Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chuckwagon videos

Here's a YouTube videos series on the history of the chuckwagon. It also includes the basics of Dutch oven cooking at the wagon. The gentleman is well-spoken. He gives interesting detail on Nineteenth Century cattle drives and the chuckwagon, cook and Dutch oven. I believe the videos were filmed at the Oak Grove Cowboy Weekend in Michigan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Baked orange French toast

The Stanley Ranch Cook Book is one my favorite sources for inspiration and recipes. It’s hosted by the Stanley Ranch in Fossil, Oregon. Many recipes seem to the contribution of the unnamed ranch cook. (Edit: The cookbook is no longer available on-line).

The recipe for baked orange French toast caught my eye while pursuing side dishes last week. This recipe is the contribution of by Marlene Stanley, who owns the ranch with husband her Rick. Once I prepared my rendition for camp in a Dutch oven, I discovered the subtle orange flavor throughout. It doesn't overwhelm. Instead, the orange juice and zest give the breakfast dish wonderful balance between traditional French toast and the orange flavor.


Eliminate the pecans to make the recipe nut free. Marlene Stanley’s version called for 2/3-cup orange juice and 1/3-cup orange liqueur. Since I generally don’t purchase liqueurs, I used a full cup of juice. I’m certain the liqueur will give the French toast an even richer flavor.

12 ounces day old French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup toasted pecan pieces (see recipe below)
6 large eggs
1 cup half and half
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

Place bread cubes in a lightly greased 9- or 10-inch round cake pan. Spread pecans evenly over bread. Whisk eggs, half and half, orange juice, orange zest and sugar together in a medium bowl. Pour batter evenly over the bread. Push bread down into the batter.

Cover and place in refrigerator or ice cooler. Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight if being served for breakfast. In the morning, take the pan out of the refrigerator or ice cooler. Light 28 charcoal briquettes. Meanwhile, pour melted butter evenly over bread.

When coals are barely covered with ash, pre-heat a 12-inch Dutch oven with 8 coals underneath and 20 on the lid. (Alternatively, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.; bake in oven as directed.) Remove lid and place the pan inside the Dutch oven. Replace the lid and bake 40 minutes, until French toast is set and puffed up.

Remove pan from Dutch oven. Cool 10 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges. Offer 1 or 2 wedges to each person. Serve with syrup. Marlene Stanley recommends serving a sauce of melted butter and marmalade on the side.


Toasting brings out the wonderfully nutty flavor of the pecan. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell wonderfully nutty aroma of the nuts. Stop the cooking by placing the nuts in a small bowl.

1 cup chopped pecans (approximately 2-1/4 ounces)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Melt butter in a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and toss to coat with butter. Toast, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from heat and use as directed.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best in class?

Last week we visited the Plumas-Sierra County Fair in Quincy, California. Our last day at Oakland Feather River Camp was Saturday, August 16. Since one of our daughters was coming up to visit a friend, Debbie and I elected to delay our homecoming so we could visit. After worship on Sunday, we walked around, enjoyed the exhibits and let our granddaughter visit the midway.

The mold on a number of pie entries to the baked goods and confections competition stuck me as odd. I understand when you consider entries were turned in and judged on Wednesday, opening day of the fair. What once appealed, was ready for the trash. Unfortunately, I didn't see how this pie placed in the competition.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A culinary car for the El Dorado Western Railroad?

The El Dorado Western Railway Foundation purchased this tool car from the Richmond Pacific Railroad in December 2011. It has intrigued me since then. I've often talked about converting it into a culinary car for the El Dorado Western Railroad, which operates on eight miles of the old Southern Pacific Placerville Branch rail line between Shingle Springs and Diamond Springs.

It's a natural desire in my informal role as the the railroad chef. Several times each year, I host a track-side meal for railroad volunteers. My last such meal occurred in November last year, when I prepared pork chili with guajillo chili adobo, cheesy butter milk biscuits and berry cobbler for the bridge crew. My hope is that my winter schedule will allow me to cook for the crew more frequently during my home season.

A dedicated culinary car would improve conditions for cooking on the railroad. I'm not saying that the complete car has to be remodeled into a galley on wheels. There's plenty of room for rail tools and equipment on the starboard side. It would give me a mobile platform to transport the two-burner stove, ice chest, Dutch ovens and utensils.

I could easily work with the port side of the tool car. That's the side with the shallow tool box. The side with the deeper tool cabinet can be used by the maintenance crew. The pictures describe how I intend put this plan into action.

This is the port side of the Richmond Pacific Railroad tool car. Of two tool cabinets, this one reaches about two-thirds of the way across the deck. The open space leaves sufficient room to mount a two-burner Camp Chef propane stove. The ice chest can be set in the center space for transport. The center section would then be used as a Dutch oven table. This would keep burning coals off the ground when at the work site. 
This is the starboard side of the tool car. There is enough space to mount a small generator, air compressor or water tank. The tool cabinet can be used to secure tools and equipment.
The A end of the tool car. This is the forward end. It will normally be the end that is coupled to the gang car, locomotive or trackmobile. 
The B end of the tool car. There is plenty of storage space on top of the tool cabinet, plus room to hang hoses, chains and other large tools.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cabbage and potatoes with bacon

Debbie and I returned home after four months away. This included a quick trip to Oregon, where I located a rare Lodge 20-inch skillet. After visiting Debbie's sister and husband on the Oregon coast, we made our way to Quincy, California, where I was the chef for Oakland Feather River Camp for the next three and one-half months.

I hauled two 12-inch Dutch ovens to the camp, along with three large skillets. Twice during the pre-camp session I showed the cooks how to cook in cast iron Dutch ovens. Once camp ramped up in early June, long days and large numbers of hungry campers eliminated the opportunity for any Dutch oven cooking.

Serving  from 100 to over 300 campers three times each day is rewarding in itself. But I missed the chance to cook in cast iron. While we occasionally used the skillets in the kitchen, the Dutch ovens lacked the capacity to feed the crowds. I knew I'd have to wait until we came home to get back to cast iron cooking.

Layered cabbage and potatoes with bacon made a great welcome home dish. As a one-pot meal, it was relatively easy to prepare. And it has a great flavor. The marriage of two of my favorite vegetables makes for a succulent meal.

Enjoy ...


Sufficient liquid should be released from the cabbage to keep the dish moist. If the cabbage and potatoes are dry during baking, add 2 to 4 tablespoons water or chicken stock to the dish. When served, you should see a light coating of delicious liquor on the bottom surface of the Dutch oven.

Feel free to substitute your favorite sausage (sliced) for the bacon. Or to add a second layer of bacon, boost it to 12 or 16 ounces and spread half over each layer of cabbage.

8 ounces bacon, diced
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1-1/2 pounds green cabbage, shredded
3 pounds red or gold potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a 12-inch Dutch oven over medium high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove to plate. Pour off most of the rendered fat, leaving about 3 tablespoons.

Add onion and cabbage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently, until it’s just beginning to brown and the volume of cabbage is reduced by one-third. If necessary, add an additional tablespoon or two bacon fat to keep cabbage moist. Remove to separate plate or bowl.

Layer potatoes, cabbage mixture and bacon, lightly seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Place 1/3 potatoes on bottom of Dutch oven. Spread 1/2 cabbage mixture over potatoes, then spread all of the bacon over the cabbage. Place another third of the potatoes over the cabbage and bacon layer. Layer of remaining cabbage over potatoes. Place remaining potatoes over the cabbage.

Place lid on Dutch oven. Add coals for 375 to 400 degrees, approximately 8 under the oven and 20 on the lid. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and they are beginning to brown.

As an entrée, cabbage and potatoes serves 6 hearty eaters. It serves up to 12 as a side dish.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Last Tuesday the Quincy, California, area received a full day of rain. I didn't realize that I had earlier moved my Dutch ovens from the camp kitchen to the cabin. They seem to have weathered the storm with little rust. I'll clean and re-season the two 12-inch camp ovens once Debbie and I arrive home.

Herb garden results

I transported a new herb garden to camp with good intentions. I thought it could supply a portion of the fresh herbs for the camp kitchen. Yet with little free time in the evening to tend the garden, I barely kept up with watering. Instead, the container garden served as an element of the "front yard" outside our cabin door.

My herb garden weathered the Sierra Nevada well. It will soon return to our Diamond Springs,California, home, where I plan to use the produce for home and camping. All the plants save one (the camellia plant) survived. The chive, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are growing strong. I will soon add basil.

While I believe my idea to grow herbs for the camp kitchen had merit, the garden never produced amounts needed for large quantities of food. Next year I will continue to purchase fresh herbs from our produce purveyor. In addition to cilantro and parsley (curry and flat leaf), the cooks use fresh basil, mint and thyme. Dried herbs stand in for the other herbs.

Sage awaits wonderful fall cuisine when Debbie and I arrive home late next week.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Arroz con pollo

It may not be the prettiest dish that we serve at Oakland Feather River Camp. But arroz con pollo is packed with flavor (the link takes you to my Dutch oven version). Two weeks ago, five 12 by 20 by 2-1/2-inch pans fed 135 campers and staff at the family camp. Simmered black beans, succotash with kale and chocolate bread pudding rounded the menu.