Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dutch Oven Basics: Salmon and Rice

When you’re cooking in your dutch oven, and especially when you’re just learning, you do a lot of really simple recipes, and cook a lot of easy stuff, like cobblers and biscuits from a can. These are great. They taste yummy.

But for me, I wanted to learn to cook some dishes that also carried a lot of “Wow!” factor, both in the look and in the taste. I wanted to also make some things that, when I set it down in front of people, they would really be dazzled.

I guess if you wanted to, you could look at something like that and say that I have a deep-seated need for approval and I need therapy. And you probably wouldn’t be too far off!

This dish is very simple. Like the stew from last week, it is a one-step, one-pot meal. It’s not really a “dump” meal, however, it’s more of a “layered” meal. Still, it’s very simple to prepare, and very easy to cook, too. And, when it’s all done, and you put it on people’s plates, it really wow’s them.

This, for me, is also a landmark dish. It’s one of the first ones I created myself. I took it to forth place at the Eagle Mountain Pony Express Days Cookoff one year. You’ll notice that I altered this recipe slightly from the one back then.

Baked Salmon and Rice

12” dutch oven
8-9 coals below
16-18 coals above

  • 1 1/2 Cups Rice
  • 3 Cups chicken broth
  • 2 cans Cream of Something Soup1 can tiny shrimp
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • Chopped parsley
  • Chopped thyme
  • black pepper (preferably coarse ground, or, better, fresh ground)
  • Salt
  • 3-5 Good sized portions of salmon (1 for each person eating) It can be frozen or fresh
  • Butter
  • 2 lemons, sliced

I started by lighting up a bunch of coals. By the time all of the food was prepared and in the dutch oven, the coals were white and ready, too.

This dish is created in the dutch oven, but it’s not dumped in. It’s built up in layers. Once it’s cooking, you won’t want to stir it. The bottom layer is the rice, the broth (or water), the garlic, and the cans of soup and shrimp. I mixed those up fairly thoroughly.

Once that layer is done, I sliced up the onions and the celery. I added the water chestnuts, and stirred those together. Then, I gently laid those three veggies on top of the first layer. I sprinkled a generous amount of the parsley and the thyme over the top, as well as the salt and the pepper.

Then I covered the veggies with a layer of the salmon filets. I dusted each piece of salmon with more salt and pepper, then put a small pat of butter on top of each one. On top of that, I added two slices of lemon. The dish was ready for the fire!

While it was cooking, I turned it often. I would turn the lid about a quarter turn, then pick up the oven and turn it back the other way a quarter turn. That way, the coals were in different positions relative to the food, and it cooks more evenly. I cooked it for about an hour and only opened the lid a few times. You want to keep the steam in to cook the fish and the rice. While it’s cooking, the cells of the lemon burst and the lemon juice runs down with the melted butter onto the fish and into the rice. It’s an incredible flavor.

You have to keep heat on it. After about 30 to 40 minutes the coals will start to burn down, and so you’ll need to replenish them. About 15 to 20 minutes after I put the first batch of coals on the oven, I’ll add fresh coals to the “side fire”, where there are still a few leftover coals burning. These coals will catch the fresh ones, and once the coals on the dutch oven are dwindling, they’ll be ready to add.

Not only is it delicious, but it’s really easy to fix. And it really impresses people!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dutch Oven Basics: Beef Stew with Everything

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were talking, and he asked me to give him some good simple recipes. Apparently his church group was having a dutch ovening event, and he wanted to get in on it. He wanted something that was delicious, even fancy-tasting, but not difficult to pull off. Not so overwhelming for a novice chef.

That got me thinking. I know a lot of really good, really simple recipes and I ought to put together a series of posts on them.

I did some digging and came up with some recipes in three categories:

  • One-pot, one-step meals: These are dishes that are full and hearty, and simple to do. You assemble the ingredients right in the dutch oven, and put it on the coals and cook it. Simple, clean, easy.
  • Two-step meals: These are dishes that have an extra preparatory step. You might have to brown the meat before adding all the other ingredients, for example. You might have to cook something in one pot, then add more to it for the final cooking.
  • Easy breads: Breads have lots of steps, and are tricky to cook. So I made a category of their own for this.

Even though I’m trying to keep things simple, I’m also trying to make them as much “from scratch” as possible. It’s easy to pour ingredients from cans and heat them up, but I find it much more satisfying to go deep and make it as much on my own as possible.

I also want to dispel the idea that “simple” is “bland”. You can still take easy dishes with few steps and with some cool spices and flavors, make them really elegant and special.

So, my plan is, over the few months or so, to do a lot of these dishes from these categories. I’ll share them here, obviously, and hopefully, give the dutch oven beginners a chance to find some yummy things to cook, and even impress their friends with. I’m also hoping that we can get some dialog going on here. I’m hoping that some of the dutch oven chefs with some real experience will also pop in and add their ideas in the comments. Hopefully we can all learn, here.

So, the first entry is: Dutch Oven Beef Stew with Everything!

12” Dutch Oven
18-20 coals below

  • 2 capfuls (or shakes) of oil
  • 1-2 lbs stew beef
  • 2 medium to large potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 sweet peppers, chopped. (I like to choose a green and one of a different color, like red or yellow. It adds color and a slightly different flavor)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1-2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded, cored, and sliced.
  • ½ tbsp crushed bay leaves (or crumble a few whole leaves)
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • ½ tbsp thyme
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • Some liberal shakes (maybe 1/6 cup) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 14 oz can beef broth
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour (added at the end)

This is one of those in category one. A one-pot, one-step meal. Sometimes I call these "dump meals", because you just dump it all in the dutch oven and cook it!

I started by lighting up about 25 or so coals. While those were heating up, I came back inside. I put a little bit of oil at the bottom of the 12” dutch oven, with the stew meat. Then I started chopping and slicing veggies. I just added everything into the dutch oven directly, stirring it up as I went. You can really make this with just about any veggies you happen to have in the fridge. I think the only ones that are “required” are the potatoes and the onions. Well, maybe the carrots.

Then, with all the veggies in, and the meat in, I poured in the can of broth, and added the salt and pepper. I’d keep adding salt and pepper throughout the cooking process.

It doesn’t really matter what order you put things in. It’s all going into the same pot, and then it gets added to the heat.

…Which was the next step. I took it outside onto the front porch (it had looked like rain, and my froth porch is covered). I spread out about 18 to 20 coals on my cooking area (a small metal table), and set the dutch oven on top of it. Within 15 to 20 minutes it was boiling, and so I removed a few coals (maybe 4 or so), to reduce the heat a little. I still had some coals going in my side fire, and I would add some to it from the bag from time to time to be able to have hot ones to replenish the ones under the dutch oven.

Every half hour or so, I’d open it up and stir it. Having that much liquid, and cooking mainly from the bottom makes this dish an easy one to learn on, since regulating the heat isn’t that tricky. As the coals die down, add new ones from your side fire. The total cooking time was probably an hour and a half to two hours. My gauge is the potatoes. When they’re done, I’m safe, and I cook it a bit longer just for more flavors.

Just at the end, I added the flour as a thickener. I imagine that I could have added it at the beginning, and it probably would have been OK, but I think it maintains the thickness better. I’ve heard that tapioca powder is a really good thickener, and it can be added at the beginning.

This is a yummy basic stew. To pick this up a bit, and take it to another level, put the dutch oven on the coals with just the oil. Let it heat up a bit, then brown the meat, the onions, the garlic, and the mushrooms. Then add everything else. Also, when you serve it, garnish it with a few crumbs of feta cheese!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dutch Oven Chicken Enchilada Soup

So much stuff to write about! Good news and bad news.

First the bad news. As is my tradition, I tried to make sweet rolls for conference. They bombed. Badly. I could NOT get them to rise, and they ended up baking up as inedible bricks. Bleah. I double-checked my recipe, and I’d followed it right. I also checked it against some other recipes in books and it seemed reasonable to work. So, I have no idea why it flopped.


But, later that day, I made a chicken enchilada soup, sort of in the style of chili’s restaurant. THAT turned out GREAT!

Here’s the recipe:

Dutch Oven Chicken Enchilada Soup

12” Dutch Oven
20+ coals underneath

½ c vegetable oil
1 chicken bullion cube
2 medium onions, diced
2 t minced garlic
1-3 lbs boneles chicken, cubed or cut into small chunks
2 t ground cumin
2 t chili powder
½ t cayenne pepper
1 jalapeno, sliced thin
Liberal pour lemon juice

2 C Masa harina
1 quart water

2-3 more quarts water
2-3 chopped tomatoes
½ lb processed American cheese, cubed

I started out by putting my 12” dutch oven on a lot of coals, about 20 or so. I put in some oil and let it heat a little while I gathered all the ingredients in the first list. Once assembled, I dumped them in and started them sautéing in the oil.

The next step is to prep the masa. This is corn masa, the same stuff used to make tamales and things. I mixed the two cups with a quart of water, and stirred out all the lumps. Actually, I got out my pastry cutter and used that for a while, too. Once the lumps were out, I added that to the pot. I’m keeping the pot covered this whole time, opening it up only to stir, because it’s cold out, and I’ve found I can keep it hotter inside if I do it that way.

Once that was bubbling, I added more water. I don’t really know how much, I just added enough to fill the dutch oven. Not to the brim, but close. I also wanted it to have the texture of a really thick soup, not a paste.

Finally, I added the tomatoes and the plastic cheese. I really don’t like using velveeta. I shudder even to type that. My wife insisted that it was the only way it would melt smoothly. Later, a friend of mine said that there was probably enough masa to keep the cheese smooth. I don’t know. I just have this aversion to “pasteurized process American cheese food substitute”. I mean, how far from “cheese” can you get?

But in the end, the result was what I was looking for. It tasted great!

As it was simmering, I put another 15-20 coals under an upturned dutch oven lid, and I heated up a stack of flour tortillas. The way I love eating this soup is to scoop it up in a torn tortilla and eat them both.

Now, this recipe makes a LOT of soup. And, it’s also VERY filling, so unless you’re feeding an army, there will be lots left over for lunches. I’ve found that when I reheat it, I need to mix in some more water to get it back to the consistency of a soup, and not so much of a gel.

Oh! And I promised another bit of good news…

Brendon, my budding chef, made fruit smoothies tonight. Ice, milk, grapes, sugar, all like he likes it, but he couldn’t find the cinnamon to spice it up. So, on a whim, he tries ground dried mint leaves. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe the taste! It had a delicious, and almost indescribable aftertaste. A bit minty, yes, but with the grapes very different! It has made me start to rethink all of my rules regarding “sweet” herbs and spices.

He’s good, that one…


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