Tuesday, December 03, 2013

No mixer, no problem

Last Saturday I catered a banquet for the San Jose Youth Shakespeare in the Bay Area. With an ambitious menu at hand, I began meal production with rosemary-garlic dinner rolls at 12:30 in the afternoon. After unloading the equipment, food and supplies into the kitchen, I setup the scale, opened the bag of bread flour and began measuring.

With over 20 pounds of flour, along with yeast, salt, sugar, egg, oil, herbs and water to mix, I'd normally knead the dough in a 20-quart stand mixer. However, the kitchen at the rental hall was not equipped with one. With a large bus tub, I mixed the dough by hand. The pictures tell the rest of the story.

All in ingredients were weighed into a 20 by 15 by 7-inch bus tub. The formula called for 100% bread flour, 6% sugar, 4% chopped fresh parsley, 4% minced garlic, 2% instant yeast, 2 % kosher salt and 1% dried rosemary for the dry ingredients. I used 20 pounds 5 ounces flours as the basis for the dough. Click here for a discussion on baker's percent.

After pouring in about 55% water, 16% egg and 8% olive oil, I mixed the dough by hand. It took several minutes for the dough to come together.

After the dry ingredients were thoroughly mixed into the wet, I cleaned my hands and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. This lets the flour begin to absorb moisture and hydrate.

I started others on separate projects before working on the dough. My niece learned how to dice 10 pounds of yellow onions as another (to my right) set up the buffet area. As the dough came together, I folded the corners into the center of the bus tub. And two gallons of apple cider reduced on the range behind me.

Once the dough was workable, I turned it out onto the bench and continued kneading.

I could only fold the dough 10 to 15 turns before it was too stiff to handle. I gave the dough a 10 to 15-minute rest between kneading sessions. I then divided the dough in half and set each piece in a bus tub to ferment.

Once the dough fermented 90 minutes in an out-of-the-way corner of the kitchen, it was all hands on deck to cut and mold individual rolls. This process took around 30 minutes. We produced 455 rolls Saturday. The diners ate 2 rolls each on average.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cookin' on the railroad

Friday last I cooked lunch for the maintenance of way crew on the El Dorado Western Railroad in Western El Dorado County, California. The menu consisted of:
To prepare for the meal, I roasted an eight-pound bone-in pork picnic shoulder at home Thursday evening. I normally use pork butt, but the supermarket didn't have any in stock. The shoulder yielded between five to six pounds of cooked meat once I discarded the bone. I also made the adobo sauce from dried chilies, formed the biscuits with pepper-jack and Parmesan cheeses, prepared the cobbler topping and packed.

After breakfast with the crew (at a Shingle Springs restaurant aptly named the Train Station), I drove to the grade crossing closest to the trestle that we were working on and waited for the train to pick me up.

Once we arrived at the work site, the crew unloaded the kitchen. I set up on a saddle perpendicular to the tracks and began the chili. (Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the chili.) To prepare, I sweated 2 diced onions with lots of minced garlic in olive oil, then dropped about 5 pounds diced pork into the pot. One (14.5-ounce) can of fire roasted tomatoes and 1 (12-ounce) can of tomatillos went into the pot next, along with 1.5 cups of the adobo sauce, a pint of beef stock and the pork drippings.

Two teaspoons smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons ground cumin and 1 teaspoon dried oregano seasoned the chili. I later added extra dried chili powder and garlic powder to boost the flavor. The chili simmered over a bed of coal for the next hour and one-half. A couple handsful of corn chips thickened the chili.

Nineteen biscuits fit snuggly inside a 14-inch camp oven. I had intended to brush the biscuits with cream, but forgot.

The berry cobbler is similar in construction to a dump cake. You pour frozen berries (12 ounces raspberries, 16 ounces blueberries and 16 ounces blackberries) into an oiled 12-inche camp oven. Half of the topping (scratch made with a fine consistence like cake mix) covered the berries. After the first topping dump had stated to brown, I covered it with the remaining topping and baked with coals for about 425 degrees until brown and crusty.

In the picture, I set the biscuit lid in the skillet and used it for bottom heat for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Two rings of coals provided the top heat. The picture shows the cobble just before the second topping dump.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dutch oven roasted Brussels sprouts with apple cider

Last week I reduced a half-gallon jug of Barsotti unfiltered apple cider down to little less than two cups. A cup of the cider reduction was used to prepare apple cider mahogany sauce. With a bit over one-half cup remaining in the refrigerator, I though it would nicely enhance the Brussels sprouts that I'd recently purchased.


1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed
4-6 lemon slices
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
6 tablespoons apple cider reduction
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Pre-heat a 10-inch Dutch oven with charcoal briquettes for 450-degrees (6 charcoal briquettes under and 21 on lid). In a large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts, lemon slices, bay leaves, mustard seeds, caraway seeds, salt and pepper with olive oil until coated. Pour Brussels sprouts into the Dutch oven. Roast about 30 minutes or until Brussels sprouts begin to brown. Do not burn.

Combine stock, cider reduction and mustard. Set aside. Remove coals from lid and arrange into a neat pattern under oven, being careful not to dump ash on Brussels sprouts. (You can place Dutch oven over camp burner if desired.) Pour braising liquid over Brussels sprouts. Cook over medium-high heat until braising liquid reduces and sprouts are tender. Serves 4 to 6 portions.

Ideally, most of the braising liquid should evaporate, leaving wonderfully tender Brussels sprouts. You need a lot of heat to accomplish this so don't fret if some of the liquid remains. It's good stuff!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Apple cider mahogany sauce

Apple cider mahogany sauce may take several hours to prepare. But the rewards are great, both in terms of great seasonal flavor and pleasant aromas that waft through the house as you reduce apple cider into syrupy goodness.

This article is really about two sauces. First, you must reduce unfiltered apple cider to about 25 percent of its original volume. Once reduced, you can prepared the apple cider mahogany sauce.

While you can prepare sufficient quantity of the apple cider reduction for your current recipe project, I like to reduce a half-gallon or more at a time. This gives me a supply of syrup to use as I see fit.

Use the cider reduction as a stand-in for maple syrup or honey in almost any recipe. Let your imagination be your guide. The recipe for apple cider mahogany sauce is included below. Three weeks ago I braised pork butt in cider reduction and chicken stock and served it with roasted carrots.

My next project is to prepare Brussels sprouts by first roasting with caraway and mustard seeds, then braising in chicken stock and cider reduction. The cabbages will be good alongside bratwurst, fried potatoes and homemade sauerkraut.

To prepare the reduction, boil unfiltered apple cider (I use Barsotti cider) over high heat until reduced to one-fourth its beginning volume, stirring occasionally. Skim surface build up as it collects. Allow as little as 45 minutes and as long as two hours to complete the reduction. The quantity being reduced, size and shape of the saucepan and heat setting determine how long it takes.

Brush cider mahogany sauce on grilled pork chops (pictured above) or sautéed chicken breasts. Dip sliced tri-tip (roasted to medium doneness) or smoked brisket in the sauce, quickly sear on griddle and place on toasted French roll. You can use the sauce to glaze your favorite cuts of lamb, pork, poultry or fish.


3 slices bacon, diced small
1/2 cup medium sweet onion, diced small
1 cup apple cider reduction
1 cup catsup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In a medium saucepan or skillet, sauté bacon and onion until onion is tender. Drain bacon drippings from skillet. Add cider reduction, catsup, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in thyme. Adjust seasoning. Makes 2-12 to 3 cups.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Hamburger Stroganoff

Just about every hamburger stroganoff recipe on the Internet contains the same ingredients: ground beef, chopped onion, sliced white button mushrooms (canned or fresh), all-purpose flour and a can or two of condensed cream of mushroom (or chicken) soup.

Some recipes add garlic. Most recipes are seasoned with salt, ground black pepper and sweet ground paprika. And I've seen a few that suggest a tablespoon or two of tomato paste or catsup.

This is the recipe that I grew up on. I didn't know there was any other kind until my first visit Hong Kong on the USS Cocopa in the 1972. A group of us visited a European restaurant on the Kawloon side of Victoria Harbor. Stroganoff was the perfect comfort food for this sailor away from home for the first time. Instead, the waiter surprised me with traditional stroganoff. The sauteed strips of tender beef in a light sour cream based sauce were amazing.

Hamburger stroganoff may not resemble the dish that carries Count Pavel Stroganoff's name. But it's pure comfort food. The rich mushroom flavor and creamy tanginess of the sour cream warms the belly and reminds me of home.


You can use most any condensed cream soup in the pantry. My mother always used cream of celery. I like the mushroom soup because it adds a nice mushroom base to the dish. Substituted sliced crimini mushrooms for the white buttons if desired.

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1 cup (8 ounces) lowfat sour cream

Place ground beef in a 10-inch heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until meat is browned. Add onion and mushrooms and cook until just tender. Drain off any excess fat in the skillet. Blend flour, salt, paprika and black pepper into beef. Immediately stir in condensed soup and milk into mixture.

Cook over low heat, uncovered, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Thin the stroganoff with extra milk if it's too thick. Stir in sour cream and heat through. Serve hamburger stroganoff over mashed potatoes, steamed rice or egg noodles.

The recipe yields about 4-1/2 cups. Serves 6 (3/4-cup) portions.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ready, bake, flop

Or should I say, ready, bake fizzle? That's precisely what happened two weeks ago on our annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake with my sister and family. I mixed a double batch of my no-knead bread at home early in the week before heading to the lake, located in the southeastern reaches of Eldorado National Forest. We readied for the trip as the dough slowly fermented in the home refrigerator.

I set the dough aside Thursday and Friday while we enjoyed relief from the heat of the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. After exploring nearby lakes and four-wheel drive trails with my sister, I settled in to prepare dinner. I quickly got ready to bake two breads from the dough. Eighteen biscuits went into a 12-inch camp oven. My thought was to bake the biscuits, then set them aside for breakfast. The remaining dough was formed into five balls and placed inside a 12-inch deep camp oven.

Since the biscuits were rising at this point, I already had half of what I needed to fix for the replacement meal. Encouraged on by more than one B&G enthusiast in camp (notably, my brother-in-law's nephew), I lit a roaring campfire. Hot coals were soon being shoveled onto the waiting Dutch oven. The photos tells the story.

I usually burn pine and cedar wood when I camp in the National Forest. It's a matter of supply. Since I don't see the need to buy firewood when it's available for free, I burn the wood that I find on the forest floor. It's different when we camp with my sister and brother-in-law. Jim brings a mixture of hard and soft woods with then to the campground.
Sunday afternoon before the camping trip, I mixed a 4-pound dough (flour weight) and fermented in in the refrigerator. The dough went into the cooler Wednesday afternoon in preparation for departure. I filled a 12-inch Dutch oven with biscuit-sized pieces of dough late Friday afternoon.

The Cambro container is a bit messy because the batch of dough was too large for its 8-quart capacity. I had to punch the dough down as it fermented Sunday. The dough settled down once I placed it in the fridge for a cold slow ferment.
The 12-inch camp oven held 18 golf ball-sized biscuits. To form each biscuit, I pinched off a piece of dough and molded it into a smooth ball.
While the biscuits appear done in the photograph, they're doughy on the bottom. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the coals gave out. When I dug the half done biscuits out of the Dutch oven, I learned they were nearly raw underneath. To rescue them, I placed the dough on the grill. While I generally have success when cooking with campfire coals, sometimes the coals burn out.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Penne rigate with poblano cream sauce in camp

All of our meals last week were prepared over the campfire. With a mix of hard and soft wood supplied by my brother-in-law, the campfire burned most of the day, from six in the morning to late in the evening. Rain clouds, distant thunderstorms and cool breeze off Upper Blue Lake made the fire a welcoming feature of our camp. Its comforting flames provided warmth throughout the day.

I prepared our first campfire meal Thursday evening. Penne pasta with poblano cream sauce and chicken sausages filled the crew after an ambitious afternoon of setting up camp. I'll post the recipe for the poblano cream sauce soon. Please enjoy the photographs in the meantime.

I began the meal by placing a large pot of salted water over the fire. Once the water boiled, two 13.25-ounce packages of whole wheat penne rigate were cooked al dente. In the meantime, I combined around 3 cups poblano chili base with 1 pint of heavy cream in a saucepot. The sauce simmered over medium heat to blend flavors and reduce.

The chili base was prepared at home and transported to camp in the cooler. It consisted of roasted poblano chilies, chicken stock, garlic, cilantro and lime juice, pureed in the blender.

With pasta cooking in the stockpot and sauce simmering next to it, I sautéed onions and sweet peppers in my Lodge No. 12 skillet (hidden from view). Here, I'm adding a dozen roasted red pepper and asiago chicken sausages to the skillet.

A close up of the sausages as they brown in the Lodge No. 12 skillet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Congratulations chief petty officers

September is a special month in the career of the U.S. Navy chief petty officer. It's the month when newly advanced chiefs receive their anchors and khaki uniform, including the khaki combination cover. As the most recent class of senior enlisted naval leadership, these chief petty officers will join their brothers and sisters in the chief's mess.

Congratulations chiefs ...

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 13, 2013) -- Newly pinned chief petty officers Chief Electronics Technicians Patrick Tucker left, and Lawrence Lombard and Chief Culinary Specialist Robert Haag, from the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas (SSN 775) receive their combination covers at a chief petty officer pinning ceremony at the USS Parche Submarine Park and Memorial at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Pacific Submarine Force promoted more than 40 Sailors to the rate of chief petty officer.

U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Steven Khor.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Basic French dressing

When I was in Navy cook's school in 1971, French dressing was the term for vinaigrette dressing. The 1963 edition of The Professional Chef says, "French dressing is a temporary emulsion of oil, acids (usually vinegar) and seasonings." It has since evolved to mean a catsup-based dressing, similar to the bottled dressing made by Kraft.
The 4th edition of Professional Cooking provides the same formula to young culinary arts students. The recipe is titled, "Basic French Dressing or Vinaigrette." Both cookbooks contain a number of variations to the basic recipe.

Lightly coat the salad leaves with vinaigrette, about two to three tablespoons dressing for pound of lettuce greens. Use just enough dressing to coat the salad without the dressing pooling in the bowl.

Here's the recipe from the 1963 cookbook:


1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 cup salad oil

Dissolve seasonings in vinegar. Combine with oil and mix vigorously. Mix well at time of service.

Makes 1 cup.

I like to play with the basic vinegar to oil ratio. While a 1:3 ratio is traditional, I usually work with a 1:2 ratio. The addition of 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and several finely minced garlic cloves add much more interest to the dressing. Trying different vinegars (sherry or balsamic, for instance) and oils (oil or any variety of nut oils), along with your favorite herb combination will make this a camp favorite. A touch of sugar or honey tempers the sharpness of the vinegar.

Here's one of my favorite vinaigrettes:


1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl until dissolved. While whisking, stream oil in until dissolved, stirring constantly. Adjust oil to taste.

Makes 1-1/4 cups tablespoons.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Creativity in the camp kitchen

Stories such as this one about chef Alex Smith of Ontario Pioneer Camp offer encouragement to camp chefs:

"Even though chicken tikka masala with rice and naan bread is not typical camp food, Alex took a risk to prepare this meal for a dining hall full of hungry teenagers," the blog Extraordinary Stories reported. "The results were better than he expected, actually one of the best new recipes he has tried at camp."

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Annual camping trip to Blue Lakes

Debbie and I are joining my sister's family for our annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest next week. Each year we collaborate on meals at the lake. Elizabeth and I divide responsibility for each breakfast and dinner. Each family prepares their own lunches.

In the past I've prepared a variety of Dutch oven favorites. Sourdough bread stood in for a sweet loaf when I prepared Dutch oven bread pudding three years ago. That year we didn't camp at the lake, but visited them mid-week. I brought the proper bread two years ago. I'm now under orders to replicate the bread pudding each year! (As I write, I realized that I failed to post the recipe last year. Here's Dian Thomas' recipe from 2007.)

Blue Lakes split pea soup with ham shank was ready for dinner two years ago when the family arrived. Midway through our vacation, we moved camp to Upper Blue Lake from South Lake Tahoe. Jim and Elizabeth, a brother and our mother were scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon. A bowl of hearty soup hit the spot. As one of our mother's favorites, the soup warmed her in the brisk evening air at the 8,000-foot elevation.

Last year my sister "hired" a sous chef for me (a family friend). Ashley, a third-year high school culinary student, chopped and cut her way through the camp kitchen. With impeccable knife skills, she sliced 14 apples for apple crisp in a 14-inch Dutch oven. Ashley then prepared and cut zucchini, yellow squash, red onion and carrot for roasted summer vegetables.

Scrambled eggs with chives and pepper-jack cheese for breakfast, salsa with fire roasted tomatoes for the afternoon snack, and Dutch oven bread in time for dinner filled our Saturday. As a culinary student, I found Ashley hungry for information. Her enthusiasm for cooking and willingness to jump in gave this chef a smile.

Bread pudding for breakfast rounded out the weekend's campground feast. Since the kids (young and old!) enjoyed s'mores Saturday after dinner, we decided bread pudding would fit in our Sunday morning breakfast menu. We essentially had French toast in a pot!

For our 2013 visit to Upper Blue Lake, I'd like to introduce sous chef Ashley to one or two new Dutch oven dishes. We'll also build on the dishes that we prepared last year. Repetition will help solidify the camp cooking skills she learned last year.

I'll have more to say after I finalize the menu.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Scoutmaster Clarke Green's overview of 'humble' chuckbox design

Keyword searches for "chuckbox" and "chuckwagon" bring a significant number of visitors to 'Round the Chuckbox. It's natural when you consider the name of the blog. Articles that address these topics routinely pull in several thousand page views, more than any other topic.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't post many articles on chuckboxes and chuckwagons. As the owner of a beautiful wood chuckbox, I have an affinity for the outdoor kitchen cabinet, especially in view of its humble beginning on the Western range.

While I have no claim to the title "wagon cook," something about my chuckbox, stained in a reddish hue and built to impeccable detail, often draws folks to my camp. Built in 2001 by then International Dutch Oven Society president Kent Mayberry, it has become the signature item in my camp cooking reparatory. And since February 2005, the centerpiece and gathering place to this blog.

To those in the market for a chuckbox, numerous designs and styles boggle the mind. The Rubbermaid Action Packer offers a quick solution to the one who doesn't need an elaborate design. My brother-in-law packs his complete camp in a half dozen Action Packers. Manufacturers like Blue Sky Kitchen and Grub Hub USA sell ready-made mobile kitchens for campers.

Many campers prefer a design built to personal specifications. Complex boxes -- such as Boy Scout "patrol boxes"-- feature numerous cubbies and drawers. Each item has its place. There are drawers for the utensils, a cubby for the two-burner Coleman stove, rollers for paper towels, plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and a special spot for the indispensable coffee boiler. Compact for transport and storage in the garage, it opens into a practical camp kitchen.

Before you purchase or build a chuckbox, take a look at "More Camp Kitchen Permutations" by Scoutmaster Clarke Green at Scoutmastercg. "I find the different solutions folks come up with for setting up a kitchen in a campsite fascinating." Green periodically features one or more chuckbox designs under the "cooking" category.

With little commentary, Green lets you make up your own mind. Numerous photos of chuckboxes give you an idea of the options out there. Links to chuckbox drawings give the do-it-yourself camper the plans needed to build his own. (Note most chuckbox plans must be purchased.) I even saw images of trailer-mounted chuckboxes.

Seagoing Iron Chef competition

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 22, 2013) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Mark Amado, right, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Haidavid Tran present their cheese cake to the judges during an Iron Chef competition aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61). Judges are Navy Counselor 1st Class Roberto Vite (not in picture); Capt. Thomas Kiss, commanding officer; Chef Miles Mitchell, executive chef at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Miami; and Lt. Andrew Lundgren, supply officer.

Monterey is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Billy Ho/Released)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Layered skillet casseole

This recipe has been a family favorite of the Karoly's since our July 1981 wedding. The original comes from Sunset Magazine. The original recipe was written for a large heavy skillet or stove-top Dutch oven. I now cook it inside a 10-inch camp oven.

The photographs show you how I cooked the casserole inside the Dutch oven. The list of ingredients remain the same as listed below. The instructions are modified as noted in the photo captions.

Sauté the beef over a bed of coals or camp stove burner. I usually begin the dish over the burner, then bake with coals top and bottom in the 10-inch camp oven. You can add sweet bell peppers in addition to the onions and garlic, if desired.

For the test recipe, I prepared my own marinara sauce. The recipe was written for bottled marinara or spaghetti sauce. It's your choice.

Once the meat and sauce are ready, spoon cottage cheese over. Ricotta cheese works as well (used in the test recipe). Evenly spread a layer of uncooked wide egg noodles over the cheese.

I reserved half of the cooked meat and onion for the top layer. Note the recipe directs you to leave the meat on the bottom of the pot. The remaining half of the sauce covers the noodles.

At this point, I placed the Dutch oven over 5 charcoal briquettes and placed the lid on the oven. Fifteen coals were placed on the lid. Some 30 minutes into baking, I removed the lid and spread mozzarella cheese over the top layer. It took about 15 minutes to brown the cheese.


1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium-size onion, chopped
2 cups (or 1-16 ounce jar) marinara sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon each dried oregano leaves and salt
1-1/4 cups water
1 pint small curd cottage cheese
3 cups (about 6 ounces) medium-wide egg noodles
2 cups (1/2-pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

Crumble beef into a 3- to 4-quart heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook, over medium heat until meat browns; drain off fat.

Stir together sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and water and spoon about half over meat mixture. Spoon cottage cheese over; then top evenly with uncooked noodles. Spoon over remaining sauce.

Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until noodles are tender; remove from heat.

Sprinkle cheese evenly over top; replace cover and let stand for 10 minutes to melt cheese.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Crew apron

The 2013 kitchen crew from Oakland Feather River Camp presented me with an apron on our last day. All of the cooks and dishwashers, along with other camp crew, signed the plastic apron. Enjoy ...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chef Steven's rules for sausage gravy

After four decades of cooking in military, institutional and camp kitchens, I've learned to follow a number of personal cooking rules. As self-imposed culinary guidelines, they help me prepare and serve great food to my diners, whether at home or in camp. These rules provide consistency each time I prepare a dish.

Earlier this summer, the camp director asked my if I could prepare a "mean" biscuits and gravy. Up to the challenge, we set a date where I could premier biscuits and gravy. I took my standard biscuits and gravy recipe, modified it to use a butter and flour roux (previously, I stirred the flour in with the crumbled sausage meat) and presented camp-made biscuits with my chef's sausage gravy to the staff in mid-May.

Beginning in the third week of June, we presented scratch buttermilk biscuits and rich sausage gravy to the campers every other week. By request, I broke my "pork only" rule to prepare turkey sausage gravy for our largest camp (alongside pork sausage gravy) at the end of July. I came away validating my rule. Campers selected pork gravy three times as often as they did turkey gravy! (The same held true for real bacon vs. turkey bacon!)

Here are my rules for great sausage gravy:
  • Crumble, finely chop or grind the sausage. Diced sausage may look good on the plate. But it's the fine pieces that carry flavor into the gravy. Throughout the summer, I used pre-cooked patties with success. Grinding partially thawed patties in the food processor gave it the texture I was looking for.
  • Don't skip on the milk. The fat in whole milk adds body and richness to the gravy. If you must, drink two percent or skim milk in a glass, not in the gravy. Whole milk works best. And a little cream makes even richer gravy! Unfortunately to some, good gravy isn't low in fat!
  • A butter roux is the best thickening agent for gravy. Leave the cornstarch to pudding cookery, where its magic sheen works best. And don't forget to cook out the flour taste in the roux.
  • Traditional American breakfast sausage works best for traditional American biscuits and gravy. Use pork sausage, not beef. SOS is made with beef, not pork. Though related, they're not the same.
  • Think long and hard before adding a new ingredient or two the gravy. I've successfully worked a modest amount of roasted diced red peppers into my gravy. Leave the mushrooms for a great mushroom sauce or pasta dish. They don't belong in sausage gravy.
  • The best biscuits are made from scratch. Develop a good recipe and stick to it.
Oh yes, there's one final rule: Good sausage gravy must leave a mild case of heartburn, especially when cased with several mugs of coffee. Sorry; it's a rule!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Baked frittata for 300 campers

At Oakland Feather River Camp, we prepared potato-pepper frittata five times this summer. The baked omelet, which was on the menu every other week, was prepared two ways -- as frittata 'muffins' for kids camp in June and baked in full-sized hotel pans for the family camps.

We first served baked frittata in early May. Since we were only feeding a dozen staff members at that point, I used the meal to show the cooks how to bake a baked omelet. I also used the opportunity to test a small number of frittata muffins. I'll share more about the muffin recipe later.

The classic recipe for frittata is time consuming when feeding 150 to 300 campers. To prepare in the traditional method, sauté the vegetables in an oven-proof skillet. Add any meat and cook. Then pour whipped eggs (roughly 12 eggs for a 12-inch skillet) in the pan. Over medium heat, stir with a heat resistant spatula, running it along the sides, for two to three minutes. Once the eggs are partially set, top with cheese (if desired) and place in a pre-heated 375-degree oven.

Its versatility is the best thing about a frittata, whether baked for camp or prepared with the classic method. Asparagus, spinach, kale or mushrooms easily work in place of the potatoes. Even though we chose to leave meat out of our frittata, sausage, bacon, prosciutto or ham are ideal meats. Any cheese, especially when pared with the vegetables and meat, top off any frittata. The options are endless once you have the basics down.

On August 1, each pan fed 40 to 45 campers. A week later each pan fed 35 campers. While I usually figure 25 servings per 2-inch hotel pan, the expanded menu helped 'stretch' the frittata. Hot cereal, cold cereal, fresh whole fruit, sliced melons, toast, bagels and cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and assorted yogurt (flavored and plain) gave the campers a lot of options for breakfast. Plus the 25 vegans on August 1 were offered an alternative entrée. We didn't have any vegans the next week.

The following images demonstrate how the cooks prepared potato-pepper frittata for 300 campers:

To prepare the frittata, Jesse poured a splash of olive oil in each 12 by 20 by 2-inch hotel pan. A handful of diced onions and red and green bell peppers were tossed into each pan. Jesse then placed around 2 pounds of par-cooked red potatoes in each pan. He lightly tossed the contents of each pans before placing then in the oven.
 After seasoning with kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper and Italian seasoning, Jesse placed the 10 pans in a 325-degree convection oven. The vegetables and potatoes cooked for 10 to 15 minutes. The pans were lined on the table after Jesse removed them from the oven.
Next I poured the contents of 3 cartons of liquid eggs into each pan. Jesse returned each pan in the oven as it was ready. Each carton weighs 2 pounds. Use 5-1/3 dozen medium or 4-1/2 dozen large eggs if liquid eggs aren't available. The mixture was stirred before returning to the oven.
It took 35 to 40 minutes to bake the frittata. Pull it from the oven when the top was just set.

You need to test the frittata in your oven to see how long it will take. Our ovens run hot on top and cooler on the bottom (despite the circulating fan). Potato-pepper frittata was one of our better breakfasts, only rivaled by biscuits and gravy morning and the cinnamon roll breakfast.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fruit on the barbie

Tyrone posted a fruit carving how-to at Tyronebecookin last week. Here's a carved watermelon from Oakland Feather River Camp:

We had a guest chef in camp three weeks ago. She carved several watermelons as the centerpiece for arriving campers. Of all her carvings, the Webber kettle grill is my favorite.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Camp chef for hire in Northern California

It's been a while since I've  posted on 'Round the Chuckbox. I've been busy working as the chef at Oakland Feather River Camp, outside of Quincy, Calif. The summer has been fun and long at the same time! Now it's time to return home.

The summer ends in a week. After nearly 27,000 meals, Debbie and I will soon head to our Diamond Springs, Calif., home for the winter. We gave
the camp its best summer of meals in recent memory.
Since I love to cook for crowds in the great outdoors, I'm letting everyone know that I'm available to cook for your next outdoor event.

Many meals are cooked in cast iron Dutch ovens, fired by charcoal briquettes. Grilled and barbecued items are cooked over a hot mesquite fire. Then there’s Chef Steven’s one-of-a-kind surplus military field stove.

Don't want to cook at your next outdoor event? I will cook a special meal for you from a menu of your choosing. I can set my chuckbox up at your Northern California location. Backyard, hunting camp or family reunion -- any venue  will work. I'll even work from a commercial kitchen if you can rent one.

Contact me today at steve@seabeecook.com to arrange a Western-style feast! Menus are available upon request.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Historic Hawes Farm Dutch oven cook-off

I received this information from Don Mason of Red Bluff. For information, please email cookoff@HitoricHawesFarms.com or visit HistoricHawesFarms.com.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Camp mixed bery cobbler

I adopted this recipe from in Sunset Magazine in May 2009. The recipe was developed for use in a 12-inch camp-style Dutch oven by Chef Guy Fiere of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives fame. He "loves to make this treat on a camping adventure."

After reading the article, I figured it would make a great dessert for camp. It was a hit at the Christian Chefs International 2012 Annual Conference in Canby, Oregon, where it was showcased alongside a Dutch oven meal. Since then I've discovered campers enjoy the "rich, sweet treat."

When you prepare camp berry cobbler, a nice crunch in each bite impresses campers. The juicy berry goodness is topped with a crunchy cake-like crust. As the cobbler bakes, juices from the berries are released and absorbed by crust. Telltale pools of thickened berry juice seep through the crust. Each bite contains an impressive mix of fruit and crust.

Serve camp berry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh whipped cream. An almond or coffee-flavored ice cream will complement the cobbler as well.


2 pounds all-purpose flour
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 ounce cinnamon
1/2 ounce cloves
1/4 ounce nutmeg
1/4 ounce ground ginger
1 pound unsalted butter
2 pounds 7 ounces granulated sugar (divided use)
5 pounds frozen mixed berries

In a food processor, pulse together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. Add butter; pulse until mixture is very fine. Add 2 pounds of the sugar and pulse to combine. If preparing topping ahead, transfer to a storage container and chill until ready to use, up to 2 days.

Place partially thawed berries in a large bowl. Stir in 7 ounces of the sugar. Pour berry mixture into greased a 12 by 20 by 2-inch hotel pan. Spoon half the cake mixture evenly over berries.

Bake cobbler in 425o oven for about 20 minutes. Spoon on remaining flour mixture. Continue baking until topping is golden brown and berry juices are bubbling to the surface, 15 to 25 minutes more; let cool at least 20 minutes before serving.

'The Road Not Taken'

This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken," 1920. The picture was taken at the Camp 5 Boat Launching Facility on the west shore of Lake Davis, California, near Portola.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What happed to AM salads?

Campers and staff at Oakland Feather River Camp have a longtime tradition of inscribing their names on the lumber walls in the Chow Palace. Thousands of inscriptions -- many newer signatures written on top of older ones -- adorn  the walls and ceiling. The tradition dates back 40 years or more. I've seen signatures that date from the 1970s.

While most recorded their name somewhere below the six-foot line, those written above the "ladder line" intrigue me the most. Written in 18-inch block letters on the ceiling near the main entrance are the letters "ARMY EOD 1986." The only way to manage the inscription would've been to bring a tall scaffolding into the Chow Palace, a difficult task when camp is in session.

The headstone in the photograph caught my eye when I first walked into the Chow Palace last May. Nailed onto the rafters high above the wall in the northeast corner of the dining room, the grave marker apparently commemorates the burial of the morning salad shift in the kitchen in 1985. One wonders what happened during the long summer of cutting and filling tubs with romaine and iceberg lettuce. Maybe it as a summer of torture for a less than enthusiastic salad maker.

I may never know the circumstances that led to such a morbid inscription. My prep cook assigned to the salad shift seems to enjoy her job. Maintaining the salad bar for lunch and dinner is a key position in the 2013 Oakland Camp kitchen. I doubt you'll find "RIP A.M. Salad 2013" next month when the kitchen crew departs.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Taking a day off

The downside of working six twelve-hour days each week is you get little time to yourself. We try to get away for dinner one or two evenings each week. Since our Sunday is day off, we assemble with the local saints for worship, then drive off to the former logging town of Greyeagle for lunch and time on the Internet.

Yesterday's drive was unique. We work along the former Western Pacific Railroad Feather River Route. The line's current owner, the massive Union Pacific Railroad, has been running a lot of freight traffic over the rail line. The railroaders among the staff at Oakland Camp (the housekeeping supervisor and myself) have enjoyed watching (and listening when we're busy) to trains each hour.

Catching three trains on our day off was an exciting opportunity. I'll let the photographs tell the story.

As we drove east toward Blairsden and Greyeagle, an eastbound UP high-railer caught my attention at the Spring Garden siding. Thinking I could snap a photo as it crossed the bridge at Blairsden, we sped east on Highway 70. Instead of the track inspection vehicle, this local freight train appeared. My guess is that the high-railer took the siding.

The local took the hole (or siding) once he crossed the bridge. The waiting westbound intermodal freight was the superior train. As soon as the local cleared the main, the westbound gave two long blasts on the horn and proceeded west toward Keddie and the Feather River.
I took this photo as the westbound freight passed over the bridge at Blairsden.
Later in the day, Debbie and I saw this westbound coal drag as we returned to Quincy and the camp. With sufficient time to drive to the Williams Loop, we drove west. At the Loop, I photographed the train as it wound around under itself. Here the lead locomotive is ready to exit the loop and continue its westbound journey toward the canyon.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Egg scramble with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach

Last Monday, we served scrambled eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach for breakfast. The campers, a group of 60-plus artists, enjoyed the refreshing change from normal camp food. For around 140 campers, we used 24 pounds of liquid eggs, 5 pounds of slice mushrooms, 20 large tomatoes and 7-1/2 pounds of spinach leaves.

The vegetarians ate the breakfast entrée. A tofu scramble with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach was prepared for 10 vegans. See my last post for a description of prep for the meal on Sunday.

To prepare sufficient eggs for a 12 by 20 by 2-inch hotel pan, Jesse first placed 4 to 5 spoonsful of mushrooms, 3 to 4 spoonsful of diced tomatoes and 2 to 3 tongs of spinach on the oiled griddle. After several quick turns, the vegetables were ready for the eggs.

Jesse next poured two cartons of liquid eggs over the sautéed vegetables. He had to work fast to keep eggs from running down into the grease pit. Once scrambled, the eggs were placed in the waiting hotel pan. That morning, 140 campers ate the contents of six 2-inch hotel pans of egg scramble. We always cook eggs to the soft stage as they continue to cook for several minutes in the pan.

 Jesse also scrambled 2 cartons of plain eggs for those who don't like vegetables. The vegans ate 3 pounds of tofu.

Speed racks

I love speed racks. They help my team at Oakland Feather River Camp organize ingredients for the next meal. You'll often hear a cook yell "Coming through" as he moves the rack from the reefer to the hot line for meal production.

Although I don't know where the term comes from, Oakland Camp's two sheet pan racks are in constant use. One is loaded with baked goods. It's stored close to the convection ovens. The second unit is often loaded with prep for the next day. It spends much of the day in the walk-in cooler.

Last Sunday I guided Jesse, a young prep cook at the camp, as he prepared the ingredients for scrambled eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach for breakfast on Monday. With a short two-hour window to get ready for breakfast, there's no time to prep for the scramble in the morning. Jesse used most of an hour to wash and slice five pounds of mushrooms, dice 20 large tomatoes and open a case of pre-washed spinach.

After the vegetables were cut, he placed a case of eggs (15 cartons each with two pounds of liquid eggs in each carton) on the bottom shelf in the speed rack. Once the potatoes were panned and set on the middle shelves of the rack, Jesse wheeled it into the walk-in.

As Jesse learned last week, speed racks save time in the kitchen. They help the cook move product, cooked and uncooked, from one point to another. And when properly organized, the speed rack allows the cook to perform his job with efficiency and ease.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A lot goin' on ...

Like many camps, the pace picks up at Oakland Camp kitchen as the meal approaches. The food processor was used to prepare chimichurri (in the wood bowl) and cilantro lime vinaigrette (the mess). The strawberry shortcake was ready for assembly. And the beef stew with meat and vegetarian versions on the range was ready for panning.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pulled pork party

We were running a bit late the other day with barbecued pulled pork. I had placed two pork butts, rubbed with the appropriate spices, in the bottom convection oven at 7 a.m. By 11 a.m., the pork should've emerged ready to shred. Sometime around 9 a.m., I discovered that the oven had cut off. The pork lost an hour or more of precious roasting time. Giving the two roasts and additional hour, my sous chef (in the Phillies ballcap) pulled the pork at noon. After cooling it for 15 minutes, he called a couple dishwashers over. They quickly shredded the meat and tossed in barbecue sauce for our 12:30 p.m. mealtime.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Has the information super-highway bypassed your camp?

The Fish Tacos at Pangaea Cafe
Camping may not be the best career for the Internet junkie. Service at many camps, especially those in rural areas across the country, is non-existent. While camp administration may subscribe to a local on-line provider for the office and key staff, recreational use of precious bandwidth is out.

Service at my office is based on a wireless hotspot that's paired with a signal booster. It works most days. By that I mean that I can send and receive email and place orders with my vendors. Heavy research on websites the rely on intense add-ons is out.

Today was one of those days. I waisted two hours trying to access the website of one of my major suppliers. That's two hours of searching, rebooting, logging on and being kicked off.

All I wanted to do was show the vegetarian cook what the vendor offered for the vegetarian and vegan menu. I'd call her into the office, start the search, only to send her back to the kitchen because our super-highway was behaving more like a bottle of ketchup.

To resolve the problem, my wife and I drove into Quincy. Many Oakland Camp employees head to Pangaea Cafe and Pub for a bite and quality time with the laptop. If you must sacrifice your evening to Internet research, Monday nights at Pangaea are best. The Internet flows like coffee and the "Fish Tacos" provide superb entertainment.

Seasoned with a side of Bluegrass and hit of Zydeco, the ensemble band makes for wonderful eatin' -- and surfin' -- at Pangaea. You'll catch yourself joining in the chorus to "I'll Fly Away" while you tap away on the keyboard. Research is hard work, especially when toe-tappin' music carries your mind elsewhere.

Camp isn't a hotbed of Internet activity. It's a place where campfire chats, great chow and relationships rule. Program directors -- and, yes, chefs -- want staff to leave smart phones and laptops in their cabins. If you must partake of the information super-highway, head to town on your offtime. The food's good, musicians entertain and the Internet (usually) flows freely.