Saturday, June 30, 2007

Meatball Surprise

Normally, I cook on Sundays, but tomorrow we’re going out of town, and, in fact, I’m taking a couple of my ovens with me to loan to some friends for a week or so. The wife of the family is in charge of a church-run girl’s camp, and needs it for them.

So, today, I made a variation of a dish my own wife used to make when we first got married. It was kinda fun to get nostalgic with her over the meal.

Meatball Surprise

12” dutch oven
8-9 coals below
16-18 coals above
You’ll need a side fire, because this one runs over an hour.

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A bunch of sprinkles of cayenne hot sauce (about 2 tsp)
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • Seasonings (I used salt, pepper, seasoning salt, some mixed dried chopped veggie thing I had (sorta like mrs Dash, but not chopped as fine)
  • 1 8oz brick of cream cheese
  • 2-3 small-med potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 2 cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1 Cup rice
  • 2 Cups water or chicken broth

Start by mixing everything in the first set all together, stirring with a wooden spoon and getting it all blended really nice.

Then grab up a fistful and make a ball, about the size of a tennis ball, maybe a tich smaller. Make a hollow in the middle, and slice off a little bit of cream cheese. Put that in the middle of the ball and fold the meat mixture around it. Reform it into a ball, and put it in the dutch oven. In my 12” oven, I made a ring of about seven or eight meatballs, and two in the middle.

Then take the potato slices and scatter them in between the meatballs. Finally, ladle on and spread the Cream of Mushroom soups over the top of it all. After that, I salted and peppered on top (I love coarse ground pepper).

Set it out on and under the coals. Turn it every 15 to 20 minutes. In the meantime, in a smaller oven cook the rice. I normally would have done that in my 8”-er, but today, we had some rice leftover from Chinese take-out. Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone that I didn’t make it myself…

I cooked it for about 1 hr, 20 minutes, until the meat was done, the sauce was bubbling, and the potatoes were soft. If we’d had some, I probably would have sprinkled on some grated cheddar cheese just as it was finishing, and then set the lid back on to melt the cheese

When it’s all done, serve the meatballs on top of the rice. Spoon a bunch of the sauce over the meatballs and over the rice. It’s delicious!

On this particular day, I used my 10” to cook up some brownies from a mix. I know, I know, I’m a lazy butt. But it’s almost a hundred degrees out, and I’m not up to it. So, bleah…

Thursday, June 28, 2007

One for the Newbies!

I’m on a lot of email discussion lists. It’s an annoying habit, but I’m a ‘net junkie, and admitting it is the first step to recovery, right?

Anyway, one of the ones I’m on is for parents of special needs kids (mine has cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis), and as email groups tend to do, we drifted off-topic. One of the moms and I got into a side thread on dutch ovening, and she said that she was new to it and did I have any tips and recipes.

Well, of course I have both!

She said, “Mark, I would like some recipes so send em on over...I have bought a couple cook books but still seem a little overwhelmed...”

It did make me think that if someone were to read my blog as a complete novice dutcher, they might not understand all of the recipes. So, I thought I’d post one that I learned as a newbie, along with some more specific instructions.

This one is also pretty cool, because if someone were to do this recipe right, they’d learn a lot of the basic techniques of dutching, like heat management, rotating, and one-pot meals.

So, I responded:

Dump cakes and cobblers are pretty easy, and everybody loves them, but they get old after a while. :-) I mean E-V-E-R-Ybody does them.

Here's a recipe for a full meal dish that's pretty easy. I've done it a few times, and it’s popular with the family.

Dutch Oven Chicken with Potatoes and Onions

10” or 12” Dutch Oven

For the baking part: About 25 briquettes for a 12” oven, 6-8 briquettes below, the rest above.

  • 1 package of bacon, cut into short pieces
  • 3-5 larger potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1-2 med-large onions, sliced
  • 1-2 green peppers, sliced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks.
  • Salt, season salt, pepper to taste
  • A cup of shredded cheddar
  • Salsa, if you like that sorta thing. You could serve it plain, and offer the salsa to be added on the plate after serving.

Start by slicing and cutting up all the ingredients. You can do some of that while the coals are preparing, but you can also do it beforehand.

Light some coals, and when they show some good white around the edges, put about 15 or so under a seasoned 12” dutch oven. Have about a half-dozen or so more lit coals off to the side. These will be your “side fire” and will help you keep your coals fresh as they burn out. After the oven has heated up for a few minutes, add the bacon, cut into short pieces and separated. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally. I like it fairly crispy.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, when the bacon is about done, you’ll want to add some charcoal briquettes to the half dozen that are burning off to the side. They will light the unburning ones, and then you’ll be able to use them to replenish your cooking coals.

When the bacon is how you like it, Take the oven off the coals temporarily. Add everything else in the ingredients list to the oven, except the cheese. Stir it all up to mix it and coat everything with the bacon flavor. Add the salt, pepper, and any other spices you like. Cajun, hot sauce, poultry seasoning, whatever you like and have. Don’t be timid with the seasonings!

In your cooking area, arrange about 7-8 hot coals in a circle about the size of the bottom of the oven. Then replace the oven. The coals should be fully under the oven, and right at the edge.

Take the rest of the hot coals, and some of the freshly lit ones (about 15-18 total) and place them in a circle around the edge of the lid of the oven. You can place a few of them in the center of the lid. Mark the time as the start of the cooking.

The total cooking time will probably be about 35-45 minutes, but your mileage may vary. Cook it until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is done through. About every 15-20 minutes, lift the lid and check it, giving it a stir. When you replace the lid, rotate it about a quarter turn. Then lift the entire oven and rotate it about another quarter turn. This makes it so that the briquettes are close to different spots on the oven, and lessens hot spots and burning.

As the briquettes burn, you might have to pull more briquettes from your side fire to replenish the ones on, or below, the oven. That’s what they’re there for! When I’m handling briquettes, I use long, spring-handled cooking tongs.

When it’s done, pull the oven off the coals, and tip the lid over the cooking space to shake the coals off the lid. The oven and lid will retain the heat for quite some time (that’s one of the cool things about cast iron). Spread the shredded cheddar over the food inside, and replace the lid (without briquettes). Let the oven’s heat melt the cheese.

When it’s all done, serve it right from the oven. After everyone’s had seconds, it’s always good to get the food out of a dutch oven pretty quickly, since some acidic foods can diminish the seasoning patina. Clean it with a plastic bristled brush and hot water, no soap. When it’s all scrubbed clean, and still warm from the water, coat it with another thin layer of oil or shortening (inside and out, lid as well). Over time, it’ll build up more and more coating and become the best non-stick cookware you own.

This one’s a really simple recipe, with few steps, but it really impresses people, and it's delicious! It’s also easy to get creative with it and tweak the ingredients. It’s very forgiving in the timing and the measuring.

Then come back here and post a comment, letting me know how it went!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cornbread and Butter

Today, at our ward (church), we had a Primary activity all about the pioneers. I'd heard about it last week, and talked to the Primary leader about doing a dutch oven demonstration. At first we talked about doing cobbler, but after a while, we decided on cornbread, since that was likely to be a little more authentic to the saints walking across the plains.

Of course, we used Jiffy mix, so how authentic was that, anyway... :-)

It was my first experience cooking for a big group. We planned on about 75 kids with a few adults, and in the end we probably had about 50. I brought my three 12"-ers, and borrowed the Primary pres' 12" oven as well.

As part of the demo, we also made butter by pouring cream (with a little salt) in a jar. That got passed around from kid to kid, shaking it and rolling it as they passed. I tell ya, dutch oven-ed cornbread and fresh-churned butter. It doesn't get better than this!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chicken Enchilada

Let me start off with a quick little Spanish lesson. No extra charge!

The word “enchilada”, in Spanish, has its root in the word “chile”, as in chili pepper. When you ad the prefix “en-“, it means to add to, or to put on. So, the verb “enchilear” would mean “to put chilis on (or in)”. So, if something has been “chili-ed”, then you would say it has been “enchilada”. Thus, the words “Pollo Enchilada” literally mean: “Chili-ed Chicken”, or chicken with chilis on it.

The whole reason I mention this is that there’s a very common dish in Utah, made especially by the gringas here, called a “Chicken Enchilada”. It involves cooking chicken, wrapping it up with flour tortillas, and covering it with a sauce of sour cream and cream of mushroom soup. Then they put cheese on top of it.

In most cases, it’s made without chilis.

So, one might more correctly call it, “Chicken Desenchilada” or “Chicken sin Chile”.

Anyway, in the old ward where I used to live, there was this really sweet lady that had her roots in Mexico. As a part of the ward’s annual Relief Society cookbook, she showed this recipe for Chicken Enchilada. And it’s REAL!

So, I decided to give it a whirl in my dutch.

10” Dutch Oven
8” Dutch Oven

Lots of coals at various points in the process. Once the baking starts, I used 7 on the bottom and 12-13 on the top of the 10”

About 1 lb of boneless chicken
About ½ lb grated cheddar
Corn tortillas
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp oil
2 ½ Cups water
6 Tbsp chili powder (This is where the "enchilada" part comes in)
1 Tbsp garlic
Salt to taste (probably about 1 Tbsp)

If I’d had some, I’d have added:
1 diced onion
1 small can black olives (diced)

I decided to really go as authentic as I could. I started off with the chicken set to boil in the 10” with the lid on.

I put the oil and the flour in the 8”, and set it on coals. In a bowl, I mixed the water, the chili powder, the garlic, and the salt, stirring vigorously to “dissolve” the chili powder (it doesn’t really dissolve, but if you mix it a lot, it doesn’t clump or float, but gets well blended with the water).

Once the oil and flour mix was browned, I added the water/chili powder mix, and set that to boil. I had to put a lid on top with a few coals.

While that and the chicken boiled, I set to making the tortillas. I got some masa mix, and mixed it up, making the dough into balls. I had a tortilla press, but it didn’t really press very well, and after a few presses, the handle broke anyway. So, I just started rolling them between sheets of waxed paper with my rolling pin. In retrospect, I would have done two things to make the tortillas turn out better. I think I would have mixed them with a little bit more water, to make them a little more damp and pliable (they turned out very dry and cracked), and I would have started heating up my griddle much earlier in the process.

For a griddle, I used an overturned 12” lid with lots of coals underneath. It took a while for it to heat up, hence my previous observation. So, my first few tortillas took quite a while to cook.

While I was cooking the tortillas, the chicken was fully boiled, so I drained that and put them into a bowl to cool a bit. Also, the sauce in the 8” oven bubbled and boiled to the point that it was like a kind of thin gravy. I pulled it off the coals as well. After the chicken had cooled a bit, in between tortilla flips, I shredded the chicken by hand.

I realized pretty quick that these tortillas were NOT going to roll up. So, I decided to do the layering (sort of lasagna-like) technique instead. I stared with a base layer of three overlapping tortillas. Over that, I put a layer of shredded chicken. If I’d had the onions and the olives, I would have added a layer of that as well. I also grated in a layer of cheddar. I poured on some of the sauce (again, this is the "enchilada" part, adding the chilis), covering as much as I could, while still saving back plenty for more layers.

Then, another layer of tortillas, staggered a bit to cover the spots left open by the first layer. More chicken, more cheese, more sauce. Again, had I had olives and onions, there woulda been more of those, too.

Finally, after putting on a third layer of tortillas, I poured out the last of the sauce, and shredded up the last of the cheese onto the top. The lid went on and it went back on the coals (7 below, 12 or 13 above), for about another 25 minutes.

I have to say, that was a plate of the most kickin’ enchiladas I’ve ever eaten. They rocked. Hot, but not the long-lasting-scorch that often comes in hard-core Mexican. It was zesty and filling and just… well… wow.

Like I said, the next time I try this, I think I’ll wet the tortillas up some, so they are a little more pliable and workable. I’ll also get the lid hotter before I start putting the tortillas on it. I think I’d like it to be the traditional roll-up enchiladas. But the layers worked pretty well after all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It Doesn't Always Work

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...

And a whole bunch of other cliches that are definitely true.

I tried making bagels today, and failed miserably. I don't know if they didn't raise enough, or if the boiling stage was too hot or not hot enough, or maybe the baking wasn't hot enough or whatever. But it didn't work. I ended up with things that looked like pancakes with the consistency of shoe leather.


Well, one thing's for sure. When I fail, I dig in and research and learn until I figure out how to do it right. If anyone out there has any insights into bagel baking, let me know, 'cause I could sure use it now.

However, the night wasn't a total waste. I also made a Dr Pepper dump cake that I've been reading about on a dutch oven yahoogroup. Up until a few weeks ago, dump cakes and cobblers were, like, been there done that. Peaches and yellow cake. Ho hum... But this group started showing me all kinds of different cakes and fillings to use. They're really fun and experimental people.

Here's the one I did, along with my own ideas:

For a 12” DO:
7 coals below
12 coals above

Pour 2 cans of cherry pie filling in the bottom of the oven, and spread it around

Sprinkle on some chopped pecans and brown sugar. I have no idea how much. Pour on a can of Dr Pepper (not diet).

Pour one dry chocoalate cake mix over the fruit mixture. Quarter a cube of butter and scatter those over the top of the cake mix.

Pop on the coals and b
ake it for 40 to 50 minutes.

The amazing thing about a dump cake is that you don't mix the cake mix. You just pour it on top. The boiling of the liquids will convection mix the powder and create a unique tasting, delicious cake. You dump everything in the pot and bake it, hence the name.

You can try this with virtually any cake, filling, and soda. Mine turned out kinda "Black Foresty" with the cherries and the chocolate. Yummy. If I were to adjust it, tho, I'd probably not do the brown sugar. It's plenty sweet with the cake, the cherries and the DP.

So, I'll keep you posted if I try the bagel thing again. I am a little disappointed, but I'm not in despair or anything. I know there's tricks to making bagels, and I'll just have to keep trying. It took me three tries to make bread, and two to make a half decent pie. My general pattern is to go back to doing things that I know pretty well for a while and then tackle it again.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why I Dutch Oven

I’ve been enjoying this for just a hair under a year, now, and I’ve noticed some things about myself. There have been times, as I’ve been sitting on my back porch, watching the coals burn down on top of an oven, that I’ve wondered why I do it, and why I enjoy it so much.

  1. I do it to unplug

My life is tech-driven. I make my living on the phone and on the ‘net. I come home and I spend more time on the ‘net. I carry my cell with me at all times. My cell is also my tunes and my day planner. When I play card games with my kids, I use my cell to keep score. I relax in front of a good Law and Order on my satellite TV. I’m a blogger. What more do I need to say?

But when I dutch, I’m unplugged. There are no wires, no connections. It’s just me, the food, the pots, the coals. I don’t even have to be “in the wild”. I can be sitting on my back porch, and I’m still suddenly off the grid.

  1. I do it to unwind

Most of the time, when I’m cooking, there’s no pressure. I don’t have to get anything cooked by a specific time, and there’s no worries if it’s the greatest dish of all time. Sure, when I’ve invited company over, or it’s a holiday dinner, that’s different. Or at the cookoff…

But most of the time, I get the chance to think, to wait.

I don’t choose my recipes because they’re quick. There’s no dutch microwaves. Sometimes I choose my recipes deliberately because I know they’re going to take an hour to prepare and two more to cook.

  1. I do it to experiment

And while I’m talking about recipes, I don’t choose them because they’re simple, either. One thing I love about dutchin’ is that you can do almost anything in it. So, I want to push that and see what I can do. Finding a new recipe is part of the challenge. I love it when I do something and people are surprised that you can do that in a dutch oven.

  1. I do it to connect to the past

There’s a small part of me that remembers from time to time about my Mormon pioneer ancestors, driven from their homes in beautiful Nauvoo, and following their faith across the open and yet hostile plains. I think about them stopping on the way and pulling out their dutch ovens and cooking the evening’s meal.

I know I don’t suffer like they did. But sometimes I think about it.

  1. I do it to connect with friends

Cooking for other people is cool. I love it when I can pull off one of my favorite dishes, and have them dive in, then sit back full and happy.

Cooking with other people, as I’ve just learned, is cool, too. Even at the competition, there was friendship, camaraderie, and a desire to help each other out. And after the judging was done, and we were waiting for the announcements, the most fun was when we all shared our feasts with each other.

It’s also fun to plug back in and hang with new my friends on the ‘net, most of whom I’ve never met face to face. But I’ve tried some of their recipes, and read their advice, and I feel like some of them are my dutchin’ mentors.

  1. I do it to prepare

With all this emotion and philosophy, there’s also a practical side. I know that if there were a power outage, or some other kind of issue, my family would not only be able to eat, but they would eat well.

…And, at the end of the day, we get to eat. And most of the time, it tastes GREAT! And that feels good.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My First Cookoff!

What a fun time! I can't remember when I've had that much fun. It was a totally different feel that cooking at home alone.

First of all, there's no time pressure when you're doing it yourself. In this cookoff, each entrant (or team) had a judging time. Mine was 1:30. So, you have to time your preparations in such a way that your food is done at just the right time to prep your presentation and take it to the judges. That can be tricky, as you'll see!

Second, there were a lot of other people there. I was the 8th entrant, and so there were 7 other teams. Getting to know them and interacting with them was a lot of fun, and I learned quite a few tricks.

I got there at around 8:00 in the AM. I'd spent the previous hour and a half or so gathering up all the things I'd need (still, I forgot a couple of things, like my chopping board for the veggies...). I arrived, signed in, and claimed my space.

The rules require you to make two dishes: A main dish and either a bread or a dessert. Both of mine required only an hour or so to cook, but the rolls I would bake needed all morning to rise. So, I fired up a few coals, so I could warm the water for the yeast and melt the butter. The dough came together pretty easily, and so I set about meeting the other dutch'ers.

One team, to the south of me, came with a professional setup. Tables, canopy, tablecloths, centerpiece, all kindsa stuff. They were also doing a salmon dish, and a chocolate cake.

On the other side of me was Paul and Susan. They were doing a beef brisket, and had already begun smoking it when I arrived. There were more across the way. Troy did a white chili, another husband and wife did a stew. There were a couple of friends that did a jambalaya, and a young husband and wife that did a pork crown roast. All of us had plenty of down time while we were waiting to start cooking or actually doing the cooking to visit and get to know each other. The best part of the entire day.

Timing is critical. Finally, at about 11:30, I began chopping up the veggies for the salmon (Troy loaned me his cutting board).

At noon, I fired up the coals, and half past, I had them both cooking.

I started to get really nervous by about 1:00. It didn't look like it was cooking as quickly as I needed it to. By 1:15, I think the salmon was pretty much done, but the rolls were still lookin' grim!

Jodi came by and offered to go and get a plate for the presentation. She didn't get back in time, but that was OK. The rolls came through, and the salmon came through, and I put them all on a garnished up DO lid flipped upside down. I actually had it done with about four or five minutes to spare before it was my turn and I was called up to present it to the judges.

This is how it turned out. I was pretty pleased! But would the judges be?

They judged based on a big list of criteria, both on the taste and presentation of the final dishes, but also on the process of cooking it and your interaction with others as they walked around your workspace. I think there were four "field judges" and another four "taste judges". Each dish was tasted and graded, and then they spent another twenty or thirty minutes tabulating up all the results

While that was going on, we were all unwinding and tasting each other's dishes. That was the second most fun part!

In the end, I took fourth place. Not bad. I didn't get any of the cash or big prizes, but I was quite pleased with my results. Wynonna and Tom, the ones with the big rig and the most experience ended up tops. Their cake was the best! Their salmon was good, too.

The second place folks won with a delicious pork crown roast. They should have won, IMHO. I thought theirs was the best, hands down. The third place was kind of a surprise. A team, new to competition, with just a simple beef stew and a pineapple upside down cake. But they were both delicious.

Here's some pics of the winners:
Pretty impressive stuff, if you ask me.

Overall, I was very excited to just go and meet these folks. I had a great time! I'll definitely be doing more public cooking!


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