Sunday, June 29, 2008

Food, Art, Service, and Dutch Ovens

Dutch Oven Salmon and Potatoes

My friend loaned me a really cool book called “Culinary Artistry”. He said it was basically a textbook that he used when he was first employed as a cook. It’s seriously cool. The first part has a lot of articles about the author’s philosophy about the nature of food and art, and about how he grew up around it, and how he learned to love to experiment. He talked about how we all grow up wanting to try things, but we keep being told "Don't play with your FOOD!"

So, now that I'm a grown-up, I can play with my food!

Anyway, a large part of this book is basically a reference book. You can look up any primary ingredient, and it will tell you a list of other ingredients and spices and flavorings that "go with it". Some of them go together so well, that they're considered "classic combinations", and they put those in the list in bold face.

I had some frozen salmon left over from the cookoff, so I decided to try something. Rather than find a salmon recipe that spells out exactly how much of everything to put in, I was going to look at this list of compatible ingredients, see what things I already had in my pantry and fridge, and combine them in amounts that made sense!

So, I looked over the list. A few things jumped out at me from the beginning. Potatoes, onions, even bacon. I thought of one of the early dishes I had made with just those three, adding in chicken and cheese. An idea was taking shape.

So, here was my final list:

  • Bacon
  • potatoes
  • Onions
  • garlic
  • mushrooms (fresh)
  • Green onions
  • Lemon (zest and juice)
  • Parsley (fresh, if you've got it)
  • vineagar
  • red pepper
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • And, for fun, some commercial salmon seasoning I had

I started off with the bacon. I cut about a half a pack of it into some small pieces and put them in a 12" dutch oven over about 20 or so coals. Once they were pretty brown and crisp, I drained off most of the grease and added some sliced and separated onions, the sliced mushrooms, and the garlic. I let the onions cook until they were getting clear and a little brown.

Then I quartered and sliced a few potatoes, really thin. Not potatoe-chip thin, but thinner than I usually slice them. Why? I dunno. Just trying something different. They went into the dutch oven. I also added in the parseley, the sliced green onions, the lemon zest (and the juice). Then I added in the salmon. I put all that on top of about 8-9 coals, and put about 17 on the top. I was going for the basic baking temperature of about 350 degrees.

Then, as it was cooking, I added the seasonings. I also added a little bit of water to help steam the potatoes.

I figured it would cook about 40 minutes or so. I had to keep adding coals because there was a pretty strong and steady breeze blowing and it kept stoking up my coals. Also, I ended up going almost an hour before the potatoes were fully cooked. I stirred it occasionally, to distribute the seasonings. That broke up the salmon, too.

For those of you that understand Utah Mormon culture, my wife is the Relief Society Compassionate Service director for the ward. What that means is that if someone's family has a crisis, she gets to step up and coordinate some help. Sometimes that means cooking some meals while the wife is recovering from an illness, or watching the kids while the mom and dad are at the hospital with another child. It's a cool calling for Jodi, because frankly, that's the kind of stuff she does even when it's not her gig.

Well, I got to help out today. Part of the reason I cooked was to make enough not only for my family, but also for a family down the street that had just had a miscarriage. We've been there, and it's not fun, believe me. So, I got to use my dutch ovening to help lighten someone else's load.

And where was Jodi during all this? Well, like I said, that's the kind of person she is. She spent the afternoon and evening with another good friend up at the hospital. My wife is amazing.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What I Learned Today

I cooked in the Eagle Mountain Pony Express Days Cookoff. I did it last year, too, and that was pretty fun, but this year was a total disaster. Part of it was that it was at a weekend that happened to be a very stressful one, personally, and so I had a number of distractions and setbacks. I ended up taking sixth place out of seven. Not good.

I do have to say, though, that it was VERY well run. Those that were in charge and those that did the judging did a GREAT job.

The biggest thing I learned is that I will never do another competition/cookoff again as a solo act. If I can’t get some help as a team, it’s not worth it. As a solo, you are working right on the edge the whole time. If something goes wrong (as did right off the bat this morning), you have some flexibility to adapt and work it. As a solo, you just have to roll with it, and you have very little room to work.

I also learned that when you coat salmon with blackening spices, you want to shake off the extra. I didn’t this time, and it was waaaay too spicy. Also, use a thicker cut of salmon. It’ll be more moist in the end.

The bread turned out great. The glaze even worked as I wanted it to. But I did it a little bit differently. I covered the top in whipped egg, and added honey to the glaze to make it thicker.

I also realized that with only a few exceptions, the most recent cooking I’ve been doing has all been big project meals and preparations for cookoffs. I’m weary, and I need to get back to cooking for fun for a while. Back to trying new things, back to learning new strategies.

Anyway. See you all next week!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dutch Oven Blackened Salmon on Veggie Rice

So, I’ve been struggling with what to cook at the Eagle Mountain Pony Express Days Cookoff. I finally settled on some recipes, and last Sunday, I did a trial run. The cookoff is for three dishes: A bread, an entrée, and a dessert. I finally decided on the braided bread with an orange and brown sugar glaze, a blackened salmon on a bed of rice and veggies, and the paradise pie knockoff recipe I did a while back. I had to work out a schedule, that was pretty tight, to be able to deliver the three dishes on time.

I started out with mixing and kneading the bread. I used the same basic recipe I always use, but I halved it, because of what happened last time! Once it was kneaded, I set it aside to raise.

Then I started on the paradise pie. I got that made and on the coals.

Next I started on the spice mix for the salmon and the veggies for the rice. Here’s that recipe:

Mark’s Dutch Oven Blackened Salmon on Veggie Rice

2x 12” Dutch Ovens
20+ coals beneath each one

  • 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

  • 4-6 salmon fillets

First, I mixed all the spices in a ziplock bag. Then I cut the skin away from the salmon filets and cut them into chunks about two inches wide. I put the fillets into the bag, closed it, and shook it all up to really coat the salmon. Then I pulled the salmon out and put them into another bag, letting them sit and absorb the spices for about an hour.

About this time, the Paradise Pie was done, and I pulled it off the coals. I left it in the 10”, thinking that I’d reheat it later. The bread was ready, too, so I punched it down, and stretched it into three long ropes and braided them. I placed that back into a dutch oven, in a circle, and set that aside to proof (the second raise).

Then I started on the rice. I started by chopping up all the veggies.

  • 2 sweet peppers (I used half each of red, yellow, orange, and green, for color)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced
  • 4 green onions, sliced

  • ¼ lb smoked sausage, thin sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic

  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • salt and pepper

Once the veggies were all chopped, I put the onions, garlic, and sausage on the coals to brown. Once those were ready, I put in the veggies, the rice, and the stock. Then I added the lemon stuff and the seasoning. I covered it and left it on the coals (I transferred some to the top) for about 20 minutes, until the rice was done.

While the rice was cooking, and the bread was cooking, I did the salmon. I put a lot of coals under a 12” oven with some oil in the bottom. I let it heat up a lot. I actually put a thermometer in the dutch oven, and heated it up to 300 degrees. Then I took the salmon fillets and put them into the oil and let them sizzle for about two minutes before I turned them over. The seasoning was good and black, and man, it smelled GREAT! After another two minutes, I pulled it off the coals, covered it with the dutch oven lid, and let the residual heat cook the fish the rest of the way through.

Just before the bread was done, I added the orange glaze to the top. It was made of:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • Juice from half an orange
  • Zest from one full orange
  • Liberal shakes of cinnamon and nutmeg

When the bread came out it was yummy! A bit too done on top, but the glaze tasted wonderful. I heated up the Paradise pie on the top coals of the rice, and melted the butter and cinnamon sauce in my 8” dutch oven on the bread’s coals. The pie I served up with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. The bread I served as it came out. The salmon was served on a bed of the rice. When I do it all for the cookoff, I’ll garnish them all up cool.

It really tasted good. I have to say, though, that these last few experiences where I’m cooking lots of dishes all at once are really tiring. That, and I find that I can’t pay enough attention to one dish to really make it the best I can. Once these cookoff adventures are over, I’m gonna go back to just cooking up one thing and learning how to really do one thing really well.

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