Monday, September 29, 2014

How to dice an onion

In my culinary career I have used two or three onion dicing techniques. The method I used for the first 20 years of my career differed from the conventional technique. Yet it worked most of the time. I now use a method similar to the one demonstrated by Sporting Chef Scott Laysath.

YouTube description: "Published on Aug 28, 2014. Scott Leysath demonstrates the fast and easy way to dice an onion."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New masthead image

For the first time in nearly 10 years, 'Round the Chuckbox has a masthead image. The photograph was taken in Eldorado National Forest during one of my many campfires up Iron Mountain Road in January 2009.

I originally developed this image last year to use as a business card. As shot, the Dutch oven was on the left side. I cannot remember the reason that I flipped the image, although I'm certain it was for some obscure artistic reason. 
Here's a peak Inside the Dutch oven. My cooking journal didn't reveal any details about this pizza. It looks like a take-and-bake pizza from a local shop.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lobster, a sea-going favorite

Lobster was a favorite of the crew when I sailed on the USS Stein (DE-1065) in the mid-1970s. We baked it with butter and lemon, grilled over hot coals it on the flight deck and diced leftovers for salad. Our chef (a chief petty officer) was reprimanded for making an unauthorized purchase of lobster in Australia. And yours truly felt the wrath of the chief for noshing on leftovers after a surf and turf barbecue. I suspect lobster remains a seagoing favorite in the US Navy.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 31, 2014) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Marco A. Coll-Dimayo, left, from Rockford, Ill., and Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Dontae R. Flint, from Suffolk, Va., prepare dinner for the crew aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105). Dewey is underway in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of responsibility as part of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Vazquez.

Throwback Thursday: Spinach and mushroom lasagna roll-ups

This recipe for rolled single serving lasagna was originally posted in May 2005. Interestingly, I haven't prepared the dish since. My plan was to prepare it at a Dutch oven cookoff, but plans changed.

I learned that it's best to leave the last inch or so of lasagna noodle free of filling. The starch in the pasta will bond so the roll-ups don't fall apart as two did for me during the test run. I'll lay them on their side next time I bake the lasagna roll-ups in the Dutch oven.

16 cremini caps, cleaned and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups part skim ricotta
8 curly edge lasagna noodles, cooked to al dente (12 to 14 minutes)
2 cups prepared marinara sauce
8 slices mozzarella cheese

In a 10-inch Dutch oven over moderate heat, saute mushrooms, chopped onions, and garlic in oil until mushrooms give off their juices and darken and onions are tender, about 7 or 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; the salt will help draw water out of the vegetables as they cook.

Add dry chopped spinach to the pan and heat through for 1 minute. Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Add ricotta and stir into mixture to heat cheese through, 1 minute longer. Remove pan from heat but leave in the warm skillet. Place lid on Dutch oven and place about 5 hot coals on lid to keep warm.

Heat marinara sauce in a small pan over moderate heat. Place cooked lasagna noodles on a large work surface or cutting board. Spread lasagna noodles with a layer of spinach-mushroom filling. Leave the last inch of surface free of filling. Roll up pasta and arrange the 8 bundles in a 12-inch Dutch oven. Pour warm sauce over roll-ups and top with mozzarella.

Place lid on Dutch oven and bake at 350-degrees (17 coals on lid and 8 under oven) for 15 minutes or until heated through. At the last minute place about 10 extra coals on lid. Watch closely and remove from heat when cheese starts to brown.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

20-inch Lodge skillet at Upper Blue Lake

Debbie and I returned from our annual camping trip to Upper Blue Lake with my sister and husband. This year one of our daughters and granddaughters joined us, along with one of the wranglers from Oakland Camp. We enjoyed six days of sun, wind and cool mountain air.

This is the first article from the trip. As I coordinated the menu with my sister, my thought was to prepare several meals in my "new" 20-inch Lodge skillet (model 20SK). I found the skillet at an Eagle Point, Oregon, antique shop last April. Newly re-seasoned, I used the large skillet to cook four meals for the family. I wanted to cook as many meals as possible to hasten the build-up of patina.

Enjoy these photos.

The Lodge model 20SK skillet awaits dinner Thursday evening. I use the large World War II Navy surplus coffee boiler to heat water for washing dishes. The boiler was manufactured by Vollrath.
Spicy Japanese buckwheat noodles (called soba noodles) was on the menu Thursday evening. The sauce was made from sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce. Two (9.5-ounce) packages soba noodles and two pounds shrimp were used.
I fried 1-1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon for breakfast Friday morning. The small pot holds syrup for hotcakes.
Oat blueberry hotcakes were cooked in the skillet. The batter ran until it set in the less than level skillet 
To make the hotcake batter, I doubled my families traditional hotcake recipe, then replaced 1 cup of the flour with a cup of old fashion oats. I dropped a 6-ounce package fresh blueberries to the batter at the last minute.
Friday evening I prepared succotash with kale to accompany grilled chicken. After sauteing onion, roasted red pepper and garlic, I added a bunch of kale.
After adding two (1-pound) packages frozen whole kernel corn to the vegetables, I scooped the dish into the waiting pot. Garlic bread is warming in the foil packages to the left. My brother-in-law grilled chicken for the entree.
We used Saturday's leftover tri-tip to make fajitas for lunch Sunday. I'm seasoning the meat and vegetables with scratch-made taco seasoning.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Three-sided chicken, use your next campfire to roast a chicken in a Dutch oven

I wrote this article while camping in Oregon's Diamond Lake 10 years ago. It ran in the fall 2004 issue of the IDOS Dutch Oven News. It was written from the perspective of fall camping. With fall quickly approaching, why not give it a try?

Do you remember the last time you stood around a glowing fall campfire? Your backside froze in the crisp autumn air while your front roasted. To equalize the radiant energy of the campfire, you’d momentarily turn your back to the fire. But soon, your front would freeze and you’d once again turn to face the fire.

The autumn campfire gives fall campers the perfect opportunity to cook a favorite among camp dishes. So, why waist a good campfire? Prepare three-sided chicken for dinner with your next fall campfire. Like the two-sided effect of the campfire, a whole chicken fryer roasts on three sides (top, bottom and the side facing the fire) in a deep-model Dutch oven.

Three-sided cooking in camp

Next time you light a campfire on a fall camping adventure, clear a spot in front of the fire for a large Dutch oven. Meanwhile, slip a jacket on to keep your back warm, step over to the chuckbox and rub a fresh four to five pound chicken fryer your favorite seasoning. Once the campfire burns to a nice bed of coals, you’re ready to cook.

You’ll need a large campfire to produce sufficient coals to boost the oven to an estimated internal temperature of 375 degrees to 400 degrees F. The hot oven turns the skin to a crisp golden brown and the breast meat to a succulent juiciness when cooked just right. To evenly brown the bird, apply heat to three sides of the oven. Top, bottom and backside heat creates a bird with perfectly browned skin.

To start, burn a large campfire until a hot, glowing bed of coals remains. This’ll take 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the available wood. Then clear a shallow pit in front of the fire that’s the approximate diameter of a 12-inch Dutch oven. When ready, use a shovel to transfer hot coals to the pit and pre-heat the Dutch oven over the bed of coals.

Since you don’t want to set the chicken onto the floor of the oven, place a round baking rack or Dutch oven trivet in the oven. (Don’t have a trivet? Set the chicken on a bed of roughly chopped onion, carrot and celery.)

Place the seasoned chicken on the rack or trivet. Then place the lid on the oven and shovel a heap of coals over the Dutch oven. It’s this blast of heat that’ll radiate to the skin and transform the chicken into a delicious meal.

The problem with three-sided cooking is that the fourth side languishes without intense heat. It sets at sub-roasting temperatures while the side that faces the fire sizzles dangerously close to carbonization. To ensure even cooking, frequently turn the Dutch oven. At the same time, rotate the lid in the opposite direction. This’ll compensate for the uneven cooking of the coals.

If you haven’t done so already, add fresh firewood to the fire. Heat from the flame and the coals of the fire will radiate to the exposed side of the oven. Next time that you lift the lid, you’ll notice the skin and juices sizzling toward a simple meal.

Senses become your doneness meter

I can’t tell you how long you’ll be able to face the fire before you must turn your body. Each person comes to the campfire with his own tolerances for heat and cold. This is where you’ll have to depend on experience––both as a camper and cook.

Nor can I tell you how many coals that you’ll need to heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Just pile fresh coals on the lid of the oven as often as needed to maintain oven temperature. Experience will teach you how many coals to add to the pot.

Your senses will become your thermometer and doneness indicator. You’ll have to gauge temperature by watching the chicken cook. (Is the skin sizzling or sitting limp? Has the skin started to brown within 20 to 30 minutes?) Since you don’t want to lift the lid too often, listen for cooking sounds (can you hear the sizzle?). And as the chicken cooks, satisfying aromas will waft up to you.

All three--browning action, sizzle and aroma--work together to help you assess the bird’s progress and ultimate doneness. To gauge doneness, simply pull one leg from the body. If it gives with an effortless twist and the juices run clear, the chicken is done. It’ll take 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours to roast the chicken.

The key is to cook the chicken just until it’s done––not a minute longer. Overcook the bird and you’ll be rewarded with dry meat. You’ll need a quart of gravy to make the meal palatable. And remember, if it smells burnt, it is.

For a complete meal, add Yukon Gold or Klondike Rose potatoes to the pot about 45 minutes before the chicken is done. One or two small potatoes per person should do. Or cool the chicken slightly and pull the meat off of the bone. Then wrap in flour tortillas with Spanish rice, salsa and sour cream.

Plan to cook three-sided chicken on your next fall camping adventure. Follow these simple techniques and you’ll be rewarding with one of the simplest Dutch oven meals that you can produce in camp. You’ll need a jacket to warm your back and a campfire to heat your front and roast the chicken.

The softwood solution

I depend on downed softwood in the Sierra Nevada high country to build my campfires. To me, it’s a waste of precious dollars to haul oak firewood or charcoal briquettes to the campground. I instead rely of the natural resources of the forest.

I’ve learned that to be successful with softwood you must pay constant attention to your Dutch oven. Pine, fir and cedar burns quickly. As a result, you need watch your oven and replenish the coals often.

I don’t focus oven temperature when camping. I just pile hot coals from the campfire onto the oven with a gloved hand and a pair of 14-inch tongs. I use experience and the five senses to approximate the correct number of coals.

I usually build a campfire that’s four to five times the volume of the camp oven and burn it down to a glowing bed of coals. You can accomplish this in approximately 30 minutes with pine, fir and cedar.

I've learned from many poorly cooked dishes that you can never have too many campfire coals. To make sure I finish the dish with sufficient heat, I continue to feed the campfire even after I’ve heated the oven. I keep feeding the fire as long as I have a plentiful supply of firewood.

  • Don’t truss the chicken. Though recommended by chefs, trussing forces the breast up into the oven’s head space. This reduces the likelihood that the chicken will brown properly.
  • Rotate the Dutch oven often. For a perfectly browned chicken, rotate the oven in increments. You have to judge how often based on experience and observation. As the skin in the first section browns, give the oven a 45- to 90-degree turn to brown the next section.
  • Think food safety. A bout of Salmonella is the last thing you want in camp. Freeze the bird at home. Then wrap it in two sheets of newsprint and enclose it in a large zipper-lock bag. And thoroughly scrub your hands in warm soapy water after handling the chicken.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Shallow vs. deep camp oven

Chef Steven with three shallow
and two deep camp ovens at
Leonard "Wagon Cook" Sanders'
50th birthday celebration in Oroville,
California, December 2002.
Selecting the right pan or pot is as much a science as cooking the meal itself. Capacity and shape are important features to consider when selecting a cast iron Dutch oven. Each  plays an important role in how the dish cooks in the pot. Cast iron ensures even cooking, slow transfer of heat to the product and heat retention in the pot. And its well-developed patina helps the cooking surface resist sticking.

The question being asked here is whether you will use a regular or shallow Dutch oven or a deep model? The popular manufacturers cast Dutch ovens in both sizes. Lodge Manufacturing, for instance, produces a line regular and deep camp ovens in 10-, 12- and 14-inch diameter pots.

The Lodge deep 10-inch camp oven holds one additional quart of volume and is five-eighths-inch deeper than the shallower model. The Lodge deep 12- and 14-inch camp ovens each hold an extra two quarts and are one and one-quarter inch deeper. The deeper ovens feature a narrower base.

Camp Chef also manufactures a line of deep camp ovens in 10- and 12-inch diameters. Their camp ovens are made to similar specifications used by Lodge. Lodge uses the term “camp oven” to differentiate ovens made for outdoor cooking from home-style Dutch ovens.

The added height and capacity of the deeper camp ovens provides extra headroom. This lets the outdoor cook prepare fit larger roasts and poultry into the Dutch oven without being cut into smaller pieces. Deep ovens are also useful for bread baking, stewing and frying.

When considering the type of Dutch oven to use, look at the pan or pot you’d use for a recipe inside the home kitchen. You want to select the Dutch oven that best fits that profile. For instance, a layered dish, like lasagna, works best inside the wide, flat confines of a regular oven while a rib roast can only fit in a deeper oven.

The regular or shallow camp oven is best used for any recipe that benefits from the shallow pan with a wide base. Use for rolls, biscuits, cookies and cakes; casseroles, lasagna and other layered dishes; small cuts of meat, fish and poultry; etc. The wide base also makes a better skillet than the narrow base of the deep camp oven.

Cakes are best baked in a regular Dutch oven. The shallow oven and wide base more closely mimics the shape and size of a standard round aluminum cake pan. This allows for even baking while maintaining moderate depth in the cake.

As explained above, the deep camp oven is best when you need extra depth for large cuts of meat and poultry, loaves of bread, or any dish where you want the extra headroom. The also make good bean pots. The narrow base lets you concentrate heat and moisture around pieces of meat and vegetables, thus minimizing the likelihood of the dish drying out. Use the deep oven for stews and soups as well.

For meat and poultry, the size of the piece determines the oven to use. A whole chicken, for instance, requires a deep oven because of its size and structure while several smaller Cornish hens should neatly fit inside a regular oven. Cut-up chicken (individual pieces or quarters) works best in a regular oven where the wide base and shallow headroom allow for even heat distribution and cooking.

Next time you want to cook in a Dutch oven, consider whether a shallow or deep oven is best for the dish. While it's possible to interchange these ovens (as I have done many times), consider the advantages of each oven. The deep camp oven is best reserved for dishes that neatly fit inside its deep profile. The same hold true for the shallow oven.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Throwback Thursday: My first recipe on the blog

Beginning today, I intend to re-post articles from the early days of 'Round the Chuckbox each Thursday. My goal is to give new life into some of my early articles. I will fix broken links and take care of spelling and bad grammar. Otherwise, I'll leave the article as originally written. 

The recipe for chuckwagon chili was first posted on February 5, 2005. It was my first recipe and second article to the blog. 

My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are over for the weekend. Since it’s their first trip up from the Bay Area since the wedding, we’re having a few friends over this afternoon. I though a simple chili, cooked in one of my 14-inch Dutch ovens over the camp stove would hit the spot.

Traditional red chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of beans and pasta, which are strictly forbidden. Traditions aside, beans have a nice way of rounding a hot bowl of red. Besides, the cowboys ate beans by the bowl. Add 4 (14-ounce) cans of pinto or red beans at the second spice dump.

If you're so inclined, use a mixture of beef base diluted with beer instead of water. Make sure that you use Grandma's or Gephardt's chili powder, not a generic brand.


6 pounds round steak, coarsely ground
1/2 cup olive oil
3 ounces chili powder
6 tablespoons ground cumin
6 clove garlic, minced
2 medium red onion -- chopped
6 dried ancho peppers, remove stems and seeds and boil 30 min in water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 cups beef broth
1 (4-ounce) diced green chiles
12 ounces crushed tomatoes
Hot pepper sauce, to taste

Brown meat in olive oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Drain excess fat; add chili powder, cumin, garlic and chopped onions. Simmer over low heat 30-45 minutes using as little liquid as possible. Add beef stock only as necessary. Stir often.

Remove skins from boiled pods, mash pulp and add to meat mixture. Add oregano, paprika, vinegar, 2 cups beef broth, chiles, stewed tomatoes and hot pepper sauce. Simmer 30-45 minutes. Stir often. Adjust seasoning. Serve with fresh bread. Makes about 1 gallon or 12 (1-1/3 cup) servings.

Traditional chili garnishes -- diced onions, grated sharp cheddar cheese and chopped cilantro -- compliment this dish well.

This recipe is adapted from the October 2004 issue of Food Management. Chef Joe Eidem of the Washoe (Reno, Nevada) Health System serves his chuckwagon chili in the hospital’s cafeteria.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

1,500 posts on 'Round the Chuckbox

The 1,500th post on 'Round the Chuckbox nearly slipped away without notice! My picture of the US Foods truck arriving at Oakland Feather River Camp that was posted Monday takes the honor. Though a random picture, it represents my post-retirement career as a summer camp chef.

While I enjoy the long hours and seemingly chaotic atmosphere of the commercial kitchen, laboring in the outdoor camp kitchen has been my true love for decades. I share a common interest in outdoor cooking with the readers of 'Round the Chuckbox. Together we enjoy cooking in cast iron Dutch ovens, grilling over a campfire and smoking in the barbecue.

When I look back at the articles I posted while away from home this summer, those that relate to outdoor cooking were the best performers. Of the 36 pieces between late-April and mid-August, two standout. This means they performed significantly better than the thirty or so articles on cooking in the camp kitchen.

It seems readership declines whenever I shift focus from outdoor cooking to my work as a camp chef. The statistics show more readers would rather read my thoughts on locating the massive Lodge 20-inch skillet last April than to view a picture of my baked apple pancake. These two were the best and worst performing posts of the spring and summer.

The second highest performing blog of the season was a series of images of a Dutch oven cookout last May. And the two Dutch oven recipes that I've posted since returning home (baked orange French toast and layered cabbage and potatoes with bacon) are above the others.

Not everyone goes away when I place emphasis on cooking for large numbers of campers. 'Round the Chuckbox draws readers from those interested in cooking for groups as well as outdoor cooks. But the pool of those interested in outdoor cooking seems to be somewhat larger than the group of quantity cooking enthusiasts.

I plan to continue posting articles on cooking for groups and outdoor cooking. As I see it, both types of cooking fit within my calling as a camp cook. Since many folks enjoy reading Dutch oven articles, the focus for the fall and winter will be towards outdoor cooking. While I may post one or two more articles from Oakland Camp this summer, I'm ready to put the modest cast iron collection to work.


Click here to see what I had to say when I posted my 1,000th blog article. "As long as I'm able to cook and write," I said on February 5, 2010, "I trust that you'll continue to find the blog interesting. Please drop a note. I always enjoy hearing from my viewers."

Monday, September 01, 2014

The truck, the truck

The US Foods truck negotiates a sharp turn as it moves from the main entrance to the upper road at Oakland Feather River Camp last July. The big three purveyors (US Foods, ProPacific Fresh and Sysco) generally sent medium-sized tractor-trailer combinations to the camp, which is located inside the Spanish Creek canyon, five miles north of Quincy, California. Due to the size of the trucks and awkwardness of the dock, drivers parked on the delivery road and moved product into the kitchen with pallet jack and hand truck.