Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sally Lunn



Here's an old recipe for you, called Sally Lunn.  It comes from old England and was often used by the ranch and chuckwagon cooks in this country.  When they needed a quick dessert or breakfast bread, this one was easy and quick to prepare and could easily be adjusted for more people.

There actually is some history from England and Colonial America with some argument as to who first did this and where.

Sally Lunn is a spongy cross between bread and cake.  I like it best fresh and hot with some whipped cream on it.  Basically, with whipped cream I see it as a dessert and without whipped cream it's a pleasant breakfast bread.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix ingredients together and pour into a well greased cake pan.

Sprinkle the top liberally with cinnamon and brown sugar

Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes or until done.

The recipes I find online all use yeast instead of baking powder.  I found my recipe in an old book for cow camp cooks and this is the way I'm used to making it. 

This was a popular cake with the cow camp cooks because it was so easy and could be made up in a hurry if there was an unexpected occasion.

Anyway, this is one of the easier and quicker desserts I count on when I'm planning my menus.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The "Family Recipe"

Ok, one of my favorite dishes can be adjusted to feed from two to about as many as you want with only a little adjustment to ingredient amounts.  I call it a Mexican Casserole.  My Mom called it an Enchilada Casserole.  My daughter just calls it "The family Recipe"

Pretty simple, really.

For one or two people:

1lb hamburger.
small onion
small bell pepper
1 can of enchilada sauce
1/2 cup salsa
tortilla chips
cheddar cheese

That's it.  Brown the hamburger along with a chopped onion and diced pepper.  Once the hamburger is browned, add the enchilada sauce and salsa, then stir it together and simmer it well.  Meanwhile, crunch up some of your tortilla chips in the bottom of a casserole dish or a 9x9 cake pan or a cast iron skillet or any other fairly deep oven ready baking dish.

Pour half of the hamburger mixture over the base of crushed tortilla chips.  Cover with cheese and more crushed tortilla chips.  Pour the rest of your hamburger mixture and cover with cheese.  Bake it until the cheese is melted all over the top. 

For variety, use different intensities of enchilada sauce and salsa.  Put some chili peppers in it. 

If you want to fancy up the service, put some refried beans and Spanish rice on the plate with it.

Figure 1/2 lb of burger per person and one 10oz can of enchilada sauce per pound of burger.  I've made two 9x13 cake pans of this to feed 11 but I've also had 8 cowboys eat up that much.  If I've got a big group, I'll definitely do the beans and rice as filler.





Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hunting camp, 2017


Two hours and more crammed into the back seat of a 4 door Ford pickup as we slewed into the mountains of central Montana, chains on all four wheels, spinning, sliding and bouncing our way into another hunting camp. 

I’d just enjoyed two weeks in a hunting camp with no road access.  The whole camp had been packed in on horse and mule pack train and we’d only come out a couple of days before, on horseback, because the snow had gotten so deep that hunting was nearly impossible and mostly fruitless, as the animals are smarter than we are and had gone to lower elevations.  Se, we did too.

Now, we were headed into a different camp.  One that we could access with four wheel drive vehicles…kind of.  The outfitter and his crew had already been in and put up the tents and gotten the equipment ready.  Now, as darkness closed in and the cold settled down on us, we were almost there.  “Are we there yet?”  Bounce across one more creek and then there were the tents showing in the headlights.  My cooktent was the biggest and had two wood stoves for heating, a two burner propane stove and a propane oven/stove top for cooking.

No one was waiting for us at the camp so none of the wood stoves were going…no heat yet.  As I walked into the cook tent, a headlamp for my only illumination, I found several boxes, totes and coolers of groceries and utensils stacked around the tent.  Although the propane stoves were hooked up, the propane had to be turned on and I still needed something to cook on them.

In parka, gloves and warm hat, I began rooting through the various containers.  First order of business was to find a coffee pot and some coffee while I dispatched one of the guides to the spring for a couple of buckets of water.  We used just pots of water and coffee; no percolator innards in our pots.  “Cowboy Coffee”.  Once I got some coffee going, my urgency diminished a little but I still needed to
get a dinner going.

 In one of the coolers I found a 3lb and a 5lb chub of hamburger…solidly frozen.  Nothing I could do with that right now.  Hmm, what’s this, down in the bottom?  Ahh, 5 1lb chubs of hamburger.  Solidly frozen but much more useful.  I put my 15” cast iron skillet on the propane burner, skinned the chubs into it and covered them with the lid.  There; those will thaw ok.

Now, one of the boxes has canned goods.  Four big cans of "sloppy joe" sauce.  Another box with breads, including some hamburger buns and a package of frozen corn on the cob in another cooler.  Ok, we’re set.  Within a half hour, I had dinner ready, just about the time the outfitters crew had gotten the lights strung and the generator going so I could turn off my weakening headlamp and finish up by actual electric lights.  Both my wood stoves were going well by this time, too so I could take off my parka and gloves.  Less than an hour from the time we bounced into camp, I had coffee and dinner ready.  The outfitters wife had sent up a big apple pie so we even had dessert.   Life is good!

When I had gone into the first camp, on a two hour horseback/pack train ride and was setting up my personal space in the cook tent, I had realized I had forgotten (I’m used to doing stupid stuff, but THIS was a real winner!) my sleeping bag.  Not like I could just run home and get it!  One of the guides was not coming in that night so I used his bag that first night while the outfitter got on a horse and rode to a place a couple of miles away where his cell phone would work and called for additional items we had all forgotten…including my Sleeping Bag!  Anyway, I had a really good bag; a mummy bag, very lightweight and rated for -30 degrees.  Nice and warm and worked very well.  Not, however, as wonderfully luxurious as the huge -35 sleeping bag I borrowed that first night!  Wow!  What a great bed that one was!  For the two weeks at the Mount Edith camp I slept warm and comfortable in my lightweight backpackers bag with no complaints.  But, when we had that two days between camps, I had gone to Helena and bought one of those great, roomy, soft, comfortable, LUXURIOUS outfitters type sleeping bags.  No, I wouldn’t want to pack it on my own back but in a pickup or even on a pack train I wouldn’t be without it any more.  Best money I ever spent.

Anyway, all that said, I got my space together at the new camp, folding cot assembled, foam pad on it and my new sleeping bag spread out and open, getting warm.  I wasn’t right beside the stove like I had been on Edith but I was close enough.  True comfort.  A canvas tent, a wood burning stove and a sleeping bag on a cot, all twenty miles into the Montana wilderness where I was now going to cook for twelve hunters and guides for a week.

I’ve worked as a cowboy and ridden many a horseback mile but that was a few years and pounds ago.  When I was offered the cooking job for this outfitter my girlfriend laughed and said she wanted to watch me get into the saddle for the ride in.  I had to be babied a little but once I was in the saddle I was ok.

We rode for over two hours, up the south side of Mount Edith, then down past Edith Lake and on to the little basin where the camp was set up.  Here too, my cook tent was the biggest of the four.  I had two wood burning stoves for heat and for keeping things warm as well as a two burner propane stove and that wonderful propane oven/stovetop. 

I set up my bed next to the back wood stove, hung my gear on some nails in the tent frame and was home.

For two weeks, I got up around 0430 and fixed breakfast.  Out first group was seven hunters, four guides and a camp jack (general worker) plus myself.  I had set up a weekly menu to cover from Sunday night to Sunday morning schedule as the hunter groups come in Sunday afternoons and leave Sunday mornings. 

After breakfast I’d do the dishes and clean up my kitchen, put together the lunches for the next day and then would have the rest of the day pretty much to myself.  Hunters and guides all gone, doing their thing, camp jack getting firewood dealt with and taking care of the horses and mules while I read, took a nap or whatever.  I’d usually laze around through the early part of the day and then do some baking.  Cookies for the lunches, cakes and pies for desserts. Cinnamon rolls for breakfast treats, that sort of thing. 

Dinner didn’t have to be on the table until everyone was back and some of the groups were quite a ways away so they wouldn’t get in until way after dark.  I’d usually be ready to put dinner on the table around 8:30, often even later.  What with cleanup and getting things prepared for the morning breakfast, I usually didn’t get to bed until around 11 each night, then up at 0430 again to start it all over. 

At the Edith camp, water was hauled from the creek about 40 yards downhill from the cook tent.  Carrying two 5 gallon buckets of water uphill in the snow showed me that there must not be anything wrong with my old heart!  I’d be seriously sucking wind by the time I got to my tent but I had made it!  I kept a three gallon metal pot full of water on the wood stove all the time so I had hot water for cleanups and so on.  A small coffee pot with plain hot water on that same stove for things like hot chocolate or tea and a big coffee pot always full of hot coffee…always!  

We had a generator and had strung electric lights into all the tents but the generator didn’t like Montana cold so, when I turned it off at night, I’d put it inside the guides tent where it would be warmer and would start easier in the morning.  Usually, though, I had breakfast pretty much done by the time the generator got started.  I cooked a lot of breakfast by the light of a headlamp strapped to my forehead. 

Firewood had to be blocked, split and hauled into tents and wood stoves kept going.  This is, after all, Montana in October and November so it was plenty cold most of the time.  It amazes me that those canvas tents hold the heat as well as they do.  A couple of times, at each camp, the nighttime temps were subzero but we slept nice and warm in our tents. 

I thought the hunters were crazy for getting up at 5 and going out in sub-zero cold to go hunting.  I remember a routine by Ron White about hunting…”It’s real early in the morning, it’s real cold and I don’t want to go!”  That’s me any more.  My Grandfather probably spins in his grave when I say stuff like that! 

We had a shower tent set up.  Go in it and get a fire going in the stove, set the 3 gallon pot of water on the stove, leave and zip the tent fly closed to keep in the heat.  Give it a while to get the tent warm and the water hot.  There was a bucket with a spigot tied to a pulley so you could pull it above your head.  A pallet to stand on and some nails in the tent frame to hang your clothes and towel.  Put hot water in from the pot, add some cold water to your liking, pull the bucket up over your head and take your shower. 

The latrine was a bench with a toilet seat thereon, over a hole and screened by a tent.  Not warm or comfortable; just utilitarian.  My home bathroom habit of a book and plenty of time definitely went out the window here.  Get in, get it over with and get back to my warm tent! 

The first week of November it started snowing one evening and just kept snowing.  By morning we were pushing two feet of new snow and no end in sight with our only way down from the mountain a horseback ride over the top of Edith and back down to beginnings of civilization.  I looked at the outfitter and said: “For two years, I’ve been trying to talk you into hiring me for this and now I’m gonna die up here!”  He just laughed at me and told me he hadn’t lost anybody in 39 years and we’d be fine.  He was right, of course.  As a matter of fact, the horseback ride down to where the pickups could reach us was a beautiful, scenic trip that I wouldn’t have missed. 

A couple of days at home while they got the new camp set up (and I went in and bought my NEW SLEEPING BAG!) and then the trip into the camp near Tenderfoot Creek.  Although we were able to haul our gear in by pickup, I felt this was the more remote camp.  Two hours of 4x4 riding, chained up on all four and still slipping, sliding and bouncing over nearly non-existent roads, as well as the fact that there was NO communication.  At the pack train camp, we were within two miles of cell phone connection.  Even walking that isn’t too far and on horseback, pretty much nothing.  But, in the pickup camp we were two hard 4x4 hours from even the chance of getting phone use. 

My schedule was pretty much the same at either camp.  Cook breakfast, put lunches together and cook dinner. 

Will I do it again?  Absolutely!  As long as they want me as their cook and I can still hang on to a horse I’ll be headed into the Montana mountains every fall.  The job itself is great.  I’m free, even encouraged, to be creative.  I have the time and the solitude for not only the cooking but also for myself.  I’m comfortable with the living conditions and I didn’t miss the modern world much at all.  I am used to talking with Joann every day so I missed that but the outfitter had to ride down several times with game and other issues so we sent notes back and forth. 

If you can afford to use an outfitter for a Montana hunting trip, I can highly recommend it.  They work hard to find game for you and they have someone like me to keep you fed and comfortable.  

Come on up and see us.  The coffee pot is full and hot and the fire is always going.
 

 

 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'll be leaving this week to go cook at a hunting camp for Ramshorn Outfitters from Townsend, MT.

This one will be different from the last hunting camp I did as this is a pack in camp as opposed to a drive in camp.  All the gear goes in on horseback. 

I'm limited on how much weight I can take in so I can't take my dutch ovens or my other cast iron gear.  I am insisting on my big cast iron skillet, though.  I have a 15" skillet with a cover.  I can brown five pounds of hamburger in it at once or cook scrambled eggs for several people.  It gives me enough room and cooking surface to make eggs to order or even omelets if I want.  But, it weighs about 15 pounds.

I'll have a camp stove and a Camp Chef oven/stove top and will be cooking for as many as 13 people.

So, Friday I ride into the mountains for 3 weeks of new experiences!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Sourdough starter and pancakes


As we progress through this cooking odyssey together, one thing you will need is a sourdough starter.  Making a good sourdough starter is actually pretty easy.  I use sourdough for breads, doughnuts and pancakes all the time so this is an important step. 


First, get yourself something to store it in.  I like a sealable crock.  One of those with the wire clamp to hold the lid on.  Here's the thing, though.  I remove the rubber seal!  So, there is some air circulation but it's still well covered.  Just a canning jar will do, but it would have to be a pretty big one...quart sized or more.  I like the crock because I got one big enough to hold five or six cups of starter, it stays closed without strangling my starter and the mouth is big enough to get a measuring cup in to scoop out what I need. 

Now, put in 2 cups of all purpose flour and two cups of "no sugar added" fruit juice.  I make my own apple juice and always have some of that on hand so that's what I used the last time I had to make starter; about a year ago. 

Another way is to boil some peeled potatoes; maybe making mashed or something, and use the left over water instead of juice.  I’ve done both.  When your starter is a few years old you won’t be able to tell which liquid you used.  

Mix the flour and the juice well and leave it lightly covered for two or three days, stirring once in a while each day.  Once you have a good bubbling action going on...called a "sponge", and you can smell that sour, yeasty smell, then you have starter.  

Over time, the stored starter will develop a brownish colored liquid on top.  This is called “hootch” and is just part of the sourdough.  I mix it back into the starter once in a while.  Some people pour it off.  Whatever “floats yer stick” here. 

http://breadtopia.com/sourdough-starter-management/ is a great page about maintaining sourdough starters.  I keep mine in the crock in the refrigerator.  I try to remember to "feed" it once in a while but usually it is replenished, or "fed", often enough because I am using it. 

 Starter can last for a long time…years even…if you store it correctly, use it once in a while and, even if not using it, feed it occasionally.   The old chuckwagon cooks kept their starter for years, sometimes sleeping with it in their bedroll so it wouldn’t freeze. 

Now that you have your starter working; it’s bubbling a little and smells “yeasty” , it’s time to put it to use.


Sourdough Pancakes

The night before, mix well (to incorporate some air) 1 cup of your starter with 1 ½  cups of all purpose flour and ¾  cup of warm water.  Cover and leave at warm room temperature: 70-85 degrees, overnight.  

The next morning, return one cup of the starter mixture to your crock.

Then, mix the remaining 1 ½ cups of starter with:
 

1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon of sugar…more if you want.  I like a little more.
¾ tablespoon of salt
½ teaspoon (generous) of baking soda
2 tablespoons of milk

Try to have your ingredients at room temperature.  This will help to make more tender pancakes.

Your pancakes will be a little heavier and not as fluffy as you are used to.  In my opinion, the sourdough flavor blends with a fruity syrup better than regular maple syrup.  I also like these with butter and my home made raspberry jam. 

Now that you have made sourdough pancakes from scratch, here’s a cheat.

Depending on how many you are making, put ½ to 1 cup of starter in your mixing bowl and then add your favorite boxed pancake mix and just make your regular mix, using your sourdough starter as part of the liquid.  This gives you the sourdough flavor, they’ll be a little fluffier  than scratch and it’s a little easier because you can do this spontaneously without having to plan from the night before.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Let's try some Cookies!


Before we start with cooking anything, I need to emphasize the key to this whole enterprise and that is…preparation.  If you are planning southwestern style diced potatoes for breakfast, dice the potatoes and ingredients and then mix it all together the night before.  Put your meat out to thaw, get your sourdough starter warmed up, make your salad.  Anything that can be prepared to a point and then finished later should be.  

When I was a kid, we didn’t live next door to a grocery store so if there were things we had to buy; we did so in bulk, often once a month (or even longer).  Neither my Grandmother nor my mother went to the store for meals every day as I see people do today.  They had pantries where weeks or months of supplies were stored.  Grandmother had a “root cellar” where many things were kept.  I remember being sent to the root cellar to get canned (canned at home, of course) goods, potatoes, onions or garlic.  By the time of my memories we had a refrigerator so I don’t have any firsthand experience of how she kept things before that. 

If you plan to bake things for yourself, then plan certain days when that will be done.  My Grandmother had to provide lunches for my Grandfather and a couple of my uncles back in the logging days so she had to have food ready.  She baked bread on Wednesday.  She made enough loaves to go through the week.  Cookies were on Thursday.  Pies and cakes were made the day she planned to serve them.  She had her menu for the week planned out in advance and had all the ingredients for those meals prepared sometimes a couple of days before the meal was cooked.  

I remember that she would boil a pot of potatoes and store them in the refrigerator for later use.  Sometimes they were diced for frying, sometimes made into mashed or potato pancakes or whatever.  The point being, she was prepared in advance.

Ok, now that we’ve got our tools and we’re prepared to productively use part of our day, it’s time to cook something. Let’s start with something easy.  How about Chocolate chip cookies? 

My Great-grandmother’s house always smelled of cookies.  She always had chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies in a cookie jar in the kitchen so when any of us kids would take the time to visit her, it was a rewarding experience.  Maybe she did that just so we would visit more often?  

I remember small grocery stores in our area that had their own bakery and the whole store smelled so great because of it.  That bakery smell would hit me as I walked in the door and those freshly baked cookies were fabulous.  It doesn’t seem as if I find those kinds of places any more.  If you want cookies in the store you buy the prepackaged ones. 

When you walk down the cookie aisle, you’ll see many different brands of chocolate chip cookies; crisp, soft, big, little, bags of miniatures, packages of two together…on and on.  Most of these I like ok.  I mean, is there such a thing as a “bad” chocolate chip cookie? 

But the ones my Mom made were always the best.  I like them about 2” in diameter and fairly crispy but not crunchy.  I don’t want to have to dunk a cookie in coffee to be able to chew it. 

The recipe I normally use is the one on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate chip bag.

 

Ingredients:

·                                 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

·                                 1 teaspoon baking soda

·                                 1 teaspoon salt

·                                 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

·                                 3/4 cup granulated sugar

·                                 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

·                                 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·                                 2 large eggs

·                                 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Pan Cookie Variation Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

For High Altitude (over 5200ft) Increase flour to 2 1/2 cups. Add 2 teaspoons water with flour and reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookie for 17 to 19 minutes.

Here’s where you can start making this your own.  Semi-sweet, milk chocolate, butterscotch, cinnamon or whatever chips. M&Ms maybe?  Reeses pieces?  Add chopped walnuts if you want.  How about adding some toffee chips?  How about all of the above?  Remember, though, if you are putting in a couple of different kinds of chips, split it up so you put in about 2 cups of chips total.  To that you can still add a cup of walnuts and not dry out your dough. 

Be aware of what they look like when they are done the way you want them so you can make them the same way next time.  I like mine a little golden brown and crispy.  Light tan is a little softer and more chewy.  You can deliberately make them a little thinner and more crispy by adding a half stick more butter to the recipe. For light and cakey cookies use 1 ¾ sticks of butter.  That’s another positive about doing this yourself.  It’s ok to experiment!   

If you are making cookies for a varied group, you might want to either skip putting in nuts or at least ask the group if anyone has nut allergies. 

At a Roundup camp in Nevada one time, the dough in my first batch of cookies turned out really thin.  Just a film of cookie with lumps of chocolate chips in it.  I called it cookie leather.  It still tasted good but the cookies were super thin and crunchy.  As I was watching the first batch in the oven and seeing this happening, I realized my problem and fixed the rest of the dough.   

The cookhouse was at a higher elevation than even my home in Montana so my 4000ft elevation recipe didn’t have enough flour in it for my almost 6000ft location.  I added a half cup of flour and some water so the rest of the cookies came out the way I wanted.  We ate all of them anyway!

This is where a thin metal spatula is nice as it will easily slide under the hot cookies so you can take them off the pan.  If you’re kind of folding the cookies up because the spatula is sticking, just spray the spatula with a little pan oil each time.   

I like to lay the cookies out on waxed paper or even a clean counter until they cool and get a little more solid, then I can stack them on a plate or in a container and they keep their shape. 

Try it.  Make your own cookies.  It’s really easy, takes very little time out of your day and you not only have better cookies, the way you and your family like them, but the people you are cooking for think you’re a hero.   

Maybe the grandkids will visit more often, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Make It Yourself" tools


First, let's look at some of the things you need.  Most of these things can be found in second hand stores if you look for them.  Always be alert for cooking utensils when you are browsing the second hand stores.  

Get a pastry cutter.  I don't like the ones with heavy wire, much like a wire whisk.  I want the pastry cutter with rigid metal blades.

Wire whisk.  Several of these of different sizes.  I don't like the flat ones or the spiral ones.  Just plain wire whisks will do the best job.

Wooden spoons. At least one long handled one you can use for continuous stirring over a hot pot. By this I mean, have a couple of 10” wooden spoons for normal mixing but find one with a longer handle for the times you are standing over the pot, stirring continuously while the steam billows up and cooks YOU. A long handled spoon is really nice at this point in your life.
 
Spatulas:  I, first, want a thin metal one that will easily slide under my eggs or pancakes.  But, I also want a rigid plastic one that I will be using for things like browning meats or scrambling eggs.

Scrapers: be picky.  Get scrapers with flexible soft rubber blades and blades that are well secured to the handle.  It's a pain when the head comes off of one of these things while you are scraping batter out of a bowl.
 

Mixing bowls: Several different sizes. Glass, plastic or stainless steel; whatever you like best. I kind of like glass or plastic as they can also be used in a microwave and I want a more curved bowl with as little flat bottom inside as I can get. One with a flat platform outside but completely rounded inside is great.   

Rolling pin:  I'm traditional here. Wood.  Use what you like but I can tell you, you'll be much happier with an actual rolling pin than trying to make pie crusts by rolling it out with a big bottle and a wooden rolling pin just seems to work better for me than plastic, porcelain or stone! 

Flour sifter.  I like the kind with the squeeze handle, not the hand crank. 

Knife:  Once again, a very personal choice.  I have a Dexter sandwich knife that is almost always in my hand.  The shape is just what I want, the blade stays sharp and I use it for almost anything a knife can be used for.  A really good chef with whom I worked had a set of knives that he kept incredibly sharp.  I've seen him use his big knife to slice through a piece of typing paper that was just hanging from the ticket rack...slicing UP through the paper!  Try it.  Also, a bread slicer so you can more easily make uniform slices of the fresh bread you just baked.  I use what they call a “fiddle bow” bread slicer which has a serrated blade, some space and a wooden back so if you cut with the blade into the bread and the wooden back holding the slice in place, each slice is about the same thickness.

 Mixers, electric, hand and stand up.  Kitchenaide standing mixers are the gold standard but I also like my Sunbeam.  Electric hand mixers seem more useful to me for smaller dishes or making stuff for one or two people.  An old fashioned hand cranking mixer is nice to have.  If the power goes out or some other problem exists, being able to crank on your hand mixer and make your whipped cream or cake mix with that can make you the hero! 

Baking pans: 9x13 and 9x9 cake pans .  I like glass the best but regular non-stick or metal cake pans are good. What they call "jelly roll pans" which are basically sheets with a small edge around them.  Multiple sizes.  I also use small pizza pans as cookie sheets or to catch boil-overs in the oven.  If you will be cooking for larger groups then getting larger sizes of these is important. 

Casserole dishes of various sizes are good to have.  Once again, think about how big your groups might be.  You might want pretty good sized dishes. 

Covered roasting pan, preferably with an internal rack.

Sauce pans of various sizes.  You'll be using these for gravies, breakfast cereals and so on. 

Stock pots in various sizes, I have one, two and three gallon ones.

Cooling racks; square, rectangular and round.

If you’ve got all this stuff in your kitchen, you can do almost anything, from baking your own bread to putting together your traditional turkey dinner. 

Like I’ve said, stocking your kitchen with a trip to the second hand store can save a bunch of money and often get you some really nice stuff.  A lot of what I use would be considered antiques but I often find the older stuff is the best.
 
Now we come to one of my real passions in the cooking world...Cast Iron.  I have skillets, pots, dutch ovens, fryers, griddles...I love 'em.  I have a skillet that is only about 4" in diameter that is just the right size for frying one or two eggs.  I have another skillet that is 15" in diameter that I use for groups.  I can scramble more than a dozen eggs and cook them all at once in this skillet.  I can brown 5lbs of hamburger in it.  Make several small pancakes all at once.  It's great but I pretty much just store it unless I'm doing something like a hunting camp or roundup crew where I'll need to cook large amounts all at once.
And, yes, those of us who are seriously into cast iron cooking are fanatic about caring for it.  NO SOAP!  If I have to scrub it, I put salt in it and use the salt as an abrasive.  Actually, this article at http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html argues with me a little about the soap issue but it's a really good article and explains a lot about why and how to use cast iron.
 
This article also touches on the fact that older cast iron looks a little different than newer.  Either is good but I am always alert at second hand stores, yard sales and antique stores for older cast iron pans and I've taken some time to research them a little so I have an idea of the value of a pan when I find one.
 
Here's a picture of the difference between pre-1950 and more recently made cast iron.  The pan on the right is older and was made back when they still polished them as part of the manufacture process.  If you find one with this satiny sheen, it's worth grabbing!
 
Ok.  If you have the tools I've talked about here you have the makings of a pretty efficient kitchen.  Are there other things?  Of course.  Meat thermometers and candy thermometers.  I once had a thermometer that would show me the surface temp of my pans.  Another cook where I was working broke it.  That's what I get for not taking it home each night.
 
Anyway, this stuff is a good start.  As we move along here, I'll likely think of other things you should have but, for now, get out to the second hand stores, antique shops and yard sales and get equipped!
 



Sunday, January 08, 2017

"Make It Yourself" Cooking Background.

This story really does have a point, if you bear with me.  I'm laying the groundwork for some articles on how to cook things for yourself.  I walk through the bakery aisles in grocery stores and see pies, cakes, doughnuts and cookies.  They all look good but I'm really not tempted to buy them.  Mass-produced pastries just aren't as good as the ones I make myself!  The same with dinner.  Why would I buy a pre-cooked and frozen lasagna when I can make one myself, at home, that will be better, in all ways, than the one from the store?  And, I don't even want to get into frozen waffles, pancakes and "breakfast sandwiches".  Yuck!

I started working in cafes, in West Yellowstone, when I was 10 years old.  I was hired as a dishwasher at the Silver Horseshoe Café.  I'd never done anything but deliver papers before that and had never washed dishes in a restaurant before and restaurants in West Yellowstone are incredibly busy in the summer time.  It's "slam! bang!" busy from the time the doors open until the place closes and there's no time for screwing around.

The cook tried to get me to understand how to get dishes done very quickly and I kind of caught on but...not.  I remember him bringing the stove top grates to me and telling me to get them "clean and shiny like new".  Well, they were iron grates with years of crust on them and I spent a huge amount of time trying to actually get all that off.  He came over and saw me still scrubbing the, at this point already clean, grates and took them back and put them back on the stove.

I didn't really learn the whole dishwasher job very well there as I didn't last long.  I mean, come on!  It was summer in West Yellowstone and I was ten years old!  There were fish to catch and camping and swimming to do so I kind of called in sick a lot.  In todays world, I don't think we can even hire kids that young.

As I got older, I learned to do not only the dishwasher job but everything there is to do in a restaurant, including waiting tables, cooking, being "host", bussing tables and washing dishes.  In most of the places I worked back then, the dishwasher was kind of the Prep Cook's assistant so I boiled, peeled, hashed, cut and mashed potatoes, made soups and chili, baked rolls and other things like that.  Dishwashers also were the cleaners of everything, bathrooms, floors, freezers and refrigerators...pretty much any greasy, dirty cleanup that needed done, the dishwasher was the go-to guy.

My Mom was one of the most sought after restaurant cooks in West Yellowstone back then and we wound up working places and shifts together so I learned how to work the grill from her as well as from other accomplished café cooks.  By the time I was 16 I was able to handle any job in the place and often did.  If someone didn't show up, I was the first one they'd call to fill in so I might be dishwasher one day, cook the next and waiting tables another time.

When I enlisted in the Air Force, as a policeman, I told myself I would NEVER work in a café again!  Never say never, folks.  It's too big a word.  I'm right back to being the "floater" again.  Now, I'm not doing it full time but it's not uncommon for my phone to ring and a waitress hollers "Help!" so I wander over to the Mint and fill in wherever they need me.  I've helped out at Parade Rest Ranch in West Yellowstone a few times over the years too.

My point here (Yes, I'm finally getting to it) is that I have a pretty extensive background in the restaurant business and in cooking.  So, a few years ago, I heard that one of our local outfitters needed a cook for his hunting camp.  I'd never done that kind of thing before but figured I could learn by doing.

I quickly learned that the style of cooking at a place like that is very different from cooking "on the line" in a café.  In a café, you are basically heating up and assembling meal components as quickly as possible.  Everything has been portioned out and you just cook it up and throw it together.  At hunting camp, I was making "family style" meals; one big meal for everybody.  How much do you make and how do you make that much all at once?  More like the Prep Cook in a restaurant than the grill cook.

I did figure it out, though, and found that it was a very rewarding and enjoyable style of cooking.  I got a lot more personal satisfaction out of making good, presentable and enjoyable meals for a group as opposed to a lot of meals, fast.  At hunting camp I made my own bread and rolls and provided breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of entrees, sides and deserts for as few as 3 people and as many as 14. Rifle season in Montana lasts until Thanksgiving so I actually prepared and served a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, with all the fixins, for the first time in my life.  I kind of pretended I was an old-time chuckwagon cook and treated the job in that way.  It worked.

A year or so later, Parade Rest needed a dinner cook for the last month of the season and I filled in there; once again cooking family style, this time for as many as 60 people a couple of times (with lots of help).  I really enjoyed it and decided this was something I could do well and still have fun.

Last fall, I cooked for a roundup crew in Nevada for a month.  As few as three and as many as eight people for whom I provided breakfast and dinner every day for almost a month.  Once again, I made almost everything from scratch, including bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, cookies and pies as well as breakfast and dinner entree's and sides.  It was enjoyable and satisfying and I feel like I might have finally found my nitch, after only over 50 years!

So, my plan here is to provide a few insights I've gained in 40+ years of food service, with an emphasis on doing for yourself what the grocery stores are trying to do for you.  Make your own doughnuts, cookies and pies.  Cinnamon rolls seemed really hard to me the first time I made some.  Pie crusts can be frustrating but you can make your own that will be as good or even better than one from the store and you have the satisfaction of having made it yourself.

Remember, I cooked my first traditional Thanksgiving dinner in a tent in the mountains of Montana.  You can certainly manage to make dinner in your kitchen at home!

Check back here once in a while for a continuation of this theme.  I'll give you an idea of the tools I like and the work-arounds and shortcuts I've learned over the years.  Maybe we can have some fun here together.