Friday, May 30, 2014

Working on baked apple pancake recipe for camp

Stay tuned to 'Round the Chuckbox. I'm working on a baked apple pancake, or big Dutch baby, for breakfast at Oakland Feather River Camp. We've done two test runs to date. The first followed the original recipe from the January 2014 issue of Sunset Magazine. It was good. But I felt it needed something to add interest to the recipe for our campers.

The first test recipe for the bug Dutch baby. We served it with honey and lemon juice.
For the second test, I doubled the recipe and prepared it in a full-sized two-inch hotel pan with caramelized apples. This is more practical for large groups instead of using multiple skillets. I though the finished product had a cake-like quality to it. Several staffers agreed.

For our next test, I plan to adjust the quantity of flour and add lemon juice or apple cider reduction to the batter. Apple cider will certainly complement the caramelized apples. I'll report back after my next test.

I'm caramelizing fresh apples for the second test recipe. While I though the recipe was good, it needs perfection before I post it on these pages.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Surrounded by wildflowers

One of the joys of arriving at Oakland Feather River Camp in early May are the abundance of wildflowers. Vibrant yellow, scarlet and blue flowers spring up all around the expansive camp, which is located along the east shore of Spanish Creek north of Quincy, California. Gentle slopes, high bluffs and grassy Oak and Pine forests blanket the area.

Seasonal wildflowers claim the rich soil among the rustic cabins and tent platforms. In the month before campers populate the camp, the flowers dominate the view. Wildflower sightings are even a hot topic in the kitchen this year. I doesn't matter where you're located on the camp property -- behind the cook's cabin or along Spanish Creek -- gorgeous wildflowers brighten the moment. Even flowers with long white pedals grown in the concrete cracks on the ramp to the kitchen dock.

Please enjoy these flowers, all found behind the cook's cabin. The vintage cabin is located on a gentle forested west facing slope above the kitchen and dining room. These flowers glow in filtered sunlight throughout most of the day. They're fading now as days warm and the soil dries. They will soon be gone. And we'll have to wait for next spring for the repeat performance.

These petite Buttercups are now fading for the season. When I took the picture on May 8, they were growing on the shaded forest floor surrounding the cook's cabin at the camp. My parking spot is visible in the background.
I don't remember seeing the Scarlet Fritillary last year.  They seem to be growing in abundance this year, including this specimen  growing behind our cabin earlier this month. Today, the flower pedals are gone and seeds bearing the next generation are forming. Local Plumas County naturalist Joe Willis reported on Scarlet Fritillary on May 8.
This Sierra pink currant is growing in the fence that surrounds the electrical substation behind my cabin.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Barbecue sliced beef meal

Sometimes the simplest meals are the best. Last night for the closing dinner of the 2014 volunteer work camp at Oakland Feather River Camp, barbecued beef, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted summer squash and zucchini were on the menu. Brownies with caramel drizzle followed for dessert. Polish sausage was placed on the buffet line to relieve pressure on the beef since I wasn't sure if I had enough for the meal. Around 75 volunteers and 15 staff enjoyed the meal.

To prepare the barbecue sauce, I began with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce and seasoned it with guajillo chili paste, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and lemon juice. The resulting sauce had a mildly spicy taste with a lemony tang. The sauce was ladled over sliced pot roast (made from eye of round) and sliced red onions. It baked in a 300 degree convection oven, uncovered, for around 60 minutes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Boy Scout camp needs part-time cook for summer season

Boy Scout summer Camp Winton in Pioneer, California, is searching for a part-time cook for the summer season. According to the Gold Country Craigslist posting, the position pays $12 per hour. The job will be scheduled 24 hours per week, with shifts Thursday through Saturday morning. The job begins on June 12, 2014 and runs through August 3, 2014 (close of camp).

You will "work with our team of seven kitchen staff in a beautiful remote location cooking for 200 people," continues the announcement. "Room and board (is) covered at camp." To apply, submit a resume by responding to the Craigslist posting.

A current physical exam is required for all positions. The job requires registration with the Boy Scouts of America as well. Candidates must have valid California Food Handlers Certificate.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicken pozole verde at camp

We served chicken pozole verde for the first time at Oakland Feather River Camp yesterday for lunch. Around three and one-half gallons were used for 80 campers and staff. My only regret is that I didn't have any pumpkin seeds for the soup. Here's a picture of the condiments.


Sunday Afternoon
Chicken pozole verde with traditional condiments
(Sliced radishes, chopped onions, shredded cabbage,
diced jalapeno chilies, chopped cilantro, lemon & lime wedges)
Grilled ham & cheese sandwich
Barbecue potato chips
Massaged kale salad
Full salad bar
Chocolate chip cookies

Friday, May 16, 2014

High altitude cinnamon rolls

A quick note from my cell: I'm paying closer attention to the effects of altitude on our bakery products at Oakland Feather River Camp this season. We used our standard sea-level cinnamon roll formula without modification. After a two-day ferment in the refrigerator, I made about 30 rolls.

They were then proofed them until one and one-half their original size (instead of doubling). I let oven spring do the rest. The result was cinnamon roll with around one-half less of the centers popping out. The rolls were baked at 325 degrees F. in a convection oven. 

Oakland Camp is located at 3,500 elevation. My next adjustment us to use about 10 percent less yeast. More to come.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dutch oven cookout at camp

When I arrive at camp last year my focus was to get the kitchen ready for staff and campers. I had little time to enjoy a Dutch oven cookout with the cooks. My first week went to writing a new menu, working on vendor relationships and cleaning the kitchen that's dormant eight months of the year. Once the cooks arrived, the focus shifted to training them to cook my recipes and molding them into a cohesive team.

Opening the kitchen this year has been much smoother for me. Outside of revising the menu and training a new crew, the 2014 start up has been a bit less busy. I didn't have to reinvent every process or procedure. I'm spending my time improving on what we did last year and training new cooks (only one 2013 cook returned).

I've added a new feature to our pre-camp evening program. Once each week the cooks enjoy a dinner cookout. We held our first one last night on the barbecue patio that's adjacent to the kitchen. Using the New Braunfels charcoal charcoal grill, I grilled marinated steaks, then set them in a 12-inch camp oven to braise. Nine staff (kitchen, maintenance, housekeeping and leadership) joined in for a fun meal on the patio.

After trimming an eye of round, I cut it into around 20 steaks. I flattened each steak with a heavy bacon press.  
The steaks marinated in a (mildly) spicy guajillo chili sauce. To my guajillo adobo sauce, I added a bit of vinegar, juice of 2 limes, couple tablespoons chopped cilantro and a splash of olive oil. The steaks marinated in the refrigerator for around 4 hours.
The steaks were grilled over a hot charcoal fire in the camp barbecue grill. I set the 20 steaks on a bed of thick onion rings. The onion rings acted as a trivet and flavored meat and resulting sauce.
Since I didn't want to burn the charcoal briquettes on the concrete deck, an inverted 17-inch Lodge skillet served as the Dutch oven table. Five coals under the oven and around 20 on the lid were used to tenderize the steaks (at approximately 350 degrees). It takes 1-1/2 to 2 hours to cook the steaks to the point when they're fork tender. Be ready for a change of coals after 45 minutes. I poured the marinade over the steaks at the halfway point.
The menu for dinner was grilled steaks with spicy guajillo sauce, rice pilaf and succotash with spinach.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A culinary field trip

I visited the Virginia Theological
Seminary dining room in March, where
my sister works. Under leadership of
Chef Benjamin Judd, the dining room
is operated by Meriwether Godsay.
Walking into another chef’s dining room is a field trip to me. As I wander through the servery my eyes processes the view at lightning speed. Even the smallest detail is imprinted on my mind in my quest for ideas to use in my dining hall. Like the school trip, I enjoy the adventure of surveying the scene while build my plate.

This isn’t an exercise in judgment of another chef’s establishment. I’m there to enjoy his food and share a meal with friends or family. But my eyes do wander, even after I take my place at the dining table. It’s an occupational hazard, one with the highest regard for an associate.

Standard culinary squirt bottles hold
salad dressing. Thicker dressings are
served from large Mason canning jars,
as are croutons.
Questions race through my mind. How is the meal presented in the chaffing dishes? Can diners freely navigate between stations? Are staff able to quietly move among stations as they restock and clean? Often I find myself quietly saying, “I wish I’d thought of that!”

This habit doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the meal. Yet, I see the field trip as an essential element of my career as a chef, one highlighted by years working in institutional kitchens. I’m impressed by chefs who’ve moved beyond the traditional cafeteria serving line. Though in use for decades, it’s fun to see a fellow chef put his own ideas on open serving areas.

Chef Judd began using Lodge cast
iron Dutch ovens for the soup station
in early 2013. Sterno fuel keeps the
soup warm for service.
It’s a clandestine way of comparing notes. Over the years I’ve gleaned a number of ideas in this manner. Meeting the chef is an added bonus. By the time we compare notes, I have a good idea how patrons flow though the dining room. Chef to chef quality time lets me share ideas, impart a compliment or two and thank the host for a great meal.

Who doesn’t love a good field trip? The highlight of my school years, I enjoy a good venue even more as a chef. Great food and a little learning go hand in hand. It gets you out of your kitchen and into the culinary another where ideas flow.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Dutch oven cookoff at Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch

Anyone in the Plumas County, California, area on Saturday, May 31, 2014, is invited to a Dutch oven cookoff at Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch at 1 p.m. The ranch is located at 2116 Greenhorn Ranch Road, about 10 miles east of Quincy on State Route 70. The event flyer says there will be "raffles, gunfighters, vendors and music." A pulled pork barbecue tops the day at 5 p.m.

You need to call the ranch to sign-up or receive additional information as the flyer doesn't state the start times for the cookoff. The phone number is (530) 283-0930. You can also email the ranch at or visit the website at

Debbie and I visited the guest ranch yesterday. The cookoff looks like a great way to kickoff their spring season, which opens May 14. We met owners Trish and Ralph Wilburn in the saloon, where they were hanging out after an afternoon mowing the lawn, tending to the horses, etc. Trish invited us to the first weekly public barbecue of the season on Friday, May 30. We won't be able to visit the ranch for the cookoff on Saturday, but will enjoy the barbecue on Friday evening.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Meals during pre-camp

During the first week of the season at Oakland Feather River Camp, staff are on their own for meals. The half-dozen employees that commute from nearby Quincy bring lunch. Debbie and I fend for ourselves. Other than the camp manager, who lives on the property with his wife, we're the only ones living at camp.

The dietary kitchen -- so-called because campers prepare special diets in it -- serves as our home kitchen for the first week. Late next week the cooks begin cooking breakfast and dinner for the dozen pre-camp employees. The sous chef and pre-cooks arrive on Thursday to clean the kitchen and begin preparing meals on Friday.

Sometimes breakfast for dinner is the best meal. Friday evening I cooked bacon (not pictured), cottage potatoes and fried eggs in the Lodge #12 skillet. Sorry, there were no leftovers!

I brought two 12-inch Dutch ovens for use during pre-camp and a couple cook's evening cookouts. Three large Lodge skillets (including the 20-inch skillet I found in Eagle Point, Oregon, in April) were also packed for use in the main kitchen. Pre-camp gives me the opportunity to do a lot of Dutch oven cooking. Once camp opens in mid-June, I'm too busy to cook in Dutch ovens.

Thursday evening, our first full day at camp, Debbie and I visited Moon's, our favorite restaurant in Quincy. Mike and Lisa Kelly are wonderful hosts, and they serve great food. Hickory smoked ribs with rosemary-garlic mashed potatoes and freshly baked garlic bread is my most ordered meal. Debbie enjoys the twice-baked potato. She always returns to camp with leftovers to use for lunch or dinner.

Saturday's dinner was bratwurst with layered cabbage and red potatoes in a Lodge 12-inch camp oven. A layer of sliced red potatoes went on the bottom. Sliced onions came next, then shredded green cabbage. The dish was baked with charcoal briquettes for 350 to 400 degrees for around 45 minutes. Don't forget to season each layer. Adjust quantities of sausages, potatoes and cabbage as needed to feed your group.

Friday and Saturday evenings we cooked dinner in cast iron. You can see the results in the two photographs. I'm planning a busman's holiday cookout for cooks this Friday. After two busy days cleaning and organizing the kitchen, it'll give the cooks time to bond as the culinary team at Oakland Camp. And off their skill. Everyone, along with maintenance and housekeeping staff if they choose to join in, will have fun.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Herb garden at camp

Early last March I set up a herb garden in a metal tub. My thought was to grow some of the common fresh herbs that we use in the camp kitchen. While the garden may not supply sufficient herbs for our larger camps, it'll yield enough for some smaller groups. This year is mainly a test to see if the garden is feasible. If it works out, I'll work on plans for a larger garden next summer.

The Behrens #1 oval 7.5-gallon tub holds a variety of herbs for my summer camp kitchen. Rosemary, chives, tarragon and chamomile make up the backdrop with sage and thyme in front. The portable garden is located adjacent to my cabin. I plan to begin a second garden with basil and oregano (which weren't available locally in early March). I'll purchase parsley and cilantro from the produce purveyor because we use massive quantities.