Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dutch Oven Chili Boats

Cooking this week really challenged my patience and my skills. It’s not easy to cook in the rain, and a cold winter rain, at that. Of course, it didn’t start raining until I’d already set out the coals, so I was in for a fight. I was cooking, as usual, on my back porch, which has no roof nor guard. All I had to keep the coals dry was this big metal dutch oven hood/cap thing my mother-in-law had bought me. The problem with using that is that it’s not very well ventilated, and so every time I’ve tried to cook with it, it ends up slowing the burning, or even putting out the coals.

But my idea was to bake some bread, in kinda small loaves, more like big rolls, and then slice them open and hollow them out and pour chili into them, like boats, then top it with some fresh veggies, sour cream and cheese.

In the end, I won the battle with the elements, and the food turned out great. The first batch of bread even cooked as I fought to figure out how to keep it dry and hot on the back porch. The second batch of bread was cooked on the nice, covered, dry front porch. That’s where I also finished cooking the chili.

Still, it did my heart good to see how the back porch bread turned out, because I was so dejected and convinced it was going to flop. But it was nice and done all the way through, with a beautiful golden, slightly-crispy crust. This particular bread recipe uses honey, too, so it’s a bit sweet.

The bread recipe is really the big experiment of the day, not so much the chili. The chili was the same stuff I did last July (except I used stew meat instead of venison this time). The night before, I soaked the beans, and I put those on the coals to cook first. They actually cooked quite a while before the rain started.

After a bit, I got started on the bread. Here’s the recipe:

Dutch Oven Honey Bread (so named because it uses honey, and because it’s my honey’s recipe)

2x 12” Dutch Ovens

17 coals above, 8 below for 350 degrees (in normal weather)

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 heaping tsp salt
  • 2 cups milk (mixed from powder)
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 10-12 cups flour

I started by mixing everything in the first set of ingredients, and letting it sit for 5 mintues or so for the yeast to foam up.

Then, I mixed in everything in the second set, and stirred it up. Finally, I added the flour, a few cups at a time, stirring and blending as I went. Once I got close to 9 cups or so, I started adding them one at a time. You’re trying to get a nice smooth moldable consistency where it’s not runny and sticky, but not hard to mold in your fingers. I think this time I ended up using 11 cups, not counting the stuff I sprinkled on the table top for kneading.

Then, as it got mixed up, I dumped it out of the bowl and onto the floured tabletop to knead. About 10 minutes. I don’t know why, but I have this thing about doing it all by hand instead of using a mixer. It makes it more fun, I think.

Finally, all kneaded, I set it back in the greased bowl and let it rise.

While it was rising, I got worked some more on the chili. I chopped up all the veggie ingredients and combined all the spices.

After an hour or so the bread had risen, so I punched it down and divided it into eighths. These I shaped into elongated rolls, kinda the shape of hoagie buns. I set them into the two 12” shallow dutch ovens and set them aside to let them proof (raise again). In about a half hour, they were ready.

Now, ordinarily, I would have just put them out back with their own coals, and cooked all three dutch ovens at the same time. But, in this case, the rain had started, and I only had one hood. So, I had to set some bricks on either side of the 12” deep dutch oven (with the chili in it), and stack one of the bread dutch ovens on top of it, and then cap it all with the hood. The second batch of bread would have to wait.

Then came the fussing and fretting and the trying to keep it hot and dry. But eventually, it all worked out, and I could see that it was done. I’m always very nervous about pulling bread off the coals. I’m always afraid that it’ll be doughy raw in the center. This time, I got out a knife and checked before I brought it in, and I left it on the coals an extra five minutes just to be sure.

It turned out great. One thing you MUST do when baking bread is rotate the oven every 10 to 15 minutes, and rotate the lid as well. That’ll prevent hot spots and burns. The chili? Not so much. While this first batch of bread was baking, I saw that the beans were cooked, and I added the veggies and the spices. Mmmm, I love the smell of cinnamon in with the chili powder!

It was about that time that I decided that the fight was over, and moved everything to the front porch. I didn’t try to move the coals, by the way. I had some already lit in a chimney, and so I just carried that around front, and set it up all over again with fresh coals. As a result the second dutch oven of bread cooked quite a bit faster.

While that was baking and the chili was simmering, I came back inside and chopped up some fresh veggies:

  • sweet peppers (I like the look of multi-colors),
  • an onion,
  • some green onions,
  • Some fresh parseley
  • and a jalapeno.

I mixed all that together and splashed on some lemon juice, as well as salt and black pepper. Toward the end of the chili being done, I sprinkled in a few tablespoons full of flour, just to thicken it up a little. I like my chili thick, especially if I'm eating it with bread.

When everything was done, I sliced open the bread, hollowed a bit out and poured on the chili. Then I spooned some of the fresh veggie mix on top, and finally smothered it in shredded cheddar and sour cream. Wow! What a taste treat!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Help ME!

Okay, people, I need some help here, so lissenup.

Sometime this spring, probably in April sometime, I’m going to push myself and my culinary skills by stepping up to the pot. I’ve been imagining a challenge and I want to take it on. Here’s what I’m thinking.

I want to choose a Saturday and cook a meal and invite some friends over to eat. Not just any old one-pot dish, mind you, I’m talking a full-course gourmet meal. And I want to cook it ALL in my dutch ovens in one day. Well, maybe two, but it will be all dutch oven (except maybe the salad…)

I’m talking about an appetizer (maybe a soup), bread, a meat entrĂ©e, veggies and/or a salad, and a desert. Work the whole thing out in advance, buy the stuff, make it and have friends over that evening.

Why do I want to do this? To show off, of course! Well, that and just to push my limits and see if I can do it.

So, how can you help, dear readers?

I need ideas. What should I cook? I need suggestions and/or recipes/links for each of the courses. I’ll credit you here in the Black Pot with a link, if I use it! Just comment below and let’s see what we can come up with!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Sourdough Adventure, Part Deux, Part III

It's funny how pre-concieved perceptions can change the way we do things. Last time I did sourdough, I had read that it would take an hour or two to raise. It took six. And then, I still had to form the loaf and let it raise again (called "proofing"). I was crazy! Six hours! What's going on here!?

Well this time, I had my own timetable worked out. I figured out how to fit six hour rise times into my sunday schedule. So, when I saw that it was raising a little ahead of schedule, I was ecstatic! It was still a very long time, but I was expecting an even longer time!

Like I said this morning, I had mixed the dough and left it to raise (the initial raise). Then, right before church, at about 12:30 in the afternoon, it had risen to double in bulk. That was a total of about 4 hours. So Brendon and I punched it down, and shaped it into a ball, which I then put into my 12" dutch oven to proof. At that point, I made some slices across the top, too.

I got back from Choir practice at about 4:30 and it had pretty much doubled again. That's the second four hours. So, it didn't take quite as long as I had anticipated, but it was still quite a long time. A lot longer than I had planned for the first time.

By the time the coals were ready, so was the bread. It's cold out, but not as cold as I'd seen in the last few weeks. Still, I figured I'd better shoot for the basic 350 degrees, and get there by adding extra coals top and bottom. So, I did 10 or so on the bottom and about 20 on top. I think in normal conditions, I'd probably go with 8 below and 16 above. It baked about 45 minutes or so.

I was really nervous about baking it. I didn't want to burn it, but I wanted it to not be doughy. I was scared about the heat. Too much? Too little? But it came out pretty well. Cooked all the way through, nice crust, great flavor. Not so much a sourdough-ish flavor though. I think that was because I "seeded" the start with a little bottled yeast. I think next time I'll work with the "open air" starter.

I also did a peach and yellow cake "dump" cobbler. Those are always easy and fun to do. Dump a can of peaches into a 10" dutch oven. Sprinkle a powdered commercial yellow cake mix on top of the peaches. Add some slices of butter on top of that. Set up coals to make about 350 degrees and bake it for about 45 minutes. The heat sets the syrup boiling, and that action and the heat convections mix the syrup, the butter, and the cake mix. It's all quite yummy. This time, I sprinkled some cinnamon on top of it all, and just a little extra sugar to mix with the butter and get maybe a little "crustier".

The Sourdough Adventure, Part Deux, Part II

So, I faithfully fed my starter for about three days. It got frothy really quick, so I capped it and put it in the fridge. Then, late last night, I made “the sponge”. I swear that sounds like a B-grade monster movie. “Night of the Living Sponge!” Just when you thought it was SAFE to go back into the kitchen… Dun dun dun duuuunnnnnnnnnnn!

Anyway, then I made the sponge. To do that, I just simply added another cup of flour and a cup of warm water, like I did before, when I was making the start. Then I let it sit out overnight.

When I got up this morning, it had grown up and almost overflowed the little Tupperware-like bowl it was in. That was the beginning of my recipe.

Here’s the recipe I’m using:

  • 2 Cups of sponge (proofed starter)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • approximately 3 Cups of unbleached flour, a half cup at a time

Add the ingredients of list in any order, up to the flour. The amounts are approximate. Add the flour last, a bit at a time, as shown. Make it smooth and light, not stiff, or, I’m told it takes longer to rise.

Now, last time I did this, the first rise took almost six hours. I’m hoping to shorten this by warming up the kitchen a little. Hopefully, I’ll be able to punch it all down right before church, and it’ll proof and be close to ready when I get back.

Hope this all works!


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