"The Author-Preneur with Something To Say That You'll Love To Read."

BBQ Sauce

There are tons of good recipes for barbecue sauce from scratch.  You can probably go online right now and find 10,000 of them with no problem.  The true test is whether it matches up to the flavor you are looking for.  For that you need to know your own sense of taste and the kind of food you will use it on.  I am going to throw out some simple guidelines for the ingredients that you should try to use in making your first BBQ sauce from scratch. As always, I am gonna ask you to experiment and play around with the flavors to find what suits your style and meal.

These are the things I start with: crushed tomatoes (some use ketchup), brown sugar, garlic, apple cider vinegar, orange peel zest (and some orange juice itself - fresh squeezed), cinnamon, caramelized onions, ginger, apple sauce (for thickening and flavor both), nutmeg, espresso, and butter.  The amount of tang and or zest that you drawl out of the ingredients will really depend on what you are going for.  That smoked flavor can be enhanced by browning the onions and garlic just to the edge of burning - perhaps even a bit beyond.

Start out with your tomatoes.  Brown or scorch the onions and garlic.  Add them with the  brown sugar and butter.  Now Start the tasting.  Add each subsequent ingredient one at a time and get a sense of the shift in flavors.  You can add more layers by coming back and re-adding something and seeing how it tastes.  It is really a sort of craft project in the long run.  You are experimenting and creating, layer at a time, until you land that perfect flavor.

I would suggest writing down what you add as you add it and then you can go back and write a recipe from the session.  I always start with my base recipe and add to it depending what I am serving and what I am trying to accent.

Enjoy the process.



Simple Food - Simple Meal

The idea of simple food functions on several levels.  It can mean food that is relatively simply prepped, and with little fuss in the cooking - steamed vegetables with olive oil and lemon for example.  It can also mean food that brings itself together as a meal in a simple way, appearing plain - soup and bread for example.  It can also mean mean a meal that is not complex - such as steamed rice and veggies.

Any of these meanings, and all of the other ones that you imagine when you hear "simple food" give us pause from our usual meals.  They may give us a chance to sit at a plain and simple table, with those we love and live with, and share simple talk, simple communion.  Sounds a bit like a child's serving of tea in plastic service-ware to big people who can't really see tea in their cups.

There are times of the year that the major religions set aside to celebrate with food.  There are times they set aside to celebrate without food.  I am thinking, as Lent approaches -  is upon us - to share the idea of simple meal.  Simple meals of celebration are bonding for religions.  I believe it is important for families to do the same.  Simple meals can be times of bonding at home.

Have an occasional meal that is simple fare.  (Preparing it may often be far from simple - especially if you are making both soup and bread from scratch.)  We have been having a simple meal of soup and bread one day a week for the past few months.  It took the boys by surprise one night because that is all I served.  They ate a lot of it.  But the table was simple that night.  The conversation seemed different (after we got past the idea of only having soup + bread, that is).  It felt sort of like a sacramental meal, rather than just supper.

Call it what you will, but give it a name.  And, have it regularly - every three months, monthly, or weekly.  Have a candle, dim the lights, use cloth napkins.  Hold hands and offer a blessing.  This little "starter" meal can really become the quintessential essence of what meals with loved can be.  It almost become an icon of what meals are.  There are times when we will not sit like this - by design or by default.  But, let "simple meal" be the image of community around the table.  Hearts bonded to hearts.  Bodies nourished as souls are fed.



Practicing the PRESENCE in the Kitchen

There are great books and resources available for recipes and technique and practice in the kitchen, but these don't solve all the problems that we cooks run into.  There is the demon of ennui and lack of interest that haunts us, not just at noon-day, but at all times.  It is the lackluster belief and feeling that we are tired, over-worked, nothing matters, and we are lost in a sea of people who just come, eat our hard work and leave - perhaps even without any interaction or comment.

I have found the practice of the presence of God - Brother Lawrence's spiritual classic - to be a revelation of vitality.  It perks me up when the inner lineaments are lagging and worn.

The whole idea of the Good Brother is to imagine the Divine One with us in the kitchen as we clean, prep, and cook the delights of the kingdom.  It may take the form of an inner dialogue with the Ancient of Days or an outer - verbal - dialogue.   It may simply be to pray love into the food we make by asking - as we cook - that each ingredient be filled with joy; that each person partaking of these elements would be given peace, that love would permeate every aroma and spoonful.  Pray that the food would really change lives.

It gives meaning to the labors of the kitchen and it deepens a part of the cook that other actions, thoughts, and feelings cannot touch.  It nourishes our own spirit and soul.  It enhances the flavor of our own lives and our connection to the All-Wise.

Check out this book.  Also, check out some form of practice that nourishes you - the cook - as you do the countless tasks necessary to nourish the people all around you.  Some of the Eastern Fathers of the Church challenged the cook to pray the Jesus Prayer all throughout the day.  Some others pray the Shema, the Rosary, or the Psalms.  Open your heart and let it's love flow into your work and your creations.

Brother Lawrence's classic is at the link below.


Tom +

Sausage and Barley Soup with Vegetables

The kitchen at a camp, like a restaurant, ends up with a fair amount of leftovers at the end of a day.  And while it does not excuse folks from starting soups with fresh vegetables, it is a good idea to plan menus around what you know you can do with the leftovers.  It is a great idea to save your meat-sauces to start chili, and to save your vegetables to start vegetable soup.

Today I am starting with some sausage, browning it up in olive oil and fresh garlic.  This browning will give the soup stock some color and rich flavor.  I am going to toast/roast some barley in a dry caste-iron pan - no oil or just a touch - 'til it gets just a bit darkened.  This will add some more robustness to the stock as well.  We'll add some crushed tomatoes to some steamed vegetables and get them simmering in a separate pot with some water.

Fresh garlic will be added to the simmering pot along with ground pepper and cumin.  Once this starts to simmer I'll add the sausage and the barley.  As this is simmering I'll start a fresh pan of mirepoix.  That'll get added last.  Once all of the ingredients are added you can begin the process of tasting.  More water can be added, and some more cumin if you need it.  I also save the basil for last.  Keep playing with the tastes 'til it arrives at today's perfection.

Enjoy yourself while cooking; it gets more love cooked into the soup!


Tom +

Cookbooks + Technique

Camp Cooking is a lot different than other forms of cooking.  You have got to be really creative.  Creative, patient, and able to eat ash - or, as we call it here at the Plateau "Hill Spice" or "Mountain Spice".

The fluctuating heat that comes from an open fire - or even a deep bed of coals (which is the preferred heat - but kids don't often - nor hungry dads - wait long enough to get good coals) is tough to work with.  Caste-iron pans cook differently than the usual kitchenware.  They hold heat - which is great if you remember to factor that in to your cooking.

On of the things that is a really important in camp cooking (as in any kitchen cooking) is getting some robust resources at your fingertips.  We have collected some of them at our camp kitchen website:

We have tried to pull together a few cookbook resources, some chef links (you have got to check out Chef Jacob Burton's podcasts and website, Molly Katzen's site with videos and sensational veggie recipes, and Peter Reinhart's blog on baking).  But you'll need more than this.

Search the shelves to have some good technique books and a few recipe/cookbooks in your cadre of resources.  Build some good files on your computer, too.  I would recommend opening a google docs and spreadsheet site.  It is free and you can upload tons of resources to a digital e-file that you can access anytime, from anywhere.  It'll sync to your computer, so you can access it even when your server is down.

You should look into some good camping books like BIG BOOK OF CAMP COOKING, ROUGHING IT EASY, and COOKING THE DUTCH OVEN WAY.  You can use the amazon search at the bottom of the blog pages to search.  Make something SUMPTUOUS to eat today - over a fire, or over a stove.

Resources are the backbone of any path you choose to grow in.


Tom +

Food Safety is a Must

For all of you folks who educate staff on food safety issues, I want to share a resource that we have received from the ServSafe website.  The resources are free, and you can download them from their website, you simply need to make an account.  You can also view them at our food service website on the Staff Resources page.

Just click on our Pocono Plateau Foodservices Handbook - part II and it will take you directly to our on-line folder of posters and quizes.  I use them to compile the second have of our food service handbook, obviously.  they are great handouts that folks can take with them (we bind them in with our part I of the handbook and give each staff member one).  We go over one poster a day.  I review them and then give them the quiz too.  I sign off that they took them and viola, you have a record of staff education for survey time.

It is critical that eveyone is on the same page in the kitchen.  This helps facilitate that.  Good food is safe food.


Tom +

Mountain Pies - Camp Cooking at its FINEST

First, for those that have never made a mountain pie - you have missed out.  Essentially there is a pie iron that hinges open, and has long handles.  You open the iron, put a smear of butter or a spray of not stick pan spray on each side.  Place a piece of bread on each side of the iron.  Then, fill it with the filling of your choice.

You can use cheese and sauce and toppings to make a pizza mountain pie.  You can use PBJ to make a PBJ pie.  Pie fillings are good.  Scrambled eggs, cheese and bacon (already cooked) makes a fine breakfast pie.  You can do cheese, taco meat and salsa.

Basically you can fill that sucker with whatever you think will be a fine mountain pie.  The tricky part is getting the fire down to coals and then sticking that iron on the coals, flipping it every minute or so. You have to experiment to get the feel for how the fire is working and how the fillings are cooking.  But the goal is a toasty golden brown pie with warm fillings.  Experiment with fillings, too.

It makes a fun evening activity and snack, all in one.



Mise En Place

Mise en place (pronounced [miz ɑ̃ plas], literally "putting in place") is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place", as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meatrelishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook requires for the menu items that he/she expects to prepare during his/her shift. - Wikipedia

This is the part of cooking that is really about - GETTING OUT ALL YOUR TOYS.  Not only all the utensils and proper accoutrement, but all of the food and ingredients.  Although it is a technical aspect of the kitchen and involves each food item,  accurate scales and measures, bowls and cutting boards, I cannot rid my mind of an image from childhood.  Mise en place always makes me think of my Play-doh Fun Factory.

I know it is totally silly, but I can distinctly remember doing mise en place when I played with the fun factory - without knowing what the devil mise en place was.  Are you with me.  You set up the machine, the rolling pins, the knives, the play-doh, and then all the extras that you thought should be there.  There were cups and pans and water (not an officially sanctioned event), there were plates and spatulas and cookie cutters.  It was all layed out on the table, everything in order; everything in its place.

OK, enough of the digression/regression.  I think you get the picture.  And, I hope I have not ruined your elevated status as a cook so that when you say mise en place - with your best French accent - that you think of little Tommy and his Play-doh Factory.  Alas, there are worse crimes...

At any rate, mise en place is truly the pulling it all together piece.  It is the prep time.  Make sure you have everything you need at your disposal - immediate disposal.  If you need the scale, then get the scale out and bring it over.  If you need the knives, get them - over here.  Bring it all together.  What happens is that this puts you in one space so that as the magical, mystical love that goes on when you start to create something is not disturbed.  So many folks miss the sacredness of cooking cause they are too busy running around and getting stuff at the wrong time.

So, think about your current practice of cooking and see if you can't FRENCH it up a bit by doing mise en place, like the BIG CHEF's.  It'll change your life and your cooking.

Here is a nice article on mise en place in the bigger picture:  How to Survive in a Professional Kitchen by Chef Jacob Burton.  Let's you know how to organize yourself so you can survive the whims and woes of the professional kitchen.  Good Stuff, Jacob.  Thanks!



Snacks, Frank Caliendo, and George W

With two growing boys, we burn up a lot of food just for snacks.  Once their foot hits the pavement coming out of the bus at the end of a school day, they charge up the grass to the house, mouths open and hands reaching.  Gadzooks!  You would think they have never eaten before....gobble, gobble, gobble (not to be confused with the Frank Caliendo impressions of George W at: YouTube).  At any rate, they eat A LOT.

Trying new things is always good.  They enjoy that.  We tried nachos with extra sharp cheese and some good snappy, hard, apples diced up.  They were awesome.  Add a little apricot salsa or mango salsa or peace salsa and you have a mini fruit snack with cheese and chips.  We also did the nachos with extra sharp cheese and steamed broccoli florets.

Triscuits are also a favorite.  We slice some cheese (usually extra sharp - again) onto a Triscuit, then add a piece of crab, a thinly sliced - julienned - piece of onion, avocado, and roasted pepper.  It takes some time to make these snacks - which will be consumed in 4.5 seconds flat, but it is fun watching the boys eat 'em, and I like getting out some obsession-bugs out of my system.

Another snack that has some variation built into it is bagels.  With the variety of bagels and cream cheeses it is not hard to find some new twists on an old theme.  You can add all kinds of fruits to them, too.  The key is to slice them small enough to eat with a tooth-pick.  Regardless of all the fruits and or veggies that you can build into the bagels, lox are still the favorite here.

So, plan some little tasty yum-yums for the kids in your life.  Spruce up there day with what they will consider to be a "higher-end" snack item.  Higher-end because you took the time to build it for them.



OK,This is Weird

Yesterday as I was roaming through my cafe posts, looking for a topic or food that would fill in the blanks and be a step to the next set of posts we will share together.  So, I decided on knives.  A good chat about knives, quality of knives, using knives and sharpening knives is in order.

What to my wondering eyes should appear...this morning in my e-mailbox was a new newsletter from Chef Jacob Burton.  What was the first thing I saw when I opened it: Techniques In Focus: Knife Skills.

Go figure.  Well, brother, we were on the same wavelength.  I am just gonna link folks into your site and let them view your awesome work!

So, check out the two links below and be sure to sign up for Chef Jacob's newsletter.  Jacob's stuff is always a worthwhile and fun read - or view.

Chef Jacob's Knife skills podcast:

Chef Jacob's Knife Skills e-Book: