Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dutch Oven Dandelion Delicacies, part 1

Late last summer, I had read online where people actually cook and eat dandelions.  I was both repulsed and intrigued.  I had actually heard of it in the past, but this time I saw some recipes and processes that caught my eye, and I determined to try it.

Unfortunately, at the time, It was kinda difficult to find the cute yellow flowers in bloom.  Most in my neighborhood were well into seed at that point.

So, today, I was driving home and I happened to notice that the dandelion flowers were really budding out in force.  It was also a bright, warm, sunny day (and we’ve had precious few of those lately), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and take a chance.

Of course, I had never cooked them before, nor had I ever eaten them.  So, it was kind of a wild shot that it would even work, that it would even taste good.  I tried two different dishes, one with the greens and one with the flower.  They were not only edible, but even palatable.  It was an odd taste.  It had tones of sweet and savory, depending on the dish, and also an underlying tone of bitter.  But the bitter was really just an edge, rather than the whole flavor.  Like I said, it was odd.  I don’t think it’s for everyone.  In the end, I liked it.

I also need to explain.  Since this was the first time I’d tried it, there were things in the process that I think I did wrong.  Well, not so much “wrong”, per se, but “not in the best order”.  So, I’m writing this from the point of view of how I would do it next time.

Dandelion Greens

8” Dutch Oven

10-12 coals below

10” Dutch Oven

14-16 coals below

1 12” collander filled to heaping with rinsed and trimmed dandelion greens.
~2  cups  water
2 tbsp salt

1 lb bacon
1 med onion
3 cloves garlic

crushed red pepper
lemon or lime juice

The first step is to gather the dandelion plants.  I went foraging in our neighborhood.  I’ll bet I looked like quite a sight, with my box of flowers and my hand shovel.  I looked for plants that had lots of bushy leaves, and plenty of large round flowers.  I also tried to look in places where I didn’t think people would have sprayed with herbicides.  I didn’t want to be eating toxic chemicals.  I got a few from my own yard, but not many because I had just mowed, so the leaves on most plants were chopped short already.  When I found a plant I wanted, I just dug it until the root snapped and tossed the whole thing  in my box.

It’s good to get a whopping lot of dandelion plants for this project, because after you trim the leaves from the root structure, and then after those leaves cook down, there really isn’t much there.  So, start with lots and you’ll end up with plenty.

Were I doing this again, I would prepare the greens first, and take my sweet time doing it.  After lighting up some coals on my porch, I would work at my sink.  I would grab a dandelion plant and first snap off any usable flowers, then rinse the remaining plant many times over.  I’d separate the leaves from the longer flower stems and tear the leaves off just above where the green leaf starts to grow from the stem.  Then, I’d rinse those leaves again and toss them into the collander.  I’d repeat this process for all of the plants I’d harvested.

At this point, the coals would probably be ready and I’d put them under the 8” Dutch oven with the water and the salt.  I’d let that come to a boil.  I’d also put more fresh coals in my side fire to light for the flower fritters.

While that was getting to boil, I’d put more coals underneath my 10” Dutch oven, and put in the bacon, cut into short 1” bits.  Then, I’d dice or slice the onion and mince the garlic.

Once the bacon was getting crispy, I’d use a spoon and pull out most of the drippings.  I’d toss in the onion and the garlic to saute.

By now, the water would be boiling, so I’d add in the greens, a bit at a time.  I’d let that boil again, cooking for about 10-15 minutes more.

While the greens are boiling and the onions and bacon are still sauteing, I’d make the flower fritters (see below).  Once the greens are done and tender, I would lift them out with tongs and put them back in the collader over the Dutch oven to drain a bit.  Finally, I’d toss them into the 10” Dutch oven and stir it all up, sizzling it for a few minutes more.  I would add in the seasonings here, too, with particular emphasis on the lemon or lime juice.  That goes a long way in tempering the bitter. I had also thought that balsamic vinegar would taste great instead.

At that point, things really don’t need to “cook” any more.  It’s all done, you’re just combining it and merging the flavors.  Just serve it up.  This really is a veggie side dish.  In this case, since I was just trying it out, I served it up on plate by with the flower fritters.

My son had been very skeptical, but even he was impressed in the end.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Blueberry Pancake Cake

So, a while ago I had this idea.  It seemed to me that a stack of pancakes looked a lot like a layer cake with lots of layers.  From there, it was an easy set of mental leaps to making it into an actual dessert cake.

This recipe is in two parts, the pancakes, and the frosting.  The Pancakes I took from my first book, “The Best of the Black Pot”, and I used blueberries instead of apples.

Blueberry 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 cup of fresh blueberries, coarsely chopped (set a few whole ones aside)
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp of nutmeg

First, I made the pancakes.  I started by lighting up the coals and getting them hot.  Once they were ready, I put the trivet over the coals and the 12” Dutch oven lid upside down on the trivet.  I sprayed a little oil on the lid as it preheated.

In a bowl, I sifted and mixed the dry ingredients.  I mixed in the wet ingredients and stirred it all up.  I chopped up the berries (it wasn’t easy, they kept rolling everywhere),  and stirred them in with the spices as well.

I find that pancakes cook better if the batter is pretty runny.  I added milk until it got to the consistency that I like.  It’s a little runnier than a typical cake batter.

Once that was all mixed up, and the lid heated up, I just started cooking up the pancakes.  I did a little less than a cup of batter for each one.  I let it cook on one side until the bubbles would pop and not refill back in.  Then, I’d turn it over for just a few moments more.  This mix was about enough for 6-7 of these big pancakes.  When they were done, I brought them in and let them cool.

Then, it was time to mix up the frosting and assemble the cake.

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter or cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

This is a particularly challenging part of the dish to make if you don’t use any electrical appliances.  Because IDOS cookoff rules currently forbid them, I like to try and do all of my blog dishes using hand tools only.  In this case, I recommend starting by creaming the butter or the cream cheese using the back of a spoon with holes in it, or a potato masher that has a flat plane with holes.  Gradually add in the sugar so as to not make it too stiff right away, then when it starts to look good and aerated, mix in the vanilla and the whipping cream.

Once it’s mixed, then it’s pretty easy to assemble.  First, I took out about a third of the frosting.  That would be the top. Then, I started with one pancake on my plate, and I spread a paper-thin layer of frosting on it.  I allowed a little more thickness at the edges, but not much.  I also spread the frosting all the way to the edge.  Then, I put another pancake on top of that.

Layer after layer, frosting, pancake, frosting, I built it up.  It’s important to not use too much frosting in between layers.  Use less than a normal layer cake.  First of all, you’ve got six or seven layers and it will get used up pretty fast.  Second, eating six or seven full layers of frosting in between the cake will make the whole thing pretty dang sugary!

Sometimes, the frosting would squeeze out a little from between the pancake layers.  I didn’t mind that.  I thought it looked more “cake-ish” that way.

Finally, after seven layers of cake, I’d pretty much used up my allotted two-thirds of the frosting.  I plopped the final third on top and spread it around the top like a real frosting layer on cake should be. I pushed it all the way to the edge and even let it droop over a bit.  I did not, however, frost the sides.  My pancakes were not perfectly round, and I liked the irregularities of the edges.  Finally, I judiciously sprinkled and scattered the few remaining unchopped blueberries across the top to get stuck in place by the frosting.

When serving, I cut it into wedges, just like a regular cake. The blueberries on top and the blueberries in the pancakes make for a delicious cake!

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

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dutch Oven Roasted Cornish Hens on Broccoli Rice

I was listening to the radio a while back, and I heard a yummy idea.  I don’t think the people on the radio intended it to be so, however.  It was a political show, and they were interviewing a restaurant owner in some middle eastern country.  The interview was all about how the economy was struggling in the wake of the uprisings in that country, bla, bla, bla, yadda, yadda...

But they had the interview after a meal of roasted dove, which they were eating, as was tradition, with their fingers.

I just latched onto that idea, and it sounded delicious, and like so much fun.  I wanted to do something like it. I pondered it for days.  I came up with lots of idea of different ways to approach it, and to make it a full meal, not just a meat dish.

One problem to overcome was the meat.  What kind of bird to use?  I didn’t know where I could get dove.  Quail?  That was a possibility.  One of the guys in the World Championship did a great job cooking quail.  Then, one day shopping, I found some cornish hens, frozen.  Perfect!  Easy to work with, inexpensive, tasty...  And, I think, visually impressive!

This ended up being a very simple dish to prepare. Also, for the record, I was not trying to duplicate any particular middle-eastern cuisine, or any actual traditional dish.  So, there is no effort whatsoever to make this “authentic”.  I just made it all up.  So there.

Dutch Oven Roasted Cornish Hens

12” Deep Dutch oven

10 coals below
12-14 coals above

1 cornish hen for each serving (I did 6, and had one extra)
1 1/2-2 cups salt
1/2 cup molasses
about a gallon of water

3 medium onions
chili powder

Two days before the meal, I set the little birds (encased in plastic) into the fridge to thaw.  Since they’re so small, this could probably work in one day, maybe even in the brining process.  But I did it over a couple of days.

The morning of the meal, I got down one of my medium stock pots and put in about a quart or so of hot tap water.  I put in the salt and the molasses.  The hot water helped those to dissolve.  Then, I added about another quart or so of cold water.  I opened up the hen packages and drained them briefly, then poked holes in the skin with a knife.  A fork works, too.  I put them in the brined water.  I topped off the water just enough to cover the hens, then added some ice on top.  The ice and the salt should keep the germs at bay while the meat gets all savory and tender.  I set that aside until cooking time, later that afternoon.

When that time came, I dumped the brine and set the chickens on cooling racks in the sink to drain pretty well.  The meat itself will retain a lot of moisture anyway, and I want to minimize the broth at the bottom of the pot.

While the hens were draining, I cut the onions into chunks.  I cut them in half first, then quartered the halves.  I scattered these into the bottom of the 12” deep Dutch oven, to hold the hens up above the level of the broth that would cook out.

Then I patted the hens dry with paper towels and coated them on both sides with liberal shakes of salt, pepper, paprika, and gentle shakes of chili powder.  I tucked them into to Dutch oven all cozy and got them on the coals.

It’s a longer, lower-temperature roast.  I’m guessing the interior oven temperature is probably around 275 or 300 with those coals numbered above.  The cook time was about an hour and a half to two hours.  I went for an internal meat temperature of 180° as a target.

Broccoli Rice

8” Dutch oven

10-12 coals below

1 1/2 cups rice
3 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large broccoli head
Broth and onions from the cornish hens

When the roasting was almost done, I made the rice.  It’s pretty simple, too.  I just put the rice, water, and lemon juice in the 8” Dutch oven, and put it on the coals, with the lid on.  While that was coming up to a boil, I cut the broccoli head into tiny florets.  I noted when the steam started venting out from under the lid.  After ten minutes or so, tossed in the broccoli to steam.  I was really quick with the lid, because I didn’t want to lose much heat or steam.  Maybe five minutes later, I pulled the oven off the coals, with the lid still on, to finish cooking.


12” Dutch oven lid
18-20 coals below

Flour tortillas (prepackaged or make your own)

My original idea was to make some tortillas from scratch, and then when we eat, we would pull the meat off with our fingers, put it in a torn tortilla piece along with the rice and eat it all with our fingers.  In the end, I was kinda tired and so I got lazy and just used some store-bought tortillas.  But even those have to be prepared.

So, I turned a 12” Dutch oven lid over onto a lid stand over a whole lotta coals (see above), and let it get really hot.  Then I just tossed the tortilla on it and let it heat up and singe a bit.  As each one was done, I put it on a plate covered with a tea towel. Hot tortillas are more flexible and tastier.

When it was all done, it was time for serving.   I pulled the hens out of the dutch oven, and spooned onions and broth into the rice, stirring it all up.  I put a big spoonful of rice mix on the plate, topped it with the hen, and set out the now-warm tortillas.   We ate them just as I had planned, by tearing apart the meat and eating it with the rice in the tortillas.  I also set out sour cream, and salsa, but we didn’t really add them.  It didn’t need it much.

It was a lot of fun, both to cook and to eat!

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


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