Friday, August 12, 2011

Dutch Oven Cooking: Food Heaven

    Last year, my husband hosted a Dutch-oven workshop through his job as public education manager for his agency. Dutch ovens are those big, cast-iron cooking pots with heavy lids that you can use in your own kitchen, or, in this case, your backyard, on a camping trip, or just for fun. You use hot charcoals in a calculated manner to obtain the proper heat to cook your bread, casserole, or desserts. The workshop was such a hit, he hosted another one this past weekend, which I attended.
   The workshop instructors were this couple, a work colleague of my husband and his wife. Russ Richins has cooked with Dutch ovens for decades, and he and his wife Susan have a catering business, the Rockin RR Chuckwagon where they cook for large groups as well as hold workshops on Dutch oven cooking throughout the state and the Southwest. Their interest has led them to enter multiple Dutch oven cook-offs and contests as well. Due to these activities, between teaching, catering, and contesting, they have amassed dozens of Dutch ovens, cooking utensils, supplies, tables, etc. and they cart this heavy stuff with them everywhere. I believe they have a separate garage for all their supplies, as the volume easily surpasses your average wagon train of cowboys. Simply put, they know their stuff.

   After an initial overview of what exactly is a Dutch oven and what you can do with them (practically anything that is cooked can be cooked in a Dutch oven, including roasting a turkey and making pizza), we ventured outside to the cooking tables, where, paired up, we each made some sort of bread dough. Given the time the bread needs to rise, be punched, then rise again, we had to get started on that. Bread dough is pretty simple, and every pair had a different recipe. I partnered with my friend Sherrie, and we made "Faux Braided Bread." Breads made by others included sourdough, honey wheat, cinnamon buns, and French.

   After kneading the dough and covering it to let rise, we gathered together inside again to hear more about Dutch oven cooking--how to clean the ovens (NO SOAP!!), how to season them, tools to make your life easier as you handle hot coals, and how to calculate getting the exact number of charcoal briquettes to heat an oven to 325 degrees, 350, 400, etc. Yes, math is involved, but only whole numbers and only adding/subtracting; it's not tough. Adjustments are generally made for high-elevation cooking (like where we live). Handles to pick up Dutch oven lids must keep the lids balanced (otherwise coals fall into your food), and they must be long to keep your hands away from the heat. It's really quite an art. You can toss a bunch of coals on the top and bottom of your oven, but without calculating the right amount, you'll undercook or burn your food.

   After the bread rose, we went out again and formed our bread into our loaves, and did what we needed to do to finish our bread. In our case, the Faux Braid, we rolled the dough into a long strip, added some strawberry jam down the middle, and cut these strips on each side, pulling them over each other to make a "faux" braid.

Roll out, add jam, and slice edges at an angle
"Braid" the strips over the top

The finished Faux Braid prior to baking
   We then had to let our breads rise a second time for about 45 minutes, so at that point, the instructors got the coals going, and we made our second dish. Some pairs made desserts and some made casseroles/main dishes. We made a Beef and Green Chile Casserole, which included browned hamburger, green chile enchilada sauce, and a ton of cheese, all layered in between a bunch of tortillas. Sherrie added jalapeno chiles on one side for the adventurous participants who may want more heat to their green chile.

You can tell this hasn't been cooked yet;
Sherrie isn't wearing gloves!
   Then, the heat was really turned on. By now, it was about 2:00 p.m., we were starving, the coals were hot, and our ovens were packed with food ready to be cooked. We placed the proper amount of coals above and below our Dutch ovens, and while our casseroles, breads, and desserts cooked, we cleaned up and salivated over what was to come.

   Ahh, and what came? Well, here is our cooked Beef and Green Chile Casserole:

   And our Faux Braid Bread:

   Other dishes prepared included an upside-down pizza, a hash-brown/sausage/cheese casserole, a pineapple side dish, a creamed corn bread side dish, a chicken enchilada pie, a "Cheeky Cherry" cake, and of course our many breads. Lots of cheese, lots of bread, lots of meat--DEEE-LISH!!!

  We laid everything out on a long table, served it up, ate until we filled up like ticks, and then.....the clean up. Coals, ash, scraping the ovens, washing up, and helping break down all the equipment; it was good exercise after all that incredible food.

  How much did we eat? Well, each pair made a complete casserole or dessert, plus two loaves of whatever bread. We each kept a loaf of our bread to split up and take home, and we served our other loaf to the group. Other than the bread, do you think we had leftovers???? Well, we did, but I have to say, we didn't have much! I think I brought home a couple spoonfuls of two desserts, a spoonful of the sausage/hashbrown dish, and a spoonful of the corn casserole. We pigged out, that's for sure.

   Bruce and I are now thinking of having a Dutch oven party over Labor Day; we have a number of friends who occasionally cook with Dutch ovens, so why not? It's a blast, you made an incredible amount of incredible food--what's not to love?

   In case you're interested, here are the recipes for our casserole and bread (bread recipe to be added at a later date when I locate it). Don't forget, you don't need a Dutch oven to cook these; they can be cooked in a casserole dish (for the casserole) and/or cookie sheet (for the bread):

Beef and Green Chile Casserole:

2 lbs browned ground beef
1 large can green enchilada sauce
12 corn tortillas
Shredded cheese
(add whatever you want; black beans, corn, tomatoes, onions)

Spoon and spread a small bit of enchilada sauce on the bottom of your 14" Dutch oven. Layer some of the corn tortillas at the bottom, then layer some of the ground beef, cheese, sauce. Repeat until gone; add shredded cheese on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly on top. We recommend using light or low-fat cheese as to not get that layer of oil that sometimes occurs with regular cheese.

Faux Braided Bread:

Coming soon-----

1 comment:

  1. Nice stuff Trach! I am inspired to dust off my Griswold D.O., season it and give this a whirl! BTW - u look fabulous dahling!