Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner in the Dutch Ovens, Part I

Betty Crocker Christmas CookbookLast week, on the 24th, I made a big dutch oven Christmas dinner.  I cooked most of the morning, and served it up as sort of an early dinner/late lunch at about 3:00.  It was a lot of fun.  I didn't quite pull it all together as I would have liked, but it was still delicious.

I made a ham, what I called "Wassail Ham", Au Gratin Potatoes, and a Sandwich Loaf.  Actually, the bread did come together exactly as I wanted it to, but I'll talk about that later.

So that I don't have to write the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Galactica here in a single blog post, I'm going to break the dinner up into three separate recipe posts.  First, the potatoes, then the ham, and finally, the bread.  There's plenty of interesting stuff that happened on all three.

OK, so here we go!

Dutch Oven Au Gratin Potatoes

12" Dutch oven

15-20 coals below during phase 1
12 coals each above and below during phase 2

  • 1 lb bacon
  • flour to make a roux

  • 1-2 medium onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 4-5 medium potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1 pint of cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt
  • pepper

  • 1-2 handfuls grated cheddar cheese
  • fresh parsley

  • a little more cheese

I had actually done Au Gratins a time or two before, using different recipes and processes, but the last time (which was also the most successful) didn't get written up here in the Black Pot, for some reason.  Anyway, here it is.  As an overview of the steps, the first is to crispy fry some bacon pieces, then to use the resulting grease to make a roux.  Then you sautee some onions and veggies, and finally add the potatoes and the dairy.

Here are the details:

First, I took a package of bacon and cut it into 1 inch squares.  I got that in a dutch oven over some hot coals and set it frying.  It took a while, because I wanted them to be nicely crisp.  Crisper, even, than I like it for breakfast.

Once that was done, I pulled out the bacon, and also a little bit of the grease.  Then I started adding flour, a tablespoon at a time, to the remaining grease in the pot to make a roux.  I added it slowly, because I was looking for a particular consistency.  I wanted it to be just a little softer than cookie dough.  I think I used about a half cup.  I stirred that to cook it a bit, but not too much.  I still wanted a lighter roux.  When that was ready, I pulled it out.  That was, of course, way more roux than I would need for the dish, but that's OK.  It's nice to have extra when you need it.  It keeps in the fridge for quite a while.

Then, I reheated that extra bit of reserved grease, and threw in the onions and the garlic to sautee.  If I'd thought of it that day, I might have added celery and some green bell peppers.  Maybe some mushrooms, too.

Once those were nice and brown, I added in the bacon, the potatoes (which I had been slicing up while everything else was preparing), then the cream.  I added the milk because I was out of cream and still felt like it needed more liquid.  If you have enough half and half, just use that.  Then, the salt and pepper.  I was pretty liberal with those, too.

I let all that cook for a bit, until the potatoes just started to get soft (sort of an "al dente" feel).  Then, I opened it up and started adding roux, about a tablespoon at a time.  I stirred it in, and then continued stirring for a few moments while I watched the consistency change.  If you just start dropping it in, you'll probably add too much and it will get too thick.  I kept adding it until it felt like a sauce, a thick gravy, instead of a milky liquid.

Once the potatoes felt pretty much done, I added the cheese and the parsley.  Stir it all in, and it will get nice and gooey.  The roux will keep the cheese melty instead of all clumpy and coagulated (when that happens, they say it "breaks").  The final step is to add a layer of cheese to the top and let it melt.  At that point, in fact, you could take it off the coals altogether and let the residual heat in the dutch oven melt the cheese.  Serve it up!

Stay tuned for part II: The Wassail Ham!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: A New Song: "Alleluia"!, How to Optimize Your Website,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mark's Black Pot Goulash

When you're looking for something to cook with some ground beef or some stew meat, and you're not sure what, you really can't go wrong with Goulash.  It's easy and tasty.  In this case, I happened to have a pound of stew meat wrapped up and frozen, and I thought I'd use it.  I just did a few 'net searches to get an idea of what to put in, and this is what I came up with.
Mark's Dutch Oven Goulash
101 Things to Do with a Dutch Oven (101 Things to Do with A...)
12" Dutch Oven
15-20 coals below

  • oil
  • 2 med onions
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • salt

  • 1 lb stew beef (or ground beef)

  • 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce
  • oregano
  • basil
  • salt 
  • pepper

  • 1 lb bag of egg noodles

More optional ingredients to consider in the third step:

  • Paprika (the stronger stuff)
  • Crushed red peppers
  • A bit of milk or cream (like a quarter or half cup)

I just started off with a lot of coals underneath my 12" dutch oven, with a little oil in the bottom (maybe a tablespoon's worth, or a capful).  While that was getting good and hot, I sliced up the onions, the celery, and minced the garlic.  Once the dutch oven was hot, I dropped the first set of ingredients in, and sauteed them.

Here's a hint, by the way, about onions.  Don't store them outside, or, like I did, in your garage in the winter.  They partly froze, and so they didn't sautee and carmelize very well.  They still tasted OK, just not as good as they would've if I'd known.  But now you know!

Once the onions were as done as they were gonna get, I moved them aside, and put the meat in to brown.

Step three was to add almost everything else (except the noodles).  At that point, it was all pretty runny, more like a soup.  I was a bit nervous, actually.  I considered adding some kind of flour or other thickener, but decided to wait and see what would happen after the noodles cooked.  That turned out to be a wise choice.  By the time the noodles were "al dente", they had absorbed much of the liquid and it was a nice, thick goulash.  The family loved it!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: Optimizing an eCommerce Website, Mark's LDS Rock Music Downloads,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dutch Oven Questions From a Newbie

I got an email yesterday from Jill, and it had a whole bunch of really good beginner questions in it.  I thought that there are probably a lot of people out there with the same questions, so I thought I'd answer them all here.  That way, not only do a lot more people get to read my answers, but we can invite everyone else to join in and chip in their ideas as well, and we all learn.

Here's her letter:

"So, I am planning on learning to dutch oven. I just bought one for my husband a couple months ago, but need to still get a couple accessories like tongs, lid lifter, gloves, briquettes, etc. I found your blog today and am excited to try some of your recipes & get started, but I do have a few questions:

"Thanks, Jill"

I'm sorry, Jill, but I hope you don't mind a little good-natured ribbing here...  This is the second time I've gotten an email from a lady who bought the dutch oven "for her husband", and ended up doing the cooking anyway.  What's the problem here, guys?  Give the ladies a break.  This is the perfect way for us men to cook!  It involves meat, fire, metal, and knives.  What else do you want!?

Sorry, that's just me being silly.

On with her questions!

  • Which briquettes do you like best?

In general, you can cook with anything hot.  You can chop up a tree, burn the logs, and cook with the coals.  But I've had problems in the past with some "bargain brand" coals that don't burn evenly, or burn to fast, or light too slow.  I like the basic Kingsfords (not matchlight) the best.  That's sort of the general recommendation among most experienced dutch oveners that I know, and my own experience has proven that as well.

Some meals, like potatoes, chilis, or stews can handle variations in cooking temperature midway through, but other things, like breads and desserts are trickier. 

  • I assume you buy them (briquettes) in bulk, so where do you get them and how do you store them?

I get mine in bags that are about 20 lbs, in two-bag bundles at Home Depot.  I do that mainly because there's an HD on the way home from work, I have a HD card, and I can charge them if I don't have the cash.  Don't get the fancy mesquite or hickory smoking briquettes, because the smoke won't get through the cast iron to the food anyway.

Cooking once a week, sometimes a couple of pots at a time, I'll go through the two bags in about a month. I store mine in a plastic box outside my home, right by where I cook.  That way they're handy and dry, even when it's rainy.  The problem with that is that when it's rainy, the air is wet, and they do get a bit harder to light.

  • Do you use a lighter basket or chimney when lighting the briquettes?

Yes, I do.  I also use lighter fluid.  I've tried and tried to make them light with just wadded up newspaper and I've given up.  I need the sauce to make the fire.  I like the chimney because the coals tend to light more evenly, and I can shake the chimney and mix the lit ones with the unlit ones well. 

When I dump them to start cooking, too, I always leave a few lit coals in the chimney to start up fresh coals so I can keep cooking the dishes that need longer cook times.

  • You said you learned that you needed to get them off the bricks... so what kind of surface do you put the dutch ovens on now?

I have these short little foot-high metal tables.  They work great.  Another thing I've often seen are the Camp Tables like you can see in this (affiliate) link.  Those are cool because they have wind screens and you don't have to bend over so much to cook on them.

  • I assume that you bring the dutch ovens inside to serve from, do you just put them on a trivet?

Yes again.  And it needs to be a pretty big trivet, if you've got a 12" or a 14" dutch oven.  Sometimes I'll just set a towel underneath.  The leg tips don't burn, but they can scratch a table surface.  They've often still got charcoal ash dust on them, too, which makes a bit of a mess.

I must say that I love serving directly from the dutch oven.  To me, it just looks better.  That's just me...

  • What is a tripod for?

A tripod, like this one (affiliate link), is designed to hold the dutch oven above an open fire.  I've never used one, but I've seen it used, mainly for things that need bottom heat, like chilis, soups, stews.  Someone that's actually used one for other dishes can chime in and explain how it really works.

So, thanks for the questions!  I hope these are the answers you're looking for, and if not, I hope that some other good readers will chime in with their own experiences to help add to the collective knowledge.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: How not to do Social Networking, I get to sing in Relief Society

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dutch Oven Chicken and Apple Curry-osity

I think I've found a new favorite recipe website.  This week, I had this funny idea of taking some chicken we had and some apples we had and doing something with them together.  It just seemed odd enough to be fun.

But, I had no recipe, so I thought I'd look one up.  I'd heard good things about allrecipes.com, so I went there and tried their ingredient search function.  I put in "chicken" and "apple" and came up with a whole bunch of recipes.  It was a lot of fun to sort through them all. 

In the end, what I did was a hybrid of two of the more interesting ones, that had other available ingredients.

I'm not sure what to call it, though.  Is it a curry?  Is it a casserole?  I dunno. 

Dutch Oven Chicken and Apple Curry-osity

12" Dutch Oven

Total of about 30 coals, because of the weather.  Probably 22-24 in the summer.

  • 1 Med onion, chopped or diced
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 lbs Chicken breast, cubed

  • 1 Med to large apple, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Cup Apple Juice Concentrate (or about a half a can)
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 Cup milk
  • 1 Cup rice

I started with a little oil on the bottom of the dutch oven, and heated it up over a bunch of coals ("a bunch" is an accurate scientific unit of measurement, larger than "a few" but smaller than "a pile").  I let that heat a bit so I could start sauteeing.  And that's what I did next, with the first ingredient set.  Actually, I added the chicken in last, after the onions and the garlic had had a chance to cook some.

Once everything was getting nicely browned, I just started adding in all of the other ingredients.  Because the chicken broth was put in as a frozen block, I let it melt before I added the rice.  The stock, by the way, was homemade from our Thanksgiving turkey leftovers.  If you'll let me digress even further, I recently read a great posting by my friend over at Mormon Foodie on making a good stock.

Also, once the main set of ingredients was in the dutch oven, I set an even number of coals top and bottom.  It ended up being about a total of 30 coals, 'cause it was seriously cold out.  Outdoor cooking in the winter is odd that way, ya know?  I just cooked it until it tasted good and the rice was done.

Anyway, my family loved it, and my son had seconds.  That's a good confirmation.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: Google's personalized SERPs

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dutch Oven on the 'Net - Rolls

A nice demonstration of how to make some delicious rolls in a dutch oven.  I wish they'd shown how many coals they used, or how they regulated the heat.  Still, the results look great! I would've also liked to see a spot or two during the rise, just to see how they keep it warm. Maybe the outside temp is warm enough in the summer in Alaska...

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: name post, name post,


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