Skillet Lasagna

Made this tonight and it was tasty. This is a simple one pot meal, just right for Cooking Merit Badge. Scouts will learn to dice an onion (not required for the merit badge, but an essential skill), sauté the onion (also not required and also essential), and brown meat (which is always tasty).

They should also learn a bit of “mise en place”, getting everything ready and in its place before starting. The recipe doesn’t make that clear, but a mentor (Merit Badge Counselor) should walk them through prepping the tomatoes and onion first, then getting the other ingredients ready while those are cooking.

Skillet Lasagna

Recipe for Skillet Lasagna.

The first time you stir this, you will probably wonder about using lasagna noodles. Next time, I might use a different pasta shape. Maybe rotini (corkscrew), penne (tubes), or farfalle (bowtie). Or I might go with lasagna again. That did work, despite the concern while stirring.

A bit more ricotta, basil, parmesan, or whatever is fine with me. I’m always good with more flavor or richness.

The recipe calls for a “meatloaf mix” of ground beef and pork. I bet that would be tasty, but we used 85/15 ground beef. 80/20 might be better, but you can always add a bit more olive oil.

Dicing an onion is one of the most basic skills in the kitchen. Doing it wrong is a good way to slice your finger. So watch this knife skill video from Kenji López-Alt and learn to do it quickly and safely.

Sautéing onions is not hard, but requires attention. A bit of oil, cook over medium high heat, stir occasionally (avoid burning), until the onions are translucent and tasty. Add more oil if the skillet is dry.

Cooking Merit Badge requires understanding frying, but sautéing isn’t quite the same thing. Frying is done at medium to medium high heat with plenty of oil and large pieces of food. The food is not moved around much so that it can cook through and brown. Like fried chicken. Sautéing is at higher heat, medium high to high, uses less oil, food is usually in smaller pieces, and stirred more often.

This article on Sautéing vs. Pan Frying is short and clear.

The recipe calls for minced fresh garlic, which is kind of a bother. We keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge. It doesn’t taste quite as good, but it sure is easier.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Peas

A few weeks ago, I noticed fresh peas in the pod at our grocery store. I was about to buy some, but I wasn’t sure how much to buy. I’d always used frozen peas. Well, the conversion factor is roughly a pound of peas in the pod to a cup of shelled peas. This batch was generous, with two or more cups from 1.25 pounds.

Peas

Fresh peas are great, so “double the peas” is like doubling the bacon or the chocolate. Not a problem.

I used fresh peas in the pasta last night, and I’ll keep using them as long as they are available.

$7 Stove Windscreen

A kitchen splatter guard is just the right size for a backpacking stove windscreen. It costs $7 and weighs eleven ounces. A little heavy but a good choice for Boy Scout patrols.

It is tall enough to shield the flame of a canister-topper stove and big enough to leave room around the fuel tank so it won’t overheat.

Windscreen 1

A view from the top, showing the room for ventilation or bigger pots. Back in the 1970’s, my dad made a windscreen like this by bending some tabs on thin sheets of aluminum.

Windscreen 2

The one I bought is the Norpro Nonstick 3 Sided Splatter Guard. Each panel is 10 inches wide and 9 inches tall. The Amazon price varies. It cost $5.55 when I bought it. Similar splatter guards should be available at department stores or hardware stores that sell kitchen tools.

Windscreen 3

Speakers for my Elecraft KX3

Want speakers for your rig? No need to wait. For about the cost of a tank of gas, you could be sitting back and enjoying armchair copy.

The internal speaker in my KX3 is good but not great, plus the rig has stereo effects which you can’t hear through the single speaker. The headphone jack provides 100 mW per channel, which is not enough to drive speakers to a reasonable listening level.

This is my under $35 setup for an external audio amp and stereo speakers. Of course it would work for any other rig.

The KX3 has stereo output, so this is a 15 Watt per channel stereo amp that runs off 12 V, plus a pair of simple 3 inch speakers. The amp is mounted on top of one of the speakers with 2 inch wide velcro. The power lead has Anderson PowerPoles, so it plugs into the rest of my station power bus.

IMG 0221

Let’s walk through the parts list. You can choose your own speakers, of course. I was looking for some vintage Radio Shack Optimus Pro-X44AV speakers on eBay, but ran out of time before JOTA last October. I have one of those speakers on my Lowe HF-150 Europa.

The Pyle speakers are compact, inexpensive, and sound fine. I’m sure there are lots of other small speakers that work.

Item Cost
Pyle Home PCB3BK 3-Inch Cube Speakers, Pair 21.38
DROK Audio Amplifier (TDA7297 15W+15W) 8.50
Velcro 2″ by 4″ strips (optional) 2.77
Belkin Rockstar Headphone Splitter (optional) 10.99
Speaker/power wire had it
Anderson PowerPoles had it

The DROK stereo amp varies in price on Amazon, sometimes around $8, sometimes around $11. It is built around a TDA 7297 integrated amplifier. It works with a DC power supply from 6.5 V to 18 V, perfect for ham use. In small quantities, the IC is under $4. Add in the heat sink, board, pot, and connectors, and even $12 is a fair price. It is a pretty cute little amp, really.

A separate volume control for the speakers is handy. I can turn those up or down as I’m in, or not in, the “shack” (our bedroom).

The blue “power on” LED is very bright, so it is normally taped over with some black photo darkroom masking tape. I removed that for these photos.

stereo speakers and audio amp

I also use a headphone splitter so I can leave everything plugged in—my headphones (Yamaha CM500), the amp for the speakers, and the USB audio A/D device (not plugged in for this photo).

Belkin Rockstar Headphone Splitter

Here is the velcro that I used to mount the amp on top of a speaker. I have extra for other stuff that needs stuck down. The next candidate is my MFJ UTC clock. After that, who knows? I have plenty of velcro left.

two inch wide adhesive Velcro

Finally, here is the whole grand setup in the shack. Such as it is.

KX3 station with speakers

SOTA at Philmont

There are thirteen summits inside Philmont Scout Ranch that are listed in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) amateur radio program. There are another three within the Valle Vidal region to the north of the ranch. Only two of these sixteen peaks have been activated by SOTA operators, Baldy Mountain and Shaefers Peak.

SOTA is an award scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas. I think it is a great match for Scouting, combining the outdoors, technology, and world fellowship. Grab a radio, hike to the top of a mountain, and talk to people.

Here is a map of the Philmont South Country, which has most of the SOTA summits.

Philmont SOTA South

Starting at the north and moving south, these are the SOTA summits. If the summit does not have an official name, SOTA uses the altitude. An unnamed summit that is 8820 feet tall will be “Point 8820”.

Philmont Region Summit Name SOTA Reference Number of Activations
Valle Vidal Little Costilla Peak W5N/CM-001 0
Valle Vidal Ash Mountain South W5N/CM-005 0
Valle Vidal Point 11100 W5N/CM-007 0
North Country Baldy Mountain W5N/CM-002 2
North Country Point 8820 W5N/CM-023 0
South Country Point 8988 W5N/CM-018 0
South Country Phillips Mount W5N/CM-004 0
South Country Bear Mountain W5N/CM-011 0
South Country Schaefers Peak W5N/CM-016 3
South Country Black Mountain W5N/CM-010 0
South Country Garcia Peak W5N/CM-009 0
South Country Point 8881 W5N/CM-021 0
South Country Mesa Urraca W5N/CM-026 0
South Country Train Peak W5N/CM-013 0
South Country Burn Peak W5N/CM-014 0
South Country Lookout Peak W5N/CM-015 0

I used CalTopo.com to make maps with the Philmont boundaries and the SOTA peaks overlaid. CalTopo is a fantastic, free tool for making custom maps. For a modest subscription ($20/year), you can unlock more features. But the free version is still very useful.

The PDF maps are geospatial PDFs, so you can use them with a mapping app like Avenza Maps (free).

  • Map of all of Philmont with SOTA peaks, in PDF, JPEG, and on CalTopo.
  • Map of the Valle Vidal with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.
  • Map of Philmont North Country with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.
  • Map of Philmont South Country with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.

I don’t have a ride this year, but I want to go back to Philmont, with a radio!

Lentil-Bulgur Chili

I’ve made this on a few backpacking trips and it has always been delicious. It is several cuts above the normal dehydrated meal. It is simple to assemble at home and needs only a few dehydrated vegetables. On an overnight, it is worth carrying some fresh sourdough bread to accompany the chili.

This is from my favorite outdoor cookbook, The Back-Country Kitchen: Cooking for Canoeists, Anglers, and Hikers by Teresa Marrone, page 125. I’m reprinting it here with her kind permission.

Here we are, enjoying the chili with friends at Eagle Spring trail camp, near Mission Peak.

MG 5014

And here is her recipe.


Lentils, bulgur, and shredded cheese combine to make a complete protein in this delicious vegetarian chili. The sunflower seeds add great texture.

Serves 3-4.

Combine in quart plastic zipper bag:

1/2 cup lentils
1/3 cup bulgur
1/3 cup dried shredded carrot
2 tablespoons chopped celery (preferably de-stringed)
2 tablespoons husked, salted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon crumbled dried parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic chips
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
4 sun-dried tomato halves cut in half-inch pieces (I used oil-packed)
half of the leather from an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce (I used some sun-dried tomato paste)

Carry separately:

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (I use pre-shredded cheese)

In medium pot, boil 2 1/2 cups of water. Add mix; stir thoroughly. Cover and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Stir well and return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes; add additional water (1/2 cup) if the chili begins sticking during cooking. While the chili cooks, shred or coarsely chop the cheese. Sprinkle each serving with cheese.


I’ve also made this at home, using fresh ingredients for the dried vegetables. It was just as tasty at home, something that isn’t always true for trail meals.

The cookbook has a handy chapter of equivalents for dried and fresh ingredients. I replaced the dehydrated vegetables with fresh and sautéed them before cooking the lentils and bulgur.

1 cup diced carrot
1 cup chopped celery (I add chopped celery leaves because I like celery)
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (I use poblano because my wife doesn’t like bell pepper)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
olive oil

Sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper in one or two tablespoons of olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Add the garlic and sauté another minute (until fragrant).

Add water and all remaining ingredients except the parsley and cheese. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Different lentils cook for different times, so check the package.
Stir in the parsley.

Serve topped with cheese.

Back country kitchen The Back-Country Kitchen is available at Amazon.