Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mark’s Dutch Oven Acorn Squash Boats

I saw some acorn squash in a store about a month ago, and I thought back to my childhood.  I hated squash.  I mean, I really hated it.  Mom would boil it or steam it, then mash it up into this gooey pile on my plate...

Sorry, Mom.  I didn’t mean to throw you under the bus (figuratively, people), but c’mon!  Wasn’t there a better way?

So, standing there in the store, I imagined it the way I’d seen it in some cookbooks and magazines:  halved and hollowed, with a savory meat filling.  It inspired me to give it a try.  I bought them, and brought them home.

I spent a while looking over cookbooks an ‘net recipes.  Many of them caught my eye, and I got many good ideas.  The day I decided to make them, however, I decided to make them on my own.

Mark’s Dutch Oven Acorn Squash Boats

2x 12” Dutch Ovens

#1: 16-18 coals above, 8-12 coals below
#2: 18-22 coals below

The Meat/Sausage

  • 1-2 lbs ground meat
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp Paprika
  • ½ Tbsp Black Pepper
  • ½ Tbsp Ground Sage
  • ½ Tbsp Ground oregano
  • 1 tsp Crushed red peppers (less or more, to your liking)

The Squash Boats

  • 2 Acorn Squash, halved and seeded
  • Brown Sugar 
  • 1 cup water

The Filling

  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 green sweet pepper, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 med tomato, diced
  • The sausage you made before

Finishing touches

  • Fresh parsley
  • Grated cheese

The first step was the meat.  I wanted some sausage, to give some edge to the dish, but we were out.  It was on a sunday, so I didn’t want to go shopping.  I looked for some ground meat, and I found some in our freezer, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  It looked like some game meat grind that a hunter friend of ours had given us.  I think it was elk.  Before church, I put it in some cool water to thaw.

After church, I got a bowl and started mixing in herbs and spices.  I paid attention to what I put in, and in what amounts so that I could write it up later with some accuracy.  That’s what I’ve got listed here.  Adjust it to your taste and to the amount of meat you’ve got.  Mine ended up a little too hot and spicy, so in the ingredients above, I’ve reduced the crushed red peppers, but only slightly.  Since this was probably a game meat, I added some olive oil (it was obviously very lean), and a few dashes of vinegar to ease the game-y taste.

I set that aside in the fridge so that the flavors could seep in.  It would still be a good hour or so before I would use it.

Then, I went out and lit up some coals.

While those were whitening up, I prepared the squash.  I halved each one and scooped out the seeds and goop.  I dusted (lightly) the inside of each one with a bit of brown sugar.  I set them in one of my 12” dutch ovens, with a bit of water in the bottom, and set that on the coals, with more coals on the lid.

I got the other dutch oven on the coals, too, underneath, heating up while I cut up the veggies.  I put in everything but the tomato to saute.  Once the onions were translucent, I added the tomatoes and stirred to cook.  finally, I pushed everything aside, and added the meat in the middle.  As it cooked, I mixed it all together.

While this was happening, I occasionally checked the flesh of the squashes for doneness.  I’d just stick them with a fork and when it was soft and didn’t resist, I knew they were done.  I pulled them off the coals, and removed them from the oven, so I could pour out the water.

This was about the time that the filling mixture was done, so I put the squash boats back in the Dutch oven and put a scoop or two of filling in each one.  Even though I mounded it up pretty high, there was leftover, so that’s good for a lunch.  I sprinkled on the parsley an the cheese, and put it back on some fresh coals (over and under, with extra emphasis on over) to bake for a bit.

At this point, all of the food is cooked, so I didn’t leave it on long.  I just wanted to bake all of the flavors together, and to melt and brown the cheese a bit.  After that, I brought it in and served it up.  Brendon had seconds.

See, Mom?  MY kids LIKE squash!  :-)


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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dutch oven Paella

It all began one day with me being a couch potato, a dud spud surfing the channels.  Bored of home shopping TV and infomercials, I turned to my Tivo, and noticed that I had managed to acquire a few more episodes of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”.

So, I started watching and one of the episodes was about a Spanish dish called “Paella” (which is pronounced “pie-AY-yah”). I’d seen recipes for this many times, but had never thought to try it.  It required a special pan, also called a paella, and it was cooked outdoors over coals.  That got my head thinking...

I watched the episode a couple of times, and I was intrigued.  It had several techniques and ingredients I had never tried before.  Were those ingredients absolutely necessary?  Could it be adapted to a Dutch oven?

I called my expert sister and asked for a second opinion.  She confirmed that, yes, in order to make a really good paella, you really did need special rice, and good Spanish saffron (the expensive stuff).  She was skeptical about doing it in a pan that was not a paella, however.  I decided to give it a try, anyway.

I spent two weeks acquiring all of the various ingredients, rewatching the show, and planning my processes.  In the end, it was well worth the effort!

Dutch Oven Paella

8” Dutch Oven
12-15 coals underneath

12” Dutch Oven
20+ coals underneath

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 package of 5-6 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt, pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2-4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/2 lb green beans
  • Pulp and juice of 1 large tomato
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 cups rice (short grain Spanish or Italian)
  • 20 threads Spanish saffron
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • rosemary, basil, oregano
  • ¼ Cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Juice of ½ Lemon

As I shopped around for the ingredients, I watched closely.   Alton and my sister both recommended Valencia rice.  I ended up finding a short grain Italian rice called Arborigo.  Getting the saffron was trickier.  I shopped around and called stores, and found something in a store near me labeled “Spanish Saffron”.  It seemed to meet all of the criteria that I’d been told, and cost about the same as what I’d been seeing in spice specialty shops, so I bought it.  It was about $18 for a gram or two.  Pricey stuff.

On cooking day, the first step was to get some coals ready.  One bunch of them went under my 12” Dutch oven, and another set went under my 8”.  In the 8”, I put three frozen blocks of my own homemade chicken stock. Six cups.  In the end I didn’t need it all, but It was good to have it all there and ready.  I put it on the coals so it would melt and heat up.  It won’t need to be used for quite a while, so if you’re working with boxed or bottled stock, you can probably start heating it up much later in the process.

The 12” got a little bit of olive oil.  Once it was heated I put in the chicken thighs, skin side down, to fry and brown.  A lot of fat renders out of the the skin.  That’s used as part of the the dish along the way.

While the chicken was cooking, I diced up the peppers, minced the garlic, and snapped the beans.  I thought about dicing an onion, too, but in the end decided not to.  I’m not sure why. It wasn’t in the original recipe.  I also mixed the rice and the other dry seasonings in a bowl.

The tomato was done with interesting process, taught by Alton.  You want the tomato flavor, but without the seeds or the skin. I sliced the tomato “across the equator” and squeezed out the seeds.  I got kind of lucky, as the tomatoes that I had bought were pretty large and pulp-y.  Then, I put the open face of the tomato against my cheese grater and grated the pulp and the juice into a bowl.  The more I grated, the flatter the skin became, and so I got more and more pulp.  Clever.  If you don’t want to do this, you could probably just use a smaller can of crushed or diced tomatoes.

When the chicken was brown on both sides, I pulled it out of the dutch oven.  I tossed in the veggies, and sprinkled in some salt.  Once the veggies were going soft, I added the tomato pulp, and let that cook for a bit.  Finally, the rice mix was stirred into the pot.  I also used this opportunity to replenish my coals.

At that point, it was time to put it all together and do the final cooking.  I put the chicken back in, nestling it down into the rice and veggie mixture. I ladled the simmering stock from the 8” oven into the 12” oven, until the rice was well covered. I let that cook, with the lid off, watching occasionally as it went. About every ten to fifteen minutes or so, I would see that much of the liquid had been absorbed into the cooking rice, and I would ladle in a bit more stock.  I was watching to see the rice become translucent.  Occasionally, I used a spoon to check the deeper rice, and to taste.  I was careful as I added more stock, because I wanted enough for the rice to absorb, but not so much for it to end up like a soup, or even a thick stew. I could see why it was important to have the stock pre-heated on the side, so I wasn’t shocking it with cool an having to heat it all back up to continue with the cooking.

As the end of the cooking time approached, I squeezed the lemon juice over the whole dish, and sprinkled on fresh chopped parsley.

Finally, when the rice was translucent and soft, it came off the coals.  I don’t know how long it took to get there, as I was paying more attention to the rice than the time.  The last step was to let it rest with a kitchen towel on top.  I’m not sure why it couldn’t be covered with the dutch oven lid.  Perhaps the final resting time needs to be done with something porous on top, so some moisture can escape.  The final texture is moist and soft, but not dripping with juice.

After about 15 to 20 minutes in the rest phase (it could be even longer, if you want), it was time to serve it up.  Since this was my first time making it, I didn’t know how great paella was supposed to taste.  I think I did, but I’m not certain if I got the right rice or the right saffron.  Still, what I was eating was one of the most delicious meals I’d had in a long time.  I guess that qualifies it as a success.


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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dutch Oven Sushi, Part II

OK, I know that, technically, rolling up sushi has nothing to do with a cast iron dutch oven.  I get that.  However, in the last post, I did make the rice and the rice vinegar sauce in my dutch ovens, so that counts, right?

With the rice all ready from the previous part, it’s time to prepare the filling ingredients.  Here is a list of all the ingredients we usually gather to make our various sushi rolls.

The sushi ingredients and fillings:

  • 6-8 sheets of Nori (roasted seaweed)
  • The sushi rice
  • a thick, but small fillet of salmon, uncooked
  • a thick, but small tuna steak, uncooked
  • Crab leg meat
  • cucumber
  • carrots
  • cream cheese
  • Sliced avocado
  • white and black sesame seeds

The tools

  • A sushi rolling mat
  • A large cutting board
  • a very sharp knife
  • a Bowl of water
  • a damp towel

For serving

  • Soy Sauce
  • Wasabi paste
  • pickled ginger slices

The meats needs a little bit of preparation.  If the fish was frozen, it should be completely thawed, and patted dry with paper towels.  I cut the skin away from the salmon.  We usually use imitation crab.  I know I should hang my head in shame, but at least we can afford it.

I peeled the cucumber and quartered it lengthwise.  I scooped out the seeds with a spoon, and sliced it lengthwise into very thin strips.  I cut the carrots into long, thin strips as well.

I arranged everything in the list of ingredients and tools around my cutting board, so that I could reach whatever I wanted to put into any particular roll.  Finally, it was time to make sushi!

I placed the rolling mat on the cutting board in front of me, so that I would be rolling away from myself.  I put a sheet of nori, shiny side down, onto the rolling mat.  Then I got my hands good and wet in the bowl and grabbed a palmfull of rice.  I spread that out over the nori.  There’s an art to even the spreading of the rice, which I have not yet learned.  The trick is to spread it thinly and gently, without smashing the grains of rice.  I’ve read that you should be able to see spots of nori through the clumps of rice.

I’ve read about and watched lots of techniques.  I use a whole sheet of nori and I spread enough rice to cover all but about ¾ of an inch at the far edge.  Some use half sheets.  You can play with it and see.

Once the rice is spread, I lay my ingredients in a horizontal line, about an inch from the near edge of the nori.  I start by slicing off a thin bit or two of tuna or salmon and laying that down.  I put on any other ingredients I want, such as the cucumber or the carrots.  You can sprinkle the sesame in at this point, but I like to sprinkle it over the sliced pieces when I’m done.  Cream cheese is sliced off with a regular butter knife and laid onto the roll in strips.

I have to resist the urge to put too much in a roll.  I love to just keep putting stuff in, but I know that it muddies up the tastes, and it makes it harder to roll.

If you or any of your guests don’t like the idea of eating raw fish, use the crab.  I’ve even cooked the fish and put it in the sushi before, but I don’t like it as much myself.

Once I’ve laid in my fillings, I curl up the near end of the rolling mat, with the nori, and curl it up and over the ingredients.  I’ll often use my fingers to hold the ingredients in place as I’m doing the curl.  I roll it over, and pull the leading edge of the mat away as it rolls the nori underneath.  I squeeze as I’m rolling, but I have to be cautious not to squeeze  too much, so as to keep the rice from smooshing.

The last bit of nori, where there’s no rice, gets a little bit of water from my fingers, to help it seal.  Then, with a couple of squeezes, the last bit of rolling was complete.  I pulled the mat away, and picked up the knife.  I wiped it with the damp cloth and in a couple of quick motions, cut the roll in half.  I turn the two halves I’ve cut to be side-by-side.  I wiped the blade again, and cut the slices of the roll together, two more times, to make a total of six pieces.  I wiped the blade between each cut.

Finally, each piece was set on the plate, with a dollop of wasabi paste and a few bits of the pickled ginger.

Now, while it might not be as good as you’ll get in a fine sushi bar in tokyo, or even the more metropolitan areas of the states, it still tasted great, and I had a lot of fun making it, too!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.
Mark's Other Blog Posts: name post, name post,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sushi? In a Dutch Oven?

Well, Mark, you have finally lost it.  You’ve gone too far.  Now we’re going to have to call the Dutch oven police on you.  Sushi?  Really?  That can’t be legal...

OK, OK, technically, I only made the rice in my dutch oven.  That’s really all you cook, anyway, right?  But still, can you imagine making such an exotic meal out in the woods somewhere?  It’s a cool thought!

Brendon and I have made sushi about 7 or 8 times, now, indoors.  I admit that, with that little bit of experience, we’re hardly expert chefs.  But we’ve been able to make it work pretty well, and have created some good and simple rolls.  Let me share with you what I’ve learned.

Dutch Oven Sushi Rice

10” Dutch oven
~18 coals underneath

8” Dutch oven
~10 coals underneath

  • 3 cups Japanese short-grain rice
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • a wide wooden spoon or spatula
  • A fan
  • a non-metallic bowl, preferably wooden, preferably wide and shallow

I’ve learned that the process is as important as the ingredients.  That begins all the way back even before I started cooking.  I took three cups of Japanese short-grain rice and put it in a bowl.  I filled it with water until the rice was well submerged, and stirred it and turned it with my hands.  Instantly, the water became a murky white.  After a few turns, it seemed it wasn’t getting any cloudier, so I carefully drained as much as I could without spilling the rice into the sink.  Then I filled it back up with fresh water and swished and rinsed it again.  And again.  And again.

I’ve never gotten it to the point where the water flowed completely clear, but I have been able to rinse it so that it was almost clear, or at least significantly clearer.  I usually do it at least six or seven times.

Finally, I put the rice in a strainer and let it sit over my sink for about a half hour.  That’s when it’s ready to cook.  While the rice is straining, I lit up my coals and let them get hot.

I put the rice and the water into my 10” dutch oven, and set that on the coals with the lid on.  I let it sit there for about 20 to 25 minutes.  Normally, when I cook rice, I watch for venting steam, but this time I didn’t see any, so I had to carefully watch the clock.  Keep in mind that the dutch oven has to heat up, too.  I didn’t lift the lid at all.

Once the rice time was done, I pulled it off the coals and set it aside.  I didn’t lift the lid.  It sat for quite some time, easily another 20 minutes.

While that was finishing the final stages of cooking, I mixed the sweet vinagar ingredients in the 8”, and put that over some coals, uncovered.  I stirred that, and let it dissolve to a low, rolling boil.  Then I pulled it off and let it cool some.

Combining the rice and the vinegar is an odd process.  I dumped the rice into the non-metallic bowl.  While slowly stirring the rice with the spoon/spatula, I would alternately use my other hand to pour in some of the vinegar mix, and fan away the moisture and steam.  Stir, pour, fan, stir, pour, fan.  Sometimes, when Brendon and I do this together, one of us fans while the other pours and stirs.  If you’re using one of the traditional shallow wooden bowls, the wood will also help wick away some of the moisture in the rice.

When it was all done, I was left with well-cooked rice, clinging to itself in clumps, with individual grains still visible.  It had a delicious sweet and sour taste.  This got set aside to get closer to room temperature.

...To be continued.  (Dun, dun, dunnnnnnnn)


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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pancakes on the Dutch Oven lid

If you talk about doing breakfast with a dutch oven, two things immediately jump to my mind:  The Mountain Man Breakfast and Pancakes on the Lid.  These two dishes are about as common as cobblers and biscuits in the dutch oven world.  They’re both pretty easy, too, so you can do it while you’re still groggy-headed and haven’t had much time for caffiene-laden drinks and waking up.

Here’s my take on the pancakes.

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes on the Dutch Oven lid

12” dutch oven lid, inverted on a trivet
20 coals underneath, with more in a side fire

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, with as much as an additional cup to the side
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 apple, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of nutmeg

First of all, I lit up some coals, and when they were getting white, I put about 20 of them under a Dutch Oven Lid Trivet.  This is a little metal device, like a stand that can hold the lid up by about 2-3 inches.  The lid should be inverted, with the handle down.  Now you can use it like a griddle.  I spritzed it with a little bit of oil

Then, I mixed the other ingredients.  The dry ingredients went into the bowl first, then the wet, and finally, I chopped the apples and added the spices.  How much cinnamon you put in depends on your taste.  I like a more edgy flavor, so I put in more.

Then I whisked it all together.  I like to have my pancakes be a little thinner.  I think it cooks more evenly.  So, I make the batter thinner with the extra milk.

Once the griddle-lid was well heated, I poured about a cup’s worth of batter onto it.  I was using my Lodge lid, so it was concave, forming a shallow bowl in the center.  Since all of the batter flowed toward the center, I couldn’t cook more than on pancaked at a time, so I decided to make it a big one.

The idea is to cook it almost all the way on one side, then flip it over for just a few minutes on the second side.  If I’d had a second lid stand, I would have gotten two lids going at the same time.  As it was, it took quite a while to finish the batter.  They sure tasted great, though!


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


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