Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beginning my hot sauce journey

For the last five years I have been working on a variety of fresh and cooked salsas. I posted a series of articles titled, "My salsa journey," in February 2011. (Read the articles here, here and here.) Salsa ranchera is the most popular salsa recipe on 'Round the Chuckbox. Since that time I have featured the salsas at several jobs, including two summers at Oakland Feather River Camp in Quincy, California.

I'm now ready to explorer scratch-made hot sauce. My original thought was to duplicate Cholula brand hot sauce, which is my favorite commercial hot pepper sauce. After a brief Internet recipe search, I changed my focus. I figured that it would be wiser to develop a sauce than to attempt to replicate a commercial sauce. Commercial producers use a variety of production techniques that aren't available to the small producer.

I produced my first batch over two weeks ago. I tasted that hot pepper sauce after a 14-day ferment in the refrigerator. While I'm not entirely satisfied with the flavor, I can accept the hot sauce for now. The texture and spiciness are right on. However, I don't enjoy the sharp tingle from the vinegar. While acid is an essential ingredient of hot sauce, one cup of vinegar is overkill.

My next batch will continue to feature serrano chili peppers. They add a base of flavor to the hot sauce. I'll also hold onto the ground arbol chili pepper. I want to try adding ground pequin chili pepper and reducing the vinegar to less than one-half cup. The pequin chili pepper should compliment the arbol. I look forward to trying my next batch.


This recipe is adapted from chef Emeril Lagasse. I used his Food Network recipe as a starting point. I added ground arbol chili pepper for depth of flavor and to boost the rich color. As explained above, my next batch will reduce the amount of vinegar and introduce ground pequin chilies.

1 tablespoon canola oil
4 ounces serrano chili peppers, stemmed and sliced (about 20 chilies)
1-1/2 ounces minced garlic
3 ounces sliced onion (1/2 medium onion)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground arbol chili pepper
1 cup distilled white vinegar

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add serrano chilies, garlic, onion and salt. Saute 3 minutes. Add he water and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until peppers are very soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Ventilate the room with exhaust fan if necessary. Stir in ground arbol chili.

Puree mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth. With the motor running, add vinegar in a steady stream. Adjust seasoning with additional salt if needed. Strain sauce through a fine-mesh strainer, then transfer to sterilized half-pint canning jars. Cover with air-tight lids. Age 14 days in refrigerator before using.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. This recipe prepares 1-3/4 to 2 cups hot sauce.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Lots of Sausage Gravy

David passed this recipe on in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Please remember that references to hurricane relief are dated and no longer valid.

As announced in the IDOS Forums, Dave Herzog has accepted a challenge to bake 900 biscuits in a 22-inch MACA Dutch oven. And what’s a biscuit without gravy? Dave’s recipe for six gallons of gravy is posted below. You have to watch Dave in action at the Iron Chef Challenge for Hurricane Victims to learn his biscuit secret.


The recipe for Emeril’s essence is available on Emerils.com.

5 pounds breakfast sausage
5 pounds bacon, diced
2 pounds yellow onions, diced
3/4 cup minced garlic or 1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Emeril’s essence
5 cups all purpose flour
4 pounds unsalted butter
5-6 gallons whole milk, cool, not fridge cold.

Preheat a MACA 22-inch Dutch oven with about 35 coals underneath. Add the sausage and bacon together and brown until bacon is golden. Stir in onions, garlic, red and black pepper, salt and essence. Sauté until onions just turn opaque.

Add butter. When melted, stir in flour and cook for about 5 minutes, until flour turns light brown. Add milk, 1 gallon at a time, allowing gravy to thicken, up to 5 gallons. If gravy is too thick, add additional milk a little at a time to thin.

Serve over anything you want! Serves 200 to 250, depending on serving size.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Culinary arrest

This brings to mind an incident during Seabee Operation Bearing Duel in the summer of 1994 at Fort Hunter-Leggett. One afternoon in the scorching heat of the Coast Range, Chief Bob Voigt and I observed an intruder running past the Seventeenth Seabees' galley tent. Bob and I quickly tackled him.

As we marched the intruder to the nearby prisoner of war enclosure, someone yelled, "Blindfold him!" Bob quickly pulled his sweaty t-shirt off his torso and fashioned a blindfold around the runner's eyes. The role-playing Marine wrenched.

We didn't want his to observe the battalion command post and other key facilities in the camp. Once he was turned over to the proper authorities, Bob recovered his t-shirt, apologized and retreated to the safety of the battalion mess. The Opposition Force Marines left the cooks alone for the remainder of the exercise!

Culinary Specialist 3rd Class James C. Tyler, right,from Huntington Beach, Calif., simulates arresting Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Justin O. Gallego, from San Antonio, during a visit, board, search, and seizure exercise on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105). Dewey is deployed as part of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group supporting maritime security operations, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pork tenderloin and apples with cider glaze

Apple cider glaze is amazingly good with pork roast, pork chops and chicken breast. Most recipes direct you to begin with fresh apple cider, then reduce it in a heavy skillet under high heat. A sweetener, such as maple syrup or honey, blends well with the succulent flesh of the meat. Vinegar or wine, mustard and herbs balance the flavor.

Last year I started reducing fresh unfiltered apple cider until it had a syrupy consistency. I've added it to homemade hotcake syrup, roasted Brussels sproutsapple mahogany sauce and apple glaze. I typically purchase the cider in half-gallon bottles and reduce it over high heat to one-quarter its beginning volume (see recipe below). Apple cider is at its peak in the fall.


The recipe for apple mahogany sauce lists several ideas for a sauce such as this one. You can substitute pork chops or chicken breasts for the tenderloin. Saute the meat in a cast iron skillet or grill over hot coals as desired. Brush sauce on the meat during the couple minutes of cooking.

2-1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups apple cider reduction (click for recipe)
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced, 3/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Rinse pork and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Coat all sides with thyme and rosemary. Melt butter in a 12-inch Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides.

Place lid on oven and arrange 10 charcoal briquettes under and 19 on lid (heat for 400 degrees F.). Cook 20 to 25 minutes until pork reaches 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Note size and shape will influence cooking time. Place pork on a platter and rest 10 minutes. Pour off any moisture (and reserve for future application, if desired).

Combine cider reduction, vinegar and mustard. Add apples and cider mixture to Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until apples are al dente and sauce has thickened to glaze consistency. If needed, thin glaze with a small amount (1 tablespoon or less) to apple cider or reserved moisture. Meanwhile, slice pork 1/2-inch thick. Spoon sauce over pork and place apples on either side. If desired, sliced pork can be served from Dutch oven (as pictured).

Makes 6 to 8 servings. Serve with roasted Brussels sprouts and rice pilaf.

Apple cider reduction

Apple cider reduction is used in several recipes at 'Round the chuckbox, as follows:
I use Barsotti organic apple cider, a local El Dorado County, California, company that presses fresh apples at their Apple Hill plant. Barsotti juices can be purchased at many Northern California markets, co-ops and big-box stores, plus a number a local wineries and Apple Hill ranches.


8 cups unfiltered apple cider

Boil apple 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. Freeze leftover cider reduction or use within seven days.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Frank's killer breakfast

Today's throwback blends two posts from August 2005. Frank and his lovely wife, Ann, have since moved to Boise, Idaho, and have become grandparents. Debbie and I need to travel north and hold a reunion camping trip.

All camp cooks savor a day off from the kitchen. Yesterday was my day off. My duty was to make coffee, lounge beside the campfire and dish out advice. A buddy handled all culinary tasks.
Jacob and I went camping with Frank and Hunter Friday evening.

We spent the night at Wench Creek Campground on the east shore of Union Valley Reservoir in Eldorado National Forest. Camping is pleasant now that the heat wave has subsided in the Sacramento Valley. Friday’s high was about 75 degrees. The overnight low was 50.

Frank prepared a killer breakfast for us. He got up about 45 minutes ahead of me Saturday morning. Frank had a good bed of coals for cooking by the time I got up at 6:30 a.m.
Frank’s breakfast is hearty -- an epicurean contradiction -- good tasting and not-so-good for you, all in one setting. A carpenter and general contractor by trade, he cooked  breakfast in two large cast iron skillets, each course in succession. He normally cooks breakfast in one skillet. When Frank told he about breakfast plans last week, I threw in an extra skillet.

Bacon and sausage patties and links inaugurated the morning meat-egg-potatoes fest. Then in quick succession, Frank fried potatoes to a crisp in the bacon fat and scrambled eggs, again in bacon fat. Lastly he cooked gravy from more bacon grease, flour and milk.

Build a roaring cookfire. I follow two rules: First, build a fire that’s twice to three times the size that you think you need. In pine and cedar country it’s easy to underestimate the amount of wood.

The second rule is equally important. Keep the fire going and avoid the tendency to let it burn out once you start cooking. Otherwise Murphy’s Law steps in and kills any further plans for breakfast.

"I love the smell of bacon in the morning."
Use this time to dice the potatoes, crack and whisk the eggs and form sausage patties. The fire will take 30 to 45 minutes to burn down to a nice bed of coals. Don’t forget to add fresh wood as the fire burns.

With the fire ready, it’s time to cook breakfast. I said that Frank cooks each course in succession. The bacon goes into the first pre-heated skillet.

Push the bacon aside if you’re using a large skillet (14 inches or larger) and add sausage patties to the skillet. You may want to cook the bacon and sausage in batches if you’re using a smaller skillet. Once browned to the desire color, the move the meat waiting plate covered with a double layer of paper towel. (I’m not sure why the paper towels are necessary—you’re going consume enough grease to worry your cardiologist!)

Don’t discard any of the rendered bacon fat. Frank divides it between three dishes (health warnings aside). The potatoes, eggs and gravy all receive generous portions of the swine nectar.

You're allowed to break one egg yoke over a campfire.
A pot-full of diced potatoes are next poured into the meat skillet. Watch for splattering grease! Crumble a few bacon strips and sausage patties into the potatoes if desired.

Fifteen to 20 minutes over a hot fire will crisp the potatoes to a nice golden color. Move the skillet to a cooler spot over the fire. Stir the potatoes occasionally to keep them from burning.

At this point, turn your attention to the scrambled eggs. It’s important to pre-heat the egg skillet over a medium fire. Otherwise, you’ll burn the eggs and ruin breakfast.

Slow cooking is best for the eggs. Stick around once you pour the whipped eggs into the skillet. They require constant stirring until cooked. Frank never left the fire until the eggs were cooked.

The secret to moist scrambled eggs is to cook them over low heat. Remove the eggs when they’re still moisture seeping out. Remember, overcooked eggs in the skillet become overcooked eggs on the plate.

Place the eggs into a waiting bowl, cover with a sheet of foil and wipe the skillet clean. The pour the remaining bacon fat into the skillet and return it to medium heat. Next place enough flour into the skillet to absorb the fat. (You’ll have to judge quantities for yourself.)

Stir the roux for a few minutes over a low flame, being careful not to brown it. The last step before breakfast is to pour three or four cups of milk into the gravy skillet. Stir constantly for about 10 minutes to work the lumps out. Once the gravy thickens, you’re ready to eat.

Give the potatoes a quick stir just before serving. Warm potatoes, eggs and gravy are a must. And pour gravy over the potatoes and eggs. After all, gravy is the culinary elixir that brings the whole meal together.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Baking artisan bread in camp

In the nearly two years since I first talked about artisan no-knead bread, I have baked this bread numerous times, based on my standard recipe. I currently have a batch of dough in the refrigerator at home. While camping at Upper Blue Lake last month, I was able to record notes on my baking process in camp.

These instructions are for use in temperate weather. You need to gauge weather conditions and determine how ambient temperature, humidity and wind conditions will influence internal baking temperature and cooking time. Flexibility is the key. As a rule, coals burn hotter in lower humidity and windier conditions. Cooler, wet weather reduces the heating potential of the coals.

For any Dutch oven recipe on 'Round the Chuckbox, the number of coals are calculated for average summer conditions in the Western United States. You need to experiment and learn how to adapt my instructions to seasonal weather conditions where you live and camp. Use my instructions as a starting point. Experiment at home before taking the the bread into camp to bake.

Light campfire. While hardwood is the ideal choice of wood, I usually cook with pine, cedar and fir in the Sierra Nevada. As a rule, I build a fire that's two to three times the size in volume than the Dutch oven. The fire must produce sufficient coals to heat the Dutch oven for one hour. I continue to add wood to the fire once I remove the first coals to have a ready source of fresh coals.
When you desire to bake a loaf of bread, dust surface of chilled dough with flour. Pull a 16- to 24-ounce piece dough out and cut with a knife or kitchen sears. Gently stretch dough by pulling it down to the bottom, turning the dough one-quarter turn each fold. If desired, slash load before setting it in the Dutch oven, as I did here. This dough was made with 20 percent whole wheat flour.
Gentle place the loaf inside a 12-inch deep-style camp oven. Slash the loaf if not done earlier. Place the lid on the oven. Set in shade on a warm day. On a cool day, set in a sunny location. Proof in oven for 40 minutes.
Coals are almost ready. You won't see much noticeable rise during proofing. After the 40-minute fermentation period, the load will be ready for baking. Remove the lid, splash about 1 tablespoon cold water over the loaf and replace the lid.
Hang the Dutch oven about 18 inches above the bed of coals. Shovel a solid bed of coals on the lid. Bake 15 minutes, then lift the lid and quickly check bread. If it's browning properly, remove the coals from the center of the lid. I've found that this is necessary to ensure the loaf bakes without burning. You need coals for 450 degrees (10 under oven and 23 on lid) when using charcoal briquettes. 
Continue baking for an additional 30 to 40 minutes. You're looking for a nicely browned crust and firm to the touch Remove coals and cool. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Meet the camp cook

You may have noticed the new menu bar just under the masthead. It currently lets you quickly access the homepage and contact information for 'Round the Chuckbox. I just posted a page titled, "Meet the camp cook." In the future, I plan to add one or two more links to the menu bar, including a description of my services as a camp cook. Enjoy ...

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or
whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”
1 Corinthians 10:31

Sauteing fajitas at Upper Blue Lake, Eldorado National Forest, Calif.
I've long envisioned myself a nineteenth century camp cook. I can see myself cooking for an El Dorado County ranch as it drove cattle drive to summer pasture in the Lake Tahoe basin each spring. Everything about the job appeals to me: family atmosphere, outdoors and good old country cooking.

Chuckwagon cookin' in the rain
Yet, I've one problem: I was born 50 years too late. And I grew up in Fresno and Bakersfield. Those who know me will tell you that I'm a city boy who’s loved the Sierra Nevada high country ever since his father carried him to Peter Grub Hut in 1954.

I’ve only ridden a horse three times in the last forty years and have never driven a chuckwagon or fed a beef-centered diet to cowboys on the Western prairie. Nor have I piled flapjacks onto chipped enamel plates meant for hungry Sierra Nevada lumbermen or slopped biscuits and gravy on trays for a railroad gang.

At this point in my forty-year cooking career I could never call myself a “wagon cook.” While I've cooked in the shadow of one or two chuckwagons, it takes a special breed of cook to wrangle pots like Ramon F. Adam's “Sultan of the Skillets.”

The first time I cooked near a chuckwagon was at Leonard “Wagon Cook” Sander's 50th birthday bash in December 2002. Since that experience – cooking Dutch oven scalloped potatoes and baking bread in driving rain on a porch – I’ve only had the honor to view a couple other chuckwagons.

Seabee cooks of NMCB-17
I prefer Seabee Cook, a moniker earned after years of service in the U.S. Navy Construction Battalions. Like the wagon cook, who was at home on the range, feeding Seabees was special skill developed over a two-decade-long career in the Naval Reserves. I was known as the “field mess guru” during my tour with the 3rd Naval Construction Brigade and Pacific Fleet Seabees.

My large chuckbox, stained in a reddish hue and built to impeccable detail, draws folks to my camp. Since 2001, it has been the signature item in my camp cooking reparatory. Like the back end of the chuckwagon, the chuckbox has become the center point of my camp kitchen.

While the label of wagon cook may be something to aspire, I can only accept the moniker “chuckbox cook” (somehow “box cook” doesn't run off the tongue like Seabee Cook). I'll certainly answer to camp cook any day of the week. The title has an unpretentious ring to it. It's as if you’ve described me as a cook who harkens back to a simpler time, one born in the wrong century.

The chuckbox
For years I compensated on our annual camping trek to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I lived out a week-long fantasy each summer. You'd think I was fixin’ to feed a crowd of hungry hunters and fishermen. My outfit carried enough cookware to feed a baker's dozen or more. Give me a canvas A-framed cook-tent, a swamper and hungry outdoorsmen that appreciate good old camp grub, and I'm in the right setting.

In the end, my life will have spanned the back end of one century and front end of another, far removed from the glory days of the chuckwagon. As a retiree, I’m free from the day-to-day drudgery of a career. I now can pursue my life-long ambition to be a camp cook.

Each spring, my lovely bride and I journey to Oakland Feather River Camp in Quincy, Calif., where I’m the camp cook and chef for three and one-half months. Around the time I tire of 12-hour days and six-day work weeks, we return home to eight months of relaxation. I’m then free to cook for the El Dorado Western Railroad or camp at my leisure.

Artisan bread in camp
I bake bread in cast iron camp ovens just to give it away. While my camp may not always lodge under canvas, family and friends benefit from camp cuisine. Those that eat vittles ‘round the chuckbox share in my forty-year quest to replicate the life of a camp cook.

Welcome to my camp. From one camp cook to another, enjoy ‘Round the Chuckbox, where we cook delicious camp meals in frying pan, Dutch oven and grill. Cook with passion and “Come an’ Get It” will draw hungry diners to your chuckbox. Give thanks to God, settle into flavorsome grub and take pleasure in good companions.

MSCS Steven C. Karoly, USN, Retired
Camp cook and editor of ‘Round the Chuckbox

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Recipe Use Suggestions

I was working on my 14th notebook when I wrote this article in May 2005. Since that time, my use of journals has risen sharply from one or two each year to four or five. No. 47 carried me through the end of summer camp season in August. Today, I'm 83 pages into journal no. 48. 

Chefs use cookbooks for a variety of reasons. Most of my professional acquaintances use cookbooks to garner fresh ideas for their kitchens. They don’t view the recipe as a hard-fast formula. Instead, chefs use them as a starting point for their next creation.

These recipes are written to my tastes. They're here to give you an idea of how I cook in camp. It's up to you to try the recipes and to adapt them to your likes and dislikes. There's plenty of room for change.

Use the recipes as a guide. Experiment and try different approaches. Alter a few ingredients if some are not to your liking. For example: I can’t stand celery. The stuff gags me. I can’t get past its stringiness and rough texture. But there are recipes that benefit from its nutty flavor. Unless I can strain it out of the dish out of the dish, I add whole stalks and fish them out later.

Here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Before your camping trip, select several recipes and test them at home first. Unless you’re already an experienced camp cook, it’s wise to try each recipe in a familiar kitchen. Once you've figured out each recipe’s idiosyncrasies, you’ll be better equipped to prepare it in camp.
  • Read each recipe twice. With a little practice, you’ll soon visualize the finished product in your mind. This is valuable to see if it’s the dish that you want. It’ll also aid in preparing your grub list and set the instructions in your mind so you don’t have to keep referring back to cookbook while you’re cooking.
  • Gather all ingredients and cookware before starting. A bowl full of flour, salt and spices is useless when an empty can reminds you that you used the last of the baking powder last week. Sometimes, you can make a quick substitution. You can, for example, substitute baking soda with an acid for baking powder in most recipes. But you’re stuck if you discover that you didn't pack the baking soda.
  • Take notes. I keep a camping journal. And since food has been my professional life, you might expect to find more notes about our camp meals than other topics. Even if you just use the journal to chronicle you cooking adventures, it’s a valuable tool. Use a journal to record: what works and what doesn't; what you liked and didn't like about a dish; ideas to improve a dish’s flavor; and creative menus for future meals. And, if you decide to write a cookbook, you’ll already have a notebook (I’m on number 14) bristling with recipes and stories of your culinary adventures.