Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shelf-Safe Spaghetti in the Dutch Oven

In the process of preparing the meals and recipes for my next book, which is all about cooking with food storage, I’ve run into the problem of meats.  The big question is, how to do meat dishes with shelf-stable ingredients.

Shelf-stable, of course, implies ingredients that can be pulled from long-term storage on a shelf.  That does not include frozen meats.  It’s a good thing to have a good supply of frozen meats in your food storage, don’t get me wrong.  It’s great to thaw them out and cook up good meats.  However, even those can be subject to freezer burn, and if your power goes out for more than a few days, you’re in trouble.

That leaves you three options:  Dried meat, canned meat, and fake meat. None of these are ideal, and we will all swear up and down that fresh meats are the best, because they are.  However, if you use these properly, with good ingredients and seasonings, you can cook up dishes that are delicious, filling, and still provide the protein you need.

I cooked up some things last weekend, in preparation for the book, that use some shelf-stable meats.  One was the jerky chili that I did a few months ago, found here. That was a tasty example of using dried meats.

I also made a spaghetti sauce using beef flavored TVP.  This is “Textured Vegetable Protein” and it’s a staple of the vegans.  It has a texture very much like ground meat, it carries various flavorings, and it’s made entirely from soy, so there’s no animal products.  It also is dried and stores forever.  We had in our food storage a number of #10 cans of this stuff, in various flavors, like chicken, beef, and bacon, but I was always afraid to try it.  The mere thought of smooshy fake meat made me run for the hills.  But I tried it this weekend, and my results were good.

Shelf Stable Spaghetti in the Dutch Oven

8” Dutch oven

12+ coals below

10” Dutch oven

16+ coals below

1 cup water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
1 cup beef TVP
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato sauce
2-4 Tbsp dehydrated onions
2-4 Tbsp dehydrated sweet peppers
1 4 oz can mushrooms
crushed red pepper

3-4 cups water
a handful of spaghetti noodles

I started by lighting up some coals, and once they were hot, I set up the 8” Dutch oven and the 10” Dutch oven with their respective coals, with water in the 10” and stock in the 8”.  I put the lids on, and waited for them to boil.

The stock, being the least, boiled first, so I dealt with it first.  TVP should be mixed with boiling water at a 1:1 ratio, so I tossed in the cup of TVP and stirred it up.  It absorbed the liquid almost instantaneously. I mixed in the tomatoes and the tomato sauce, and stirred it up, replacing the lid.  I pulled away some of the coals, because I wanted it to begin simmering, and not to burn on the bottom.

Then, I added in all of the other flavorings, and kept it simmering.

About then, the water in the 10” was boiling.  I tossed in the spaghetti sticks and reclosed the lid. in a few minutes, they had softened, so I stirred them up to keep them from sticking.

After about 8-10 minutes, the spaghetti was “al dente”, which means that it’s not so soft.  It still resists your tooth a little bit.  I strained the spaghetti out of the water, and served it on the plate, smothered in sauce.  I also sprinkled some parmesan onto it, which, technically, isn’t shelf-stable, but it’s certainly moreso than softer cheeses.

The final verdict?  I was impressed.  Had I not known it was TVP, I might have thought it was ground beef.  In this particular dish, there are a lot of other flavors to distract the tongue, so not so much attention is paid to the flavor or the texture of the TVP.  If I were to eat the TVP straight, or if it were a bigger part of the dish, I’m not sure how well it would do.


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baking Bread for Church

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to get very personal in this post. I’m going to talk about my church and my faith.

But - I hope it won’t be in a preachy way.  I hope it relates to the core of why we make food and how we make some of the food and ingredient choices we make for one circumstance or another.  It really goes to the heart of the art of cooking.  I hope I’ll be speaking to expression and meaning in the food and in the result. It’s really the first chance I’ve had to take an emotion and express it through ingredients, through process, and, finally, to result.

If you don’t want to be bothered with all that, I won’t be offended.  You can skip down below and read what I hope will be a good, solid, yummy bread recipe. On the other hand, I hope you’ll also take a moment and, in the comments section below, tell me about a time when you’ve cooked something expressive.

OK, here we go--

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to provide the bread for our ward’s Sacrament Service. For those not of my faith, let me just take a moment to explain that. In a Mormon chapel, every Sunday, one of the meetings (the most important one, theologically) is the Sacrament meeting. We listen to “talks” (what we call sermons), and sing, of course, but it’s the actual ordinance of the Sacrament that’s the key portion of the meeting. In it, baptized members of the church eat a tiny piece of bread and drink a tiny cup of water in symbolic remembrance of the Savior’s suffering and the offering of the Atonement to us. It’s a big deal to us (or at least it should be). It’s a part of our weekly renewal and repentance.

So, I got the chance to provide the bread for that service last week.  Now, normally, the bread is just store-bought sliced bread. It doesn’t matter, theologically or doctrinally, what bread you use.  In the Last Supper, Jesus himself probably used some variant on a Pita or some unleavened flatbread.

Since I love to bake bread in the Dutch oven, I got up early in the morning to do that, to bake the loaves that would be used in our Sacrament service.

Part of the reason why I bring all this up is to share my thought process as I decided what I was going to do.  My first thought was to pull out all the stops and make an amazing herb loaf, or the cocoa bread, or maybe even a rye. Practical reasons stopped the rye, it would take too long to rise. And the others didn’t seem right. I wanted to give it my best.  I mean, this is for Church, right? In some ways, I’m baking for God, here!

Then I thought about the service itself, and I realized that if I did one of those wonderful breads, then lots of people would be tasting that wonderful bread and they might start thinking, “Wow, that bread is really great!”.  And suddenly, they’re pulled out of the ordinance.  They’re thinking about the bread, not the Atonement.

The bread would have to be simple and plain.  It would have to be the best simple and plain bread I’ve ever baked. In that sense, it might even be a bit zen-like or like a Shaker hymn...

Anyway, so I set about my recipes and identified a pure and simple bread recipe.  I did add a little olive oil and maybe an egg for a touch of richness, and the dough turned out to be a very damp, rustic dough, which, I think, added to the fluffy lightness in the end. I also doubled what’s below and baked two loaves, one for my family.  As I gathered up the ingredients, I said a quick prayer inside, and started in!

Church Bread

12” Dutch Oven
14-15 coals below
18-22 coals above

1 Tbsp Yeast
2 Cup water (110 degrees)
2 Tbsp sugar

~4 Cups fresh bread flour, adding as much as 1 more during kneading
1 tsp salt
~2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg (optional)

The process was very much like every other bread loaf I’ve done.  I started by getting some warm tap water (to touch, it feels like a nice hot shower, even just a little too hot).  I added the yeast, the sugar, and stirred it up. I set that aside to activate.

Meanwhile, I sifted the flour into a large mixing bowl, and added the salt.  Once the yeast was nice and frothy, and added that and the oil into the mix and stirred it all up.

I scooped it out onto a well-floured countertop and started kneading, shaking on more flour as it was needed. As I mentioned, when it got to a good windowpane test , it was still a very damp, loose dough, but, obviously, not as sticky as when I started. I shaped it into a large ball and set it in the oiled bowl to rise, covered with a tea towel.

There’s quite a bit of yeast in the recipe, so it rose fairly quickly. when it was more than doubled, I punched it down and reshaped it, and set it in a cloth-lined basket for the second raise. As I reshaped it, I pinched a seam along “the bottom”, but I put that side upwards in the basket.  That way, when I would dump it out into the hot Dutch oven, the seam would truly be “the bottom” of the loaf.

I lit up some coals, and when they were getting white, I set up the proper coals over and under a 12” Dutch oven.  I had lightly oiled the interior of the oven, and I let it preheat, empty, with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes.

Finally, it was all ready to bake. I opened up the Dutch oven, and turned the dough ball in from the basket.  I sliced the top and put the cover back on. After about 15 minutes, I opened up the lid and put in a short-stemmed thermometer, and rotated the lid and the Dutch oven. It was a pretty breezy day, so I added 2-3 coals to the bottom and 3-4 to the top.  After another 20 minutes, it was done (to an internal temperature of 190-200°F). I brought it in and turned it out onto a cooling rack.

After it cooled, right before we left to take it to church, I sliced it up, and it was probably the lightest, fluffiest loaf I've ever baked. I tasted a corner, and it was just what I wanted: pure, simple, and perfectly cooked.

At church, my oldest son got to participate in the service, as he often does. It was very special to me to hear him say the prayer to bless the bread, then to watch it be passed to the congregation. As it came to me, I felt a peace and happiness that I think comes from being able to give something, an offering, and know that it was accepted.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dutch Oven Jazzy BBQ Pork Ribs with Potatoes

I’ve not done a lot of ribs over the years, but I have done some.  I’ve done enough to learn three things that are very important keys to yummy, fall-off-the-bone, mess-all-over-your-fingers-and-face Dutch oven ribs.

They are: First, a good spice rub.  This lays the foundation of seasoning and flavor for your ribs.  Gotta have it.

Second: a good barbecue sauce.  This is the second layer.  There are as many ways to make a good sauce as there are people cooking, so you really have to try to go wrong.  Each sauce brings its own nuances and subtleties.  Tangy?  Sweet? Sticky?  Sloppy?  Hot?  Fruity? You can adjust it to your hearts content.

Finally:  a long cook time.  Cooking the ribs until they’re at the government recommended temperature for “doneness” and safety isn’t gonna cut it.  Yeah, it’ll taste good, but you’ll have to gnaw it all off the bone instead of just letting it fall off.  You’ve got to cook it well past “done” to get to that point.  Fortunately, doing that in a Dutch oven won’t dry out the meat, because the moisture will be trapped under the heavy lid.

One other thing I have to say about this:  Sometimes, cooking is like playing classical music. I pay really close attention to the recipe and I measure out the spices and ingredients, as if I were reading the music note-for-note.  Other times, a good meal should be like a good jazz tune.  You have a lead sheet with the melody and the chord structure, but it’s not so much notes as it is guidelines.  You really make it up as you go, and you never play the same song the same way twice.

This last time I made these ribs, a couple of weeks ago, it was a great jazz jam!

Dutch Oven Jazzy BBQ Pork Ribs with Potatoes

1x 12” Deep Dutch oven

12 coals below
14-16 coals above

1 rack of pork baby back ribs

Mark’s Meat Rub

1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp crushed coriander
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp coarse ground black pepper
1 Tbsp thyme
2 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp salt
1 tsp oregano
...and I added some chili powder this time

Mark's Awesome Sauce

1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
Brown sugar (or regular sugar and molasses)
Something acidic, like lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar
Some kind of hot spice (Cayenne Pepper or Chili powder)

3-4 medium potatoes, cubed
2-3 medium onions, cut into eighths

As I said, this is more improvised jazz than it is formalized classical.  The recipes above are for my traditional spice rub and my own barbecue sauce.  I was out of the spice rub, and I was feeling a bit minimal this time, so I just went back to basics:  Salt, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder with just a bit of chili powder.  All of the other flavors are great, too.  Just do what you want!

I opened the ribs package and cut them into chunks of about 4 ribs each.  That’s the only way you’ll get them into the Dutch oven.  I rubbed the spices over the surfaces (both sides), covered them with plastic wrap, and put them on a baking pan in the fridge.  While that was chilling and soaking in the flavors, I lit up the coals.

I lightly oiled the inside of the Dutch oven.  I don’t know that it was really necessary, but I did anyway.  A lot of the fat from the ribs will render out anyway.  Then I set the rib chunks in however I could get them.  You could probably fit them into a regular Dutch oven, but when you add the potatoes and onions later, you’ll want it deeper.

I set the dutch oven, covered, on and under the coals.  It was a pretty windy day, so I had to keep the side fire going and add more coals to the oven about every 15-20 minutes.  I had planned on about a 3 hour cook time.  Occasionally, I would check on the ribs, but not very often.

After about 2 hours, I started preparing the rest of the items.  I made the barbecue sauce first.  This, also, was improvised.  I used molasses instead of sugar and balsamic vinegar as well as mustard and lemon juice for the acid.  It really gave it a dark look and great tanginess.  If you like yours sweeter, use more sugar.  For more heat, add more chili powder or tabasco. Add, stir, taste.

Then, I cubed up the potatoes and the onions.  In retrospect, some sliced or diced green/red peppers would have been nice to add as well.

Out at the Dutch oven, I pulled the ribs out and tossed in the potatoes and onions.  Those got stirred up to mix, and to break up the onions a little.  Then, I restacked the ribs on top of the potatoes.  With a silicon basting brush, I coated one side of the meat with a very thick, liberal layer of sauce, then using tongs, flipped them over and coated the other side.

I put the lid back on and replenished the coals.  After about another 15-20 minutes, I opened it up again, and I could see the sauce baking onto the ribs.  It really looked GREAT!  I slathered on another layer of sauce, turned them over, and did the same to the other side.  I made sure to drizzle more sauce over the onions and potatoes, too.  I closed it up and replenished the heat again. Finally, by the third time, I could see that they were about ready. I pulled it all in, and we set the table.Just before serving, I put another coat of sauce on.

The rendered fat from the ribs had done a nice job browning and crisping the potatoes, and the bold flavors of the rub and the sauce on the ribs was amazing.  It just doesn’t get better than this!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


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