Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chipotle sauce for tacos

I prepare chipotle sauce at work as a low fat alternative to sour cream. It compliments tacos or taco salad nicely. Although I love sour cream, chipotle sauce has become my sauce of choice for taco salad.

When I first prepared the sauce at the beginning of February, I combined one-part low fat sour cream to two parts low fat plain yogurt. While the residents enjoyed the sauce, I felt the yogurt overpowered the sour cream. Low fat mayonnaise filled in today, mainly because I didn't buy sour cream.

The result was a smooth, slightly thick sauce. It's smooth feel compliments the spiciness if the taco flavorings. It had the right amount of heat from the chipotle chiles, and a distinct, yet subtle smokey flavor.


16 ounces low fat plain yogurt
16 ounces low fat mayonnaise or sour cream
3-5 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
8 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix ingredients until combined. Adjust seasoning and chill. If desired, scoop into 2-ounce portion cup with scant #24 disher. Makes 25 (1-1/3 fluid ounce) servings.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Navy Iron Chefs

Iron Chef competitions help Navy culinary specialists hone their skills. And it gives them the opportunity to cook at a level not experienced in the general mess.

NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS BASE CORONADO (Jan. 30, 2012) -- Culinary Specialists 2nd Class Kenneth Marshal, left, and Gerald Winley, both assigned to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, plate their dish for presentation during the Navy Region Southwest Culinary Competition, held in the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado galley. The competition was organized in an "Iron Chef" format, where teams from six different bases throughout Navy Region Southwest were given two hours to prepare, cook and present a dish with a secret ingredient revealed to them at the start of the competition.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lodge Cast Iron contest on Facebook

Lodge Cast Iron is running an interesting contest through Monday morning. I generally don't play along in mystery basket contests. You know the genre. Shows like Food Network's Chopped ask cooks to produce a five-star meal from odd, mismatched ingredients in the basket.

On one recent episode, the two surviving chefs were challenged to produce a dessert with fresh pasta sheets, plum tomatoes, basil and white chocolate (dessert round in "Redemption Competition" of Season 10). While I enjoy each of the components for the Chopped dessert, I wouldn't prepare a dessert with them. Yet, this is one of Chopped's tamer mystery baskets. I'd probably prepare a layered sweet dessert of some sort.

Lodge's contest is grounded in reality, not like the so-called reality shows. The premise is simple: You must prepare six meals from a list of 15 ingredients. Since you're snowed in, you can't run out to the market. And unlike Chopped, where common pantry items help the cook, Lodge limits you to listed ingredients.

Here are the details their Facebook page:
New recipe contest: Pretend you're snowed in for the weekend and only have eggs, vegetable oil, corned beef, chicken, bacon, onions, flour, lettuce, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, garlic, raisins and canned peaches available to prepare six meals. Water and ice are available.

The only pieces of cookware are a Lodge 12-inch Skillet and a 5-quart Lodge Dutch Oven. What are your six recipes?

Winning entry will be sent a copy of the Cornbread Festival Cookbook and a Lodge Wedge Pan.

The contest begins now and ends at 8 a.m. CST Monday morning.
The mire poix (diced onion, celery and carrot) jumped right out at me. With chicken and garlic, I figured that I prepare a rich stock. Other than salt, the list leaves little to season a stock. Being snowed in, I'd make due.

I was hoping they'd allow some old spices. Every cabin has a ready supply of outdated spices and leavening agents. I asked. The answer was no. The good news: I can participate as a chef. We'll see if my status helps or not.

The lack of leavening agents made the list suspiciously cleaver. This is where it'd be good to have MacGyver as a neighbor. He could make baking soda out of fireplace ash or paint chips or whatever.

Yet we do have eggs. Whipped egg whites provide leavening when gently folded into a batter. I initially thought to work up a sourdough started, but ruled it out. It'd take too long to let nature yeast and bacteria do their thing in a cold environment. Plus, two days wouldn't give me enough time.

The list gives me enough ingredients to prepare flatbread for breakfast, spaetzle at dinner and egg noodles in a rich chicken broth. Other dishes are certainly possible. Among them popovers and soufflés -- all leavened with eggs and steam.

Once I lined out the bread and bakery items for the six meal meals, filling in the remainder of menu was as simple as filling in the blanks. Being snowed in would yield a lot of time. One presumes television, satellite and cell connections are among the first casualties in a blizzard.

With two (or more) days devoted to cooking, survival could be fun. Why not go all out and prepare a series of snowbound feasts. The way I look at it, you can make anything taste good with salt, pepper and garlic.


Breakfast: Eggs & bacon strips with flatbread & raisin jam; bacon first cooked in 12-inch skillet, flatbread browned second & eggs third; raisins cooked down in 5-quart Dutch oven for jam.

Meanwhile, bone chicken & set meat in ice; place bones & mire poix (diced onion, carrot & celery) in Dutch oven; brown chicken & vegetables; add water; simmer for several hours to form stock for soup & sauces.

Lunch: Chicken noodle soup with fresh handmade pasta in 5-quart oven; garnish soup with shreds of carrot & celery; save some stock for dinner.

Dinner: Corned beef cutlet served over spaetzle; cutlet floured & lightly browned in skillet; spaetzle cooked in boiling water in Dutch oven; quick garlic sauce made in skillet from chicken stock.

Breakfast: Bacon pancake (leavened with egg whites) cooked in skillet; peachy syrup made from peach juice & raisins in Dutch oven.

Lunch: Savory peach & corned beef soufflé cooked in Dutch oven.

Dinner: Chicken roulade stuffed with caramelized onion-carrot mixture, roasted garlic cloves & lettuce; chicken is browned in skillet & finished in Dutch oven; while chicken rests, prepare peach cobbler in Dutch oven from last of peaches.

Enjoy the menu. I've already posted my menu to the Lodge Cast Iron Facebook fan page. You have a day and a half to name your six meals. Have fun.

Chipotle-cheddar buttermilk biscuits

Here's the biscuit recipe that I prepared with huevos rancheros last Monday. I prepared breakfast for lunch for the railroaders from the El Dorado Western Railroad in Diamond Springs, California.

To serve, the biscuits were split and opened onto a plate. Two fried eggs were set on the biscuits. A ladle of Spanish sauce was placed over the eggs. Garnishes included diced onions, chopped cilantro, minced jalapeno chiles, Mexican crema and crumbled queso fresco.

This recipe is based on my standard buttermilk recipe from the residential house. I prepared a one-pound recipe (half-batch). Two cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese were blended into the dry ingredients after the shortening was mixed in. I then stirred three minced chipotle chiles into the buttermilk and finished the biscuits.

I've included baker's percentages for anyone who needs to prepare a larger batch.


2 pounds all-purpose flour (100%)
2 ounces baking powder (6%)
1-1/2 ounces sugar (5%)
2/3 ounce salt (2%)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
11-1/2 ounces chilled shortening (35%)
1 pound shredded cheddar cheese (50%)
6 chipotle chiles canned in adobo (minced fine)
3-1/2 cups buttermilk (65%)

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in bowl. Mix until blended.

Add shortening to flour mixture. Using fingertips, rub chilled shortening into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese and chipotle chiles.

Add buttermilk. Stir until buttermilk is incorporated. Do not overmix. Dough should be as soft as can be handled.

Place dough on lightly floured board or table. Knead lightly 15-20 times. Roll dough to 3/4-inch thickness.

Cut with a 2 1/2-inch cutter; or cut into 2- inch squares with a knife. Scraps can be rerolled, but the biscuits may not be as tender.

Place on ungreased sheet pans just touching. 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.

Makes 25 biscuits.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Huevos rancheros for railroad crew

This morning I prepared lunch for the railroad crew. The crew is rebuilding a Fairmont Model A4D gang car for use on the El Dorado Western Railroad. Here's the menu:
  • Two eggs over easy or medium
  • Chipotle-cheddar buttermilk biscuits
  • Salsa Espanola
  • Simmered pinto beans
  • Toppings (chopped white onion, minced jalapeno chiles, chopped cilantro, crumbled queso, Mexican crema and diced tomatoes)
Prep work at home included three components for the meal:
  • Started a pot of pinto beans around 8 a.m. The beans were ready by the time I walked out the door at 11 a.m.
  • Prepared a Spanish sauce with red and green bell peppers, poblano chile peppers and tomatoes.
  • Baked 12 large chipotle-cheddar biscuits; to prepare, I added three minced chipotle chiles (canned in adobo sauce) and two cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese to a one-pound buttermilk biscuit dough.
I'll post recipes at a later date.

Once I arrived at the shop, I set up the two-burner Camp Chef propane stove behind the tailgate to my truck. I cooked two eggs for each plate.

I didn't take time to set-up a plate for the camera. I set the next plate on top of the cooler and quickly framed a picture, while trying to avoid the egg carton in the background. To plate, I laid two fried eggs over a split biscuit. After spooning salsa Espanola over the eggs and biscuit, diced tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco were used to garnish the plate. A side of pinto beans and dollop of Mexican crema finished the dish.

Here's the Fairmont Railway Model A4D gang car. It was formerly used by Washington Group International, a large construction company that acquired Morrison-Knudsen Co. in the 1990s. It was last used on a Port of Seattle project. The railroad will letter the car as the El Dorado Western Railroad No. 603.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Menu for a buseman's holiday

Busman's holiday:
A vacation during which one engages in activity that is similar to one's usual work (Answers.com).
It seems that I've been allotted a certain number of cooking hours each day. Meet the quota at work and my culinary soul is satisfied. Skip a day and I must cook I must cook elsewhere to fill the void.

When I decided to take the President's Day holiday off from work, I figured that I'd enjoy a quiet day at home. The time to complete several projects was on my mind. My plan fell apart when the crew at the El Dorado Western Railroad learned of my day off.

It seems the mechanics are working on our new Fairmont model A4 gang car tomorrow. "Come over in the morning," said Keith, president of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation. "We can use an extra body."

Keith's recruitment call told me of dirt, paint chips and greasy hands in my future. I quickly proposed an alternate way to use my talent. Railroad workers work hard. And hard work builds appetites, I reasoned. What better was to showcase my special skills than to cook a meal for the gang?

"Do you want lunch tomorrow?" I countered. While several mechanics will provide support to the county museum railroad project tomorrow, I'll prepare lunch (more correctly, breakfast for lunch -- see menu below).

In the process, the mechanics will do what they do best -- rebuilding railroad cars. And this chef will do what he does best -- cooking a wonderful meal for a crowd.

Sounds like a busman's holiday to me!


I'm serving breakfast for lunch tomorrow at Bob McCormack's engine rebuild shop. At this hour, I plan to prepare huevos rancheros served over chipotle-cheddar biscuits. While elements of the menu may change when as I walk the isles of the supermarket, it'll look something like this:

Two or three scrambled or fried eggs
Salsa Espanola
Simmered pinto beans
Chipotle-cheddar butter milk biscuits
Toppings (chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, Mexican crema and diced tomatoes)
Caboose coffee (these are railroaders, after all!)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Low fat buttermilk ranch dressing

I introduced a low fat version of buttermilk ranch dressing to the residents at work last month. Even though I let news of the new recipe slipped out the week before, the changeover occurred little fan fair. I replaced the bottled ranch with my scratch prepared version just before the dinner meal.

This approach has worked in the past. Two years ago I introduced brown rice unannounced. The residents didn't miss white rice. I didn't hear the first comment until a week after the switch. The current residents accept brown rice as a standard menu offering.

The menu on January 24 was routine: baked chicken quarters (drumsticks and thighs), barley and brown rice pilaf, braised baby carrots and roll. It was the ideal meal to introduce the ranch dressing. Since I didn't offer a sauce or gravy this evening, it gave them the chance to dip their chicken in the dressing.

Of the 20 residents in the house, only three noticed the difference. The first comment came just as the last resident got her plate. "This looks different," she said. I held comment and smiled. Later, another said, "It's good."

My favorite comment came from a resident that smothered everything in ranch dressing. "You made this 'cause it's not from the big bucket," she said, pointing to the refrigerator. "It has green stuff in it. It's good!"

At that point, I knew that I had made a good decision.


So-called light mayonnaise and sour cream each contain around half the calories of the traditional condiments. Based on the nutrition labels of the products that I purchase, the dressing contains approximately 50 to 60 calories per serving. By comparison, the nutrition label on Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing has 140 calories per serving.

16 ounces low fat sour cream
16 ounces low fat mayonnaise
32 ounces low fat buttermilk
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill weed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Stir together sour cream, mayonnaise and buttermilk until combined. Stir in remaining ingredients. Adjust for seasoning and refrigerate.

Makes about 2-1/2 quarts. Serving based on 2-tablespoon portion.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Salad dressing change in direction

The residents at work love their ranch salad dressing. Next to hot pepper sauce sauce -- mainly Tapatio and Sriracha brands -- bottled ranch dressing has been the most popular condiment at the house. They ladle it on everything, regardless how the dish tastes. Even ketchup takes a backseat to ranch.

Resident attitudes toward ranch dressing mirrors the trend in America. Since 1992, ranch has been the most popular salad dressing flavor in the country. It's been called the "new ketchup." My daughters dip for everything in ranch, including French fries, chicken wings and pizza.

(A 2008 blog article by Houston Press writer Rob Walsh puts a Texas spin on the dressing. The buttermilk dressing was popular on ranch dining tables "long before Hidden Valley Ranch existed." Walsh reprints a 1937 recipe for "Buttermilk Dressing" that's very similar to my recipe.)

As I watch the ladies pour gobs of the dressing onto their plates, I wonder if they can taste the entree. Last year I watched one resident pour it all over chicken stir fry. It's interesting to note that stir fry was this resident's favorite meal. Several routinely pair Sriracha with ranch dressing.

Even though salad dressing doesn't drive a significant hole in my food budget, I felt it was time to transition the residents to healthier dressings. I only purchase 4 gallons of ranch, along with a gallon each of 1,000 island and Italian per month for 20 to 25 residents. My calculations tell me that I can prepare healthier (and tastier) versions for roughly the same cost.

Two issues drive the move to scratch prepared dressings -- flavor and fat content. While most residents find bottled ranch dressing acceptable, I personally dislike the flavor. And the mayonnaise in the formula contributes most of the 140 calories in each serving (2 tablespoons per the nutrition label).

I plan to tackle all the salad dressings at work, not just ranch. I can improve the flavor of the dressings while cutting fat content by 40 to 50 percent. Last month I purchased five Cambro salad dressing crocks. By devoting one day each week to dressing production, I will be able to rotate stocks and ensure freshness.

I began with development of low fat buttermilk ranch dressing in January. I find that it takes four to five quarts per week for 20 to 25 residents. I will post the recipe soon.

The introduction of the ranch dressing went well. Only three residents noticed the difference. My favorite comment of the evening went like this: "You made this 'cause it's not from the big bucket. It has green stuff in it. It's good!"

More to come ...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A simple tin can stove project

I remember fussing over my backpacking stove when I was younger. On the Svea Model 123 stove, you were supposed to cup your (hopefully) warm hands around the fuel tank. As the fuel warmed, the small increase in pressure pushed white gasoline up through the burner. Gasoline pooled in a small cup at the base of the vaporizer.

A match lit the gasoline, which warmed the fuel and built pressure in the fuel tank. Just before the gasoline burned out, you opened the valve, pressurized gasoline shot out and caught fire. After a short warm-up period, the burner roared away.

The design worked well. I could light the stove in short order at home, which was less than 500 feet elevation. It proved temperamental on cold mornings over 10,000 feet. The stove would eventually light and burn hot. It just took longer to get it going. I eventually purchased a pump that pressurized the fuel tank in less than a dozen strokes.

Thinking back, the tin can stove would've worked as efficiently as the Svea. My friends and I backpacked in areas with plenty of dead wood on the forest floor. Instead of lugging the stove and a couple fuel bottles on long treks, the home-made stove could've made a suitable replacement.

This stove only functions in areas where you're able to build fires. Some wilderness areas, like the nearby Desolation in Eldorado National Forest, prohibit campfires. You need to carry a stove with extra fuel in these areas.

Where a campfire is permitted, give the stove a try. The narrator in the video says it will boil one or two cups of water within minutes. That's enough for a cup of tea or coffee or water for hot cereal or soup.

If the stove works as promised, it will make a cost-effective alternative to the modern backpacking stoves.

YouTube video description: "A DIY (project) for a portable high efficiency wood gasifier backpacking stove. It is small light and only needs a handful of twigs to boil a few cups of water.

"A great alternative for longer hikes where you don't want to carry lots of fuel."