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 to arrange a Western-style feast! Menus are available upon request.