15 February 2010

Black Pots and New Homes

This past weekend I had the absolute pleasure to travel down to Hurricane, UT, just outside of Zion National Part and help out a black pot caterer, my friend Crazy Richard Christensen and his lovely bride Ann. Crazy Richard picked up a gig with a new home developer who was participating in an area Parade of Homes show. This particular developer has an incredible area that includes a panoramic view of the mountain around Zion National Park. Every single home has been designed to blend with the natural landscape and no cookie-cutters - every single home will be unique.

OK, enough of that, let's talk about what we did. Crazy Ricard was asked to set up a Dutch Oven menu that could feed, well, a bunch. We had no idea how many people would be floating through the model home and the giant tent display that that demonstrated all of the features and opportunities the new community provided. The first thing the visitors ran into when they exited the model home and entered the tent was Crazy Richard and yours truly, Splatterdab. The first comments we heard were, "We couldn't wait to get outside to see what was cooking. The aroma was filling the house." For the kiddies and those wanting a quick bite we had dogs and burgers going on a Camp Chief griddle placed on top of a Camp Chef gas stove. For the black pot dishes we had Cowboy Beans, Dutch Oven 'Taters, and to top it all off Crazy Richard crafted some cobblers that were a definite hit. I had one lady take a bite of a slice and before she finished it she asked if she could buy the whole danged cobbler. Made a few bucks on that one I'll tell ya. Of course, in my humble opinion, what really crowned it all was Splatterdab's own Cowboy Coffee. I used the basic recipe I talked about in an earlier post. Well, I'm here to tell ya, that got folks attention and they kept comin' back for more.

I'm guessing that in the two full days I was there we served over 500 visitors, maybe more. They came from all over, San Diego, Las Vegas, Idaho, Phoenix, Denver and other places outside of Utah. Because we didn't know how many would be comin' the key to success here was keeping it simple and keeping it fast. Crazy Richard's menu reflected this necessity. So, that prompted him to offer up the Cowboy Beans, Dutch Oven Potatoes, and cobbler which was actually what many of us know as a dump cake. On arrival at the site in the morning, I got to work brewing the cowboy coffee in an 'ol graniteware coffee pot while Crazy Richard set up preparing the cobblers. I then immediately got to work on the beans and "taters once I got my instructions from Crazy Richard. After all, we was the chief coussie at this affair and I've learned that only a damned fool will argue with a skunk, a woman, or a chuck wagon cook. So, I followed his directions to the T.

As I have promised, each of these posts come with a recipe of some sort so here it goes for what Richard cooked up. By the way, Crazy Richard did this just like the cooks did on the trail - weren't no measuring cups or the like, just use yer own judgment. A heapin' handful here a pacel there. Though the best one was Just fill 'er up?. We were using 14 deeps for the beans and 'taters.

Cowboy Beans
In a medium hot oven fry up some sausage. Once the sausage browns throw in a good amount of diced red, yellow, and green bell peppers and a pacel full of onions. For the beans we used what was handy - pintos, kidney, black, and garbanzos. You want to use enough to almost fill the pot. add water. Bring up the heat so that it begins to bubble but then adust it down so that it starts a slow simmer and let her go. Longer the better. But, we only had about 3 hours before the event got started but that was plenty. Besides, they got better as the day progressed. About 30 to 45 minutes before serving Crazy Richard threw in a couple cans of chunky pineapple. So, this really was a sweet bean concoction rather than a spicy bean mix. If your beans are too thin, sort of soupy, you can do what Crazy Richard did and add about half a large can of Rosarita's Refried Beans. I was skeptical but it worked just fine.

Dutch Oven 'Taters  
Dice up some bacon so that it covers the bottom of the pot. Once the bacon starts to get crispy throw in a couple or 3 handfuls of onions. Pile on some sliced potatoes, enough to nearly fill the pot. We sliced the potatoes the night before and stored them in a bucket covered with water and sealed with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste and finish off with a smattering of garlic then give it all a real good stir. Over a medium heat and stirring occasionally this should be ready in 35 - 40 minutes. Mind you, this was in a 14 deep so it won't take as long in a 12 regular. Once the steam starts coming out from under the lid you'll know it's ready to serve up. In one day we went trough 4 full pots of these 'taters.

Cobbler (Dump Cake)
This is your basic cobbler that, for many of us, was our first dish cooked in a Dutch oven. As I said, Crazy Richard chose this one because it's simple and he could keep knocking this delicious desserts as needed. So, thorw in some canned fruit filling of your choice. Richard did apple, peach, and cherry, On one I think he combine apple and peach. Next, dump in a box of cake mix. For apple, peach, or pear use a white or yellow cake mix. For cherries, use a chocolate cake mix. Then pour in some soda pop. For the peach, pear, or apple, use 7-Up, Sprite, or similar soda that suits yer fancy. Do not completely mix the ingredients. Just cut through it very lightly a could of passes if that. The natural bubbling that occurs during the baking process in a Dutch oven will mix the ingredients sufficiently. Depending on the weather, this could take around 45 - 60 minutes. About every 15 minutes use a lid lifter to turn the lid 1/4 turn (do not lift the lid off the pot). Also use the lid lifter and lift the entire pot by the bail and turn 1/4 of a turn over the coals. This will help to prevent getting hot spots and reduce the risk of burning. The idea is to have a nice evenly browned cake.

That's it. I really want to thank Crazy Richard and Ann for letting me be a part of their catering event this past weekend. The drive down from Utah was great, since it was my first time going to the St. George area. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the country and best of all, I met new friends, had great food, and had fun.

04 February 2010

An Ol' Sourdough Talks about Sourdough

First, you need to know to always take care of your sourdough. It requires care and feeding. The Ol' coussies were known to even tuck their sourdough in their bed role with themselves at night to keep it warm. So, what's up here? Did these Ol' coots have some sort of warped relationship with this stuff. Well, it is a living organism - sort of. But, no, these guys were not slipping off the ol' rocker.

Historically, sourdough has been around for centuries. and referred to by different names. The name Sourdough is a recent name, considering how long this stuff has been around. It came about, so I've been told, when a French family moved to San Francisco and opened a bakery n 1849. They promptly began preparing bread with this culture that was popular and well known in Europe. In 1848, miners began flocking to San Francisco as it was the port of entry on their way to the California gold fields. Once Boudin opened up in 1849 the miners, as well as the locals, found this bread so desirable that the Boudin Bakery became the premier bakery in San Francisco and is still in business today. The miners flocked to this bakery every morning for this special tasting bread. Since 1849 Boudin's have been using the same sourdough culture, which they call a "Mother Dough" and the same recipe. It was called the "Mother Dough" because in 1906 Louise Boudin saved the original starter in a bucket during the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

The Boudin family discovered that their culture produced a bread with unique characteristics that they didn't have back in France. Must have been somethin' in the air. Well, that's exactly correct, there was. No matter what part of the world where sourdough starter is made the flavor will be unique. This is because of the wild yeast found in the air. In each geographic area the composition of the wild yeast will be dependent on the unique environmental conditions. In the San Francisco area the bacteria found is such that it creates the unique aroma and distinct tangy flavor we know as San Francisco sourdough. But, the credit goes to the Boudin's.

So, why was this so important to the chuck wagon cook? It's all got to do with the rise or what the old timer's called proofing. All ya'll might also know it as the leavening process. Without a concoction that allows the bread to raise the ol' coussie would have been restricted to making flat breads (to be read tortillas) which the cowboys might tire of over time. Although baker's yeast was available during the last quarter of the 19th century it was expensive and not readily available on the trail. So, enter sourdough.Sourdough, when used in bread and other dough based recipes, lowers the pH level of the dough, causing the starch to partially gelatinize, and enabling it to retain gas bubbles. It was much easier for the coussie to mix a batch of sourdough starter and keep it feed thereby making it generally available whenever he needed it.

Alright, recipe time. If you ask a sourdough purist, this recipe would be called cheatin' 'cause it uses yeast. I call it makin' a starter in 24 hours.

Splatterdab's Overnight Sourdough Starter

cups warm water
1 1/4
teaspoons yeast
cups flour

Mix the yeast in the warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Place the flour in a large plastic, glass, or crock bowl or container. Stir the liquid into the flour and mix well. It should be the consistency of a slightly thick pancake batter.
Cover container with a towel or plastic wrap but make sure the mixture can breathe. Allow to stand in a warm place for at least 12 hours or more. Make sure your container is deep enough because the yeast will cause the mixture to raise. If the starter gets too close to the top of the container just stir it down.

Use whatever is called for in the recipe yer usin' but make sure to feed it. That means that if the recipe calls for 1 cup of starter then make sure you replenish it with equal amounts of flour and water.
If you keep it fed it will serve a bunch and it will get better with age - kinda like your ol' Splatterdab here. Oh yeah, don't forget, if it gets really chilly at night you can keep your sourdough warm and alive by tuckin' it in the bed roll with ya.