Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Finding inspiration for the camp menu

I originally posted this story in 2006 during the ramp-up to a camp that I worked at for one week each summer. 

I glean menu and recipe ideas from many sources. Professional trade magazines -- Foodservice Director and Food Management among them -- give me ideas that are specially suited for the institutional kitchen. Popular magazines like Sunset also provide inspiration. I can often use an idea and work it until it fits a group setting.

A photograph of an artfully arranged collection of skillets arranged on an outdoor buffet table sparked my cowboy breakfast idea. Twin stacks of blue enamel plates and a lone Dutch oven complete the display -- no fancy garnish for the dudes of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, near Emigrant, Montana.

This thousand-word inspiration gave me the impetuous to celebrate our nation's 230th birthday. The crisp, smoky air of the campfire will greet campers next Tuesday. Bright yellow scrambled eggs, airy biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and gallons of cowboy coffee (hot chocolate for campers) will kick off our celebration next week. The meal will be cooked in cast iron that's stood the test of time from the colonial hearth to the Western range to the backyards of today.

In 2004, campers kept saying, "That's what 4 a.m. rolls look like!," as they walked through the cafeteria line. Their response puzzled me all morning until I walked out into the dining area and saw this hand-printed menu.
Inspiration for camp menu ideas come from many sources. Television programs, cookbooks and magazines have helped my over 35-year culinary career. The one thing that's worked best for me since the late 1980s has been a series of culinary notebooks.

I keep the notebook handy. Now that I'm commuting to Sacramento each day, the 200-page composition book rests in my daypack. I record ideas -- often gathered from professional magazines on my desk -- and clippings on my hour-long commute home. My 18-notebook collection is full of ideas.

It doesn't matter if the idea comes from TV or print. Shows like Al Rocker's Rocker on the Road can give wonderful ideas. Take Douglas Coffin's New Haven, Conn.-based Big Green Pizza Truck (the show that aired last January). I may not be able to restore a 1946 International Harvester flat-bed truck. But the pizza menu idea will come in handy one day.

They key is to clip ideas and place them in your culinary scrapbook. Soon your collection of ideas, complete with thousand-word photographs will have you cooking for a herd of hungry campers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pie dough for a 12-inch skillet

Use this recipe for pie dough with the iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan.


Keep butter and shortening in the refrigerator to ensure a flaky crust.

18 ounces all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons table salt
9 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 ounces shortening, cold
3/4 cup ice water

Place flour and salt in a mixer bowl. Using flat beater, mix flour and salt on low speed 15 seconds. Place cubed butter and shortening in bowl. Mix on low speed 1 minute, or until mixture resembles cornmeal. Some butter lumps will remain.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add ice water. Mix just until water is absorbed. Do not over work the dough. Scoop dough onto counter. Gently press into a large ball and cut in to two pieces. Flatten each piece into a rounded disk. Place the disks in a zip-top bag. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Flatten gently. Using a floured rolling pin, roll lightly with quick strokes from center out to edge in all directions. Form a circle 13 to 14 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Bottom crust will be slightly thicker. Shift or turn dough occasionally to prevent sticking. If edges split, pinch cracks together.

BOTTOM CRUST: Fold each piece of rolled dough in half. For iron skillet apple pie, proceed with instructions in the recipe. For other applications, such as chicken pot pie, carefully place in ungreased 12-inch skillet with fold at center. Unfold and fit carefully into skillet, being careful not to leave any air spaces between skillet and dough. Place contents over bottom crust, being careful not to overfill.

TOP CRUST: With top crust folded in half, make several small slits with a knife near center fold to allow steam to vent during baking. Brush outer rim of bottom crust with water. Lay top crust over filling with fold at center. Unfold and press edges of two crusts together lightly. Trim overhanging edges of dough by with a knife or spatula. Seal pie by pressing edges of crust firmly together or crimping with thumb and forefinger to make a fluted edge.

Brush top crust with 1 whisked egg. On fruit pies, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over crust. Do not use sugar on savory pies. Bake pie as directed in recipe. Place pan under skillet to catch syrup spills. Watch skillet pie in oven as it requires longer baking than a traditional 9-inch pie. If needed, shield crust with foil sheet in last 15 to 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning.

Iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan

I presented my version of the iron skillet apple pie last night to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. The pie was baked in a large cast iron skillet. We arrived just as the last diners we filling their plates. I placed the pie among the other desserts and cut it into 12 servings.

I thought that the crust was the best part of the pie! The crisp crust, both top and bottom, complimented the soft and sweet apples. A clean skillet was all that we brought home. Word of mouth quickly brought diners to the dessert table to try a slice of pie.

Enjoy ...

Iron skillet apple pie in a 12-inch pan will feed a crowd. 

This is an enlarged version of an on-line recipe, from the September 2011 issue of Southern Living. Amounts have been adjusted to fit inside a larger cast iron skillet. I used an 11-1/2-inch Wagner skillet for the test run.

Purchase 5 large Braeburn and 5 large Granny Smith apples. Yield will be approximately 4 pounds, give or take, of apple slices after peeling, coring and slicing. You may need to prepare your own pie dough since the skillet is several inches larger than a 9-inch pie pan. Or you can use my recipe.

2-1/2 pounds Braeburn apples
2-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
6 ounces unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 pounds 4 ounces pie dough, rolled into 2 pieces
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and core apples. Cut into 1/2-inch wedges. Toss with cinnamon and 2 cups sugar. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Do not caramelize. Remove from heat.

Place 1 pie crust over brown sugar mixture. Spoon apples over bottom pie crust. Top with second pie crust (with several slits cut in to vent steam). Pinch crusts to seal. Whisk egg. Brush top crust with egg wash. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over crust.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Place pan under skillet to catch syrup spills. Shield crust with foil sheet in last 15 to 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool before serving. Serves 12.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day tribute: Navy

ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 24, 2014) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Alkyshia McDonald, from Palm Beach, Fla., prepares food aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 24, 2014) Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Patrick Hunn, from Slaton, Texas, left, and Culinary Specialist Seaman Robert Wren, from Kernersville, N.C., prepare food aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W.  Bush (CVN 77).

USS George H.W. Bush is supporting 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 Brian Stephens.

Veteran's Day tribute: Coast Guard

Petty Officer 3rd Class Arianne Gunn gracefully decorates the birthday cake the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star's galley baked in celebration of several crew members, who celebrated their birthdays aboard the ship's two-week shakedown voyage through Washington state's Puget Sound, April 3, 2013. The food service specialists aboard Polar Star work tirelessly doing their part to ensure the crew retains a high level of moral. U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Akiyama.

Veteran's Day tribute: Marine Corps

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug 26, 2014) - - Lance Cpl. Timothy McKnight, a food service technician at Gonzales Hall, adds peppers to potatoes for the breakfast line before an inspection for the Best of the West competition aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Aug. 26. The air station’s mess hall competed in and won the competition in fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014, and hopes to regain the title for 2015. Photo by Cpl. Christopher Johns.

Veteran's Day tribute: Army

Sgt. Thao Vangsouan, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, shows Pfc. Jacques Herrington, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 705th Military Police Battalion, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., how to properly filet a Dover sole during a cook off as part of the Big Red One's Food Service NCO and Soldier of the Quarter Competition. Five Soldiers participated in a cook off, demonstrating their cooking and presentation skills, and were required to make a meal using Dover sole, bacon, leeks and rice. Competitors took a written test after the cook off and attended a board Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs.

Veteran's Day tribute: Air Force

Certified Master Chef James Hanyzeski and Airmen of the 374th Force Support Squadron take photos of the healthy breakfast alternatives they made July 15, 2014, on Yokota Air Base, Japan. Hanyzeski's visit provided hands-on training to services Airmen as part of the Healthy Base Initiative. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Danford.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Lightening cake with pears and almonds

I posted this recipe from a cookbook of my grandmother's in September 2005.

I suspect that this recipe was called lightning cake because it’s made “lightning fast.” The original cake is a brownie-like dessert with a sugar-cinnamon topping. I adapted it by folding diced Bartlett pears and sliced almonds into the batter. And a used a crumb topping made from oatmeal, flour and sugar.

All meals at grandma Bertha Karoly’s Mill Valley home were good. We often enjoyed a Sunday afternoon roast leg of lamb with roasted potatoes and German red cabbage. Although, I don’t remember many desserts, I’m certain I ate any number of sweets at her table.

This recipe is adapted from Any One Can Bake, published by Royal Baking Powder Company in 1927. My grandmother purchased this book on April 18, 1927 when my father was 17 months old.


Use your favorite crumb topping for the cake. My favorite recipe follows.

1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups sugar
1.2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 Bartlett pears, peeled, stemmed and diced
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cups crumb topping (recipe follows)

Pre-heat a 12-inch Dutch oven with 9 coals underneath and 18 coals on the lid. Combine milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients and mix thoroughly. Dough will be stiff. Fold in pears and almonds.

Lightly oil Dutch oven. Spread dough in Dutch oven. Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over cake dough. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool; cut into 12 to 18 servings.


1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 cups old fashion rolled oats
1/2 cup softened butter, cut into pieces

Combine flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon and oats in a medium bowl. Rub in the butter with your finger tips until it’s well blended and the mixture crumbles coarsely. Refrigerate until needed. Makes about 1 quart.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Hot sauce update

Last Saturday I prepared a new batch of hot sauce. This time I multiplied my original recipe by two and one-half times. Fresno chilies stood in for Serrano chilies, mainly because I couldn't locate red Serrano chilies locally. And I even managed to rub capsicum juices in my left eye!

I tasted the hot sauce on Sunday. Coming away with a good, strong medium heat profile, I thought the hot sauce has a lot of potential. My hope is that the sauce will mellow out as it ferments in the refrigerator.


Weigh about 1 pound chilies at the market if you don't have a scale at home. That will yield around 10 ounces chili flesh. Add just enough water to barely cover the chilies and onions in the skillet. You can locate ground arbol and pequin chiles at

2-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 ounces red Fresno, jalapeno or Serrano chili peppers, stemmed and sliced
7-1/2 ounces sliced onion
1 ounce minced garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 to 3 cups water
1 tablespoon ground arbol chili pepper
1 tablespoon ground pequin chili pepper
1 cup distilled white vinegar

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chilies, garlic, onion and salt. Saute 3 minutes. Add 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 room with exhaust fan if necessary. Stir in ground arbol and pequin chilies.

Puree mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth. With 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 4 cups hot sauce.

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

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.