week. Though the navies enjoyed a common seafaring tradition, each navy had developed its own culinary tradition. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about British Navy fair from the British cook.

    By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Prill, Navy Public Affairs Support Element-East Detachment Sigonella

    BURGAS, Bulgaria (NNS) -- Culinary specialists from guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) met with culinary arts students of the Burgas High School to provide techniques and training as part of a community service project, Oct. 26, 2011.

    During the event, the crew worked alongside students making cultural dishes, desserts and appetizers that they later enjoyed at lunch. The event also gave the Sailors a chance to meet with residents and experience the rich history and culture of Bulgaria.

    "The lunch was amazing," said Lt. Jonathan Black, command chaplain, Philippine Sea. "It was a great chance for us to enjoy another culture while also embracing the idea of hospitality towards our host."

    Every Sailor was given the chance to do their part in preparing the meal. Some worked with the culinary students preparing the main course, while others showed the students how to prepare some side dishes like ceviche and cherry turnovers.

    Interactions with the local community can help build cultural understanding, trust and strengthen the relationships between Bulgaria and United States.

    "I really love the opportunity to go out and display our talents and learn from other people who also love to cook," said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Eber Barraza. "I was given the opportunity to share a little of my local culture by making ceviche for people who have never tried Hispanic foods."

    Following the meal, the crew toured the school's dining facility, where the students have the daily responsibility of providing lunch for all of the students.

    "I've always wanted to be a chef, and it was very interesting for me to see U.S. Navy chefs work," said Desislav Lilov, a Bulgarian culinary student. "I enjoy learning about other country's food, because my dream is to cook true Bulgarian food in Japan some day or even America."

    Philippine Sea is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the Black Sea and serves to promote peace and security in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

    Close quarters

    Naval ships have never been know for their spacious galleys. Note the close quarters in these photographs.

    BLACK SEA -- (Oct. 20, 2011) Culinary Specialist 1st Class David Gonzales serves the crew "Surf and Turf" dinner aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).

    BLACK SEA (Oct. 20, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Alex Ottusch cooks steak on the grill for "Surf and Turf" dinner aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).

    Philippine Sea is on a scheduled deployment in the Black Sea and serves to promote peace and security in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

    U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Prill.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Story behind Blue Lakes split pea soup

    I rarely post a recipe without telling the story behind it. I made an exception Tuesday evening when I published the recipe for Blue Lakes split pea soup. As I finished writing the story, it disappeared from my computer screen! In view of the late hour I thought I'd rewrite it later. Here's the story:

    Midway through our week long vacation last month, we moved camp from South Lake Tahoe to the Blue Lakes in Eldorado National Forest. We had planned to join my sister and family for their annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake. The lake has been a favorite for the last four years.

    This trip was special because our mother joined us at the lake along with a brother. We planned to arrive at the campground a day early. I used the time to set up our camp and secure a campsite on the waterfront for them.

    A large pot of split pea soup factored in as well. Long before our father's death in October 2007, mom and dad often enjoyed a hot bowl of soup in the evening. Mom frequently built a brothy soup around a chicken breast or small piece of meat and vegetables.

    I thought mom would enjoy the ham enriched soup for her first dinner in camp. The soup would contribute a hot accompaniment to dinner and allow time to set camp up.

    To start the soup, I lit the campfire around 11 a.m. The split peas, ham shank, aromatic vegetables and herbs went into a 10-inch Dutch oven with chicken broth. It took three pot hooks to suspend the pot over the fire.

    The soup came to a roaring boil just after noon. I removed one pot hook to reduce the amount of heat under the Dutch oven. The soup gently simmered for the next three hours. All I had to do was feed the fire and occasionally stir the pot.

    In my work kitchen I can prepare a wonderful bowl of split pea soup in two hours. Prepare the same soup at the 8,000-foot elevation mark and you must have patience. Cooking any dried peas or beans in camp at high altitude adds an additional hour or two to the cooking process.

    A simmering pot of split pea soup is the perfect meal for a lazy afternoon in camp. You need to remain close to the pot to tend the campfire, stir the pot and cut the meat from the ham bone.

    My sister and brother-in-law pulled up to the lake around 1:30 p.m. The truck was unloaded and two tents set up in two hours. We were ready to eat by 4 p.m.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Blue Lakes split pea soup


    At the 8,136-foot elevation of Upper Blue Lake, it takes twice as long to cook the soup as it does at sea level. You need three to four hours to cook the peas into a thick soup. I took the photograph at the three-hour point.

    1 pound green split peas
    5 cups low sodium chicken stock
    1 ham shank (about 8 ounces)
    1 yellow onion, small dice
    1 medium carrot, small dice
    2 bay leaves
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    Wash and sort peas. Add to a 10-inch Dutch oven. Pour in stock and add ham shank, onion, carrot, bay leaves and thyme. Place Dutch oven over fire and heat to boiling. Adjust heat and simmer, covered, 1-1/2 to 3 hours or until peas are soft (depends on altitude). Remove bone and cut off meat and dice. Return meat to soup. Season with salt and pepper.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    6th annual Whiskey Creek Dutch oven gathering

    This is a fun D.O.G. and you get to meet some fine people from Arbuckle, California.

    Don Mason

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Some thoughts on Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School

    818536-R1-20-21A by Red River Ranch
    818536-R1-20-21A, a photo by Red River Ranch on Flickr.
    Food has occupied my working life for most of the past 40 years. Yet after I moved into the ranks of management in large institutions, I found myself cooking more and more at home and at the campground. Since I rarely cooked at work at that time, off-work culinary projects satisfied my drive to cook.

    A large portion of my time was devoted to cooking for 'Round the Chuckbox and the family. I looked for volunteer opportunities where I could practice my craft. Planning to feed over 150 at a summer Bible camp occupied my time in later years.

    Now that I'm cooking full time again, you'd think that I'd slow down, take a break from things culinary and pursue other hobbies. Except for the El Dorado Western Railroad, where I edit the newsletter and maintain the blog, a large portion of my off-work time is still devoted to food related activities.

    I'm always watching for opportunities to learn. I read continually, listen to others and ask questions. As I approach my 60th birthday, I figure that a cook is never too old to learn. In that regard, Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Camp Cooking School will be a natural experience for me.

    818538-R1-16-17 by Red River Ranch
    818538-R1-16-17, a photo by Red River Ranch on Flickr.
    In one sense I don't need this school. After all, I've been cooking and managing kitchens professionally for over 40 years. As a lifelong camper and camp cook, I purchased my first Dutch oven in 1995. I can cook with the best in camp.

    But I always figure I can continue to learn, especially from a lifelong wagon cook like Kent. I'll come home with new recipe ideas, new found skill in tending Bertha (Kent's 365-pound wood burning cook stove) and idea's for feeding a dozen working cowboys three meals each day.

    Experience may be a hard teacher. While I've only cooked behind an authentic chuck wagon once or twice in my life, I'll use the chuckwagon school to hone my Dutch oven cooking skills.

    I feel that four days of intense cooking from oh-dark-thirty until the stars appear will do just that. Feeding real folks (like cowboys on Kent's ranch) will certainly to sharpen your skills.

    "Learning is the whole experience and I think you would enjoy it!" explained Shannon Keller Rollins, Kent's wife and partner. "We've had professional chefs and Dutch oven experts and everyone has walked away with something new."

    Monday, October 10, 2011


    In the 40 years since I graduated from Commissaryman Class A School in San Diego, Calif. in March 1971, the school has been located in San Antonio, Texas, where the Navy and Air Force operated a joint school, Great Lakes, Ill. and Fort Lee, Va. The Army and Marines also train their cooks and bakers at Fort Lee.

    FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Helen Speight, from Hawthorne, Calif., helps Seaman Recruit Anthony Hicks, from Oakland, Calif., during the first day of baking classes at the Culinary Specialist A School. The culinary specialist entry-level school moved from Naval Station Great Lakes to the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence at Fort Lee in January 2011.

    FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- Students attending the Culinary Specialist A School perform a class chant while returning to school at Fort Lee, Va.

    U.S. Navy photos by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Melissa F. Weatherspoon.

    Saturday, October 08, 2011

    Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School

    Kent Rollin's Chuck Wagon Cooking School is one of those vacations that I wish would come sooner than later. Instead I have to wait six months. The anticipation grows each day as I look forward to the course.

    I learned of the school two weeks ago during a routine Google search. I had located a vintage Griswold Dutch oven at a local antique dealer. The right combination of search words reacquainted me with Kent's website at

    Once I viewed the website I realized that I had quoted the chuckwagon cook and cowboy poet in the past. The topic in May 2009 was camp coffee. "Cookie’s first thing on the fire, and the last thing off; was for sure - 'The coffee'; and some say - the most important part of a camp meal!" explained Kent in the October 29, 2003 issue of the Chef2Chef Recipe Club weekly email.

    Although I've never spent much time on or near cattle ranches, there's something about the chuckwagon that appeals to me. I could easily adapted my lifestyle to that of a nineteenth-century wagon cook. Kent's Chuck Wagon Cooking Scool may give me the opportunity to get learn from the master.

    My wife and I are already making plans to attend the school from March 28 to April 1, 2012. And I'll finally have the opportunity to meet Kent and work behind his 1876 Studebaker Chuckwagon.

    Enjoy the video. I'll have more to say in the coming week about the school.

    YouTube video description (posted August 26, 2009): Every spring and fall, Kent Rollins, cowboy poet, humorist and chuck wagon cook, teaches students how to cook in a Dutch oven. To learn more visit

    Wednesday, October 05, 2011

    Cast iron wheels and coffee

    I often stop by Sugar Lillie Bakery in historic El Dorado on Saturday morning for coffee and a pastry. Located in a small two-room building behind the Books 'n Bears Bookstore, a walk through a pleasant garden greets you as make your way to the bakery. The garden is a mixture of antique artifacts and vibrant colors of tomatoes, pumpkins and flowering plants.

    I frequently linger in the garden before heading on to the railroad work site nearby. It's a pleasant way to relax, drink coffee and photograph the greenery. As I sit at the wrought iron patio table and collect my thoughts, I'm surrounded by industrial tools from the past.

    This old shop cart has been given a new life in the garden. With the cart's cast iron wheels are buried in the soil, it won't be moving goods around a railroad dock anytime soon. A collection of potted plans, including flat-leaf parsley and other herbs, have found a home on the cart.

    You can view the garden at 6211 Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado, California.

    Saturday, October 01, 2011


    Holiday meals have always brought periods of intense activity to the ship's galley and bakery.

    PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 28, 2011) -- Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Abraham Dweck, left, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Samantha Achille prepare traditional bread for a celebration of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana in the bake shop aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 are underway conducting operations off the coast of Southern California.

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Code of the campfire #10

    The code of the campfire says put the fire dead out when you break camp. The U.S. Forest Service campfire permit requires that you use the "drown, stir and feel" technique to extinguish the campfire. Any method that leaves burning embers -- even those buried under a layer of dirt -- can spark a wildland fire.

    To drown the campfire, pour several pails of water over the campfire. I find that it takes five or more gallons of water to drown the fire. With a shovel, thoroughly mix the ash and water until it resembles a soupy mess. Feel the ashes to make sure the fire is dead out. Walk the ground within a fifty-foot radius to make sure no embers have escaped.

    The second part of the code says consider your neighbor. Watch the prevailing wind as you pour water onto the hot fire. This way you'll avoid showering your neighbor (or wife for that matter!) with an ash cloud.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    Code of the campfire #9

    The code of the campfire says be responsible. Don't wander from camp while the campfire is hot. A momentary wind gust could carry embers far from the campfire. Be ready to extinguish any that escape.

    The responsible camper always considers the ramifications of a misstep or two. As I said earlier this week, you could be held legally and financially responsible should embers from your campfire spark a wildland fire.

    The second part of the code points back to a prior code -- tool up. Should campfire embers escape, stomp it out with your shovel (or boot if that's quicker!). Once the flame is dead, extinguish the ember with water.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Chef Bob's story

    I enjoyed viewing this video. In it Chef Bob Vanigan of tells his personal weight loss story. He encourages others as the camera walks through his Birmingham, Alabama, catering establishment. It's a peak into the action behind the scenes of Chef Bob's Fit2Eat meal program.

    Enjoy ...

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    Code of the campfire #8

    The code of the campfire says obey all laws. This is especially critical when forestry officials restrict or prohibit campfires when conditions warrant. These conditions often occur in late summer and early fall.

    The last thing I desire is to be responsible for a wildland fire. The Angora Fire, which destroyed 254 homes and burned 3,100 acres in South Lake Tahoe in June 2007, started when an illegal campfire escaped on a windy day. You can be held criminally and financially libel for such a fire.

    Be a good citizen. That's the second part of the code. Secure an annual campfire permit where required by law. Please pay attention to instructions from the issuing official. And make sure you know current fire restrictions before lighting a campfire.

    Fajitas for the crew

    Unlike a restaurant where fajitas can be prepared in small batches, the ship's cooks cook large quantities to satisfy demand. With around 400 Sailors and as many as 500 Marines aboard the Comstock to feed, CS2 McCants fill the griddle with marinated beef strips and vegetables. McCants and the other culinary specialists work quickly as the meat sears. He will soon place the fajitas into the waiting 6-inch hotel pans.

    SOUTH CHINA SEA (Sept. 6, 2011) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Sanford McCants prepares beef fajitas for the lunch meal aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Comstock is deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility during a Western Pacific Deployment.

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Code of the campfire #7

    The code of the campfire says clear all debris on the forest floor away from the campfire. The U.S. Forest Service says the camper should rake a "minimum of five feet in all directions" from the fire. Like a fire break, the clearing creates a buffer zone between the fire and surrounding forest. The break will give the cook the chance to extinguish hot embers should any escape.

    I rake all leaves, needles and kindling away from the campfire ring with a small bamboo rake. It's small size conveniently fits inside the storage compartment of the tent trailer. The rake is a key component in my collection of campfire tools.

    Yes, there's a follow up to this rule as well. Be curious. Leave the circle around the campfire cleaner than you found it. This rule has been a key component of my personal lifelong code. Always leave a clean campsite.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Time honored pot rack

    Two words come to mind when I see a pot rack in camp: tradition and practicality. While these words appear unrelated, many implements from our past served a very practical purpose. The pot rack eased the burden of cooking over a campfire and gave the cook an efficient way to control the amount of heat under his pots.

    In time camp stoves replaced the pot rack and it passed into the history books and museum collections. Except for s'mores and the occasional grilled steak, the campfire was only used for warmth and comfort. Campers no longer cooked over a campfire.

    Yet the traditional pot rack works quite well. In this era of modern technology, it gives the camp cook a practical way to suspend Dutch ovens and coffee boilers over a burning campfire. The pot rack lets the cook organize his cooking pots. It even gives him a place to store utensils.

    I enjoy the sense of tradition that comes from a sturdy pot rack. It gives me a connection to thousands of camp cooks, most of whom have gone to their reward. Yes, I use modern camp stoves when nessesary. Cooking over the campfire for a week-long trip to the forest gives me a feel for the history of old cooking methonds and for those who practiced ghe craft.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Code of the campfire #6

    The code of the campfire says tool up. The U.S. Forest Service campfire permit says that you "must have a shovel available at the campfire site for preparing and extinguishing campfires." In addition to a shovel, I find that a grill or campfire grate, 18-inch utility tongs and small leaf rake all contribute to successful campfire.

    The grill holds pots and skillets over the fire, especially where the Forest Service doesn't provide one. (It seems when I leave the fire grate at home the campground doesn't supply one!) The tongs efficiently arrange burning coals around in the fire. And with the rake, you don't have to use your boot to clear a five-foot area around the campfire.

    The second part of the code says leave the campfire site cleaner than you found it. Pick up trash, rake debris from around the fire pit and see that the fire is dead out.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2011

    Code of the campfire series

    As you've seen, I'm posting a series titled, "Code of the campfire." It started Monday morning when campers started leaving Fallen Leaf Lake Campground near South Lake Tahoe. After writing a note or two in my notebook, I realized a series on campfire etiquette and tradition loomed.

    The first five in the series were posted over the past three days. Since we are moving today to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest, I will post the last five articles next week as cell and Internet service doesn't exist there.

    Enjoy the series ...

    Code of the campfire #5

    The code of the campfire says always keep a pot of hot water on the fire. Hot water stands ready to wash dishes, bath your body or tend bumps and bruises.

    In the Seabees, the cooks dedicated one 15-gallon stockpot to hot water in the field. The water was used for sanitation, cooking and coffee. (Seabees can get a hot cup of coffee from the field galley any time of the day.)

    The second part of the code says share a cup of tea, coffee or chocolate with camp neighbors before retiring for the night.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2011

    Code of the campfire #4

    The code of the campfire says you need a source of firewood. While you can haul seasoned firewood to the campsite, the time honored way to gather wood is to drive the forest roads.

    Only pick up "down and dead" fuel for the campfire, per the U.S. Forest Service. Cutting standing trees, living or dead, is forbidden. Check local regulations before cutting or gathering wood.

    As I said yesterday, the second part of the code says share. Help the novice camper light a campfire. And share firewood with a late arriving party.

    Sent from my Samsung Captivate(tm) on AT&T

    Code of the campfire #3

    The code of the campfire says put it to work. Fire has been used through the ages to warm the body, give comfort through long nights and cook flavorful meals. Put fire to work in camp.

    Meat and potatoes are king on the grill. Add cast iron Dutch oven or skillet and you have the fixin's for a great outdoor meal. When you're ready to move beyond meat and potatoes, a world of culinary creations opens up.

    And the second part? Be ready to share vittles with campers who inadvertently wander into your camp.

    Sent from my Samsung Captivate(tm) on AT&T