Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dutch Oven Penne Rustica and Parmesan Seasoned Breadsticks

My good friend John is partly responsible for the existence of Mark’s Black Pot. He and I have been really good friends for a very long, very long time. Currently we also work together, and our offices are right next to each other. We get together in our downtime at work (mostly at lunch) and talk religion, politics, and food. He’s the one that taught me how to make a killer omelet.

So, when he started his Mormon Foodie blog, it wasn’t long before that inspired me to start writing my recipes and stories here at the black pot. It’s been almost a year, now.

So, when he started writing a month-long series on pasta, I couldn’t help but join in. There are a number of pastas I’d like to make in my dutch oven. I’ve already done lasagna and spaghetti. I’d like to try Tortellini and a few others. Stay tuned, because I’d also like to try making some pasta from scratch.

But not this week.

This week, I had found a chain restaurant knock-off recipe for Macaroni Grille’s Penne Rustica. I love eating at the restaurant, and when we go there, we always get the Penne Rustica. So, I was eager to give this a try. As it turned out, it was some of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever tasted, and certainly the best I have ever cooked myself. I don’t really know that it’s a good knockoff of the original, but it was really good. I think some of that was because I had to do a couple of ingredient substitutions. Also, because I think that knock-offs are rarely exact. Think about the Niemann-Marcus or the Mrs Fields cookie recipe circulating around the ‘net and you’ll see what I mean.

Dutch Oven Penne Rustica

12” Deep Dutch Oven

11 coals below, 20 coals above

10” Dutch Oven

lots of coals below and above

  • 1 lb penne rigate, cooked
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb skinless chicken breasts or tenderloin
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons marsala wine (I used white grape juice)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • healthy shakes of rosemary, salt, thyme, ground cayenne pepper
  • healthy shakes of Oregano, paprika
  • 16 oz grated mozzarella and asiago cheeses

So, I came home from church and started up some coals right away. As soon as the coals were ready, I put some water on to boil in the 10” dutch oven. As soon as that was boiling, I put in the penne.

In the meantime, I worked on the other parts. It was really quite hectic to prepare, rushing here and there to get all the steps done. I also didn’t have it very well planned out. Next time I do this it’ll be a lot easier.

The next step was to get the chicken and the shrimp ready. This is where I kinda cheated, but the results tasted great. I took the chicken (I used tenderloins), and the shrimp and put it in a big bowl. I shook in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it up. Then I put the shrimp and chicken on skewers and fired up the grill. That’s kinda cheating, because in cookoffs you have to do all the cooking in dutch ovens. But I loved the grilled flavor on the chicken and the shrimp.

Then, I got out the 12” deep oven and put some coals under it. I put in some olive oil, then the garlic, the grape juice, and the proscuitto, and just stirred it and cooked it a bit.

While that was going on, I mixed up the sauce ingredients (everything else) in a bowl. By this time, the penne was cooked (partly boiled, partly steamed in the dutch oven), so I added it to the deep dutch oven, and poured in the sauce mix. Then I put in some of the cheese and stirred it all up to get it well mixed. Finally, I covered the top with the rest of the chesses, and put it in the heat with the coals listed above. I cooked it for about 25-35 minutes, turning it once.

While that was cooking, my wife had suggested I make some breadsticks with seasonings and parmesan cheese. She showed me this recipe in an old Relief Society Ward cookbook. I admit I was a bit skeptical. It was a yeast bread recipe, but the rise time was really short and the instructions were really strange. But I decided to give it a shot.

Parmesan Seasoned Bread Sticks in the Dutch Oven

12” Dutch Oven

12 coals below, 22 above

  • 1 Tbsp Yeast
  • 1 ½ cup warm water
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ~4 Cups flour
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • liberal shakes of parmesan cheese and other seasonings

First, in a bowl, I put the water, the yeast, and the honey together and let the yeast activate. Then I added the salt and the flour. Don’t add the flour all in at once, because then you can gauge the moistness and the density of the dough. I kneaded it for 10 minutes. Then I poured the melted butter in the bottom of the 12” oven, and spread the dough out over it. I cut the dough into strips, then sprinkled the parmesan and the seasonings (I used this really great salad seasoning combo). This is where I was really skeptical. At that point, I set it aside for about 20 to 30 minutes to rise. That’s it. No long raise or proofing.

Finally, once it had risen some, I put it on the coals. In about 20 minutes to a half hour, they were done. And they were delicious!

And, the penne was incredible. It was really filling and wow, what a dinner!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Is Cooking an Art?

I've talked before, on other blogs about what makes a work "art". I've said that then experiencing art, it makes me think or feel something new, or in a new way.

But that's always been from the point of view of the viewer, the consumer of the work. What about from the perspective of the artist? What defines "art" then? And does cooking fit that definition?

Well, art, from the artists point of view, would have to come from something new. To simply follow a recipe, a formula, or a pre-made pattern wouldn't be art.

It would have to come from somewhere inside me, to help me discover something new about myself. It would have to allow me to express.

And, finally, it would have to connect with an audience, a consumer, in some way. And I think it would be "more artistic" if it connected on a deeper level than "Oh, that's nice", or even, "That sure tastes good!"

So, yes, I think that cooking can qualify on those three levels. It certainly doesn't always. I do like to modify recipes, and to even create new ones. I don't know that anything that I've ever cooked in my dutch oven has ever caused a new thought or an inspiration. But it is something I can aspire to.

Anyway, if it IS an art form, it strikes me as interesting. It would be one of the few art forms where enjoying the art in it's fullest way involves destroying it.

Also, it would be one of the few art forms that would have evolved from something that is fundamentally essential for survival, eating. Granted, food doesn't have to be artistically prepared to provide nourishment, but then, you don't need the theater, or paintings on your wall to survive, either.

Oh, well, enough musings.

Today, being Easter Sunday, we always have lots of family and friends over, so that usually means I cook. Traditionally (as of last year), I do a big ham in the 14” dutch oven. Last year, I did the Dr Pepper ham with all kinds of fruit and veggies in it for flavoring. It was great. But, of course, I wasn’t writing here in the Black Pot back then, so my dutch oven efforts for that year went unblogged.


This time I did it a little different. I used the recipe below for the baste/glaze/sauce. It worked out great! It was kind of an experiment.

Orange Dutch oven Ham

14” deep dutch oven
17-18 coals each above and below.

  • 10-11 lb bone-in ham
  • Whole Cloves
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp mustard seeds (or dry mustard)
  • 1 Tbsp Allspice
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • Slices from 1 orange
  • Juice from 4 oranges

First of all, I put the ham in the dutch oven. I had to slice a bit off here or there to make it fit. I slit diagonal cuts in the top of the ham. That helps the baste and the glaze seep down into the ham more. The cloves I stuck in the slots. Then, I mixed all of the remaining ingredients from the second set of the list and rubbed those over the ham.

Then, I sliced up the orange that I had zested and laid those slices on top of the sugar/spice mix on the ham. If I do this one again, I would anchor those orange slices in place with toothpicks, because they kept falling off the ham into the dutch oven in cooking.

Finally, I juiced up a bunch of oranges and poured that on top of the meat. Pour it slowly, more like sprinkling it. Because I found that if you pour it quickly, you wash all that sugar and spice off the ham, and you have more work basting the meat!

Then, put it on the coals and let it cook. I let it cook for about 3 hours. Make sure you keep your coals fresh and hot. This was the first time I used a meat thermometer in dutch oven cooking. I strongly recommend it. It was so much easier to tell when it was done. 160 degrees! When you get there, you’re good! They say a pre-cookd ham you can call good at 140 degrees internal temperature.

Then, I also made Au Gratin Potatoes and Rolls (this time I dusted them with salad seasoning, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. They were yummy, even with jam!

PS. For those of you who wonder why I never finished writing part II of the Great St Patrick's Day adventure, let me tell you. It was a total flop. Crash and burn. Honestly. The corned beef and cabbage turned out too salty to eat, and the Irish soda bread turned out to be a brick. It was embarrassing. I'm so grateful nobody came over for dinner that night.

It was the first time I ever had to throw away anything I'd made in the dutch oven. It was truly inedible. There have been times when it's not been that good. There have been times when we didn't eat it all, and we ended up throwing away some leftovers. But there has only been one time that we threw it all out because it couldn't be eaten. That was this last week.

But that's OK. These things happen, and I learn from them. It was just kinda tough, especially after seeing all those incr-edible chefs at the world championship.

But I'm good with that now. Today came out really well. A big 4-pot meal, and it was delicious! I'm back in the saddle!

Friday, March 14, 2008

IDOS World Championship Dutch Oven Competition

I spent almost the whole day today in Dutch Oven heaven! I had the opportunity to go and watch the Semi-final round of the IDOS World Championship Dutch Oven Competition at the International Sportsman’s Expo in Sandy, Utah. It was a lot of fun, and very humbling. Here I was, watching some of the best iron chefs I’d ever seen, work some serious magic. I also got to see a few demos and classes, and I just plain learned a whopping lot!

  1. Get off the bricks

If you look at my pictures, over the months, you can see that I’m cooking on bricks on my back porch. I need to get up off the ground and onto some kind of metal tray or table. Too much of my heat is being absorbed by the brick

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar works wonders

Colleen, from Log Cabin Grub, sprayed almost everything with a ¼ dilution of apple cider vinegar. She said that it tenderizes the food, it’s an antibacterial, and it cleans the ovens. She kept it in a spritzer bottle near where she cooked. Sounds cool, and I think I’ll give that a try.

  1. Simple is delicious, too

In the demos, since there really wasn’t a lot of time to cook, the recipes were very simple, and very delicious! Bill and Toni Thayn made this incredible brownie that was like s’mores. It started with a graham cracker crust on the bottom, and then a layer of brownie batter. After that had baked, they added a layer of marshmallows. Heat on the lid browned those to a faux meringue. Man, it was good.

  1. Presentation makes a big, big difference

Good food, dressed up, looks even better. I'm constantly amazed at how much making the food look nice makes a difference in how it tastes and is perceived. Granted, bad food made to look good still isn't going to be good. But with a bit of effort, it's amazing to me how the whole experience "kicks up a notch!"

  1. Lift the oven for bottom heat

Remember when I made the empanadas? I mean: Remember when I tried to make the empanadas? Remember how I couldn’t get it hot enough or keep it hot? Turns out that all those coals I was packing underneath were competing for the oxygen, and so the ones in the middle kept going out. If I want that many coals underneath, I need to lift the oven up higher, to allow more ventilation. Either that, or fewer coals with more space in between.

  1. When baking, heat up the sides

I always put the bottom coals just underneath the base of the oven. If you were to draw an imaginary circle using the bottom of the dutch oven as a template, the coals would be just inside that circle.

One guy suggested that when baking, pull them out to be half in and half out of that circle, so the heat creeps up the side of the dutch oven more. Pretty cool idea.

  1. Oil the oven when you cook, store it dry

When I’m done cooking, I always dry out my ovens, then coat it with a thin layer of oil. The problem is that that can cause the oven to get rancid if you store it too long. Lots of people said to clean it with hot water, dry it (Colleen even suggested drying it on the stove, heated), then oil it when you pick it up to use it again.

  1. Low and Slow cooks better

High heat can burn, leaving the inside of food uncooked. Low heat with longer times cooks better and more thoroughly. Meats are more juicy, breads are better done.

  1. Some people actually read the Black Pot!

I got to meet a lot of people, and some of them even mentioned that they read my writings here! That was pretty exciting. Shout outs to you, Omar!

So, it was a lot of fun. Who knows? Maybe I'll try and compete more this next year!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Humble Pie

Well, today’s cooking was very interesting. On the one hand, I cooked some more bread, and pulled it off well. It really turned out great. On the other hand, I was brought to my knees by a total failure with a very simple dish: The dutch oven dump cake cobbler. It might as well have been humble pie to me.

Sometimes, I kinda pooh-pooh the dump cakes as being so traditional and simple (‘cause I like to try the complicated and weird stuff here), but tonight I did one. I couldn’t get ahold of any of my favorite charcoal (basic Kingsfords), so I used some Kingsford mesquite. Big mistake. They light and glow slower, and seem to give off less heat. So, when I thought the cake was done, it wasn’t even close. To heat up more coals woulda taken forever, so we just put it in the oven and baked it for real. How humiliating!

But it just goes to show how important it is to rely on coals you’re accustomed to!

But the bread I did this morning turned out nice.

And I’ll never look down my nose at a dump cake again!

Oh, and by the way, the beef is looking pretty good so far! I've flipped it over in the bowl each day. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Saint Patrick’s Day Adventure, part I, Curing the “Corned Beef”

It all started with my friend, John, reminding me that St Paddy’s was comin’ up by posting a recipe for Irish Soda Bread at his blog. Like him, I have very little Irish in me. Both my mother’s lines (Utah Mormons from way back), and my wife’s dad’s lines go back to wales. That’s about as close as I get.

But that’s OK, because come March 17th, EVERYONE becomes an honorary green-wearing, shillelagh-swinging, rainbow-gold-chasing, jig-dancing, shamrock-wishing Irishman. It’s the law.

As I was looking up recipes for Corned Beef and Cabbage, I found a lot of them that said, basically, just buy a roast of corned beef, add the spice package and boil it with some potatoes and cabbage. Well, where’s the fun in that? So, I did some research to learn how to cure the corned beef myself.

I found a lot of variations. Basically they all involved rubbing the meat in a lot of salt and a few spices and letting it sit in that for a week or so in the fridge. The research I saw said that this was a more traditional method, and a more modern approach involved soaking it in brine. Some said you had to do it for 72 hours, others said a week, some said as much as two weeks. I’m going for the week-long salt/spice rub, because that both sounded yummy and matched my time frame pretty well.

So, I chose a recipe and shopped out the few ingredients I didn’t already have.

  • 4+ lbs of some kind of beef roast
  • 1 ½ cups coarse salt (I bought some kosher salt)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 3 crumbled bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

I mixed together all the spices, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Then I opened up the meat, and stuck it with a sharp knife, to make sure it was really dead. No, actually, that was so that there were plenty of holes for the spices. I put the meat in the bowl and coated it, then grabbed the spice mix with my hand and rubbed it into the surface of the meat pretty thoroughly.

Then I put the coated meat into a big ziplock baggie and poured in all the spice mix that didn’t stick to the meat. I sealed, then shook the bag to coat it even more. Finally, I got as much air out as I could, and sealed the bag again, and put it in a bowl in my fridge.

I also found out, in my research, why it’s called “corned” beef, when there’s no corn in the recipe. It seems that in the days of olde, when they’d prepare the salt and spices, it would clump together into kernels about the size of corn. Then it would be rubbed onto the meat.

I also learned that pastrami is essentially corned beef that, once it’s cured, is coated with its own spices and peppers. So, maybe I’ll take a bit of this corned beef and make some pastrami with it.

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dutch Oven Masaman Curry

Just like Indian food, there’s a lot of little mom ‘n pop Thai restaurants in northern Utah. I’ve been to a lot of them, and most of those are really good. In fact, while there’s been one or two that I’ve liked more than others, there really hasn’t been one that I’d consider to be “bad” at all. I really like Thai food, and one of our favorite dishes to order is Masaman Curry.

It turns out, that if you have certain ingredients, it’s actually pretty simple to make. The toughest to get are the Tamarind pulp and the curry paste. And those really aren’t that hard. I found some dried Tamarind pods at a Mexican market, and had to make the “paste”. The pulp is the sticky, pasty stuff that’s around the seeds in the pods after you shell them. It’s really nasty to work with. I just separated the seeds, put in a little water, and microwaved it until it boiled. Wait—Did I use a microwave? Yes, I did… Then I stirred it all pretty vigorously to help it dissolve away from the seeds, and pulled the seeds out leaving the pulp.

The Mexicans make a juice out of it that’s really, really good. I guess in Thai and Indian food, it’s used more as a flavoring.

It doesn’t take very long, either. It’s a relatively quick dish to prep and to cook.

This curry didn’t end up being very hot. Not hot at all, in fact. I think it was a really really mild curry paste that I used. But I’ve had Masaman that’s scorching. I like it best as a medium zing. This one was nice, because it’s very flavorful, even if it wasn’t overly hot ‘n spicy.

Dutch Oven Masaman Curry

12” Dutch Oven, 12-14 coals above and below

  • 2 14 oz cans of Coconut Milk
  • 3 tablespoons Curry Paste (I used a mild paste, in the future, I’d probably go with medium hot)
  • 3 medium onions
  • 6-7 medium potatoes
  • 1-2 lbs meat (I used Chicken, but I’ve tasted it with beef, shrimp, and I’ve heard of it with lamb. Most Thai restaurants let you pick the meat.)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp tamarind pulp
  • ¾ cup peanuts (I used crunchy peanut butter)
  • 3 tsp salt
  • Liberal shaking of cinnamon

I started the whole experience by making the tamarind pulp. I figured that I’d get that out of the way, and if it didn’t work, I’d know pretty early and I could adapt, rather than try and fix something mid-way through the cooking. It took a little trial and error to arrive at the method I described above.

Then, I put the Coconut milk and the Curry paste in the dutch oven and put it on some bottom coals to heat it up. A lot of Indian and Thai recipes, I’ve learned, require that the spices be heated up before adding the rest of the food. It sort of “activates” them.

While that was heating, I sliced up the potatoes, the onions, the meat and put all the other ingredients into a bowl.

Once the milk and curry was bubbling a little bit, I added everything from the bowl into the dutch oven and stirred it up. The peanut butter was a bit tricky, and I had to break it up. I put the additional coals on the top. At that point, all I had to do was keep it hot and stirred until the chicken and the potatoes cooked. It’s that easy.

I got out my 8” dutch oven, and made some rice. I’ve got some nice sticky eastern rice that I like to use when I try (emphasis on the word “try”) to make sushi. So, I put about two cups of rice and two cups of water in the small dutch oven and set it out on the coals that were on top of the curry pot. That I let cook for about 25 minutes or so, and then pulled it off and let it sit, covered, pretty much until the curry was ready.

The curry, I cooked for about an hour. It was sure delicious!


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